Conversation and Commitments: CATCH A FALLING SNOWFLAKE–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M contemporary romance from Ava Kelly. CATCH A FALLING SNOWFLAKE is the fourth book in her Snow Globes series. This book features a couple finding the next step in their relationship–and if that means cohabitation, and adoption…or something less commitment-y. I haven’t read the previous titles, but I caught on quickly to the continuing storyline.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $10 GC.
About the book:
The previous winter, Leon followed his twin sister Sara to a new town where she could be with her partner, Amber. There, Leon’s boyfriend Nick, friends Jeff and Daniel, and their nine-year-old daughter Abby, swiftly swept him up into their lives, a newfound family.

After a year of growing their relationship, Leon is ready to take it to the next level. Nick, however, has been stalling. When Ben, Abby’s best friend, is suddenly abandoned, Leon is excited to finally care for the children he’s always wanted. Haunted by the mistakes of his past, Nick attempts to reconcile his feelings of inadequacy as a parent with Leon’s wishes.

Against the backdrop of winter holidays filled with traditions from around the world, it is up to Leon to decide if he’s willing to stand by Nick, or if he should find his happiness elsewhere.

Catch a Falling Snowflake, the fourth story in the Snow Globes holiday series, can be read as a stand-alone, but greater enjoyment will come with reading about these characters in the order written.

How about a little taste?

The community center was quiet for a Thursday. With vacation and beckoning winter celebrations a day away, Nick expected the ebb of youthful visitors to slow down. Besides, early afternoon was always the calmest, no matter the day. Perhaps that was why he’d chosen this particular time for the support group. Sure, it served those who worked nights, unlike most of the other meetings usually held in the evenings, but Dr. Mahler had had a few requests to organize one during the day, and that was where Nick came in.

He’d been back in his hometown for two years, and soon after settling in, he’d started attending one of the grief support groups. Not that his loss was still fresh, not after years, but as a check-in with himself. As an example for others that, yes, survival was possible. He’d made friends with the local therapist; she was supportive, and he’d booked a session or two when he needed an objective ear. He was doing well.

With a smile to himself, Nick checked on the coffee thermos on the side table, then made sure the heaters underneath the windows of the meeting room were turned on. Outside, snow fell in sparse flakes. Not enough to settle and disrupt activity, but enough to give the air that chilling bite of winter.

Beyond the hills on which the town stretched, the mountains rose toward the gray sky, covered in thick pine forests. He’d missed the view. Missed the people, the smells, the buildings.

He was back to stay. No matter what happened, he wouldn’t leave again. He’d made sure to have some safety nets this time around, just in case. Volunteering for the center, for one, running this group for another, and Dr. Mahler, whom Nick had grown to trust after two years.

Nothing, however, was more important than the people in his life.

Footsteps and voices from the corridor pulled Nick from his musings. He turned to greet the two people walking in, and then another, and another, until six strangers sat in the circle of folding chairs, staring at him. Nick cleared his throat.

“I guess we should start,” he said. “Hello, everyone. My name is Nick, and I’ll be your group leader here. I’d like to remind you that this is not a therapy session, but only a space to talk. If you feel like you need more, Dr. Mahler is here.”

He gestured then, to the side, where a small office was nestled behind glass windows, door closed. The doc waved at them from her desk, legs kicked up casually onto it, crossed at the ankles, an open book in her hand. She grinned and gave them all a thumbs-up.

Around Nick, a couple of people nodded, someone waved back, and the youth with their nose in the collar of their hoodie snorted. Nick made a mental note to check later on their age.

“Doc will be here until tonight, so if you wanna sneak back after we’re finished…”

That, at least, earned him some chuckles. Nick tried not to read too much into it. He’d been to meetings full of strangers before. This would be no different. Determination reinforced, he took a deep breath.

“We’re here to talk, but don’t feel like you have to. You can just listen, if that works. But I’d like to remind everyone to be mindful and respect the privacy of these meetings.”

All nodded, and Nick copied the gesture with a thank-you.

“Has anyone been to one of these meetings before?”

Headshakes and muttered noes.

“Well.” Nick shifted. “We talk about those we’ve lost. We talk about us. The weather. Sports. Music. That movie last week with all the sword fighting.”

“And blatant disregard for proper archery,” a woman said.

“That too.”

“Does it help?”

Heads swiveled to the person in the hoodie.

“It can,” Nick said. “Sometimes it helps to just be around people who’ve been through similar things. Not everyone processes in the same way, though, so it might not be as useful.”

“Have you— Did—” Hoodie shook themself into silence, and Nick nodded anyway.

“I’ve been there. Actually, this week marks a sort of anniversary for me, so I wanted to start by telling you my story if you’d like to hear it.”

That got him their attention. Curiosity and wariness, too, but it was to be expected. First time could be scary, especially under the strain of mourning. Nick remembered with clarity his first visit to an informal support group. His first group session, though, was hazy around the edges. He leaned forward, elbows on knees, and clasped his hands together.

“I was born here. With the exception of college, I’ve lived here for twenty-six years. I had a wife and a best friend and a baby on the way.”

He’d had Lauren and Jeff, twins he’d known since childhood. Through shenanigans and quiet moments and major decisions, they’d always been there. Nick and Lauren had gotten married right after college, and four years later—

“My wife died during childbirth. I watched it happen, and it’s not an image I can ever unsee. It broke me enough that my immediate thoughts were harmful toward myself and the baby. A girl. Innocent and frail, and not at fault at all. I left before I even held her once, and then spent the next seven years healing. Wasn’t pretty. Hurt a lot.”

Nick swallowed and shifted, pausing to collect his thoughts.

“What happened to her?” Hoodie asked.

“My wife’s twin brother adopted her. He was also my best friend.”

Not anymore. Jeff had a new bestie. When Nick first met Amber, he hadn’t paid much attention. It had been a brief interaction as it was, two years back, when she’d provided a ride to Jeff’s place. Amber was tall and sometimes moved like she wanted to make herself smaller. Less visible. Quiet too. Later, Nick learned she kept most people at a distance. Not in any way that might’ve been rude or hostile, but more along the lines of hiding behind a hard, thick shell. Kinda like Nick used to be, way back.

A deep breath.

“I hurt both him and the kid,” Nick continued, “because I stayed away for a long time. No contact whatsoever.”

“You suck,” Hoodie commented, but Nick fully agreed.

“Yes. Grief can make us hurt others, even when we don’t want to. It’s not excusable, though it can be explainable. Still, being mindful of those I loved was a hard-learned lesson for me.”

“But now you’re back.”

Nick nodded. “We’re working on me making up for it.”

“How?” The question came from the side, a woman with a drawn face, hugging her middle with both arms. Nick recognized that look. Guilt.

“I returned two years ago,” Nick said. “Found my friend and the kid happy. There was even a second parent involved—my friend’s life partner. Instead of being reasonable, I blew it by being an ass to them. Said mean things, made threats. Friend’s partner made me see logic. I’m grateful for him being there. They got married this summer.”

He offered a quick grin, blinking back the sting behind his eyes. Daniel was someone Nick respected through and through. He was good for Jeff and Abby.

“I don’t understand why they forgave me for being such an ass, but they did. As for my long absence… That’s the part with more serious repercussions and has been a lot harder to work through. Friend is letting me though. He’s willing, but I had to take the first step. Say that first apology—” He looked at the woman who’d asked directly. “—and not expect it to be accepted.”

“Harsh.”

“Yes, but we make mistakes, and we must bear the consequences. The best we can do after hurting others is to allow them the space they need, and understand if they can’t forgive.” With a long exhale, Nick straightened. “It’s not that grim. Sure, in the wake of what you—we’ve all been through, it might seem that what comes ahead is insurmountable. Sometimes it is, in which case you either dig through or go around, or choose a whole different path. It might also be a long, drawn-out, tiresome battle. Grief is not easy. But it’s survivable.”

And that was the whole point. That was why Nick was there, opening himself up over and over again.

“My journey is in a good place right now. I’m an uncle for the kid, her parents are my friends, and hey, I even have a boyfriend. Accidental acquisition, it was very rom-com.”

Faces perked up with undisguised interest, and Nick offered them a small smile. He got it. After Lauren, when the pain had still been so fresh he could taste it, he’d latched on to happy tales as distractions on the good days. On the bad ones, not so much. Looking around the room, it seemed his current audience wanted to hear this part of his story.

The previous year, they’d spent part of the holidays on a training retreat with Abby’s elementary school chess club, along with other third graders from all around. Daniel and Amber had chaperoned, with Nick and Jeff trailing along.

“Last winter vacation we went to this resort in the Alps. It involved a lot of children, chess, and snow—more like yelling on the slopes, actually—but it was fun. First time I met him, he threw line after line of quips while I stood there, all coherence gone. In retrospect, I should’ve realized it, but you know”—he gestured—“I was unaccustomed to someone catching my interest so suddenly.”

Nick had replayed that particular moment in his head over and over again. Leon smirking, stupid green hat over curls poking out in tiny swirls at his temples.

“And then we found out we had to share a room. You’ll never guess—”

“There was only one bed,” said Hoodie with a groan.

“Yep! We had a connection during that short vacation, but we parted ways, and I thought that would be that. Only, after I’d gotten home, I figured I didn’t want it to end. I had no idea he was coming here for New Year’s, so on December 31st, he found me in the park, brooding over lost chances.”

A few half smiles twitched around the room. Hoodie gave a thumbs-up.

“So your anniversary is coming up,” an old man to the left commented.

“Indeed. Speaking of, friend and partner’s anniversary is on the thirtieth. Seems to be a trend with us.”

Not to mention Sara and Amber had gotten together around Christmas, too, as far as Nick could tell, but those two had several anniversaries they celebrated during the year, and Nick was unclear on which was what.

The old man nodded pensively. “Martha and I, we had it on Halloween. We celebrated the day before and the day after. She said we couldn’t let candy steal all our fun, though she loved giving it out.”

With that, the others started pitching in, and Nick gave himself an inner pat on the back.

My Review:
This is the fourth novella in a series, but it can be enjoyed as a standalone.

Leon is a trans-man who fell hard for Nick about a year ago. Nick has more baggage than he can carry on most days, but he’s been working toward it. He was married to a woman who died in childbirth and he didn’t cope well. He essentially abandoned his daughter to his best friend, Jeff, his wife’s twin brother and grieving uncle to young Abby. In previous novels in this series Nick returned to his old town, to check in on Jeff and Abby, and made a bit of a hash of it. Jeff is married to Daniel, a child psychologist and math teacher. They have a loving home with Abby, and they have embraced Nick and Leon. Leon’s twin sister Sara is Jeff’s current bestie–and her wife, Amber, is trying to conceive so they can have a child.

Leon has asked Nick to move in, and Nick has refused to answer. Nick still struggles with his self-worth, though medication and therapy have helped. He has a need for silent time, even though he and Leon are almost always sleeping together. Leon, who also teachers, gets a call to help out with a domestic issue. Ben, who is ten, is best pals with Abby–and well-known to the extended crew of Jeff and Daniel’s friends. Ben was in the foster care of his deceased mother’s sibling, who is married. This couple never intended to adopt him, and now that one of them has a new job opportunity, they’ve decided to leave him and Child Protective Services with a suitcase while they move across the country days before Christmas. Ben is heartbroken, as much as he will let on. He’s glued to Nick, as he’s a man whom he recognizes from all the time they’ve both spent with Abby at Jeff’s home.

Leon is a prime candidate for fostering Ben, so he claims him immediately to keep Ben in familiar surroundings. Leon would adopt him in a heartbeat, if he knew Nick was on board. But, Nick…well, he’s already failed at fatherhood once. And’ he’s not keen on trying again. It’s the holidays and Leon fells like Nick is slipping from his grasp. It’s a bittersweet moment of perhaps having his heart’s desire, in a new home, stable relationship and raising a child with a loving partner, knowing these dreams might not include Nick.

There’s a lot going on with all the different characters and their story lines. Thing is, I was able to tumble into this complicated and loving cadre of folks who really are the sweetest and most tender and loving of people. There is a happy ending, but not with the sparkling tinsel bow one might expect of a Christmas-themed romance. That said, Ben was taken in by loving folks, Abby displayed keen insight into her bio dad’s issues and Leon and Nick came out stronger and better than ever.

Interested? You can find CATCH A FALLING SNOWFLAKE on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $10 NineStar Press GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Ava Kelly is an engineer with a deep passion for stories. Whether reading, watching, or writing them, Ava has always been surrounded by tales of all genres. Their goal is to bring more stories to life, especially those of friendship and compassion, those dedicated to trope subversion, those that give the void a voice, and those that spawn worlds of their own.

You can catch up with Ava on her website, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Now Available: WE GO TOGETHER–Review and Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m so excited to share a review and giveaway for a LGBTQ YA romance from Abigail de Niverville. EXPOSED features an innocent man marked for death, and the mysterious vigilante who saves him.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the giveaway!
About the book:
The beaches of Grand-Barachois had been Kat’s summer home for years. There, she created her own world with her “summer friends,” full of possibilities and free from expectation. But one summer, everything changed, and she ran from the life she’d created.

Now seventeen and on the brink of attending college, Kat is full of regret. She’s broken a friendship beyond repair, and she’s dated possibly the worst person in the world. Six months after their break-up, he still haunts her nightmares. Confused and scared, she returns to Grand-Barachois to sort out her feelings.

When she arrives, everything is different yet familiar. Some of her friends are right where she left them, while some are nowhere to be found. There are so many things they never got to do, so many words left unsaid.

And then there’s Tristan.

He wasn’t supposed to be there. He was just a guy from Kat’s youth orchestra days. When the two meet again, they become fast friends. Tristan has a few ideas to make this summer the best one yet. Together, they build a master list of all the things Kat and her friends wanted to do but never could. It’s finally time to live their wildest childhood dreams.

But the past won’t let Kat go. And while this may be a summer to remember, there’s so much she wants to forget.

How about a little taste?

There was blood on my sheets.

“Not again,” I sighed, pulling the covers off me. Right at the top of the covers was a smattering of reddish-brown smears, prominent and angry.

I held my arm over my head and assessed the damage. The eczema that covered my inner arm burned bright against my pale, freckled skin. A few sores had broken, but no trace of blood. I lifted the other arm to check. The back of my hand was also flaring up, the knuckles bursting open.

“Goddamn,” I moaned, pressing my broken knuckle to my lips. Kissing wouldn’t make it better, but at least it was something. Months ago, my skin had been smooth and cold to the touch. Now, it was red, dry, and hot. All because one thing in my life had changed. Skin was so weird.

One big thing. But still. One thing.

I dragged myself out of bed and pulled the sheet off the mattress. This needed some serious stain removal. No dabs of water with a washcloth could save this mess.

I passed a brush through my hair, working out the knots, from the top of my head to the tips. I never brushed it back. I never put it up. Not anymore. The box of hair accessories stayed closed on the top of my dresser, the bows I’d collected over the years forgotten.

They had to go. But parting with them proved difficult. Every time I tried, I’d remember where they came from. Some were gifts, some were bought on significant days, some I’d worn on nights that held meaning. They all mattered to me in some capacity. Not enough for me to wear them without question, but enough that I’d hesitated whenever I tried to throw them in a donation bag.

The hair bows weren’t me. They used to be. I used to love vintage dresses and paper bag curls tied in a bow. Used to get all dressed up in blouses with lace and frills. It was my thing, the ultra-girly retro aesthetic. But since Christmas, wearing those clothes hadn’t given me the same joy it used to. The bows became young and kiddish, the clothes a caricature.

I was trapped between two versions of myself, and I didn’t know how to cross over from one to the next. I didn’t know how.

The bedroom door creaked open as I stepped into the hall, the smooth, painted wooden floorboards cool on my feet. Kay always left the stair window open, though nights were cold in Grand-Barachois. She said the air was good for us, and there was something refreshing about waking up in a chilled room.

The bathroom window had also been left open, and I went to it to lower the pane. Below, the water from the bay lapped on the beach. The cool air sifted into the small bathroom and hit my face. I pushed the pane down so it was only open a crack and moved to turn on the water at the tub.

I opened the cupboard below the sink, grabbed the box of baking soda, and shook some in, not bothering to measure the amount. When a small mound formed under the water, I considered that a success. Swishing my hand back and forth, I watched it dissolve and cloud the water.

This was my morning routine.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, I usually cried. It was hard to not, to let it all go. The love I’d had for him still lingered, but a hurt did too. An abandonment. And something else I couldn’t name yet, something that drove me to tears every day.

You need to move on.

My friend Gianna had told me that a few weeks ago, done with my pity party, with my lack of interest. Done trying to make me feel better. So, she snapped.

And who was I? What right did I have to be this upset, this…whatever? Gianna had had her heart broken three times. She had mastered the art of steeling herself, of being strong in the face of heartbreak. I was crying over a first love because I was naive enough to think we’d be together forever.

For the record, I never thought that.

I was crying because it hurt so much to be left the way Aaron had left me. Like I was nothing, and I didn’t matter. I was crying because he’d been nearly my first everything, and it had all happened the way he wanted it to. I was crying because…

Now, I was actually crying.

I slipped into the tub, holding my breath, as though that’d stop the tears. I splashed my face with water, rubbed it into my eyes. A melody hung in the air above me as I cried, the words repeating in my head over and over.

How did I end up here?

If you cried in the tub, were you really crying? Or was it water in your eyes? Or leftover soap on your hands making the tears well up?

If you cried in the tub, the water swallowed your tears. Like they were never there at all.

My Review:
Kay is an 18 year old out bisexual girl who is planning to leave her hometown for college in Toronto. She’s staying with her great-aunt Kay in a house near the beaches of New Brunswick, an area called Grand-Barachois, for this last summer before college. Kat has a long history of adventure and fun staying with Kay and catching up with old friends, it some of them are missing this summer, notably Reagan, with whom Kat shared her first kiss and realized she was attracted to women—for better or worse.

A new friend, Tristan, is playing a big role in the fledgling happiness building in Kat. Tristan is trans, but Kat has long admired him…especially while she struggled with her mixed feelings over her ex-boyfriend, Aaron. One thing the blurb doesn’t mention is Kay’s depression or anxiety surrounding her relationship with Aaron, who was an older man she met while performing in the musical theater chorus.

Kat was 16 then, and an innocent girl, shielded by her parents and friends from the ugliness and activity of life. Aaron preyed on her naïveté and their sexual relationship was not as consensual as Kat truly wishes. This summer, Kat is investigating her actions with Aaron over the course of their time together, and trying to determine if she was in an abusive, codependent relationship, and what that might mean for her new relationships going forward. She’s his so much of her feelings and truth away, she isn’t really sure if her hindsight is coloring her feelings, or if she is finally able to objectively understand the situation, now that Aaron is long gone. The time spent with Tristan, and her dearest childhood pal—who have all grown but are still kind and dear—is helping Kat heal and grow into an independent person for the first time in her life.

I really liked this story, and the bits of mystery surrounding the missing friends was a draw to keep on reading. Kay’s deep symptoms, panic attacks, night terrors, and general struggles to stay in the moment, hinted that PTSD was a real consequence of her experiences and her silence. Through small flashbacks and vignettes we learn how abusive Aaron was, and the strength Kat must develop to get past her trauma. I liked the story, but I felt the pacing was a little slow for me. Kat’s ruminations on Aaron felt repetitive at times, and it was frustrating that she refused to talk with anyone about it for so long.

There’s a tiny hint of romance here, with a low-key attraction simmering between Kat and Tristan. I loved Tristan, and all the beach pals really, and was glad to see Kat become the assertive and more confident girl she’d wished to be while spending time with them. It’s sweet, but serious, with real issues of consent and control that are dealt with in a thoughtful manner.

Interested? You can find WE GO TOGETHER on Goodreads and on Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $10 GC to NineStar Press.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Abigail de Niverville is an author and composer based in Toronto, Canada. Born on the East Coast of Canada, Abigail draws inspiration from her experiences growing up there. When she’s not writing frantically, she also composes music and holds an M.Mus from the University of Toronto.

Catch up with Abigail on her website, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest.

Inexplicably Bound by DRAGON MAGIC-A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a Throwback Thursday review for a M/M/M menage fantasy adventure/romance from Megan Derr. DRAGON MAGIC feature for unlikely heroes on a quest to save their land from a demon.

About the book:
Four strangers. A shared moment long forgotten. A bond forged in desperation.

On the first day of the Festival of Counting, the beginning of the royal census that takes place every ten years, the royal city is filled to overflowing. Everyone is happy, excited, and proud to be counted amongst those who live in the glorious kingdom of Orhanis.

Then a demon strikes, killing thousands in mere seconds and leveling the city. As the royal castle burns, only four men remain to drive the demon away—and in their desperation, accidentally bind themselves together in a legendary Oath, unable to part ways until they find and kill the demon once and for all.

Mahzan, the King’s Jester, an orphan who clawed his way to the top and hides a fearsome magic… Sule, the notorious North Captain, who sacrificed everything to live as a strong, capable, highly respected man… Cemal, a priest who traveled the continent bent on revenge and now lives lost… and Binhadi, the mercurial shadow mage with a dark history and bloody ties to the throne…

Four men used to standing apart, standing alone, who must learn to stand together if they hope to save themselves and all of Orhanis.

My Review:
I enjoyed this tale of four men and the magic that binds them together. Orhanis is a land of magic, though not everyone embraces it. We begin with the Counting, a time of census for the citizens, and people crowding to the city where Mahzan, one of the king’s jesters is entertaining the masses. He’s a cunning man with hidden magic, and the ability to soothe the tempers of many. He notices key members of the crowd, including Sule–the Captain of the North Guard, Cemal, a jokey priest, and Binhadi, last of the shadow mages in his family. Each of these men holds magic–secretly in the case of all but Binhadi.

It’s not long before a fearmonger (an ancient demon) turns up and kills…most everyone in the king’s hall and throughout the castle and royal city. The jester, the captain, the priest and the mage are spared by linking their magic talents, and sending the fearmonger into temporary retreat. This inadvertently binds the four into a magical oath. Over time, they discover the extent of their bond, which binds and magnifies their powers until they face and defeat the fearmonger. And, thus begins the quest.

Their travels and trials bind them ever closer, bending their partnership into physical companionship. The menage, when it comes to be, is well-developed from mutual hardships and intimacy shared. Mahzan leads the pack here, happy for companionship wherever he can find it. Sule, due to internalized transphobia from his family, is a little more reticent. They travel the country of Orhanis trying to discover the origin of the fearmonger, and uncovering the violent history of their nation and the current rulers.

Their suspicions and struggles are magnified through a mental link, part of the growing bond. This allowed each man to truly see the heart of the others, and make a real effort to support one antoher. When their battle with the fearmonger comes, they are ready to sacrifice all–and create the most fearsome magic their world has ever seen. Treachery has infiltrated Orhanis, however, and the Epilogue set into the distant future gives the reader insight into the effects of the battle. A few reviewers were frustrated about this POV switch, but for me it confirmed the evil festering in Orhanis was still present, and there was a plan to eradicate it once and for all. I enjoyed this adventure. There were issues with pacing, at times, and the many POVs was a tiny challenge, but I felt the creativity of the quest and the deep characterization outweighed the flaws in editing.

Interested? You can find DRAGON MAGIC on Goodreads, Less Than Three Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple Books. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Megan is a long time resident of m/m fiction, and keeps herself busy reading, writing, and publishing it. She is often accused of fluff and nonsense. When she’s not involved in writing, she likes to cook, harass her cats, or watch movies (especially all things James Bond). She loves to hear from readers, and can be found all around the internet.

Check out Megan’s website, blog, twitter and Tumblr.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

New Life SECOND CHANCE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new contemporary transgender M/M romance newly released from Jay Northcote. SECOND CHANCE is a mature romance for two old mates who’ve reconnected under strained circumstances. Nate fell hard for Jack when they were schoolmates, but a lot has changed in twenty years…. Can their rekindled friendship ever be more?

About the book:
Everyone deserves a second chance.
Nate and his teenage daughter need a fresh start, so they move back to the village where he grew up. Nate’s transgender, and not used to disclosing his history, so it’s hard living where people knew him before. When Nate reconnects with Jack–his best friend from school and unrequited crush–his feelings return as strong as ever.

Jack’s returned home to get his life in order after an addiction to alcohol caused him to lose everything: his job, his driver’s licence, and nearly his life. He’s living with his parents, which is less than ideal, but rekindling his friendship with Nate–or Nat as Jack once knew him–is an unexpected benefit of being back home. Jack is amazed by Nate’s transformation, and can’t deny his attraction. Trying for more than friendship might ruin what they already have, but the chemistry between them is undeniable.

Doubting his feelings are reciprocated, Nate fears he’s risking heartbreak. Jack’s reluctance to tell his parents about their relationship only reinforces Nate’s misgivings. With both their hearts on the line and their happiness at stake, Jack needs to make things right, and Nate has to be prepared to give him a second chance.

How about a little taste?

A hint of cigarette smoke carried on the wind caught Nate’s attention, and he realised he wasn’t alone. A hunched figure sat on a bench by the church. Wearing a heavy coat with the hood up, their head hung low staring at the grass between their feet rather than at the landscape stretched out before them. A cigarette hung from bony fingers that protruded from black fingerless gloves. As Nate watched, the man—because Nate could see his face now—raised his head to take a long drag before stubbing the cigarette out on the bench.

A shock of recognition made Nate’s heart jump, thudding erratically. Jack.

Torn between conflicting urges to approach and flee, Nate stared at him, powerless to move.

How many years had it been since Nate had seen him? At forty-five Nate found each year passed faster than the one before. It must have been twenty years at least since he’d seen Jack, maybe more, and longer still since they’d spoken properly. Their last meeting had been nothing more than an awkward exchange of greetings when they ran into each other in the village pub one Christmas. The distance between them had cut Nate like a knife, so different to their teenage years when they’d been best friends, and almost inseparable.

Jack slumped forward again, letting the cigarette butt fall from his fingers. He put his hands over his face and Nate recognised despair and hopelessness, because they’d been his companions in the past. Acting on instinct, he approached.

“Sorry to intrude,” he said, pausing in front of Jack. “But are you okay? Is there anything I can do?”

Jack jerked his head up in surprise. His pale cheeks flushed as he shook his head. “Not really. Just having a bad day. You know how it is… or maybe you don’t.”

“I do.”

Nate studied him. The years had changed Jack, of course, but the essence of him was still the same. Sharp features, the strong nose Jack had always hated, even more defined with age, but more balanced now with dark stubble and the lines that the years were beginning to carve around his eyes and mouth.

As Jack stared back, Nate realised there was no recognition dawning on Jack’s face. To Jack, Nate was a stranger. Five years on testosterone had changed Nate to a point where Jack couldn’t see the person Nate had been before. Normally this was something Nate was glad about, but now he felt a pang of regret.

My Review:

Nate and Jack were the best of friends in school, but that was twenty-five years ago. And, Nate was Natalie, back then. Nate had a terrifying crush on Jack, who was out-gay before they left for uni, and he couldn’t bear to here of Jack’s sexy exploits so he dropped their friendship.

Nate’s sexual dysmorphia continued to grow into his twenties, even after having a child. Near his late thirties he recognized he was trans, and has had treatment since–to the point where he “passes,” which is a bit of a situation when he runs into Jack back in their small hometown.  Nate and his duaghter have moved to live in a smaller locale, and share Nate’s childhood home with his mum. Jack had a terrible break-up and became alcoholic, lost his license and job and is rebuilding at his parent’s home now.

Jack thinks Nate is a sexy man–and Nate’s not about to correct his misunderstanding on how they’ve known each other years–until it sort of washes out on a chance encounter. Still, Jack’s intrigued and Nate’s still suffering that darned crush. They agree to strike up their friendship once again, and soon add the physical. Because friends-with-benefits is sure to preserve their hearts. Jack doesn’t want to fall in love again, and Nate’s afraid to upset his life with more drama–now that his daughter’s well-recovered from some teenaged-angst/depression.

As with all books from Northcote, this one’s a steamer. It’s also sensitive, and engages the reader in the struggle for trans acceptance. The situation, coming “home” changed irrevocably but having acquaintances not honor that, is tense, and both Jack and Nate feel the pressure at times. Jack’s parents are rather boorish about it, often using wrong pronouns and calling Nate by his dead name. It’s upsetting, and Nate and Jack both must struggle through. Jack’s decisions aren’t the best in this regard, because he really cares for Nate, and is afraid to have he heart broken yet again.

I liked the shenanigans these two get up to, trying to have some private time in a place where privacy is at a premium, and watchful eyes abound. It’s a sweet and tender mature romance, and it had both gravitas and respect for person and situation. And steam. Don’t forget the steam.

Interested? You can find SECOND CHANCE on Goodreads and Amazon.

About the Author:
Jay lives just outside Bristol in the West of England. He comes from a family of writers, but always used to believe that the gene for fiction writing had passed him by. He spent years only ever writing emails, articles, or website content.

One day, Jay decided to try and write a short story—just to see if he could—and found it rather addictive. He hasn’t stopped writing since.

Jay writes contemporary romance about men who fall in love with other men. He has five books published by Dreamspinner Press, and also self-publishes under the imprint Jaybird Press. Many of his books are now available as audiobooks.

Jay is transgender and was formerly known as she/her.

You can find Jay on his website, Twitter, Facebook Author Page, and Amazon.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

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Kids Mastering THE ART OF BEING NORMAL–Cephalopod Coffeehouse Review May 2016

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Hi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

This month I’m sharing a book that I totally enjoyed and think is a truly relevant read in this time of unsettling fears (unfounded IMHO) regarding transgender persons and their rights to free access/privacy. THE ART OF BEING NORMAL is a look into the life of teens who face gender dysmorphia–and may seek to transition. It’s a really excellent read I’d recommend to readers of all ages.

About the book:
Two boys. Two secrets.
David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl.

On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year eleven is definitely not part of that plan.

When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long…

My Review:
This is a contemporary YA story about two teenagers struggling with gender identity. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so forgive me if this is a little light on plot summary.

The book is set in England, and is delightful in its Britishness.

David Piper wants to be a girl. He’s 14 and tracking how his “alien” body grows and sprouts and becomes something he cannot tolerate. Everyone thinks he’s gay–but he believes he’s a girl trapped in a male body, and spends hours lounging in cast-off girl clothes when his family is out and he is alone. He is a social misfit, having only two friends–and wants so desperately to tell his parents how he truly feels–that he is transgender–but is afraid to disappoint them. David attends Eden Park school, housed in a rather affluent neighborhood, and yet still containing all the rude elements of teen society–David’s bullied mercilessly by a group of classmates.

Leo Denton lives in Cloverdale, a very poor neighborhood. I believe the term “Council Estates” is one that would be applied–which is the British equivalent of “welfare housing” in the States. It’s a mess of a place and he and his two sisters live with their mother, a gal very much in the market for a decent man. Leo’s father split before he was even born, and Leo idolizes the idea of having a father. That isn’t so hard when his homelife is dismal. Leo was a star pupil at the Cloverdale school, he’s brilliant at Maths, but an “incident” has caused him to transfer to Eden Park.

David wants to reach out to Leo, senses his deep loneliness, but Leo brushes off most attempts at friendship, including David’s. Leo wants to keep his head down and not cause a stir–even though the whole of Eden Park’s students think Leo must have been a troublemaker–maybe even violent–to allow his transfer. One day, when David is being tormented by the bullies, Leo snaps–his temper really has been a problem in the past. Their mutual punishment–detention–puts them in close proximity. Leo feels bad for David, sees something in him that he recognizes in himself, and he offers to help David in math–a subject David is failing.

They develop a tentative friendship, and this is problematic for Leo. As is his attraction and budding friendship (maybe more) with Alicia a self-styled singer/songwriter and one of the class’ most popular girls.

This is such a fantastic and affirming story. There’s a bit of a love interest brewing between Alicia and Leo which leads to consequences only Leo could have seen coming. David is Leo’s staunchest friend and supporter, and when things go bad at school it is David who tries to fix them. David has his own challenges, and being friends with Leo, and learning from Leo’s struggles, allows him to build the skills and strength necessary to come out to his parents, and begin the path towards transitioning therapies. I don’t want to say that things got easier for David after those revelations, but many of his fears were assuaged and his contentment regarding becoming his true self: “Kate” was so spectacularly joyous.

This is a teen book, but it’s really clean. Also, it’s touching and tender and poignant and captivating. I found myself so rooting for both David and Leo to find their own “normal” which required them to be honest, build friendships and allies, and those activities surely assisted them in reaching their goals. It was a fantastic read for teens, particularly those who may also be questioning their gender identity. I say this because it was a candidly told story that felt relatable and with sufficient depth of both character and plot to be a realistic emotional resource. I really enjoyed!

Interested? You can find THE ART OF BEING NORMAL on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Paperback copies are on sale right now, but the ebook and hardcover will be released May 31st. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

Be sure to hop on over to all the other blogs sharing their fave book of the month, and keep reading my friends!

Not Comfortable IN HER SKIN–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a YA book from Trina Sotira, an author a met a few weeks ago at a book signing. IN HER SKIN introduces us to Tirzah/Troy a male-identifying transgender teen, who desperately wants to find love with his best friend, Heidi.

Now, please, I am no expert on transgender issues. If anything, I am sympathetic and wish to understand more. I admit naivete to transgender persons in my childhood, but watched BOYS DON’T CRY in my twenties. The poignancy of the pain of discrimination, the brutality, and the lack of connection chilled me.

Over the years, because I embrace human equality as a concept, I found myself without qualms whenever faced with transgender issues in the media and my own life. Earlier this year I watched the moving Youtube presentation of Ryland Whittington and began to realize that transitioning children seem to know very early on that they are in the WRONG body, and swift parents can be a real help to their kids–perhaps save their lives.

Last year one of the contestants for Miss Universe was a TG woman, and there is a rise in androgenous and TG fashion models, most recently Andreja Pejic came out as a TG woman. So, slowly, TG persons are finding a place in society–I hope that mainstream acceptance will become the new normal soon, before more lives are lost.

In Her Skin
About the book:
Tirzah would do anything to cover up her girl body: duct taping her chest, dressing like a guy at the skate park, even changing her name. But two things are holding her back from transitioning into an all-male body: her best friend Heidi and a full-ride soccer scholarship. And when Heidi’s family disapproves of Tirzah’s transition into Troy, Heidi disappears.

College instructor and former television journalist Trina Sotira challenges religious, gender, and social boundaries in this fast-paced adventure filled with love, friendship, and self-discovery.

My Review:
Tirzah/Troy is a male-identifying TG teen in his senior year of high school. (It is my understanding that TG persons wish to be addressed by gendered pronouns to which they identify, so I will use the male, throughout.) He is a star soccer goalie with dreams of college, these dreams shared by his involved father. His mother doesn’t understand Troy’s dress–he’s not into the frilly pink designer stuff she wishes to lavish on her “daughter” but Tirzah/Troy rarely visits his mother, who happens to be a TV news anchor in Chicago.

Tirzah/Troy has a deep love for his best friend, Heidi, who is a Bengali girl in a deeply traditional Muslim family in the suburbs of Chicago. Heidi has more than a passing affection for Tirzah/Troy, but prefers to date wild American boys–including the party boy JC–against her parent’s expressed wishes. In fact, Heidi uses Tirzah/Troy as a shield–her parents see that Tirzah/Troy is a girl, even if “she” dresses oddly, so Heidi is allowed to spend time with “her”…at first.

Soon, Heidi’s escapades with JC cause big problems, not just with her parents. Tirzah/Troy desperately wishes to be a romantic part of Heidi’s life. There are hints that this happens, but Tirzah/Troy also knows that it will only occur in private–as Heidi and all his friends still see him as a girl. JC even threatens to “out” Troy as a girl to some skateboarding friends they share, in order to ensure Tirzah/Troy’s cooperation in dating Heidi on the down-low.

Tirzah/Troy is not alone, however. His baffled father is supportive, to some degree. Girls on his soccer team are also cool with his transition–one is REALLY cool with it. Tirzah/Troy invests more of himself into transitioning, but his “maleness” begins to worry Heidi’s parents, and that–coupled with Heidi’s lies about JC–leads to some serious problems in their friendship.

Despite bullying, and complete separation from his mother, Tirzah/Troy aims to move forward in his transition, meeting other TG persons and allies along the way. He even tries to see if his college scholarship will apply if he plays for the men’s soccer team.

This is a deeply emotional story, with well-researched characters and moments of extreme anguish to which any teen (regardless of gender/sexuality issues) can relate. In the end, all people wish to find love and acceptance in their lives–and Tirzah/Troy is no different. His love for Heidi drives him to deny himself for a long time, and he is still an amazing friend to her. Heidi is, herself, very conflicted with her love for Tirzah/Troy and her culture-clash as a “traditional” Muslim girl in “modern” American society.

It’s a positive story that I think TG kids will really enjoy. It suffered a little from being, perhaps, too rushed at the end. I really wondered what happened to Heidi, and if Tirzah/Troy should have gone to see her that one last time, but it ends with a boatload of hope and acceptance for Tirzah/Troy’s transition, for which I think readers will be happy. There are some instances of drug use, self-mutilation, and sexual experimentation, but it’s done well, and should be no issue for older teen readers.

Interested? You can find IN HER SKIN on Goodreads and Amazon.

About the Author:
A former television news producer and long-time member of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, Trina Sotira has spent over a decade writing for large audiences. Her academic work and Creative Writing studies have been featured at the Illinois Reading Council, Association for the Study of African American Life and History, SCBWI-Illinois, and ABC-7’s “Chicagoing.” She teaches Fiction Writing, Creative Writing, and Composition as a faculty instructor at College of DuPage under her dinosaur name: Trina Sotirakopulos.

You can find Trina on her website and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends! 🙂