Title: Man On (Black Jack Gentlemen #1)
Author: Liz Crowe
Publisher: Tri Destiny Publishing
Length: 131 pages
Genre: m/m Contemporary Erotica
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 4 – Very Often
Keywords/Tags: As the tags are very spoilerish, I don’t want to put them here but if you really want to see them, check them out at the bottom of this post but beware! They contain spoilers!
Rating: Not Feelin’ It
Reviewed by Nikyta
*****This review contains major spoilers to the contents of this book*****
Bad boy of European football, Nicolas Garza is about to hit American shores with a vengeance. Signed by the Detroit Black Jack Gentlemen as lynch pin for their expansion club, Nicco only half believes he’s making the right move. But with a past full of ghosts and rotten behavior chasing him from his homeland, he has no real choice.
Parker Rollings is a college soccer superstar, but his parents’ plans for their only son do not include professional athletics. When the Black Jacks approach him to finalize their roster, Parker leaps at the chance to keep playing, leaving behind medical school, stability and his first and only college sweetheart.
Nicco and Parker face off as bitter rivals for a coveted starting spot at midfield and are forced to channel their negative energy into something positive for the sake of the group—and themselves.
All eyes are on the fledgling team in its debut season. It’s crucial that the Black Jacks prove all the doubters wrong. They must make a good showing in the league and with new fans. But player drama, club dynamics, and misplaced priorities may tear it apart before it even begins.
The first thing I want to say is if you’re coming into this book thinking it would be a real sports story, you won’t get what you expect in this one because it follows Nicco through his journey to finding love in Parker but doesn’t contain many scenes regarding the actual sport.
I liked Parker because he was so innocent, naive and vulnerable. He comes from money but he’s not an obnoxious spoiled brat. He’s very sweet, dedicated to soccer and just wants a simple life where he can be himself. I adored the fact that he blushed so much at the littlest provocative comment. I found it so cute. Nicco is a different story. I won’t lie, I didn’t like him at all. He’s arrogant, stubborn and doesn’t give a crap about anyone else but himself. He does what he wants to and won’t care if someone objects to it. His reaction to Parker is instantaneous and intense. The lust he feels for Parker consumes him to the point he can’t stop thinking about Parker. However, Nicco is a sex addict and he’ll take that lust out on anyone.
The biggest issue I had with this story is that the blurb is very misleading. Coming into this book, I was expecting some intense sexual tension of enemies with a lot of sports related scenes, showing the rivalry between Nicco and Parker, the aggression and face offs for the same spot and ultimately the soccer season that they play together in. Unfortunately, that is not what this book is about and you don’t actually see any of those scenes but are told about them in just a few short paragraphs throughout the story.
To be honest, I didn’t like a majority of it because it is so focused on showing Nicco’s sex addiction (which is not mentioned in the blurb and considering it is SUCH a huge part of the book, I have to wonder why). I struggled to get through at least the first half of the story because Nicco would do anything that had two legs, even indulging in threesomes and orgies with women and men. I will say that while Nicco does have a lot of sex, thankfully most of it (especially with the women) were either glossed over or fade to black. Even with that, however, the constant talking about his conquests and how many he did last night, the orgies he partook in, the soft flesh of so and so grew extremely aggravating and annoying. I kept asking myself, “Why is this in here? Shouldn’t we be focusing on more of Parker and Nicco?”
A lot of the book revolves around that aspect of Nicco and I can’t say that it endeared me to him. It made my opinion that he was selfish and couldn’t understand the concept of monogamy nor be able to uphold it even more intense. It also made me think that even if he did get into a relationship with Parker, that he wouldn’t be able to keep it in his pants long enough to not break Parker’s heart. Regardless, the physical showing of Nicco’s clubbing and conquests took away from the actual Parker/Nicco story, IMO. By the end of the story, we are told and somewhat see the love and supposed devotion (as I said, it’s hard for me to believe Nicco won’t cheat eventually) but we didn’t see the lead up to this love and devotion. Out of the whole story, Parker and Nicco only spend maybe a third of it actually together that we see. The rest is either told to us (such as the time they spend on the field, their teamwork together and this long vacation they took) or of Nicco and Parker getting some action from other individuals.
Personally, that is not something I’m fond of. I like to SEE the development between characters but this book didn’t have any of that until the very end and I found that disappointing. I wanted to like this book but it started off really bad for me because I don’t appreciate seeing to this extent how much of a whore a character is. I want to see the connection between the main characters not between ONE main character and other people. We aren’t shown the connection between Nicco and Parker until very far into the book and at that point, many months have already past between them, none of them where we see them together and this happens more than once where weeks or months pass without us seeing any of what I believe were crucial moments to these characters relationship. More than anything, I really wished we had seen them play together on the field, during practice, at a game, anything to show that not all these boys have is lust because the emotions of love they share, I didn’t see and couldn’t FEEL.
In the end, I will freely admit this isn’t the type of story I like. I prefer to have stories that focus on the emotions that characters share and seeing them NOT on the physical releases of the flesh. Readers that enjoy books that have layers of sex and decadence will enjoy this but if you’re looking for a story about sports and love, this won’t exactly fit the bill. I will say that while I didn’t enjoy the story as a whole, there were pieces that I adored but those happened at the very end and by then, not enough was focused on that to lift my overall opinion. Still, I encourage readers to make up your own mind about this one because I know others will enjoy it much more than I did.
One last thing I want to say is that this book seems to be somewhat of a spin-off of another m/f series by this author. I say this because a few times it was hinted that we should already know a side character’s background and having looked up the author after reading this book, I can say that some of the secondary characters have books of their own in other works by this author.
Posted by Nikyta in 2 Not Feelin' It, Authors A-C, Contemporary, Erotica, Heat 3 - Sexy & Mild, Sex Freq 4 - Very Often Tags: Anonymous Sex, Bisexual, Closeted, co-workers, Enemies to Lovers, Famous, First Times, GFY/OFY, Girly Parts, Interracial, Liz Crowe, m/f scenes, m/m/f scenes, Public Sex, Separated Lovers, Series, Sex Addicts, Sports, Summer Vacation, Tri Destiny Publishing
Title: The Ranch Foreman
Author: Rob Colton
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 28k words, 120 pages
Genre: m/m Contemporary Erotica
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 4 – Very Often
Keywords/Tags: Closeted, Cowboys, OFY, Grief, Grovel you Bastard!, Healing, Hostile Work Environment, Hurt/Comfort, May/December, Sexual Abuse/Assault
Rating: So So
Reviewed by Nikyta
When Madison “Matty” Ward finds himself out of work and without a place to live, his cousin comes through with a job on the Gates cattle ranch. Despite not knowing anything about herding cattle or taking care of horses, Matty does his best to impress the older hunky foreman, Baxter Hollingsworth. Baxter is drawn to the new young hand, but he’s deeply closeted, and after an openly gay veterinarian shows he’s interested in Matty, Baxter’s repressed feelings lead to an explosive encounter. Baxter then withdraws—leaving Matty feeling angry and used—until an accident forces him to confront his fears.
This is a difficult review to write. I won’t deny that the writing drew me in even though this is essentially just an erotica novella, I still had that desire to continue reading even when I was being overwhelmed by sex.
When Matty puts his aunt in a nursing home, it leaves him homeless until his cousin gets him a job at a ranch. Once there, he’s immediately attracted to Baxter, the older ranch foreman who’s very deep in the closet. Everyone on the ranch pretty much knows that Matty is gay but over the course of the book, Matty and Baxter strike up a purely sexual relationship that has a tinge of bitterness and resentment to it. Matty wants a relationship but Baxter is stuck in his old ways. Now Matty has to decide whether he wants to keep his self-respect or take what little scraps Baxter is willing to give him.
Matty, at first, comes off as a slightly battered character. He’s feeling guilty about his aunt but grateful he’s no longer homeless and without a job. He’s a sweet guy that has a thing for older gentleman like Baxter. Baxter, in my opinion, was a complete douche bag. I sincerely disliked him for most of the book because he would either snap or growl at Matty, completely ignore Matty or push Matty to his knees for some head. He didn’t have a personality beyond that of a bastard and even with all these people saying he’s a good man, I never saw any of that. All I ever saw was Baxter silently demanding Matty to suck him when he was drunk, getting mad at Matty for no reason, ignoring Matty for days after they get together and then getting jealous when Matty decides he wants to move on to other guys. By the end of the book, however, he does lighten up a bit and I did like the way he helped Matty and Brian when things take a turn for the aunt but it was in no way enough to redeem himself for how he acted the whole time.
Aside from my hatred of Baxter, this was a promising read and definitely had a lot of potential but I found I had a lot of issues with the story. Mainly, I severely disliked the way the author handled not only Baxter but his encounters with Matty. I didn’t feel any connection between Matty and Baxter because all their time together consisted mainly of Matty giving Baxter blowjobs and then Baxter ignoring Matty until the next blowjob. I could have gotten past that but then it seemed the only way Baxter would do anything with Matty was when he was drunk. It was frustrating and disappointing to say the least because Baxter had no problems molesting Matty when he was wasted but wouldn’t even LOOK at Matty when he was sober let alone have a friendly conversation. Beyond that, this story had a lot of sex to it and what parts didn’t have sex had Matty pining over Baxter. It was hard for me to understand Matty’s obsession when we never saw any of the qualities in Baxter that Matty was pining over. Then again, he was very obsessed with Baxter’s package so granted that was shown quite often. To be honest, I don’t think Matty and Baxter had a meaningful conversation until the last few pages of the book and even then it wasn’t more than a few paragraphs, if that. One last issue I had was Clyde. I felt like the whole issue with him was pointless and the resolution to it didn’t bring Baxter or Matty closer, if anything it pushed them farther apart. I will say one thing, I’m very grateful that what Clyde does was not shown.
In the end, while this book had a lot of potential, it was overcrowded by sex and Baxter’s bad personality mixed with Matty’s willingness to be walked over by him. If this story had more dialogue between Matty and Baxter that didn’t occur while they were having sex, it would have been better. If the sex had been cut down, that would have been even better, IMO, but as it is, this felt more like an erotica story than a romance considering that there was no lead up to the love these boys apparently have together.
Those looking for something smutty and easy to read will like this story IF you like May/December, as well.
Posted by Nikyta in 16-40k, 3 So So, Authors A-C, Contemporary, Erotica, Heat 4 - Spicy & Smutty, Sex Freq 4 - Very Often Tags: Closeted, Cowboys, Dreamspinner Press, GFY/OFY, Grief, Grovel you Bastard!, Healing, Hostile Work Environment, Hurt/Comfort, May/December, Rob Colton, Sexual Abuse/Assault
Title: His Roommate’s Pleasure
Author: Lana McGregor
Length: 30k words
Genre: m/m Contemporary BDSM Erotic Romance
Heat: 5 – Off the Charts!
Sex Frequency: 4 – Very Often
Keywords/Tags: College, Jocks/Nerds, Nerds/Geeks, Roommates, Opposites Attract, Closeted, Coming Out, First Times
Rating: Pretty Good
It started with an accidental click…but where will it end?
Desperate to turn in a paper, Adam borrows his roommate’s computer and mistakenly opens a folder that contains Josh’s collection of porn. Adam had no idea that his jock roommate was gay–and into leashes, paddles and domination. And Adam, an inexperienced virgin who’s only ever kissed one guy, is surprised to find himself curious about submitting…
Josh can’t believe that his roommate discovered his spank bank–and he can’t believe that Adam is so turned on by the thought of giving up control to someone. Taking a chance, he offers to look through the photos with Adam…and maybe try acting some of them out.
Night after night, the boys delve into their darkest fantasies of domination and submission. And as lust and experimentation grow into the promise of something deeper, Adam must decide if he’s brave enough to tell Josh how he feels.
I’ve been looking forward to reading and reviewing this book for months now, and I hate that I had to keep pushing back my review, especially after hearing so many of you talk about it in such a tantalizing way. And even though I think I may not have loved it in the way that some of you did, I can’t deny that it was a seriously sexy piece of story that I had to put down a few times just to take a breather.
It’s a pretty simple and embarrassing premise that leads to oh so much of something more. Adam’s computer is pretty crappy and he only has twenty minutes to log onto the university’s server online and turn in his paper. But his computer is once again crapping out on him. So, in order not to be marked down for his tardiness, he sneaks onto his roommate’s computer to send it in. But when he starts to shut down and erase all his work with a series of quick closing clicks before his roommate is due back to their room he stumbles upon something he never would have expected from his supposedly straight jock roommate — a gay porn folder full of guys in leather and an array of erotica BDSM regalia.
Then the worst comes. Adam’s roommate Josh opens the door before Adam can get his hand out of his pants — because he was obviously turned on and out of his mind — leading to a rather embarrassing situation for Adam. But Josh surprises him. They don’t know each other very well, even though they’ve shared the same room for six months of their freshman year. Adam took one look at all of Josh’s sports gear and assumed he was the same kind of jock who used to shove him in lockers in high school. College is supposed to be a chance to get away from all of that, to start over. He never knew that not only was Josh gay and apparently in the closet, but that they do have some things in common after all, because Adam is seriously turned on by the pictures of submissive men, skinny like him, tied up and dominated.
What might tear their relationship apart forever very soon crosses a line to bring them together. Instead of accusing Adam of violating his privacy, Josh starts to open up and ask Adam all sorts of naughty questions about what he likes in the pictures.
This story is rather short and had a different sort of dynamic than what we usually read, especially with characters this young. This could easy be in the New Adult set, but with so much sexual debauchery between the two, for pretty much the whole book, it really is very firmly an erotic novel, but also a romance. The dynamic is at once explicitly sexual, frank almost and at times for me riding the edge of uncomfortable. Told from Adam’s point of view, he quickly learns that what he wants is not just to be dominated by Josh, but also to be debased. And it isn’t the actions themselves that provide the intensity between them but their discussions. They talk out almost every scene before and during and they’re both very open to the other about what they like and want, but at the same time the newness of it all is uncomfortable. For most of the story they’re working around each other, feeling out their limits and their feelings about one another, and the frank openness with which they go about doing that was at times, almost a little embarrassing for me to read, lol.
On the other hand, I really liked the smooth transition between their frank business of sex setup and the intimacy that grows between them to a real relationship. In many ways, this is a very sweet story, because both of them are so refreshingly new to not only BDSM but also to sex that their scenes ride a line between extremely explicit and endearing. I admit that it did take me about half the story to really understand and get in the groove, but after that the story was cute.
This is definitely something that BDSM readers will like, but it makes it difficult for me to recommend in a way. It’s such a cute romance on the one hand, but the BDSM in other parts is intense. It isn’t intense in a play sort of way. There aren’t a lot of strange toys or play that crosses boundaries, but Adam finds that he very much likes the debasement aspect of submitting, to be embarrassed and made to feel dirty, and that might be a line for some readers. Honestly, with so many people liking this one already (and it’s a pretty cheap price), I’d say go for it and try it if you haven’t yet and at least see what you think of it 😉
Posted by Cole in 16-40k, 4 Pretty Good, Authors M-O, BDSM / Kink, Contemporary, Erotica, Heat 5 - Off the Charts!, Romance, Sex Freq 4 - Very Often Tags: Carina, Closeted, College, Coming Out, First Times, Jocks/Nerds, Lana McGregor, Nerds/Geeks, Opposites Attract, Roommates
Title: From the Ashes (Fire and Rain #1)
Author: Daisy Harris
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Length: ≈67k words, 216 pages
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 4 – Very Often
Keywords/Tags: Closeted, Family Issues, Firefighters, First Times, OFY, Homeless, Pets, Series
Rating: Pretty Good
Reviewed by Nikyta
He wanted a boyfriend. What he got was a hero.
When an accident burns down Jesse’s apartment, he’s left broke and homeless, with a giant dog and a college schedule he can’t afford to maintain. And no family who’s willing to take him in.
Lucky for him, a sexy fireman offers him a place to stay. The drawback? The fireman’s big Latino family lives next door, and they don’t know their son is gay.
Tomas’s parents made their way in America with hard work and by accepting help when it was offered, so he won’t let Jesse drop out of school just so he can afford a place to live. Besides, Jesse’s the perfect roommate—funny, sweet and breathtakingly cute. He climbs into Tomas’s bed and tugs at his heart. Until Jesse starts pushing for more.
Their passion enflames their bodies but threatens to crush Tomas’s family. Tomas is willing to fight for Jesse, but after losing everything, Jesse isn’t sure he can bear to risk his one remaining possession—his heart.
I really liked this story. It’s a bit predictable but the characters and the overall writing make up for that.
This is about Jesse who has his apartment burned down, leaving him homeless and with his ex-landlords’ dog. Tomas was one of the responding firefighters and helped Jesse through his shock. Unable to leave Jesse homeless, he takes him home and cares for him and his big dog, Chardonnay. What starts there is a sweet but awkward relationship where Tomas is still in the closet, living next door to his family and Jesse is trying to get his life back together while they both fight the feelings they’re starting to develop.
The highlight of this book is probably the characters. Tomas is this big, strong guy with the sweetest heart that can’t seem to let Jesse go even if it means making his life somewhat difficult. I adored the way he tried to help Jesse and his struggle to keep things as friends between them. Jesse, at first, seems like a weak character but he’s actually strong, willing to stand up for himself and put an end to things that make things worse, even if it kills him to do it. Thankfully, while he attempts to do this, Tomas is not willing to let Jesse go and, even if he does say differently, he’s going to fight for what he has with Jesse, which I also loved!
The novel, in my eyes, was about coming out and being true to yourself and your family; to find that home that is yours and no one can take away. It’s not very angsty, even with all the situations Jesse and Tomas go through. Mostly, it is about Jesse and Tomas trying to make things work. Tomas wants a partner but doesn’t want to tell his family he’s gay. Jesse no longer has a family but just wants a partner that isn’t afraid to be with him. They’re completely different but together they’re hot and sweet. They have to go through issues such as Tomas coming out but more importantly dealing with Tomas’ older brother, Diego, who is very vocal of his opinion when it comes to Jesse and being gay.
While I enjoyed the story, I had a few issues with it. Mainly, how much sex there was. I felt like whenever Jesse and Tomas needed to talk, they’d have sex instead and put off talking for later. Also, Tomas’ reasoning for why he won’t have anal or why he won’t let Jesse go down on him were completely baffling, IMO, and didn’t make much sense to me considering what else he would do. Beyond that, I felt like Tomas’ family was a big problem between Tomas and Jesse but we don’t actually get to see them or get a resolution on ALL of their opinions of Tomas being gay and in a relationship. It was such a huge issue but that segment felt unresolved and left me slightly disappointed.
In the end, I really enjoyed the story. While it might have conflicts that felt clichéd, the characters were still likeable and made me want to keep reading. I liked that this story didn’t have much angst but still dealt with both Tomas and Jesse’s problems. I won’t lie that Jesse and Tomas together were very hot and had a good connection so readers will definitely enjoy that part of the story!
Posted by Nikyta in 4 Pretty Good, 41-75k, Authors G-I, Contemporary, Heat 4 - Spicy & Smutty, Romance, Sex Freq 4 - Very Often Tags: Closeted, Daisy Harris, Family Issues, Firefighters, First Times, GFY/OFY, Homeless, Pets, Samhain Publishing, Series
Title: Under the Waterfall (Have Body, Will Guard #5)
Author: Neil Plakcy
Publisher: Loose Id
Length: 80,618 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Mystery Romance
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Series, Action/Adventure, Bodyguards, Existing Relationship, ex-Military, Teachers, Coming Out/Closeted, Abduction/Kidnapping, France, Corsica, Family/Kids, Multiple Romances, Expat
Rating: Pretty Good
As soon as they’re settled in their new home on the French Riviera, bodyguards Aidan and Liam are sent to the island of Corsica to protect a mining executive and his family. Though they’re still in love, and having lots of sex, the disruption, and the discovery that the client’s son is gay and in a touchy relationship, causes both bodyguards to question their skills and their commitment to each other. Can they engineer a happy ending for Michel and his boyfriend, while protecting the family from deadly adversaries?
What a wonderful surprise for me to find another Aidan and Liam book out! For some reason, I thought that after book four, Olives for the Stranger that the series was finished, so getting a new book and the possibility of even more after this (it sure seems like it) makes me so happy! Liam and Aidan are a couple that I’ve kept with since I read their first book Three Wrong Turns in the Desert several years ago. Each book is heavy on action/adventure and a serious dose of hot and heavy macho action. How could I not fall in love? Besides, I’ve always been drawn to Mr. Plakcy’s work. I really enjoy his style.
The fifth installment in this series diverges from the rest right at the start. Though we know Liam and Aiden well in Tunisia where they met and have previously worked as bodyguards, they moved at the end of the fourth book to France and are now living in Nice. Both of them think that they moved to primarily make the other happy, but the truth is that having less freedom is somewhat constricting to them both, because Liam doesn’t always like being told what to do and because Aidan usually does what he can to defer to his more senior partner and lover and because he generally ends up trying to please him anyway. This results in it’s own set of complications and when Liam and Aidan take on a new case in Corsica protecting a mine owner’s family from threats by Corsican nationalists to preserve the island from drilling, they both spend much of their time there working through their own issues about their relationship. Aidan wonders if he’s doomed to play the doormat when once again Liam takes the active role in their operation and Aidan feels that he’s undervalued. Liam is forced to confront his past when they find that the son in the family they’re protecting, Michel, is in the closet and secretly in love with his father’s biggest adversary’s son. It might be a classic star-crossed lovers tale with a bent twist, but the interactions between scared, closeted and teenaged Michel and his blithely criticizing father force him to confront his own feelings about his past and his development into his only real relationship — with Aidan. Liam has never considered himself as any kind of commodity, until recently mostly avoiding his sexuality except in the basest of situations, but their friend Louis makes a comment that shows him he just might be attractive to other men. That leads him to consider his relationship with Aidan and his feelings about sleeping with other men.
Their main issue in Corsica, nonetheless, is keeping their client’s safe, not angsting about the issues in their relationship.
This book (like the last one) was both an enjoyment to read and a bit of a disappointment. The pure adventure and excitement that I’m used to from the earlier plots in this series seem to have gone away. On the other hand, I think that Plakcy, better than most writers in the m/m romance genre anyway, seem to have a real knack for writing about the issues that crop up in long lasting relationships. They’re the everyday issues — communication, self-esteem in relationship to your partner, jealousy — and they’re handled responsibly. Sure they might cause a bit of angst, but I like the format of this series because the external adventure/mystery plot takes some of the focus away. The plot doesn’t need to be built on those internal relationship issues to carry the story, so those real-to-life relationship issues seem to carry the modest weight that is natural. Of course they’re important but they aren’t life or death issues that need to much focus. I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy a classic relationship-centric contemporary romance, but Aidan and Liam feel more real to me because while I might have to occasionally suspend disbelief at their gun-toting, crime-solving antics, the relationship at the center is down to earth and totally believable.
I remain a fan of this series. I probably always will be. But, I think I might need to shift my expectation of the future books. From here on, I’m going to look forward more to the relationship than the external plot. It might bring me some enjoyment, but so far the last few just haven’t been nearly as satisfying as the first ones. I will say that I found Liam and Aidan’s physical relationship in this book somewhat disappointing. I’m not sure why the author didn’t include much sex (hardly any!). One of the draws to this series for me has been the hot and heavy sex between these two men. Maybe the author is trying to shift the overall arc in another direction? Or, perhaps, the plot in this book just didn’t fit with the two getting hot and heavy. But I sure hope that when these two come back for book six that they’ll be getting it on in all kinds of weird places like they used to!
Posted by Cole in 4 Pretty Good, 76-100k, Authors P-R, Contemporary, Heat 2 - Romantic & Tame, Mystery, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: Action/Adventure, Bodyguards, Closeted, Coming Out, Corsica, Ex-Military, Existing Relationship, Expat, Family, France, Have Body Will Guard, Kidnapping/Abduction, Kids, Loose Id, Multiple Romances, Neil Plakcy, Series, Teachers
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