Author: Hayden Thorne
Publisher: JMS Books
Length: 76,977 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Paranormal YA Romance
Heat: 1 – Sweet/None
Sex Frequency: 1 – None
Keywords/Tags: Homophobia, Coming of Age, Self-Discovery Focus, Single Moms, Awesome Moms!, Bullying, HEA, Alternate Reality/Otherworlds, Ghosts/Spirits, Ghouls, Zombies, Vampires, First Times (Kisses Only), Magic, Mystery, Magical Realism, Nerds/Geeks
Rating: Pretty Good
All fifteen-year-old Noah Hipwell wants is to go through high school in peace. Yet he finds himself suspended after a bully pushes him too far, and Noah’s forced to defend himself. His mother, fed up with the school’s indifference to his plight, pulls him out completely and leaves Noah uncertain of his future while they look for a good and safe school for him.
All Dorothy “Dot” Hipwell wants is to go through single motherhood in peace. Yet she and her son are harassed by weekly phone calls from her evangelical family hell-bent on guilt-tripping them both back into the fold. Then Noah’s grandparents ask strange questions about their old van after dropping cryptic references to a group called The Soul Warriors. Fed up, Dot takes Noah away for a much-needed getaway, only to find themselves suddenly transported to an alternate world, where a town called Helleville awaits them and all other condemned souls.
Along with warm-blooded, living human beings, the Hipwells rub shoulders with zombies, vampires, house ghosts, and occasional “green vomit piles” while picking up the pieces and sorting out what could very well be an eternity in a bizarre, fanciful, and humorous world of ghouls and banned books.
When residents suddenly disappear one by one with no trace and for no logical reason, however, doubts being “housed” in an alternate world for their sins are raised, and time suddenly becomes of the essence as Noah and the rest of Helleville’s condemned race to find answers to what’s quickly turning into a dangerous puzzle.
It’s been a while since I read a Hayden Thorne novel and now I remember exactly why I always want to read them! She has a particular quirky brain that makes her books unique in a way that always pulls me in. This wasn’t my favorite of her books, but it might be hard to top the Masks books anyway. Still, by the end of this book, I liked it and I really liked Noah.
Noah is fifteen and out of school. After a bad situation at his last public school, where some kids bullied him and he fought back, getting suspended, his super awesome single mom Dot went ape-shit on the administration for their blatant disregard of the bullying in their school and pulled Noah out. Since then, he’s been staying at home while his mother works two jobs and looks for a new, more inclusive school. Noah and his mom are pretty close, they’re their only family and they stick together. Well, Noah does have grandparents (Dot’s parents), but they really aren’t considered family — more like righteous stalkers. The calendar by the phone with bloody X’s mark the days that they call to harass them about their wicked ways (which include that Noah is gay and that Dot had him out of wedlock). It isn’t until his grandmother threatens to set The Soul Warriors on them that they get a little more worried.
When Noah and his mother decide to take a weekend road trip to a B&B to get away from all the phone calls, they find themselves transported to a strange alternate world that seems to be a ridiculous mockery of Hell — a town called Helleville filled with residents with similar experiences as them, full of banned books like Harry Potter and science textbooks that teach evolution, and weird and strange creatures like ghosts, vampires, zombies and ghouls. The strange thing is that though no one there can really figure out where they are and why they’re there (other than the fact that The Soul Warriors are behind everything), it isn’t the classic representation of hell that you’d expect. They’re well cared for with all the food they want for no money, the kids don’t have to take school (although they can sit in a class with Satan as a teacher if they want), and they’re surrounded by pristine nature with no need for jobs. The people there have formed a community of sorts with a mayor and everything, but they all have time to relax and enjoy the things that they didn’t have time for in life. Dot decides to take up crocheting.
They are, however, haunted by one serious problem. Every so often someone disappears. Soon after Noah and his mother arrive in Helleville, the fourth resident goes missing and no one can ever find them, no matter how many times they organize search parties and a night watch to try to catch anything abnormal. It isn’t until Noah makes a friend named John who loves to take pictures that they start to piece together the strange occurrences and what could be behind it all. But before Noah can get too attached to his new hobby of playing Sherlock Holmes he meets Alex, a boy his own age who seems to like him. Alex invites him to hang out with a few of the other teenagers in Helleville and finds that he’s not the only one with a crush on the nerdy teen. Matt, a cool seventeen, muscular and gorgeous, highly intelligent and the most popular kid involved in the community has a thing for Alex and he doesn’t intend for Noah, who he looks at like a bug under his shoe, to get in his way.
Before all of you m/m romance readers out there get excited, the romance in this story is kept on the back burner. Instead, this story is really Noah’s coming of age tale and his road to self-discovery. Helleville and the alternate reality they’ve been sent to acts as a catalyst to force Noah to grow. Before he was sent there, a lot of his own exploration of himself as a teenager had been stunted because of the bullying he experienced at school. He calls himself an introvert, but he’s really afraid to get back out into the world and try again, making friends and even meeting a guy he likes and taking a change. He has a lot of latent social anxiety and Helleville acts as a skewed kind of microcosm of the real world to get him to open up again. In Helleville, Noah can be someone new. He can meet and go on dates with a boy like Alex, he learns that he can have friends. And most importantly he learns that people can rely on him, that he has worth. Alex acts as part of that self-discovery, of course, and their relationship also is a somewhat significant part of the story, but it never progresses very far on page.
The pace and plot mimic Noah’s journey in a way. The POV is strictly Noah’s, so the first half of the book is quite sedate. I even read one reader’s review on Goodreads before I started reading that said that this book was boring. I wouldn’t say that, I quite enjoyed it. But there were a few times in the first half of the book that I set it down, read some other things and then picked it up later. I think that as long as you don’t go into this book expecting it to focus on Noah’s romantic life and that the story will be more about action than reflection, you’ll enjoy it. Also, if you haven’t read much of Hayden Thorne’s work by now you might not realize that most of her work is cerebral. This book is a reflection of Noah’s life, in almost an allegorical way. If you’d rather just read for fun and not want to focus on the meaning of it all, then you might find this story a bit slow … in the first half anyway, the second half was much more exciting.
So I definitely recommend this one. I really like Hayden’s work and I’ll always pick up her books when a new one is out. She always has a really great point of view coming from gay teenagers that it’s so easy to connect with. That, and sometimes this book just makes you go — What the FUCK?
Posted by Cole in 4 Pretty Good, 76-100k, Authors S-U, Contemporary, Heat 1 - Sweet/None, Paranormal, Romance, Sex Freq 1 - None, YA Tags: Alternate Worlds, Awesome Moms!, Bullies/Bullying, Coming of Age, First Times, Ghosts/Spirits, Ghouls, Hayden Thorne, HEA, Homophobia, JMS Books, Magic, magical realism, Mystery, Nerds/Geeks, Otherworlds, Self-Discovery Focus, Single Moms, Vampire, Zombies!
Author: Will Parkinson
Publisher: Dreamspinner (Harmony Ink)
Length: 53,637 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary YA Romance
Heat: 1 – Sweet/None
Sex Frequency: 1 – None
Keywords/Tags: Debut Novel, High School, Unrequited Love, Closeted, Best Friends, Straight/Gay Male Friendships, Coming Out, Coming of Age, Art/Artists, Sports, Baseball, Athletes, Abuse, Machiavellian Bad Guy, Evil Teenaged Girls!, Secrets & Lies
Rating: Not Feelin’ It
The day Jackson Kern walks into Taylor Andrews’s classroom is a momentous day in Taylor’s life. He’s had crushes before, sure, but as time goes on, this is starting to look a whole lot more serious. Still, Jackson doesn’t return Taylor’s feelings.
Taylor has his own admirers, though. Kevin Richards is used to getting what he wants, and what he wants right now is Taylor, so when Taylor rejects him, Kevin retaliates. At first Taylor’s entourage rallies around him, but then Kevin takes his deception one step further and Taylor sees his support dwindle, teaching him the valuable lesson about who he can truly consider a friend.
I’m always eager to pick up a baseball book and even though I’ve been interested in several and still plan to review a few of them, it has been a while since I’ve picked up a book from DSP’s young adult imprint. From what I gather in the acknowledgements, this is Will Parkinson’s debut novel. Sometimes it’s a gamble picking books to read by a new author or an author I’ve never read, but that’s another part of reviewing that I like. Reviewing gives me the opportunity to read new authors and it feels like I get to enjoy more of the perks, like finding a surprise that’s worth it. Often, it’s different though and while I like some of those books I also don’t like some of them. I’m afraid to say that this book fell into the latter camp for me. While it wasn’t a total disappointment, I just didn’t connect with the book.
Taylor is a gay sophomore in a Milwaukee, Wisconsin high school. His best friend Benny is straight and the only person alive who knows his secret. They’re best friends and always have been and Benny is a rather special guy that is wise beyond his years, intelligent and loyal. Pitch opens on the day that a new student starts at Taylor’s school. Jackson walks into Taylor’s homeroom, looking nervous and totally sexy and Taylor immediately wants to draw him. What follows over the next year is an intense unrequited love that just doesn’t seem to go away, no matter how hard Taylor tries and Benny cautions. No matter how much Taylor is told that Jackson is disgusted by his little boy crush from Jackson’s cheerleader girlfriend, Taylor just can’t seem to stay away.
It isn’t until he and Benny gain some perspective on their problems during the next summer, camp counseling for abused kids, that Taylor starts to grow up. He still has feelings for Jackson, but he’s less likely now to follow him around like a lost puppy. So when a kid from a neighboring school asks him out during their Halloween dance, Taylor decides to take him up on it. He really starts to like Kevin, but he is prey unknowingly walking into Kevin’s trap. It takes some extremely tough decisions and way too much heartbreak and drama to realize that much of what he thought before wasn’t true, about most of the people he knew.
There are two aspects of this novella that I had a difficult time with. The first are the characters. This, especially, is subjective. Part of what oftentimes makes a young adult novel good are the bad choices of the characters. More often than not young adult stories have a moral and it can walk a fine line in the hands of the author between preachy and poignant. The style of this story went a bit over the top and that just wasn’t something that I was really looking for. For high school students, who I freely admit can be some of the cruelest humans on Earth, many of the actions of these characters went beyond immature and foolhardy. I would have appreciated the characters and their decisions (even the bad ones) more if their actions had been more subtle and less ascribed to their particular archetype. Kevin’s actions in particular required me to suspend disbelief a few times.
As I said before, those decisions and your own feelings about them are more subjective than usual. My other problem with this story was in the writing. I applaud this author for writing and writing and sharing their work. But like many new authors I think that there were some fundamental writing problems that this author needs to work on. Mostly it will just take continued writing, so even though this book wasn’t for me, I sincerely hope that this author keeps up with it. Part of the novice prose problems were dialogue and restraint. In a way, the second has quite a bit to do with the first. This book didn’t fall into too bad of a habit of telling rather than showing, but there is importance in letting the characters express themselves in their own ways instead of being a vehicle to express the author’s view. I’m not talking about preaching about issues or anything like that here. I simply mean the difference between the characters’ observations and personality and the author’s. Almost continually there were times while reading this that I stopped and thought that a character wouldn’t say or think that. The dialogue, in a similar way, oftentimes sounded familiar for all the characters and didn’t seem to represent the individual characters. Restraint is important because readers don’t need all the information. It’s a partnership, you know? The readers picks up on the clues the author leaves and pieces them together and in that way one small action tells you more about the character than a whole page of narration.
Ultimately, this book just wasn’t for me because of the more dramatic plot twists. I have seen a couple of 5-star reviews around so I’ll be interested to see if any other readers/reviewers feel the way I do, or if this turns out to be a reader favorite. I’ve been a part of the more unpopular opinion before!
Posted by Cole in 2 Not Feelin' It, 41-75k, Authors P-R, Contemporary, Heat 1 - Sweet/None, Romance, Sex Freq 1 - None, YA Tags: Abuse, Art, Artists, Athletes, Baseball, Best Friends, Closeted, Coming of Age, Coming Out, Debut Novel, Evil Teenaged Girls!, Harmony Ink Press, High School, Machiavellian Bad Guy, Secrets & Lies, Sports, Straight/Gay Male Friendships, Unrequited Love, Will Parkinson
Author: Jamie Sullivan
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Length: 30k words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Paranormal Young Adult Romance
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few & Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Coming of Age, Young Adult Characters, Friends to Lovers, Kids, First Times, Childhood Friends/Sweethearts, Ghosts/Spirits, Orphan, Foster System, NYC, Awesome Covers!, Sweet & Light
Rating: Really Liked It!
Aaron is a lonely, unloved boy when he first meets James. Their friendship seems like a dream come true—or perhaps just a dream, because no one else can see or hear James. Aaron stubbornly clings to his new friend, however, even when the friendship makes him an object of scorn and ridicule. No matter the years that pass, or the challenges they face, Aaron refuses to give up on his best friend—but life might just find a way to take James from him anyway.
I wish I had an award to give out to this book! The Sweetest, Most Heartfelt, Make Me Go Gooey award. For those readers that take a chance on this book (and I’ll go ahead and say I bet it’ll probably be less than should), you’re going to find a book that is both a classic love story and at the same time unique in the romance world. The focus of this story is on love itself, in it’s most pure form, without sexuality (well, there’s a little bit of it, but it’s not the point) and while doing that, it whittles down the relationship to it’s purest form. It just hits a note early on that really harmonized with me. I felt like — as soon as I started the book — I got it and I was there with it right to the very end.
Imaginary starts with the line Aaron is five the first time he sees James. Aaron is a lonely orphan, raised in the foster system and bounced from home to home until he lands with Tiffany and Shaw, a travesty of a pair of parents that make Aaron know very well that they only want him for the paycheck he gets them. His dirty clothes and lack of toys mean that he’s set apart from the other kids. So when Aaron sees a boy sitting on the fence around the field near his house, he introduces himself and finds a friend that seems interested in all the same thing he is — running through the field and exploring the forest and the rabbit warrens, making up their own games. The gig is up, though, when the gossip-happy Tiffany tells Aaron that no boy named James lives in their neighborhood. And James is silent on answers. He doesn’t have any. He doesn’t know who his parents are or where his house is. He doesn’t remember anything before meeting Aaron except wandering around and being lonely.
Aaron is frustrated and angry that no one seems to believe him that James is real. Like all kids with imaginary friends, he’s told he’ll grow out of it, though Aaron talking to James around Tiffany or Shaw is a recipe for punishment and the threat of sending him away. Aaron learns to stop talking about James, but James doesn’t go away. As Aaron grows up over a series of ten years, James seems to grow with him, through puberty, making new friends and the confusing feelings about girls and Aaron’s feelings about them in relation to his best friend James.
Aaron doesn’t know if anyone will ever be able to see James besides him. But James means too much to him to ignore.
No matter the fact that the story is similar to a few that I’ve read/seen before in books and movies, I still couldn’t see the direction that this story was headed. I’m glad that I didn’t, I got to enjoy the story as it was intended, growing up with both boys and like them, not knowing the possibilities of their future, apart and hopefully together. It’s a story that produces natural angst, but despite tween and teenager years the story never delves into it. It remains a sense of purity, the same sort of purity and innocence that James brings to Aaron.
It’s truly a beautiful story and for most of it, I read it wearing a smile. It’s definitely a recommended read. I liked that the story was heavier on their earlier years as quite young boys and then more quickly moved through the 12-15 years, though I would have liked more story at the end.
For those looking for a sweet read, definitely check this one out. I feel lucky that I got to read it ahead of time and I wholeheartedly want to support it and make sure that more people are aware it. If you like sweet stories that aren’t fluff but have little to no sex then this is a good fit for you. And no matter how you might feel about the story’s execution, I challenge all of you who read it to not find it beautiful, heartfelt and touching 🙂
Note: This is by far, The BEST cover that I’ve seen from LT3, made by HM Burns and London Burden. It drew me to the story in the first place and it is perfect for the story.
Posted by Cole in 16-40k, 5 Really Like It, Authors S-U, Contemporary, Heat 2 - Romantic & Tame, Paranormal, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between, YA Tags: Awesome Covers!, Childhood Friends, Childhood Sweethearts, Coming of Age, First Times, Foster System, Friends to Lovers, Ghosts/Spirits, HM Burns, Jamie Sullivan, Kids, Less Than Three Press, Light & Sweet, London Burden, NYC, Orphan, Young Adult Characters
Author: Sam Kadence
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Length: 68k words, 230 pages
Genre: m/m YA Paranormal Romance
Heat: 1 – Sweet/None
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Famous, GFY, Ghosts/Spirits, Injured Character, Musicians, Past Abuse, Pets, Phoenix Shifter, Physical Abuse, Psychic Abilities, Secrets & Lies, Under Aged Character, Vampires, Young Adult Characters
Rating: Really Liked It
Reviewed by Nikyta
*This review contains some tiny spoilers*
Gene Sage has only ever wanted to sing, but his band, Evolution, is pushing him toward the big time. He finds it hard to focus on making musical history when he’s dreaming of graveyards and seeing ghosts. And while all he can think of is hiding who he is from a world unforgiving of anyone different, he discovers he’s also the ultimate snack for vampires and demons. When Gene literally runs into—over—his idol, Kerstrande Petterson, rock god, vampire in hiding, and music cynic, his life falls over the edge into chaos.
Jaded by the world and nearly a decade in the music business, Kerstrande thinks Gene wants to use him to make Evolution immortal in more than one way, but he can’t seem to brush aside the young singer’s enthusiasm.
Getting involved with Kerstrande drags Gene into otherworldly power struggles. Between the ghosts stalking them, the media painting supernaturals as villains, and a vampire out of control in the city, the only way for Gene and Kerstrande to survive is for Gene to embrace his powers—and his destiny.
I adored this story because I had so much fun reading it!
One thing I really enjoyed about this book were the characters. Genesis and Kerstrande have two very distinct voices that are nothing alike. Gene is almost too innocent and forgiving, sweet and nice but fun and eccentric. Kerstrande is grumpy, snarky, and more likely to give an insult than a compliment. They’re yin and yang and balance each other out nicely. In fact, the balance they give each other is a bit crucial to the story and explains some of the troubles they go through. Both Gene and Kerstrande have had a hard life but while Gene has made it his motto to just go forward, Kerstrande still lives somewhat in the past. Ashamed of who he is and what he has to do to survive, it’s not until being with Gene for a while that he realizes he doesn’t have to make things worse for himself. On the other hand, Kerstrande is able to give Gene the one thing he wants most – and that’s to be accepted and loved for everything he is, warts and all, even if Kerstrande doesn’t actually come out and say it. More than that, I loved how soft Kerstrande got around Gene (even when he was fighting those feelings) and even more that he let Gene nickname him KC.
This story took me on a slow but wild ride. It grabbed my attention from the beginning with the spectacular way Kerstrande and Gene met. There’s possession, jealousy, lust, love, distrust and heartbreak and a boat load of other emotions. Gene goes from a nobody to a star over night. From someone who barely knows his own powers to being thrust into the paranormal world without even knowing it or the dangers associated with it. Kerstrande is very hot and cold so a majority of the story is him trying to push Gene away but not being able to let him go. Overall, this book is about their journey, finding out who they are and accepting themselves and each other. One of the highlights of this story, though, is the back and forth between Gene and Kerstrande and the passion they have together. I felt like they had amazing chemistry with KC insulting Gene and Gene taking it in stride. It’s sort of sad but Gene understood why KC was so mean sometimes. Although, they don’t exactly know much of each other in the traditional sense, I was able to overlook that because of how much they go through together.
While I enjoyed this book immensely, there were some problems I had. Mostly, there were times when I was confused on what was going on, how and why some things happened but others didn’t, such as how Joel didn’t burn from the inside out but Hane did. Another thing, though, is that Kerstrande in the beginning was very firm on the fact he wasn’t gay to the point that was one of his main responses to whatever Gene was saying. However, he quickly overcame that objection so it had me wondering, was he in denial? Or was he just gay for Genesis? It’s not quite clear but either way I would have liked a little more detail on that because of how forcefully Kerstrande would tell Genesis that.
One thing readers should be aware of is that when Kerstrande and Gene start their unconventional relationship, Gene is underage. A few months shy of 18, in fact, while KC, the vampire, is a few years older…. Or is he… Anyway, they have sex although it’s not detailed but beautiful all the same and while I didn’t have a problem with this, I do understand that some readers might not take kindly to Gene being underage. So, this is me giving those readers fair warning. After all, this is a YA story 😉 I will say that Gene is very mature most of the time to the point I kept forgetting he was so young.
Overall, a great story that I really loved reading. It had its faults but I was so caught up in the book and the characters, it was easy to overlook them. I can’t wait to see what else this author has coming out next because I adored the writing and the style. There’s a lot of stuff that happened within this story but I didn’t want to give many details on it. Mostly because I want the reader to experience it for themselves but also because I would just sound crazy if I tried to explain it all. LOL. I definitely recommend this to those who enjoy young adult paranormal fantasies and I hope those who decide to read it like it as much as I did 🙂
Posted by Nikyta in 41-75k, 5 Really Like It, Authors J-L, Heat 1 - Sweet/None, Paranormal, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between, YA Tags: Famous, GFY/OFY, Ghosts/Spirits, Harmony Ink Press, Injured Character, Musicians, Past Abuse, Pets, Phoenix Shifter, Physical Abuse, Psychic, Sam Kadence, Secrets & Lies, Under Aged Character, Vampire, Young Adult Characters
Title: Surviving Elite High (Surviving Elite High #1)
Author: John H Ames
Publisher: Budding Moon Press (an imprint of Storm Moon Press)
Length: 53k words
Genre: m/m Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Keywords/Tags: Series, High School, Nerd/Jock, Nerds/Geeks, Poor/Rich, School Shooting, Bullying, Bisexual
Rating: Didn’t Like It
John Henry Ames is a sixteen-year-old boy from a small New Jersey town. John is humble, shy, and studious. He lives as an outcast in the shadows of an elite high school where he is tormented by two psychopathic bullies.
On the verge of dropping out of school due to overdue payments, a teacher enrolls him in a tutoring program where he meets the school’s star quarterback and hero, Nick Anthony Hawking. Since he was doing poorly in several subjects, Nick needs John’s help to pass and graduate high school. As John becomes closer to the jock, he develops a strong affection towards him even though Nick has a strong reputation of sleeping around with a lot of women. Nick becomes his friend and protector in school. Their sincere friendship helps to bring out the best in each of them, even as several tragedies, like a school shooting, threaten to change their young lives forever.
I am sorry to say that I had to force myself to finish this. And I definitely won’t be reading the rest of the series. I originally picked this up because I was in the mood for a high school young adult romance at the time, and I quite like reading the nerd/jock trope. I thought I was lucky, actually, that the book had been released prior in another edition and goodreads had so many reviews. And even luckier that there were so many good reviews — no, great reviews! I should have read further. If I had, I would have found all the one star reviews, and though I might have taken the gamble on which camp I’d fall into, I might not have, in which case I wouldn’t have had to force myself to finish for the review.
I suppose it could be said that it is personal taste how some people love this book and others hate it, and to some extent I’m sure that’s true. After all, the prose is highly melodramatic and that’s something I look out for in young adult books because I’m not a bit fan. I prefer less angst and less melodrama in my young adult books. For the most part, however, I just couldn’t understand how so many people loved this book. I couldn’t connect with the writing at all, which I found at times really, really awkward, with strange word choices. Even more, I just did not understand or like any of the characters. The two leads, John Henry Ames (same name as the author, which made me wonder if this was autobiographical) and Nick, the popular and rich quarterback whose like a breeding stallion on meth with a horse sized cock that, and yes this was mentioned, is so big is breaks women so that they can’t walk after they sleep with him. And I don’t really feel that I’m being that biased here by my overall feelings after reading the book. This was why I couldn’t get into the story, everything was so over the top that I felt like it undermined the real emotions at play. From page one John is obsessed with Nick and Nick doesn’t really treat him that well either. But that’s who Nick is, which John already knows.
Honestly, I just found the whole book a bit strange and surreal. Sure, it wasn’t to my taste, but I just don’t understand how so many people liked it so much. I almost feel like I’m missing something.
I don’t want to rag on this book anymore. I know that you understand how I feel perfectly by now so there’s no reason for me to go on and on. And really, you shouldn’t take just my feelings into account. Even though I don’t understand it, I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of reading a book they might really like. And so many people seem to really like this book. So, even more than usual, I encourage you to read a wide range of reviews on this one if you’re considering buying.
Posted by Cole in 1 Didn't Like It, 41-75k, Authors A-C, Contemporary, Romance, YA Tags: Bisexual, Budding Moon Press, Bullies/Bullying, High School, Jocks/Nerds, John H Ames, Nerds/Geeks, Rich/Poor, School Shooting, Series, Surviving Elite High
Title: The Mask Maker
Author: Spencer Rook
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Length: 11k words
Genre: m/m Young Adult, Historical Fantasy Romance
Heat: 1 – Sweet/None
Sex Frequency: 1 – None
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, Magic, Bullying, Orphan, Artist
Rating: So So
Rumors abound about the mysterious young mask maker, everyone curious as to why he spends all his time hidden away in his house, barely talking past what’s required to complete a job. Determined to learn more about him, Luk agrees to go speak to him about the masks commissioned for a coming festival. What he encounters is a man much more, and much less, than all the rumours warned him about.
Luk is in his last year of magical learning at the Parth School and readying himself for the Festival of Parth, a celebration of the graduation of the senior students by performing a test of magic that will occur before the townspeople. Luk’s fellow classmates are a small group and he’s known them for years now, progressing academically and socially. The other boys rally around Pat, an outspoken bully who likes to circulate cruel gossip. A favorite subject is the mask maker, a reclusive young man who lives on the outskirts of their village society.
Luk is sent to the mask maker’s shop to find out the progress of the masks for the festival. Once there, he has a strange encounter. Luk is completely enamored of the shop and the beautiful artwork on display, but the mask maker is at once compelling and unfriendly, not coming out to speak to him face to face. Their unfortunate first meeting, however, leads to a second and third, and the two soon become friends.
The main difficulty I had with this story was that the length was too short and therefore suffered from some of the same problems that I often have with short stories in which I make this same complaint. We only get the bare bones of the story and the characters. Luk and the mask maker are both barely outlined archetypes (the golden-hearted popular and talented boy and the down-trodden and misunderstood outcast). The setting and world of the story are also not very well described, though that is less important and what we do get we pick up through the story, which is always nice. The biggest problem for me, however, was that more time seemed to be paid to setting up the story than in showing us the connection between the two boys. Their first meeting is well shown, and a really good scene, showing the characters best through the writing in the whole story. It ends there, however. The rest of their interaction comes through a rather quick summary to bring us swiftly to the end, and that telling passed over the most interesting part — their connection and, more importantly, why they connected. A big part of that is the mask maker and his history. We get some of this as the young man talks about his father, another one of the best scenes in the story. In fact, I would say that the mask maker is the most fully fleshed character here, for sure, but all we really understand of our narrator, Luk, is in the reflection of and reaction to him, which isn’t much.
I was also a little bit confused in that the characters here are definitely in the young adult range. I would guess… 17? I believe that at one point the mask maker admits how young he is, which comes from his statement that he started running the mask store on his own at age 14, but I don’t remember him stating an exact age at the present time in the story. Still, the fact that one of them is in school and that this is a really sweet tale with no sex (just one small kiss) made me think of this as young adult.
In the end there just wasn’t enough detail for me to really care that much about the story. So, while I found it cute, I wasn’t emotionally invested in their HEA. I won’t implore you as to whether you should or shouldn’t buy this story. It’s only $1.99, but depending on how you feel about the story will define how you feel about the price. And since I didn’t have to buy it because it was given to me for review, that didn’t come into play for me at all. How I feel about this story is representative of how I’ve felt about all the other stories I’ve read by Spencer Rook. So, I would suggest you decide to buy this or not depending on how you feel about the author.
Posted by Cole in 3 So So, Authors P-R, Fantasy, Heat 1 - Sweet/None, Historical, Romance, Sex Freq 1 - None, up to 15k, YA Tags: Artists, Bullies/Bullying, Less Than Three Press, Magic, Orphan, Short Story, Spencer Rook