Might or Right? JUNIOR HERO BLUES–Review and Giveaway!

Junior Hero Blues BannerHi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M contemporary YA superhero romance from J.K. Pendragon. JUNIOR HERO BLUES is a standalone story following the exploits and struggles of an out-gay teen who’s biggest secret is he’s a junior hero learning how to control his new-found powers working for the Legion of Liberty. And, well, it seems like he’s fallen for his biggest nemesis at just the wrong time.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $50 GC.
Junior Hero Blues-f500About the book:
Last year, Javier Medina was your average socially awkward gay high schooler with a chip on his shoulder. This year, he’s…well, pretty much the same, but with bonus superpowers, a costume with an ab window to show off his new goods, and a secret identity as the high-flying, wise-cracking superhero Blue Spark.

But being a Junior Hero means that Javier gets all the responsibility and none of the cool gadgets. It’s hard enough working for the Legion of Liberty and fighting against the evil Organization, all while trying to keep on top of school work and suspicious parents. Add in a hunky boyfriend who’s way out of Javier’s league, and an even hunkier villain who keeps appearing every time said boyfriend mysteriously disappears, and Blue Spark is in for one big dollop of teenage angst. All while engaging in some epic superhero action and, oh yeah, an all-out battle to protect Liberty City from the forces of evil.

Welcome to the 100% true and totally unbiased account of life as a teenage superhero.

How about a little taste?

When I woke up, my mask was lying beside me on the ground, and I felt like my entire head had been squeezed like a pimple.

It took me a few minutes to get my bearings, and by the time I realized the Raven was there with me, she was putting my mask back over my eyes and checking my vitals. Masks have a way of obscuring expressions, but I could see her jaw was tight and her lips were even thinner than usual.

“What happened?” I groaned, my voice raspy. I was starting to get memories back, of the smoke and explosions of the battle, and of him. That bastard smashing my head into a mirror—I raised a hand to my forehead and felt crusted blood through my glove—and then of us fighting, and of a rather unheroic rage that had come over me as we did so. The last thing I remembered was my hands on either side of his head, shooting sonic waves into his ears so hard his eyes were rolling back, and his big meaty hands around my neck, squeezing me into darkness.

“Don’t know.” The Raven’s ambiguously Slavic accent was harsher than normal. “I found you here, with your mask off. Who did it, do you know?”

“Yeah.” I coughed. “Who do you think? Jimmy Black.”

*

I guess I should back up a bit. Jimmy Black was my sworn enemy, if you go for dramatics like that (I totally do), and I’d met him before all this crap with the Organization started. I’d been on a date with Rick Rykov. My first date. Ever, that is, and I was pretty convinced the whole thing was a setup to make fun of me, because that would be typical. But then Rick actually showed up at the café, and we sat there for twenty minutes drinking coffee and discussing our lives like regular people, and there was absolutely no sign of the whole thing being a prank or some plan concocted by him and his friends to humiliate me.

I mean, aside from being gay, Rick was, like, standard bully material. He was a football player, even—six feet of lean teenage muscle and popularity. And I have a theory that being gay in high school just pushes your social standing to an extreme either way. Like, if you’re already popular, and then you come out as gay, you become this amazing, brave individual who inspires change (exhibit A: Rick Rykov). But if you come out as gay, and you’re that weird little Spanish dude who came to America in first grade and couldn’t speak any English, who decided to compensate for that fact by eating a bug in front of his entire class, which was never forgotten, ever, by anyone…

Well, see exhibit B: Javier Medina (that’s me, by the way). Skinny, brown, nerdy. I’m sure you can picture it. That, combined with my family not exactly being wealthy, meant I got picked on a lot in school, even before the bug thing, so I’m a little skittish. Or possibly a lot skittish. You decide.

So anyway, naturally, considering my rather extensive history with bullies, when a superhot, superpopular football player came striding down the hall toward me after class one day, my first instinct was to run away. Unfortunately, Kendall (who apparently has superhearing that I don’t know about) had overheard that Rick was planning on asking me out and grabbed my arm to keep me from escaping. She’s pretty heavyset, and I guess she was using her weight to her advantage, because I was basically rooted to the spot despite having, you know, moderate superstrength.

So then Rick strolled up, cool as you please, and introduced himself. Like, he full-on shook my hand. As if it were a job interview. And then he asked me out, and I was thinking I might be stupid enough to eat a bug, but I sure as hell wasn’t stupid enough to think that Rick Rykov was actually asking me out on a date. So I told him to eff off.

Yeah right. I actually said something along the lines of, “Uhh…you want to go…on a date? With me? Wh… Why?”

And he said, “Because I like you. I think you’re cute, so I thought we could get to know each other a bit better over coffee.”

At this point, I was basically giving myself whiplash looking around trying to see if I was in the process of being ambushed with the eventual intent to stick my head in the toilet. And then I got kind of angry because, like, here I was, busting my butt every single day to save people’s lives and keep the public safe. Screw putting up with this high school bullying crap.

So I decided I would go out with Rick, and if he or any of his buff football friends decided to try to pull one over me, I was just going to spontaneously snap and beat the crap out of them (or at least use my powers to pull some fun tricks with them) and plead temporary insanity to Captain Liberty after the fact.

Rick seemed pleased, and a little surprised I’d agreed. We set a date, and I went fully expecting to be doused with whipped cream, or laughed and jeered at, or at the very least stood up.

But Rick was there, leaning back in one of the little spindly café chairs that looked like it might break under his weight and sipping some frothy drink. When I sat, he shook my hand again, and then we just sort of…started talking.

Which I know isn’t a big deal, because, like, people talk all the time. But not me. I mean, I talk to Kendall, because she’s my best friend and has been forever, and we tell each other everything. I talk to my parents, in Spanish mostly, which is still a bit easier for me, funnily enough (although I’m sure you can tell I have an absolutely superb grasp of the English language). But with everyone else? It’s kind of like the fewer syllables I can use, the better. I mumble my way through life. I just can’t make myself say what I’m thinking most of the time.

So yeah, it was pleasantly surprising to be able to talk to Rick. He asked me questions and waited patiently while I answered them, and then offered information about himself. He lived with his parents in a really nice part of town, although pretty close to me, and had a sister and a cat. And I told him, a bit defensively, that I lived with my parents in a crappy little apartment that didn’t allow pets, and that my dad worked on computers and my mom worked at a gas station so we could have a little extra income. I was all set for Rick to be all judgey or awkward (or worse, feel bad for me) about my poorness, but he didn’t seem to care about that at all. He actually seemed to genuinely want to get to know me.

And then, just when I was starting to relax and believe that this was actually a thing that was happening and I wasn’t going to, you know, die, Rick’s phone rang. He had a sort of awkward conversation and said, looking really let down, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go to work. Last-minute thing.” Then his face brightened up a bit. “But we should do this again sometime.”

I agreed, and he went off, and I was left sitting there for about ten minutes finishing my coffee and thinking. And then my phone rang too.

I should have figured it out right then and there.

It was the Legion dispatch, about as polite as ever, which is to say one step up from a robot. Actually, scratch that, the Legion AI was way friendlier.

So she was all, “There’s an incident downtown, not far from your location. Can you respond?”

And I figured why not, since I was pretty pumped at that moment, and anyway, it was my job. Like, I got paid for it and everything. So I told her I’d be there in two minutes, and grabbed my bag and headed out.

Now, listen up, because I’m going to let you in on a little secret about switching from your civilian clothes into your superhero getup.

The telephone booth thing?

Utter bullcrap.

I mean, maybe except for old pros like Captain Liberty. I’ve seen him change into his costume so fast it was as if he must have been wearing a tear-away outfit, complete with, like, origami cape and boots in his back pocket. But for the rest of us, it’s three-plus minutes of awkwardly hunching on top of a building—try even finding a telephone booth these days—ripping off your clothes and pulling on the parts of your costume that don’t fit under them, and then you have to try to fit everything, including your shoes, into your backpack. And then you have to look for a place to stash your backpack where it won’t be stolen or crapped on by pigeons or something.

And the Legion really does expect you to respond to a call within only five minutes. I don’t know why they haven’t invented some sort of quick-change technology. Maybe they have, and they just don’t make it available to Junior Heroes.

It’s a complete rip-off being a Junior Hero, by the way. You’re supposed to be only assigned to low-risk stuff, but half the time it’s just as dangerous as anything else anyway, and the rest of the time it’s freaking boring.

My Review:
Javier is a high schooler who is out as gay, and loved by his parents who are immigrants from Spain and work hard for their very modest life in Liberty City. About six months back Javier had a freak accident and his body grafted with the energy of an alien life form that had been a Legion hero but was slain in the moments before. Now Javier is more than the weird kid who couldn’t speak English in primary school. He’s now a Junior Hero working for the Legion of Liberty. And, that’s an actual paying gig with a costume and everything. Javi hides his body from nearly enveryone because he’s covered in blue streaks, but in his alter-ego he’s the Blue Spark, with powers like almost-flying, and making shock waves, and sparks. He’s also really strong, but you know, not invincible or anything.

While out on patrol, Blue Spark discovers some Organization baddies robbing places. The head of this posse seems to be Johnny Black, who is a wise-cracking nefarious dude. He seems to be able to walk up vertical walls, and is super strong. This encounter reveals a secret plot by the Organization to gain access to the Legion database, digitally unmasking all the superheroes and their whereabouts in Liberty City. Battles between Organization and Legion operatives had been legendary, but there’s been a tentative peace for the last seven years or so–since the Legion had mostly eradicated the Organization’s forces. Now it seems as if they have been building up their team again, using a brainwashing agent known as a Hound to turn Legion members and new heroes to their malicious cause.

On the life front, Javier meets Rick, an attractive and popular boy at school, who seems like he wants to date him. And they hit it off. It’s so sweet and a bit overwhelming, which is why Javi doesn’t immediately notice the physical similarities between Rick and this Johnny Black guy.

I seriously adored this story. Javier is such a good and honest kid. He’s way out of his depth, but he’s striving to be the best person he can, while also keeping his big secrets. He learns pretty early that he’s fallen for Rick, and Rick is unfortunately under the sway of the Organization’s Hound. The ramifications mean they are always on opposite sides, even as Javier fights to win his mind and heart back. They have lots of discussions about right and wrong, and how to manage the divide across which they find themselves.

The tone and language of the story is perfectly aligned with a YA story framework. Javi and Rick have real-life teen drama angst, on top of the superhero/villain issues they both face. It’s a creative story with heart and interesting experiences and plotting. I loved Javi’s heart and his questioning of the situation and his plans. He loves his parents, and he’s trying to protect them, Rick, Rick’s family, his friends and all the people of Liberty City. He’s a good kid, and he does save the day, over and over, while also following his heart.

Interested? You can find JUNIOR HERO BLUES on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $50 NineStar Press GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
J.K. Pendragon is a Canadian author with a love of all things romantic and fantastical. They first came to the queer fiction community through m/m romance, but soon began to branch off into writing all kinds of queer fiction. As a bisexual and genderqueer person, J.K. is dedicated to producing diverse, entertaining fiction that showcases characters across the rainbow spectrum, and provides queer characters with the happy endings they are so often denied.

J.K. currently resides in British Columbia, Canada with a boyfriend, a cat, and a large collection of artisanal teas that they really need to get around to drinking. They are always happy to chat, and can be reached at jes.k.pendragon@gmail.com.

You can catch up with J.K. on Instagram, and twitter.

Now Available: THE SOCIAL CLIMBER–Excerpt & Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing an excerpt and giveaway for a new YA LGBTQ romance from Jere’ M. Fishback. is a coming-of-age story for a couple of high school kids whose aspirations to popularity lead to heartbreak and infamy. This is the second book I’m going to read from this author, both with near-historical settings in Florida. If you like New Adult coming out stories, you might try BECOMING ANDY HUNSINGER, which I really enjoyed.

Drop down to catch an excerpt and get in on the book giveaway, too!
About the book:
High school classmates, Josh Livingstone who’s gay, and his straight friend Simon LePage, hatch a plot to improve their status at school by creating new images for themselves. But their efforts ultimately blow up in their faces, leading to both comical and heartbreaking results, as they learn lessons in life and love the hard way.

How about a little taste…

Life’s never easy, is it?

I was born working class, so you might say I didn’t experience the finer things this world had to offer, not as a boy anyway. I grew up in Pinellas Park, Florida, a place mostly populated by working stiffs and their families, coupon-clipping retirees, and trailer park dwellers.

We had our own high school, but every year our football team sucked, due to lousy coaches, indolent linemen who wouldn’t hit too hard, and lack of a decent place kicker, since we didn’t have a youth soccer league in Pinellas Park. Some folks tried to start one once, but only three kids signed up. That’s right—three.

Are you surprised I actually know the meaning of a word like “indolent”? Well, I’m not stupid, as you will soon see.

Back to my early life…

Here’s an example of our pitiful Pinellas Park subculture:

When I was in fourth grade, our school principal, Lyman Reddick, got himself suspended for arriving at school with a loaded deer rifle hanging from the rack in his truck cab, the dumb shit. Even at age nine, I’d have known better. I mean, bringing a gun to a school full of kids—how stupid is that? He’s lucky the school board didn’t order his nuts cut off.

My daddy was a plumber. For a time, he worked for Sonny Saunders, snaking clogged sinks and sewer lines, fixing leaky faucets, and installing new toilets for folks who couldn’t or wouldn’t do that sort of work themselves. But Daddy was an independent cuss; he didn’t like the crap Sonny dished out to everyone who worked for him; plus, Sonny didn’t pay worth shit.

So, Daddy quit and started his own plumbing business. He had little cards printed up, calling himself “Rodney the Sunshine Plumber,” and he sent me and my older sister, Sarah, from door to door, handing out the cards offering new customers a 15 percent discount on their first service call. And it was kind of scary knocking on doors and ringing doorbells, especially at houses with Beware of Dog signs in their yards. I could hear the barking inside when I approached.

Sometimes, grouchy men or women would answer their doors; they’d tell me to get lost and leave them alone. But most folks were nice enough. They’d take a card and turn it over in their fingers while diddling their lips, and more than a few would say something pleasant like “It’s sweet you’re helping your daddy with his business.”

I believe there are many good people in this world, I truly do. It’s just the asshole minority who ruin everything for the rest of us.

About my parents…

Daddy’s from a village called Poverty Hill, South Carolina, right across the Savannah River from Augusta. His parents still live there in a double-wide trailer, off in the woods, with a deep well, a septic tank, four dogs, and a leaky roof. The nearest Walmart’s in Belvedere.

We only stayed in Poverty Hill once, when I was ten. What I remember best about that visit was Daddy and Grandpa getting into an argument after drinking too much George Dickel on Christmas Eve. Around midnight, Momma and Daddy rousted me and Sarah from our beds. They threw all our shit into the trunk of Momma’s car—suitcases, wrapped Christmas gifts, and even a turkey we’d brought from Florida. Then we drove all night, with Momma behind the wheel while Daddy snored in the passenger seat. We arrived in Pinellas Park just when the sun came up.

I’ll tell you, that was one crazy Christmas at our house. When we got home from Poverty Hill, everyone went to bed and slept till noon, and I don’t know who was in a worse mood when we all got up, Daddy or Momma.

Momma’s one-quarter Cherokee, and when she gets angry, you’d best look out since her blood takes to boiling and then all hell breaks loose. You know Momma’s mad when she starts throwing things: dishes, saucepans, ashtrays, you name it. And that Christmas afternoon, her target was Daddy. She kept pelting him with household items; I think she even threw a vacuum cleaner at him.

Daddy didn’t try to stop her. He just lay on the living room sofa, nursing his hangover and sheltering his head with a throw pillow while Momma hurled insults and tangible objects.

“Rodney, you sonofabitch,” she hollered after heaving a coffee can at Daddy. “That’s the last time you’ll drag me and our kids up to godforsaken Poverty Hill. And if I never see your folks again, it’ll be too soon.”

Momma didn’t get the turkey into the oven till three that day, so we had to eat dinner at eight. At least by then, Momma had settled down. She made Daddy get off the sofa and head for the bathroom to shower and shave.

“You’re not going to look like a bum at the table tonight,” she told him. “Set an example for your children, why don’t you?”

Momma was a fine cook, and dinner was very good, despite everybody’s soured holiday spirit. The turkey meat was moist, and the bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, and fresh green beans were all tasty, especially when I drowned them in gravy. Halfway through the meal, we all started smiling a little, and Daddy even laughed a few times when describing his quarrel with Grandpa.

“The dumbass squandered most of his November social security check on lottery tickets, so he didn’t have any money to buy Christmas gifts for my momma, nor for Josh and Sarah.”

My name’s Joshua by the way, but everyone has always called me Josh, even my schoolteachers.

Like always, Momma and Daddy went overboard on presents for me and my sister. Sarah, who was eleven and getting to the age where her appearance mattered to her, received mostly clothing items and face makeup, while I got a Nintendo with several games, and also a BB gun, something I’d requested the past two Christmases but didn’t receive.

“You’re old enough to own one now,” Daddy said. “Shoot at cans and bottles in the backyard, by the garage, but leave the birds and squirrels alone. If I catch you taking shots at living things, I’ll take the gun away. Understand?”

Anyway, Daddy’s plumbing business did okay. He had a way with people; he could talk to a perfect stranger like he’d known the guy all his life. At first, he got business mostly by word of mouth, and then a general contractor started using him on jobsites to run sewer lines, hook up sinks, and install toilets. The money rolled in, and Daddy bought a new Silverado king cab. It looked so pretty and shiny, sitting in our driveway, but then the contractor went belly-up.

Without the contractor’s flow of business, Daddy fell behind on his truck payments, and eventually the bank repossessed the Silverado. It was a sad day, I’ll tell you, when they towed that truck away. Daddy had to borrow money from his brother, Vernon, who lived in Cocoa Beach, so he could buy a used truck, a beat-up F-150 with oxidized paint and missing its front bumper. The poor thing looked so forlorn, and I’m sure my folks felt embarrassed when the neighbors saw it, but a plumber has to have transportation. He has to carry his tools and all to wherever he’s working.

Momma was a dynamite seamstress; she did work for others in our part of town, making drapes, altering dresses, and letting the waists out on men’s trousers. Again, most of her work came via word of mouth, and it was all cash business. IRS never knew about income Momma generated from her sewing.

Looking back, I realize our circumstances were modest by most folks’ standards. Okay, our house had three bedrooms and two baths, but the floors were bare linoleum and the furniture looked like it came from a thrift store. Thank god we at least had central air-conditioning, a blessing in central Florida’s sweltering climate.

Sarah and I were both good students, although Sarah was smarter and more popular than me. She always got straight A’s, while I earned a mix of A’s and B’s.

And god forbid if I got assigned to the same teacher Sarah had been taught by the previous year. It happened fairly often, and when it did, on the first day of school when the teacher called roll, things always went something like this:

“Joshua Livingstone?”

I’d raise my hand.

“Are you related to Sarah Livingstone?”

“She’s my sister.”

The teacher would cluck her tongue while shaking her head. “You’ve got some big shoes to fill in my classroom, mister. I hope you’re up to it.”

Great. Just great…

When I reached seventh grade, I attended Pinellas Park Junior High, a one-story brick structure with exterior corridors and a basketball gymnasium. PE was required for all students, and on my first day at school, I met with my instructor, Coach McCullough, and my male classmates in the gym, where the students sat on bleachers and listened to McCullough acquaint us with his expectations. A gruff, barrel-chested man with a mullet haircut, he wore football shorts, leather sneakers, and a T-shirt damp in the armpits. A whistle hung from his neck by a braided cord.

“Unless you’re sick, I expect each of you to dress out every time class meets, no exceptions.”

Momma had already taken me shopping at J. C. Penney for my PE uniform: a T-shirt with the school’s name on it, cotton shorts, a jock strap, athletic socks, and tennis shoes. We had to buy a combination lock for my gym locker too.

McCullough led us into the locker room, where odors of mildew and human sweat hung in the steamy air. Rows of lockers lined the walls, except on one end of the room, where the tiled gang showers were located.

“You’ll change in here each class period and lock your belongings in your assigned locker. At the end of class, you’ll have fifteen minutes to shower and get dressed before dismissal bell. Showers are mandatory for all students. Again, no exceptions.”

My heart raced and I swallowed hard.

I have to get naked in front of all these guys?

I glanced here and there. Some boys blushed and several more chewed hangnails or wagged their knees. So, I wasn’t the only one in the room who felt nervous about bathing with others. But it seemed we had no choice, and I figured if the older guys at our school had managed to survive gang showering, I could too.

Grow some balls, Livingstone. You can do it.

I’m excited to read this one and share my review on Joyfully Jay in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, if this one sounds interesting, be sure to check out the purchase links below.

Interested? You can find THE SOCIAL CLIMBER on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $10 gift card from NineStar Press.

Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Jere’ M. Fishback is a former journalist and trial attorney. He lives on a barrier island on Florida’s Gulf coast, where he enjoys watching sunsets with a glass of wine in his hand and a grin on his face.

Catch up with Jere’ on his website, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Teen Love THE NEW NEXT ONE–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a Teen M/M contemporary romance from life- and writing-partners Ryan Taylor and Joshua Harwood. THE NEW NEXT ONE features two closeted hockey teammates and best friends finally revealing their true feelings, and finding love they never had expected at an all-boys college prep high school. This book is a bit of a prequel to NICE CATCHING YOU, a New Adult hockey romance which I really liked. Other stories from these authors that I’ve enjoyed include WHAT HE REALLY NEEDS and TOO CLOSE TO THE FLAME.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the giveaway for a $25 GC.
About the book:
How much are you willing to give up for the man you love?

Best friends Nick Johnson and Tyler Jensen seem to have the world by the tail. The eighteen-year-old stars of their school’s hockey team are looking forward to playing in college and hoping for careers with the pros.

Nick and Tyler know a lot about each other, but there are a few important details they haven’t discussed. To start with, neither man knows the other is gay. Making things interesting, Nick has a massive crush on Tyler, something he’s kept to himself for a long time. And although he’s never said a word about it, Tyler has wanted to date Nick since they met.

On a cold Minnesota night after a big win, Tyler finds the courage to confess his feelings to Nick. When Nick admits his attraction to Tyler, their relationship turns on a dime. As they fall in love, they skate around the challenges of a secret romance in an all-male boarding school, but what will happen when the stakes rise dramatically in a sport not known for being gay-friendly? Will Nick and Tyler make the easy choice or the hard one?

The New Next One is a 20,000-word, new adult, friends-to-lovers romance featuring young athletes, plenty of steam, and a lot of emotion. The events of this book precede those told in the authors’ book Nice Catching You.

How about a little taste?

The two of us bundled up and walked south along the lakeshore. We talked about different things—school, what was going on in the NHL, and the big celebration of our championship that would happen the next week when everyone was back on campus. Ty reached for my hand after we passed the cabin. Even with both of us wearing mittens, it felt incredibly good to be out walking on a beautiful day, openly showing affection with my boyfriend. By the time you’re eighteen, holding hands with somebody you’re dating probably doesn’t seem exciting to most people; for me, it was huge, and I wanted to shout out loud. Instead, I pulled us to a stop and kissed him.

Afterward, he tweaked my nose. “I know everybody we play against thinks you’re a real bastard, but you’re actually a sweetheart.”

I gave it right back to him. “They all think you’re a bastard too. Haven’t decided where I stand on that.”

“What do you mean?” He turned his head to the side, looking very cute with tufts of hair sticking out from under his Penguins beanie. “I’ve always been nice to you.”

“I guess so.” I gave him another peck. “Why’d you make me wait all these years?”

I made you wait? Hell, I’m the one who finally worked up enough courage to do something about it.”

Turning him loose, I backhanded his arm and made a silly face. “I guess I’m glad about that.”

His jaw fell into an open-mouthed smile, and he shook his head. “Every man for himself, Johnson!”

He took off running, and I laughed hard as he bent over to pick up a fistful of snow. Quickly shaping it into a ball, he threw it at me and missed by a mile.

“You throw like a girl, Jensie!” I followed that up with a snowball of my own, hitting him in the middle of the chest.

“That’s it, you’re really gonna get it now!”

An epic snowball fight followed as we whooped and hollered, tossing chirps back and forth almost as fast as we volleyed snowballs. We worked our way into the woods as we ran. Ty was a good shot, and we played like little boys on recess after a hard morning at school. When we were both covered with snow and out of breath, Tyler stared at me until my heart raced with anticipation. Finally, he broke into a run. His hug was bone-crushing, and the hungry kisses were messy and delicious. The moment was all fire and promise, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the dorm. He pulled away from my mouth and mumbled, “You’re the most beautiful thing I ever saw, Nick.”

I huffed in cold air while my heart tried to hammer through my ribcage. “Not as beautiful as you.” I pulled him closer for a slow, deep kiss, and when that finally broke, he got a naughty gleam in his eye.

“We’re already covered with snow, so—” He pushed hard, and I tumbled backward into a snowbank. He jumped on top of me, and we wrestled around, making out while we laughed and played. My scarf slipped out of place, and Ty kissed my throat over and over, making me as hard as one of the trees surrounding us. After more rolling around, I was on top, and we lay humping in the snow. We had on heavy parkas, and it was too cold to take off any clothes, so our game was destined to end in frustration. All the better for a mind-blowing first time later that night.

We’d long since removed our mittens, and when we stilled, I wiped some snow off his cheek. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’ve never felt this way before.”

“Nothing’s wrong, Nick. Everything’s right for once. We’ve got each other.”

My Review:
Nick and Tyler are both seniors in high school at a Catholic boys prep in Minnesota. They play on the once lauded hockey team, and are both closeted–even to each other. They are so afraid of letting anyone know their secrets, that they are both emotionally isolated.

Tyler finally drops some rather ribald hints that turn Nick’s thoughts in the direction that he might be interested in more then their deep friendship. Could Tyler be interested in him…that way? Nick is nervous to have any contact that could harm their relationship, but what if they could have something special… And how can they keep it on the down-low from the rest of their teammates?

This book felt really more upper YA than New Adult, with the students being in high school, and them looking forward to college. Their schemes to find alone time and practice their sexytimes felt appropriately juvenile to the ages of the characters. There is a little complication with a teammate who is inordinately inquisitive, but it doesn’t take long to sort those out. We have a heads up that this boyhood romance is not built to last, because Nick is the protaganist of a fully NA M/M romance that came out a few months back. It was sweet to see him actually find connection, and it was clear how much Nick really needs to live his truth–to have a boyfriend who truly cares for him, to feel whole.

Expect first times and heart-felt confessions. Expect promises made and plans to change. For an athlete-based romance there isn’t an enormous amount of sport in the book, more along the lines of athlete-adjacent situations like training facilities and locker rooms and sweaty encounters. The plans Nick and Tyler make are those of boys, hopeful and irrepressible, and totally unsuited to the new and unexpected paths they are meant to walk. It’s bittersweet watching their romance build, and then wane, as they come of age and enter college. There is a good resolution, and knowing that Nick does find a solid partner later into college, helps take the sting from first love.

Interested? You can find THE NEW NEXT ONE on Goodreads and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $25 Amazon GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Authors:
Ryan Taylor and Joshua Harwood met in law school and were married in 2017. They live in a suburb of Washington, DC, and enjoy travel, friends, dogs, and advocating for causes dear to their hearts. Josh and Ryan love writing, and the romance they were so lucky to find with each other inspires their stories about love between out and proud men.

You can catch up with Ryan and Joshua on their website, Goodreads, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

EVERYTHING I THOUGHT I KNEW–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary YA romance with supernatural elements from Sharon Takaoka. EVERYTHING I THOUGHT I KNEW features a girl coping with the physical and emotional upheaval in her life following a heart transplant.

About the book:
A teenage girl wonders if she’s inherited more than just a heart from her donor in this compulsively readable debut.

Seventeen-year-old Chloe had a plan: work hard, get good grades, and attend a top-tier college. But after she collapses during cross-country practice and is told that she needs a new heart, all her careful preparations are laid to waste.

Eight months after her transplant, everything is different. Stuck in summer school with the underachievers, all she wants to do now is grab her surfboard and hit the waves—which is strange, because she wasn’t interested in surfing before her transplant. (It doesn’t hurt that her instructor, Kai, is seriously good-looking.)

And that’s not all that’s strange. There’s also the vivid recurring nightmare about crashing a motorcycle in a tunnel and memories of people and places she doesn’t recognize.

Is there something wrong with her head now, too, or is there another explanation for what she’s experiencing?

As she searches for answers, and as her attraction to Kai intensifies, what she learns will lead her to question everything she thought she knew—about life, death, love, identity, and the true nature of reality.

My Review:
Chloe is a senior in high school, on the cross-country team and in the AP classes. It’s fall and she’s prepping her applications. She’s made all the right academic and social moves to guarantee her admission to an amazing college of her own choosing, but a heart defect puts all her many and detailed plans on hold. Near Christmas she is saved by a donor heart, and we fast forward to the summer, because her recovery blotted out the majority of her senior spring and she is now in summer school to complete her courses and graduate. Chloe’s friends are moving on, planning a summer of fun before they start college, and she’s adrift. Nightmares claim her giving her glimpses of a tunnel and crash. Is this a memory of her own? Or one from her donor?

She’s never made time for recreation, but she feels inexplicably called to the ocean, and surfing. She finds a private instructor and plans lessons for a time when she’s supposed to be at the library. She also befriends Jane, another senior whose failed school because she just doesn’t care. Her family life is broken and she’s in need of attention however she can find it. Jane’s a party girl and she doesn’t mind bringing the staid Chloe on her adventures in San Francisco. But, most importantly, she begins to connect deeply with her surfing instructor, Kai, who has his own secrets.

Chloe’s growing strength and independence lead her to reach out to her donor’s family–who wants no contact. Seeking closure, and a reason behind the nightmares and memories that are not her own, causes Chloe to impinge on the privacy of the grieving, and alienate herself from those few people who have stood with her. It’s a 180 from her “before” life, and it’s in ways both empowering and self-destructive.

This story is like others written and reported from organ donors, of the liminal spaces between life and death, memory and experience. There are some odd and different twists here, and I think I struggled with the final reveal of Chloe’s true donor. For me, it crossed boundaries that brought in the supernatural–which was beyond what the plot supported. I thought I was getting a romance with soul-searching, but once the twists started to unravel I couldn’t shake the feeling those coincidental clues just didn’t all add up. That’s not to say it wasn’t a good read. I think that it was, and there were lots of powerful and poignant moments of connection that teens and adults who like teen reads could appreciate. It’s sex-innocent, though there are situations of excessive drinking and getting high, so I wouldn’t call it “clean” per se. I recommend it with the caveat that end is not “happy” in the YA romance-sense though the resolution is complete.

Interested? You can find EVERYTHING I THOUGHT I KNEW on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

About the Author:
Shannon Takaoka is a young adult fiction author who loves books (of course) and all things nerdy. (Time travel? Weird science-y stuff? Alternate realities? Yes, please.) She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two children and one very needy dog. Her debut novel, EVERYTHING I THOUGHT I KNEW, about a 17-year-old girl questioning everything about who she is and who she wants to be following a heart transplant, will be published by Candlewick Press in 2020 and Walker UK in 2021.

Catch up with Shannon on her website and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Living Your Best Life CINDERELLA BOY–Promo and Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a promo for a contemporary LGBTQ story for new-to-me author Kristina Meister. CINDERELLA BOY features a genderqueer teen boy finding unexpected love with his sister’s ex-boyfriend.

About the book:
Being perfect isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Sixteen-year-old Declan is the perfect son . . . except for one tiny issue. When his sister Delia comes home to find him trying on her clothes, he fears her judgment, but she only fears his fashion choices. One quick makeover later, Declan is transformed into Delia’s mysterious cousin Layla and dragged to the party of the year, hosted by Carter, the most popular boy in school.

When Carter meets Layla, he fumbles to charm her. He adores her sense of humor and her poise. But when she vanishes in the middle of the night, he’s left confused and determined to solve the mystery of who she is.

As their school year begins, their high school embraces a policy of intolerance, and both Declan and Carter know they must stand up. Carter is tired of being a coward and wants to prove he can be a knight in shining armor. Declan is sick of being bullied and wants desperately to be himself. If they team up, it could be a fairy-tale ending, or a very unhappy ever after.

I wrote a full review of the audiobook on Joyfully Jay for CINDERELLA BOY, and if you go read my New-To-Me Challenge review and make a comment by midnight on Saturday you will be entered in the weekly drawing for a $25 GC for JMS Books, and the month-wide drawing for a Kindle Paperwhite filled with 50 ebooks from NineStar Press!

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

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.

Unexpected Horrors THE BACHMANN FAMILY SECRET–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a contemporary LGBTQ YA thriller with romantic elements from Damian Serbu. THE BACHMANN FAMILY SECRET features a teen boy who sees ghosts battling it out with the malevolent spirit haunting his family homestead.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
Jaret Bachmann travels with his family to his beloved grandfather’s funeral with a heavy heart and, more troubling, premonitions of something evil lurking at the Bachmann ancestral home. But no one believes that he sees ghosts.

Grappling with his sexuality, a ghost that wants him out of the way, and the loss of his grandfather, Jaret must protect his family and come to terms with powers hidden deep within himself.

How about a little taste?

I trembled at the thought of returning to Nebraska for my grandpa’s funeral.

Even he told me not to return.

Of course, you can’t explain the situation to your parents, or say your concerns out loud to anyone, without the world thinking you’d gone bonkers.

Still, after my uncle called Dad to tell us Grandpa died, Gramps tried for the past day to keep me at home.

Yeah, my dead grandpa warned me not to go to Fremont, which meant no way I wanted to go either. I trusted him dead as much as I trusted him with all my heart when he lived.

But what Gramps and I wanted did not matter. Because we all planned to get into Dad’s Blazer and drive back to Fremont, to the big Victorian house that had comforted me so much my entire life as the embodiment of Gramps’s love, to the small town we’d left behind years ago.

Unfortunately, none of these dreadful thoughts took me away from the reason I shut my eyes a moment ago and worked with all my power to keep them closed.

Sitting on my bed next to my suitcase and hugging my knees close to my body, I knew Gramps still stood in the corner with a frown. His ghost was upset, and his agitation had to do with my going to his funeral.

Keeping my eyes shut, I reached over next to me, at least comforted by the presence of my dog.

Then my mind played a fucked-up trick on me, as I giggled at my thoughts. I wished for a support group. Hi, I’m Jaret, and I see dead people. Like the frickin’ movie, with what’s-his-name acting in it. The Die Hard guy. Not that I ever wanted to see ghosts. Nope, never did. But ever since I was a kid, as early as I could remember, I saw them. And I learned pretty quickly to keep my mouth shut about my visions, no matter how many times I saw them. People would look at me like I went nutso if I told them such stuff. The other high school kids would freak. My own parents signed me up for the shrink farm when I was in third grade because I told them about the old man ghost in my classroom who made mean faces at me when I got an answer wrong. But could I blame them? My story sounded bonkers and scared the shit out of them. For all I know, the ghost sightings proved once and for all I am nuts.

Back to my senses, I took a deep breath and peeked over at the corner. Still there. Gramps shook his head, the way I remembered from when he wanted to teach me a lesson when I was little. The love had sparkled in his eyes even as he’d reprimanded me, and his ghost form adopted the same demeanor, despite his displeasure with my insistence on traveling to Nebraska.

I almost tricked myself into believing he still lived, except I had watched him materialize out of nowhere in my bedroom. One minute I stared at my hot picture of Captain America, the next Gramps blocked the poster from view as he appeared to me.

“Gramps,” I whispered. “I don’t know what you’re trying to say.” My head pounded with a headache, always a sign the dead had arrived for a visit. “Please help me. I don’t know what you want. Or how I’m supposed to do it. I’m not in charge around here! You know I have no power.”

He shook his head again, and the word “no” echoed through my skull.

“I got your message!” I yelled as a jolt of pain crashed through my brain. “You don’t want me to go back to Fremont. But I can’t not go. What would I tell my parents?” They’d scold me about making stuff up about ghosts again. Or could I even mention the episode to Jenn and Lincoln, my sister and brother? Too embarrassing. “Gramps, I’m sorry. I have to go. Please understand.”

Again Gramps shook his head, but then began to fade away.

“No. Please. I miss you—”

He disappeared, and Darth whined next to me, her ears back, her big brown eyes worried. At least my head returned to normal, except my stomach turned over in knots. A very, very bad force lurked in Fremont, bad enough Gramps’s spirit left his house to warn me.

I pulled Darth into a tight hug, so she pushed her snout into me. Even she tried to keep me from packing. She listened to Gramps’s warning and took his plea to heart. Yeah, I’m a strange case. I bond with dead people and dogs. I petted her and she whined again. “Don’t be sad. You get to go too.” Of course, I figured my assurance might make the fear worse for her.

I sighed as I stood, Darth mimicking me, and then grabbed my suitcase and headed upstairs, Darth on my heels.

“Look at the bright side,” I told her. “First we have a long car ride through Nebraska! And—Dad informed us no one can take a cell phone. How cool, right? No contact with the real world the whole time!” While Dad often flipped out about our being on our phones too much, he’d lost it with total abandon today. He forbade any phones on the trip, whatsoever. We all caved, though, because, well, first the order came from our dad. We never won those battles. And I think we all figured the phone rage related to his grief.

Darth tilted her head at me, trying hard to understand my words. “Plus, Gramps doesn’t even have a computer!”

We always dealt with the old-world nature of visiting Gramps, but we needed to bury him, which made the whole thing feel like total bullshit. No phones. No computer. Like 1890 all over again. Not to mention the ghosts fucking with me more than usual.

All these dreadful thoughts continued to float through my head as one cornfield after another flew by on the trip to Fremont. I stared out the window the entire time. But my mind kept reminding me we hurried toward a black hole, with nothing good at the other end.

I stifled another inappropriate giggle. The latest horror movie, starring Jaret! The dark stairs seemed foreboding, so I headed right down them! The evil monster ran into the woods. I charged in there alone after the beast! Every movie watcher screamed to go the other way, but the idiot actor plodded right into the danger. Except I became the idiot. Fuck me.

Plus, my head hurt like I got it smashed between two elevator doors. No way to forget the bad premonitions when your head reminded you of them every second.

Thankfully, we all stayed pretty quiet for the entire trip, given the grief of the moment.

My Review:
Jaret Bachmann is a closeted high school senior with an even bigger secret than his sexuality: he can see ghosts. He’s been able to his whole life, but it’s particularly poignant now that his dear Gramp’s spirit is popping into his bedroom in Colorado to warn him against returning to the family homestead in Fremont, Nebraska. Jaret would love to be able to stop his family from returning there, but he doesn’t have that power, and he’s afraid if he tells his parents about his sight they’ll commit him; previous experience did land him in counseling until he recanted.

In Fremont, the entire family is staying in the ancestral home, Jaret’s family, and that of his dad’s brother as well. THey have decided they want to sell the house instead of keeping it, because his aunt is terrified of the ghosts that live there. No one has actually seen a ghost, okay, no one by Jaret and he ain’t telling. Still there’s a lot of weirdness. Jaret’s dad and uncle agree selling the house is a decent plan, but not before they locate the precious heirloom jewelry that Gramps had usually kept in some arcane spot under the floorboards–which is now empty. Everyone agrees that the jewels must be in the attic, because that the one place no one has looked–and the door is unable to be unlocked. It’s also the spot that Gramps’ ghost keeps warning Jaret away from…and he’s stuggling to keep it together until the funeral.

One good thing about returning to Fremont is meeting Steve, a football player who is inexplicably drawn to Jaret on the night they meet as Jaret walks his dog (and comfort animal), Vader. Vader has been a super ally for Jaret, barking her head off whenever malevolent spirits amble past. Steve is a nice distraction, but his interest seemed way too quick, considering he’s never found dudes that interesting, even ones related to the owner of the town’s famous haunted house. The interest is enough to give Jaret some courage, however, and he finally confides his big gay secret to more than just Vader.

This story is centrally about Jaret coming out about this powers to talk with the dead, (and more) and his sexuality. There is a deeply held family secret at the heart and root of Jaret’s abilities and if the family will only just listen and believe, he might just save the day. I thought Jaret’s deductions about his powers, and how gaining access to the sacred family gems revealed even more power that Jaret was able to harness. The story behind the ghost haunting the Bachmann family is rather sad, and has led to innocents dying in the past. The ghost is sure that homosexuality is a perversion that must be eradicated from the family, but the WHY of that conviction is pretty melancholy. Jaret’s a quick thinker, and great improviser, so he fakes it until he can make it–and that spunk made him more interesting.

On the whole, the language of the book was a bit lackluster, with lots of f-bombs and tired repetition of scenes giving the impression of laziness, instead of detail. How many times is the ghost going to accost Jaret? Or, send his mom to find him while he’s canoodling with Steve? Spoiler: all the times. The pace could have been tighter, but Jaret did read like and immature kid, so there’s bonus points for that. There were some weird plot situations that made little sense, like why Jaret’s dad would ban cell phones on this trip? What parent does this? Also, I got WAY tired of the autocratic dad thing, with Jaret’s dad and uncle making completely ludicrous plans and everyone going along because they were the “men”. I was glad Jaret finally grew a spine, and his ingenuity in taking care of the ghost was cool. The way he and Steve fell into “deep love” in a matter of days was less cool.

In all, it was a cool ghost story, with a teen finding powers deep within himself that enable him to stop the horror his family had been suffering for a few generations. The writing wasn’t as tight as I’m used to for YA, and the instalove was nearly more unbelievable than the paranormal magic thriller that served as a backdrop.

Interested? You can find THE BACHMANN FAMILY SECRET on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Damian Serbu lives in the Chicago area with his husband and two dogs, Akasha and Chewbacca. The dogs control his life, tell him what to write, and threaten to eat him in the middle of the night if he disobeys. He has published The Vampire’s Angel, The Vampire’s Quest, and The Vampire’s Protégé, as well as Santa’s Kinky Elf, Simon and Santa Is a Vampire with NineStar Press. The Bachmann Family Secret is (clearly) now available.

Keep up to date with him on his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

A New Beginning: YOU BROUGHT ME THE OCEAN–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary LGBTQ YA graphic novel from the writing team of Alex Sanchez, Julie Maroh and the DC Universe. YOU BROUGHT ME THE OCEAN is a creative re-imagining of Aqualad’s origin story, falling for a boy while growing up in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

About the book:
Jake Hyde doesn’t swim––not since his father drowned. Luckily, he lives in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, which is in the middle of the desert, yet he yearns for the ocean and is determined to leave his hometown for a college on the coast. But his best friend, Maria, wants nothing more than to make a home in the desert, and Jake’s mother encourages him to always play it safe.

There’s nothing “safe” about Jake’s future—not when he’s attracted to Kenny Liu, swim team captain and rebel against conformity. And certainly not when he secretly applies to Miami University. Jake’s life begins to outpace his small town’s namesake, which doesn’t make it any easier to come out to his mom, or Maria, or the world.

But Jake is full of secrets, including the strange blue markings on his skin that glow when in contact with water. What power will he find when he searches for his identity, and will he turn his back to the current or dive headfirst into the waves?

My Review:
Jake Hyde is an African American high school senior growing up in land-locked Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. His best friend, and next-door neighbor, Maria has a deep and unrequited crush for Jake. Jake suspects this, and tries to maintain some distance, because he really cares for Maria but he’s pretty sure that he’s got his own crush…on Kenny Liu, a green-haired swimmer at school. Kenny is out and proud, fighting back against bullies Jake doesn’t really want to tangle with.

Jake has no knowledge of his father, and his overprotective mom works long hours as a nurse, so he spends a lot of time bonding with Maria’s father. Jake has secretly applied to Miami University to study marine biology, his real passion. This is antithetical to Maria’s plans to attend the Univ of New Mexico together–and to stay far from the ocean–his mom’s dearest wish.
The essential conflicts are clearly elaborated in the limited writing format of the graphic novel, and well-supported by the evocative illustration. It’s easy to read the youthful yearning of Jake, Maria and Kenny. Their expressions and body language translate the story without confusion The bullies are ever present, and Jake is about to discover the true nature of the odd markings on his arms.

I enjoyed the story, which has a predictable, yet affirming, coming-out story. For me, knowing that this was a coming-out story, as well as an origin story, meant the plot needed to encompass a lot of changes in a little time. Jake has to navigate the difficult conversations with Maria, Kenny, and his mom about his plans, his attractions and the startling powers he’s discovering by accident. I felt the combined written story and illustration did manage to support the many points of intersection between youth, sexuality, coming of age, and development of Aqualad’s powers.

I read a preview copy and couldn’t stop turning the pages. I enjoyed the artwork, felt it conveyed all the descriptions a traditional novel would describe. It’s a compelling story, and I appreciated the inclusive character drawings. Kenny’s Asian-American, and Maria has Mexican descent. The youthful struggles Jake experiences are only magnified by the increased inadvertent development of his water-bending powers. The secret of his paternity is a heavy burden to carry, and I liked how that solidified his resolve to make better choices. He’s able to best his bullies, using good sense and a little bit of humor. The resolution demonstrates Jake’s willingness to do the right thing, taking his place in the DC superhero pantheon. He’s true to himself in all the ways possible.

Interested? You can find YOU BROUGHT ME THE OCEAN on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and wherever graphic novels are sold. I read a review copy provided by NetGalley.

About the Author:
Alex Sanchez has published eight novels, including the American Library Association “Best Book for Young Adults” Rainbow Boys and the Lambda Award-winning So Hard to Say. His novel Bait won the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Book Award and the Florida Book Award Gold Medal for Young Adult Literature. An immigrant from Mexico, Alex received his master’s in guidance and counseling and worked for many years as a youth and family counselor. Now when not writing, he tours the country talking with teens, librarians, and educators about books, diversity, and acceptance. He lives in Penfield, New York.

You can find Alex on his website, twitter, Facebook.

About the Illustrator:
Julie Maroh is a cartoonist, illustrator, feminist, and LGBTQ+ activist from Northern France. They wrote and illustrated the graphic novel Blue is the Warmest Color, about the life and love of two young lesbians, which was adapted into the award-winning film of the same name.

About DC’s YA Graphic Novels:
DC’s young adult graphic novels introduce DC’s most iconic Super Heroes to a new generation of fans with stories told by some of the most successful authors from the young adult publishing space. The YA titles are standalone stories, not part of DC’s ongoing continuity, and completely accessible to new readers who have no previous knowledge of DC characters.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Figuring Out That SCARLET GAZE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary YA M/M romance with magical elements from Foster Bridget Cassidy. SCARLET GAZE features a boy following a cryptic vision to a college where he’s astounded to learn he can wield magic. If only he can use it to save his boyfriend…

About the book:
After a paranormal encounter in his youth with someone from his future, Collin Frey sets his sights on getting to Marke Staple University. Now eighteen and with a full scholarship to the prestigious university, Collin hopes to find an explanation to that life-changing event. Unfortunately, it only leads to more questions.

Finding out he’s there to study magic is the first surprise. The second is his roommate, Terrence, looks identical to the person who started him on the path to Marke Staple.

Collin’s more than willing to sell his soul to get closer to Terrence and uncover all the secrets hidden there. Can knowing a man will change after making a horrible mistake ease the pain of betrayal? Collin is going to find out.

My Review:
Collin Frey has an encounter at the age of 11 or 12 that determines his life path going forward. While on a skiing trip with his family, Collin meets a sobbing man with shining red eyes he doesn’t know, yet who seems to know Collin intimately. This man begs Collin’s forgiveness, and has a gold coin minted with Collin’s name and face on it’s front and “Marke Staple University” on the reverse. He cannot forget the pain in that man’s scarlet gaze, and it drives Collin not only to discover this tiny, private, British university, but to study his booty off and get a full scholarship.

Collin’s also one of only five first year students admitted to the prestigious literature program at Marke Staple. Every student not in the literature program is a business major, like Collin’s roommate, Terrence, who IS the man from Collin’s youthful vision. He’s not sure if he should tell Terrance of their meeting years ago, or if Terrence will think he’s insane. Terrence doesn’t have shining red eyes, and he’s avid about getting to know–and maybe shag–Collin. Terrence is also the son of Collin’s Dean of students–and Collin soon learns that all the literature students and teachers possess magic–including himself. Most of the students in the business program are rudimentary practitioners, but Terrence has a lot of innate talent. He was banished from using his magic years before when he tried to summon a demon in a fit of pique. When a practitioner allies with a demon, their vision goes red–so Collin knows this must be what happens before Terrence goes back in time to meet his child-self.

Collin doesn’t know how to manage the magical world, but the instructors are very sympathetic. His cohort are nice enough, though they wonder how Collin got admitted without knowing he was magically-talented. Collin’s mission is now two-fold. To keep Terrence from making whatever mistake leaves him demon-possessed, and to figure out his talent in magic. Meanwhile, he’s falling steadily for Terrence, who’s bravado is all subterfuge to hide the pain of his youth, his estrangement from his father and his deep longing for connection. And…a little bit of delusions of grandeur. Collin’s talent seems to be in teleportation, a rare gift, and he’s wondering if he can teleport both space and time. He practices the space dimension, using the newly minted pure-gold coins that help practitioners harness and focus their magical abilities. He isn’t allowed to, but he takes Terrence on his teleporting forays. He even teaches Terrence how to teleport, and helps Terrence research how to seek the help of a demon, hoping that he can convince Terrence it’s the worst possible idea. He give Terrence all the rope he needs to hang himself, praying that he will use it to climb back from the abyss he’s manifesting.

This is an interesting romance, with lots of fantastic magical elements. Some of it felt a little convenient, and I wondered if Collin was simply the most gullible man in Great Britain the way he gave all his secrets away. His faith in Terence is almost unbelievable, but I think the most interesting piece of all of this was the connections that Collin made with his cohort and professors–people who wanted to help him save Terrence from himself and his unyielding ambition. There’s a decent amount of family drama, too, with all these high-flying magical teens having very prestigious families and uber high expectations. The way they all leaned on one another was fresh and engaging. For me, I was entertained, and enjoyed how the magical elements worked. I’m a big fan of Harry Potter, so this one scratched that M/M romance + magic + college life itch. It has a little bit of sexytimes, but not overwhelming for an upper YA/New Adult read.

Interested? You can find SCARLET GAZE on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books and Kobo. I read a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
FOSTER BRIDGET CASSIDY is a rare, native Phoenician who enjoys hot desert air and likes to wear jackets in summer. She has wanted to be a fiction writer since becoming addicted to epic fantasy during high school. Since then, she’s studied the craft academically—at Arizona State University—and as a hobby—attending conventions and workshops around the country. A million ideas float in her head, but it seems like there’s never enough time to get them all down on paper.

Her main support comes from her husband, who reminds her to laugh. Mostly at herself. Their partnership may be difficult to grasp when viewed from the outside, but seen from the inside they are a perfect match. He’s helped her though surgeries and sicknesses and is always willing to wash her hair when she can’t do it on her own.

Their children have four legs and fur and will bite them on occasion. One snores loudly.

For fun, Foster likes to take pictures of her dachshunds, sew costumes for her dachshunds, snuggle her dachshunds, and bake treats for her dachshunds. In exchange for so much love and devotion, they pee vast amounts on the floor, click their nails loudly on the tile, and bark wildly at anything that moves outside. Somehow, this relationship works for all involved.

While not writing, Foster can usually be found playing a video game or watching a movie with her husband. While not doing any of those things, Foster can usually be found in bed, asleep.

You can find Foster online on her website, Facebook, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Infatuated With HOW TO QUIT YOUR CRUSH–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary YA romance from Amy Fellner Dominy. HOW TO QUIT YOUR CRUSH features an adopted girl striving for perfection, and a boy grieving the loss of his dad planning a memorial quest. And the summer after graduation can start, just as soon as they get over one another…

About the book:
Mai Senn knows Anthony Adams is no good for her – no matter how hard she might crush on him. She’s valedictorian; he’s a surf bum. She’s got plans, he’s got his art. Complete opposites in every way. Vinegar and baking soda, they once joked. A chemical reaction that bubbled.

Yeah, they bubbled. Maybe still do.

Good thing Anthony’s got the perfect plan: two weeks to prove just how not good they are together. Whoever can come up with the worst date—something the other will seriously hate, proving how incompatible they truly are—wins.

Like taking a snake-phobe to the Reptile House at the zoo (his idea).

Or a cooking class where they don’t even get to eat the food (her idea).

It’s all about the competition, and it’s meant to help them finally crush their crushes. But it wasn’t supposed to be so hot. Or so fun. And when Mai’s future becomes at stake, will she be able to do the right thing and quit Anthony forever?

My Review:
Maya “Mai” Senn is the valedictorian of her Phoenix-area high school. She was adopted by two high-flying parents, people who are highly educated and want their children to be highly educated as well. Mai’s older brother was also a valedictorian and attends an ivy league college out east. Mai is accepted to a prestigious college in California, and has a great summer research internship all lined up to being in a few weeks. First, she’s going to spend two weeks grooming a trail in the Phoenix area as part of her parents’ philanthropy. Oh, and she’s also going to get over the baseball jock that she inexplicably connected with during spring break. To Mai’s mixed feelings Grant, a family friend she’s had feelings for off and on, has joined her work crew. Grant is getting over the break up of a long-term relationship, but he and his girlfriend are going in different directions. It’s smart to break up now, right?

Anthony Adams watched his dad die of cancer in his sophomore year. Since then, he’s stopped trying to really connect with people, or plan out his future. Why, when that future could easily be dashed by illness or injury. Better to go with the flow. He has friendships, especially with his teammates, so it’s really odd how drawn he was to Mai back in spring break. Their connection was short-lived though. Mai broke it off, knowing that Anthony was not the kind o boy her parents would accept. And now, with the end of school Anthony’s only mission is to make a biking pilgrimage to the campsites his dad had wanted make in the years prior to his death. Anthony is planning to take his bike, and his dad’s ashes, and find the right place to leave the ashes. Instead of heading right out, though, Anthony makes the impetuous decision to join Mai’s work crew just to spend some time with her. And, Mai’s mad.

Mai is a girl who has planned out her whole life based on her family’s high expectations. She lives in fear of getting lost, and being left behind–in part due to a traumatic experience as a child, and in part because of insecurity due to being an adopted child. Anthony refused to plan much beyond the next few days or weeks. He’s an artist, using recycled and reclaimed bits and turning them into sculpture is one way to pass his time. It’s not like it’s a lucrative skill, right. They are complete opposites, so why does stepping away feel so hard? Mai decides they need a plan to get over one another. Over the course of the two weeks they remain in the area they will meet at the library parking lot–because Mai’s parents think she’s going to study in advance of her summer research internship–and go on dates that are sure to be terrible. They won’t tell anyone, and they surely won’t kiss. They should be over one another in no time…

Except they aren’t. And their perfectly planned “terrible dates” get them deeper into one another than before. Mai’s parents keep pushing her to connect with Grant, and don’t understand why she won’t. Anthony is a force of his own, and instead of pulling away, he wants to pull Mai closer. Two weeks might not be enough time for Mai and Anthony to quit this crush.

I really liked this romance. It’s sweet and sassy. Neither Mai nor Anthony can figure out why they can’t move on, but they can’t. They get jealous, and they make impetuous choices. Like sneaking around and confessing their deepest secrets. Their bond strengthens and soon enough they are changing plans, or making plans to keep seeing one another. The vulnerability they both show, plus the hard conversations they make with their parents. Mai especially had a lot of difficult conversations that she floundered through, In the end, she made things right–but not before she made things bad between herself and Anthony. This story is a bit coming-of-age, and I liked how Mai finally got past her fears of abandonment, which fed her untenable perfection complex. Anthony learned that not thinking about his future was a way of closing off his life, not living it. Anthony was an easier character to like straightaway, but Mai was definitely sympathetic under her prickly exterior.

Interested? You can find HOW TO QUIT YOUR CRUSH on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books and Kobo. I read a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Hi! I’m the author of novels for teens and tweens as well as picture books for toddlers. I love writing stories that will make you laugh, sigh, swoon…and if I break your heart I promise to patch it up by the end. 🙂 Coming May 4th in YA Romance, the follow-up to Announcing Trouble: HOW TO QUIT YOUR CRUSH. May the worst date win!

I live and sweat in Phoenix, Arizona with my hubby and a puppy who is training us.

You can find Amy online on her website, Facebook, twitter, and Instagram.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!