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!
Title: Provoked (Enlightenment #1)
Author: Joanna Chambers
Length: 54,571 words
Genre: m/m Historical Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Series, Scotland, 1820s, Closeted, Homophobia, Rich/Poor, Lawyers, Secrets & Lies, Mystery, Aristocracy, HFN (this was just the first part of a longer romance arc)
Rating: Really Like It
When a man loses his heart, he has no choice but to follow…
Enlightenment, Book 1
Lowborn David Lauriston lacks the family connections needed to rise in Edinburgh’s privileged legal world. Worse, his latest case—defending weavers accused of treason—has brought him under suspicion of harbouring radical sympathies.
Troubled by his sexuality, tormented by memories of a man he once platonically loved, David lives a largely celibate life—until a rare sexual encounter with a compelling stranger turns his world on its head.
Cynical and worldly, Lord Murdo Balfour is more at home in hedonistic London than dingy, repressed Edinburgh. Unlike David, he intends to eventually marry while continuing to enjoy the company of men whenever he pleases. Yet sex with David is different. It’s personal, intimate, and instead of extinguishing his desire, it only leaves him hungry for more.
As David’s search for the man who betrayed the weavers deepens, he begins to suspect that his mysterious lover has more sinister reasons for his presence in Edinburgh. The truth could leave his heart broken…and more necks stretching on the gallows.
Contains mystery and danger set in 1822 Scotland, and a forbidden love between two men that will leave you on the edge of your seat—until the next book.
I don’t know why exactly, but I was really, really excited to read this book. It makes no sense really, because I rarely read historical novels and Joanna Chambers is a new author to me. Perhaps it was a latent psychic power because once I started this book I never wanted to stop. I was forced to stop to get some other reviews done, but if I hadn’t been forced to I don’t think I would have. I was immediately drawn into the lush prose and the strange love/hate dynamic between David and Balfour.
David’s actions in the first chapter of Provoked introduce him to us so perfectly. Jostled in an excited crowd to see the death of two men charged with treason for their part in an uprising against the government, David watches on helplessly. He worked on their case as part of their legal defense, but he’s still a junior in his field and there wasn’t much he could do. But, what he could do was work tirelessly, and in the end it didn’t make a lot of difference. David throws himself into everything and this was no different. To put the families of the condemned at ease he shares with them his own childhood. He was raised by a farmer in a country village in Scotland but worked and did everything he could to further his education. Now, he’s gone up in the world and is working among the higher classes in Edinburgh. Still, he isn’t far from his roots. Being a witness to the deaths of these two men is something that he owes them.
Over a thoughtful and depressing meal later that evening another man sits to dine with him. He’s handsome and confident with an interesting face. He introduces himself as Mr. Balfour and after a considerable amount of shared whisky, David finds himself on his knees in a wet alley. He can’t stand that he always falls prey to his demons and tells himself that this time will be the last time. Or at least, that’s what he always says. Balfour seems surprised by his behavior after their tryst and has a rather more hedonistic outlook on life. Where David is bound tightly to his morality and refuses to move into a life of dishonesty by marrying a woman and starting a family, Balfour seems to have no problem with that. He’s looking for happiness, he says, and the only version for him is the one of his own making. Ideals have no place over them.
It is a surprise to David some months later when he again runs into Balfour while dining at the home of his boss. In the meantime, the case that brought about their first meeting, that of the weavers, barges back into David’s life. Euan, the younger brother of one of the men brought down in the case needs his help. His brother Peter wasn’t hanged but is en route on a ship in chains for his part in the conspiracy. Euan needs David’s help to find Lees, the government man who infiltrated their group, incited them from a small idealistic group into an active anti-government rebellion and then turned them in. David wants to help Euan but is afraid for him. He’s just a kid who, like him, has also worked himself up to a higher education and David doesn’t want him to throw all of that away by searching for vengeance, and he knows that his brother wouldn’t want him to either. But Euan won’t be swayed, so David agrees to help him find Lees, knowing that it will most likely be a lost cause.
When Balfour comes up as a possible identity for Lees, David doesn’t want to believe it. He also doesn’t want to continue forming an attachment to the man. It’s gone past the physical with them and David can’t allow himself to sin in such a way, nor allow his heart to be handled by a man often so callous, and so fundamentally different from him.
I want to have the sequel now! I say that, not just as someone who really liked this first book and wants more, but also as a reader who wants more of the story. There are two arcs — the romance and the quasi-mystery plot — the first of which definitely spans the series. I’m not sure about the second, though. Was the external plot just a part of this book and the next one will see these two guys in a different situation dealing with different issues? I don’t know. But, as far as the romance arc, this story was really just the setup for what is to come, which leaves me really wanting to see where their relationship will go. That, after all, is what really brought this story forward for me and what drew me in. David and Balfour are two such interesting characters and together they have such interesting conversations. The writing of these two guys and their evolving dynamic hit a sweet spot. The language is beautiful and I really felt like I was getting to know both of them well. David, of course, isn’t difficult to read. Balfour offers a delicious treat because what he says and obviously thinks/believes are often different and puzzling those things out (along with David) filled their interactions with meaning.
I definitely recommend this one to all readers of m/m romance, not just those that like historicals. And I’m definitely going to be looking out for more books by Joanna Chambers 🙂
Posted by Cole in 41-75k, 5 Really Like It, Authors A-C, Heat 4 - Spicy & Smutty, Historical, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: 1820s, Aristocracy, Closeted, HFN, Homophobia, Joanna Chambers, Lawyers, Mystery, Rich/Poor, Samhain Publishing, Scotland, Secrets & Lies, Series
Title: Sweet Young Thang (Theta Alpha Gamma #3)
Author: Anne Tenino
Length: 108,400 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 5 – Off the Charts!
Sex Frequency: 4 – Very Often
Keywords/Tags: Series, College, Fraternities/Frat Boys, May/December, Firefighter Paramedic, Family Issues, Closeted, Coming Out, Sexy to the 9999999s!, Past Couples’ Cameo, Mystery, Homophobia
Rating: LOVED It!
When Plan A fails, turn to Man A.
Thanks to Collin Montes, Theta Alpha Gamma now welcomes gay and bisexual students. Persuading his Uncle Monty, president of the TAG Alumni Association, that the open approach won’t adversely affect TAG’s reputation is Collin’s own first step toward coming out. As long as there are no repercussions, he’ll escape the closet by graduation.
Enter repercussions, stage left: someone rigs the TAG House water heater to launch through the ceiling, then plants a bomb—thankfully unsuccessful—in the fraternity’s basement. Now Collin has his hands full not only trying to convince his uncle that this might not be the work of homophobes, but also dealing with a fratful of brothers worried about their kegger fridge.
Paramedic Eric Dixon can’t stop thinking about the kid he met during a call at his former college fraternity house. The age gap between them is trumped by sexy eyes, so when Eric sees Collin again at the bomb scene, he pursues him. Soon, Eric is dreaming of being a househusband, fighting to keep Collin safe from whoever’s trying to destroy the fraternity, and helping his sweet young thang realize that repercussions sometimes have silver linings.
Well, Anne, you’ve made me do it again. Every time I pick up one of your (long-awaited) books I find myself even more in love than before. I think this time around I really fell in love with this book, simply because it had so many different qualities to love and pinged on so many different emotions from so many different characters. And, it was touching. Anne takes us satisfactorily deep into Collin and then allows us to experience the moments of clarity and insight as he feels them and deals with them.
In this third installment of the Theta Alpha Gamma series, we head back once again to the fraternity that first saw an open gay student with Brad in Frat Boy and Toppy. We meet Collin briefly (if I can remember correctly) as Brad’s friend who gives him a pretty big failure of a blowjob, one that acts as somewhat of a catalyst in Brad and Sebastian’s relationship.
In Sweet Young Thang we see that experience from Collin’s perspective. He is…/was? Brad’s best friend but not out himself. He did a pretty good job of pretending to be straight before that, but now he has a good circle of friends at the college that are all gay men. He’s the Alumni Liaison for TAG, a position secured for him by his Uncle Monty, the President of the Alumni Association with a heavy hand in current TAG politics — the biggest of which is the recent change in policy that says that Theta Alpha Gamma now accepts gay students. Of course, it always did, but it was more of a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell kind of situation. Brad changed all that. Collin convinced his Uncle Monty to support him in his lobbying to change the policy and in return promises him that there will be no repercussions from those who might be unhappy about the change.
All of that is blown out of the water when someone plants a bomb and sets the TAG house on fire. A frat brother is injured and the house is totally a lost cause. And Uncle Monty starts putting on the pressure to change the policy back. But part of Collin’s reasons for lobbying the change so hard were to see his Uncle’s reactions in the first place. His whole life has been planned out by his uncle, his prep school, college, classes and degree, including his position in the family olive oil import business after graduation. It isn’t until he meets sexy paramedic Eric (who has his own secret history with Uncle Monty), an alum of TAG himself in the bomb fiasco that Collin starts to feel like he finally has someone in his corner. But their relationship is picking up quick and heavy and the pressure from all directions in his life is starting to get to Collin.
This is quite a long novel, but it really doesn’t seem like it because it’s really jam packed with action and a super quick pace. The only real downtime in the story are the times alone with Collin and Eric, which thankfully are a fair few. Normally, I would probably prefer the story to be less sex heavy and more plot-centric, but Anne Tenino knows how to write sex and intimacy together, while keeping the relationship moving forward and the sex important to plot. And that’s all while making it some of the hottest sex I’ve read this year! Whew, Eric and Collin have a serious connection from the moment they meet and it really shows throughout the book, slowly translating from lust into something real. Even though it’s made known several times throughout the book how fast their relationship is moving (a week total over the whole book) this NEVER felt like insta-love. It isn’t about the overall time that the couple has in getting to know one another, but about how they spend that time. Eric and Collin go through a lot together and each step along the way they communicate those changes between them, so that you can see them growing together.
All i can really do is urge you to read this book yourself. I know that this book will have a fair few amount of fans excited to read it already, because of the popularity of the series previously. But all I can really say is that I feel like this series gets better and better with each book, and while your preferences for the plot of each will change how you feel about each book (they’re all fairly different), I think that Anne’s writing has grown in leaps and bounds since Frat Boy…. There are so many great things about this book, a kick ass opening chapter which really introduces us to Eric well and some absolutely pure hilarity from the frat boys:
This moment between Collin and Eric pulled it all together for me:
Collin felt as if Eric had just dropped his full weight on his chest, denting in his ribcage and making it harder for his lungs to expand.
Eric kissed his other palm.
“Shit. Maybe. Why would I feel ashamed?”
“I don’t know. For not being what your — what people wanted you to be.”
Oh God, now he felt nauseous. “That’s so unfair.”
Eric smiled sadly. “It’s unfair that you felt that way?”
Collin swallowed, nodding…
I admit I did wonder a few times if Collin ever went to class! Of course, that doesn’t matter, but it does illustrate the enormous pressure I felt for him. Collin has everything bombarding him at once with enormous pressure on him to hold the weight, to deal with it, to figure it out for everyone else. I really felt for him. And it made his time with Eric and their marathon sex chapters not just an expected byproduct of a romance novel, but needed as de-stressing time for him.
So, yes, I definitely recommend this one. I know a lot of you will be reading it anyway, so I’d love to know what you think. Please leave me comments!
Posted by Cole in 101-125k, 6 LOVE IT!, Authors S-U, Contemporary, Heat 5 - Off the Charts!, Romance, Sex Freq 4 - Very Often Tags: Anne Tenino, Closeted, College, Coming Out, Family Issues, Frat Boys, Homophobia, May/December, Mystery, Paramedics, Past Couples' Cameo, Riptide Publishing, Series, Sexy to the 999's, Theta Alpha Gamma
Title: Love, Like Water
Author: Rowan Speedwell
Length: 89,037 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Western Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Sex to Story
Keywords/Tags: Cowboys, New Mexico, Albuquerque, Homophobia, Cops (FBI), Gangs, Past Abuse/Trauma, Substance Abuse/Addiction, Guilt, Closeted, Coming Out, Animals, Suicide
Rating: Really Liked It
Three years undercover with one of the worst gangs in the country left FBI agent Joshua Chastain shattered. Battling nightmares and addiction, he leaves the concrete jungle for New Mexico horse country, hoping to start over on his uncle’s ranch.
Foreman Eli Kelly spends his life rehabilitating abused animals, and Joshua is just another lost soul. But as Joshua slowly begins to put his life back together, Eli realizes that Joshua is a lot more than his newest project.
Joshua’s plan seems to work—maybe a fresh start was just what he needed. Then, just when he has finally found a sense of peace, crime and hatred nearly destroy all his hard work, forcing him to reevaluate what he wants out his relationship with Eli and his own life.
I’ve been so excited for the release of this book! It’s been a long time since I read something by this author. In fact, I don’t think I’ve read a novel by this author since I read Finding Zach, a book which remains one of my all-time favorite m/m romances. So I knew going into this book from the blurb and from loving that book that this would most likely be an intense read. In some ways it was, but less so than I think I was expecting. But, it did live up to my expectations and ended up being a good read.
Joshua Chastain is a shade of the man he once was — a strong, confident, healthy and intelligent undercover FBI agent. Those qualities were all taken away from him during his three year undercover mission infiltrating a ruthless and dangerous gang in Chicago that heavily trafficked heroin. And though he did everything he was put there to do — bring down the operation from the inside — he also did other things, made sacrifices to himself and others to get the job done. And now, after leaving the FBI and in rehab for his heroin withdrawal and addiction and the unbelievable depression from his memories of death, Joshua is so far from the man he once was that his family no longer recognizes him.
His mother and his uncle Tucker conspire to bring him out to his uncle’s ranch in New Mexico. It’s a place he frequented and loved as a kid, but it’s also the perfect place for him to start to come back to himself. In an ironic twist, the ranch’s main operation is the rehabilitation of abused horses, a program run by Tucker and the ranch’s foreman, Elian Kelly. Eli is more than a foreman to the ranch, but also Tucker’s good friend. And seeing Tuck’s young nephew is heartbreaking. He sees him as a broken man he can try to put back together just like the horses that he has a gift with helping. The fresh air, good and hearty food, and reliable and loving family are what Joshua needs to put the past behind him and learn confidence in himself again. The connection and eventual relationship between Joshua and Eli wasn’t part of the plan.
Much of this book was what I was expecting from this book and this author. This is a hurt/comfort story of epic proportions, something that was similar to Rowan Speedwell’s other novel, Finding Zach. Joshua is not much a guy who needs a little rehab, but a severely traumatized person, emotionally, physically and chemically, from his forced addiction to heroin. And Eli is the gentle giant, reliant and safe and perfect in a lot of ways. I mean, this makes for a good setup, something that has worked well for this author in the past. And I liked this couple together. I felt like a lot of time went by setting up the story and I would maybe have liked to get to know Eli and Joshua actually together in their relationship for longer than we got, but they have a crazy amount of chemistry that came through for me, and the dynamic works well for them and goes hand in hand with the setting really well.
So the problems that I had with the book didn’t really spoil my enjoyment of the book — it remained something highly enjoyable to read. Maybe it’s that Finding Zach is such a hard book to live up to for me, especially with a character like Joshua who so reminded me of Zach with all of the emotional turmoil he has to work through throughout the book. Still, this wasn’t a perfect read for me. Some of the behavior of the characters seemed a little too… contrived, like the totally happy-go-lucky family atmosphere at the ranch. On the one hand this made the book not overly filled with excess problems but it made Joshua’s problems seem overbalanced in counterpoint, which made their behavior and constant support grating (not their support for Joshua, but just in each other, day to day in the way they act). That probably makes no sense, but I don’t know how to describe it better without making it seem too nitpicky and as if it was a bigger deal than it really was. It just bugged me a bit. The real difficulty I had with the book was the ending.
I was hoping that this book wouldn’t end with a resurgence of the gang and the men who would obviously love to come after Joshua if he wasn’t so hidden. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. But, I still would have probably preferred the ending to be a bit more subtle. I liked that Eli and Joshua were getting to know each other and work through their problems and I would have admired the story more if it continued in that direction without needing an outside conflict to come in from seemingly nowhere to act as a catalyst for the couple. And the way it was done made it a little worse than that, with the whole gay basher thing having been written so many times.
So while I wasn’t quite happy with the ending, I still enjoyed the book and I liked the first half in particular. It really held my interest. The fact that the main character is dealing with a shitload of issues is just something that depends on the reader to like or dislike. I mean, on the one hand it does seem a bit much because poor Joshua’s life just kept going from bad to worse over and over again. So much of whether you like this book or not will depend on how you feel about that kind of character and conflict. In general, I don’t so much like that, but as I said before I was interested in seeing how I liked this one since I did like that kind of conflict in the hands of his author previously.
The other early reviews I’ve seen for this book have so far been raving, which is good. I think I’m maybe a little pickier than many other reviewers and that’s fine. Rowan Speedwell remains a great author and I’ll continue to look forward to her books.
Posted by Cole in 4 Pretty Good, 76-100k, Authors S-U, Contemporary, Heat 4 - Spicy & Smutty, Romance, Sex Freq 3 - Average Story to Sex, Western Tags: Addictions, Albuquerque, Animals, Closeted, Coming Out, Cops, Cops/Crime, Cowboys, Dreamspinner Press, Drugs, Gangs, Guilt, Homophobia, New Mexico, Past Abuse, Past Trauma, Rowan Speedwell, Substance Abuse, Suicide
Author: KJ Pedersen
Length: 56,489 words
Genre: M/M Contemporary Paranormal Horror Romance
Heat: 3 – Mild & Sexy
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Sex to Story
Keywords/Tags: Young Adult Characters, Bisexual, Homophobia, Religious Mythology, Drinking/Drug Use (weed), High School, Hawaii, Closeted/Coming Out
Rating: Not Feelin’ It
Reviewed by Sadonna
Josiah Halden’s life is coming apart. He’s an athletic, handsome high school senior bound for college. He should be on top of the world. Instead, he’s struggling with his sexuality and nursing a crush on John from his gym class, and he’s plagued by nightmares and impossible visions of the night his parents died—visions he fears are an early indicator of the mental illness that runs in his family.
But the nightmares are part of something more sinister than madness, something linked to the strange black iron idol of a Caananite warrior-god Josiah inherited from his father, which keeps showing up in his dreams. Josiah’s friend Makani insists the statue is “wrong”—but that’s ridiculous, isn’t it? After all, it’s only a statue….
When it took me several days to read this book, I knew that something definitely was not working for me. The opening prologue was quite unsettling. It read like something from a horror novel, which is a genre that I avoid like the plague. This did not bode well. What follows is a book that seemed to me to be very confused as to what it wants to be when it grows up. Horror? Coming of age/coming out? Paranormal? Religious/alien mythology? There were so many elements and so many things going on that I found myself trying to keep up with the various threads of the book and ultimately not really caring about any of them.
The main story is about a boy, Josiah Halden, whose British parents were brutally murdered and the culprit was never caught. He has been raised by his aunt and uncle on the Big Island of Hawaii (a really lovely place that you should try to visit), which is the setting of this story. He is a senior in high school and he’s in the “popular” jock crowd but he’s got a secret that is causing him a lot of angst. He is definitely not straight and he’s getting some grief from his friends. On top of that, he is on his own while his aunt and uncle are away and he’s having horrible nightmares that seem to be linked to a mysterious statue that he inherited from his parents. He is also attracted to a boy in his class, John, who is new from mainland. His friends are giving John a really hard time and he also has an awful home life that includes a lazy homophobic father. John is attracted to Josiah as well, but he is terrified of anyone knowing that he might be gay.
Josiah also has a good friend Makani who he had grown distant from over the years, but they seem to be rekindling their friendship – which has had a sexual component. Makani is also good friends with John and especially John’s younger brother. There is quite a bit of conflict with these different groups of friends for Josiah and he tries to walk the line and keep friendly with all of them. The stress of this social pressure and the nightmares are making Josiah think he is going crazy and since there is a family history, he is really concerned. He confides his concerns to Makani who tries to calm him.
Interspersed in this narrative of Josiah’s life is this ongoing “history” of the origin of the statue in question. This statue seems to be the source of the bad things that happen. I have to say that part of the story held zero interest for me. I just wanted to get through it and get on with the story. Ultimately there is a tragedy that devastates all of the boys and there is a confrontation that was pretty unbelievable to me and finally it was over.
While the population of this novel is mainly young adults (high school age boys 18 and under), I was a little surprised by the amount of underage drinking, drug use and casual sex that takes place. I know it has not been marketed as Young Adult, nor should it be for these reasons. In the end, this story just didn’t work for me on any level.
Posted by Sadonna in 2 Not Feelin' It, 41-75k, Authors P-R, Contemporary, Heat 3 - Sexy & Mild, Horror, Paranormal, Romance, Sex Freq 3 - Average Story to Sex Tags: Bisexual, Closeted, Coming Out, Dreamspinner Press, Drug Use, Hawaii, High School, Homophobia, KJ Pedersen, Mythology, Religion, Young Adult Characters
Title: Divisions (Out of Position #3)
Author: Kyell Gold
Length: approx. 158k words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Anthropomorphic, Series, Illustrations, Sports, Football, Athletes, Established Relationships, Family Issues, Homophobia, Youth Gay Suicide, Gay Activism
Rating: Really Liked It!
**This review contains spoilers for those who haven’t read Out of Position and Isolation Play**
It’s been over a month since Devlin Miski came out publicly, and no other professional athlete has followed suit. Dev just wants to put it all behind him and play football, helping his Chevali Firebirds win their first-ever division title. If only his teammates—and everyone else—could just let it go, he’d be fine. But there’s one teammate in particular who seems determined to make his life difficult…
And for his boyfriend Lee, the past is never laid to rest. If it isn’t his parents’ troubled marriage, it’s an old friend pulling him back into gay rights activism. Lee could make a splash by getting Dev to promote gay rights, but he knows it would distract Dev from football. So he has to balance the pressures of the outside world against the needs of his relationship, and even for a clever fox, that’s a tall order.
In this third volume of Dev and Lee’s story, the tiger and fox continue to explore their relationship. Personalities clash and dreams are on the line as Dev and Lee navigate their very public lives and try to stay true to themselves.
Back when I was reviewing at Jessewave’s in early 2011, this is the series that brought Kyell Gold and anthropomorphic fiction to my attention. I fell in love with Lee, the fox who dressed up as a vixen to seduce a straight jock and Dev, the tiger who ended up falling for him. Their lives and relationship continued on in tumultuous fashion after graduation when Dev was drafted into professional football and Lee sacrificed his gay activism for his love of football and became a professional scout. The visibility in the sport forced him back into the closet and their relationship suffered. They endured, however, only to be publicly outed by Lee’s ex best friend and have since tried to make the best of their relationship and Dev’s career as a professional gay athlete. Dealing with homophobic teammates, homophobic fans, and family troubles have made their relationship stronger as Divisions opens, and we reconnect with the two in a much more stable relationship than in the past.
Though their relationship is stronger in this third installment to the series, they still have problems going on in their own lives and just like in the past much of the story is seen from their different perspectives while apart. Lee is dealing with a crisis of career. Now that their relationship is public, he has to be careful working in the same sport that his boyfriend plays in. And should he even still be working towards a career as a scout? What happened to his days of activism, when he wanted to make a difference? At the same time, his family has fallen apart around him. He’s close to his father once again and they’re working to make their relationship stronger, but it has really only happened because of his parent’s new separation. And the direction his mother has taken is even more upsetting when he learns that the organization that spreads hate he’s been considering taking up activism to work against has their own hooks in her, turning her into an even more intolerant mother than she previously was.
Dev has his own problems. Now out of the closet and past his problems with his own team, their newfound camaraderie has made them a winning team that is headed towards the Division Championships. All of that is jeopardized by a new member brought to the Firebirds who seems determined to make his life difficult. Dev just wants to play football and he doesn’t want to be made into a gay role model, something that his teammate and Lee with his reemerging activism can’t seem to let go.
I’ve been excited to read this book for two years now, ever since I read the first two and I wasn’t disappointed. The difficulty with an ongoing series is how so many different strands of a story become interwoven and then are left dangling when each book ends, and Kyell Gold did an excellent job taking up those strands and weaving them into the continuation of the complex relationship that I love. What I love so much about Lee and Devlin is that they have their own lives. It’s so much more of a real life relationship that what we’re usually given with romance plots, where a couple disappears into one another. They’re given their own lives that at times perfectly mesh with one another and are at times completely at odds. Lee and Dev have to reconcile those things and always work on their relationship, or at least actively work so that it isn’t destroyed among all the people that are trying to drive a wedge between them. Many of those people are back, some malicious (like Lee’s past activism friend Brian) and some whose intentions are unknown, like Dev’s new teammate.
The influences that surround them, especially in the wake of Dev’s coming out press conference, serve to make Lee realize what an opportunity they have to help gay youth, especially other young athletes. The modern day epidemic of gay suicide and bullying take stage in this book as Lee learns that one of the young men who wrote to thank Dev after coming out on national television is reported to have committed suicide. This affects Lee deeply, having corresponded with the youth and now understanding the full impact of their actions, or in Lee’s fears, their inaction. This is further compounded by the knowledge that the “family values” community his mother has apparently taken up with may have had a direct impact on the young football player and his reasons for taking his own life. Though only one part of the whole story, this subplot took front and center stage of this novel. It is indicative of the one central issue that stands between Lee and Dev and that is how they react differently to such issues. Dev, of course, just wants to play football. And with good reason, he’s naturally one that almost tries not to be affected by such issues, on top of which if he does consent to putting more time into his public image and philanthropy, it could kill his career. This, of course, drives Lee insane. He’s naturally a crusader and feels some guilt for letting his relationship and his love of football to dictate his life and career away from activism. Could he have been helping all along? What could he do now? Could he dismantle this organization meant to spread hate and lies and manipulation with the power his lover now has in the spotlight? Is it worth it to possibly sacrifice his relationship with Dev to save young lives? Their fundamental differences are continually pitting them against one another. In a sense, they deal with it well, but in many ways they’re prolonging the issues — I assume until the next (final?) book, which is only one of the reasons that I’m even more eager to read it.
When I find a book I love, I feel like a salesman. That’s really not my personality, but when you love something you want to share it. I want to get all of you to read a certain book. In many ways, I felt that way with the first two books I reviewed in 2011. I hadn’t heard of Kyell Gold at that time and I wasn’t really sure that many people in the m/m romance community had at that point, though I know Kyell had popularity in other communities. I feel like Kyell Gold is a widespread name now in our genre, something I’m very happy about, and I no longer really need to sell this series to all of you reading my reviews. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already heard of Out of Position and may have even read it. If you have, I know you’ll want to read this new book, because I can’t imagine anyone reading about Dev and Lee and not getting as hooked as I am.
Divisions is available to purchase at Sofawolf (follow the link on the title, then click to make Adult visible in upper right corner) in both Softcover ($20) and Hardcover ($40). It isn’t available as an ebook at this time. It is available to buy in Softcover at Amazon today.
Posted by Cole in 126k+, 5 Really Like It, Authors G-I, Contemporary, Heat 3 - Sexy & Mild, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: Anthropomorphic, Athletes, Blotch, Existing Relationship, Family Issues, Football, Gay Activism, Homophobia, Illustrations, Kyell Gold, Out of Position, Series, Sofawolf, Sports, Youth Gay Suicide