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Helleville - Hayden ThorneTitle: Helleville
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

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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.

REVIEW

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?


Title: Dr. Morbid’s Castle of Blood (Masks #6)
Author: Hayden Thorne
Publisher: JMS Books
Length: 61,667 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Paranormal Young Adult Romance
Heat: 1 – Sweet/None
Sex Frequency: 1 – None
Keywords/Tags: Series, Superheroes, Genetic Mutations, Funny Guys, Established Relationships
Rating: Really Liked It

**Contains spoilers for those who have not read the Masks series, as well as a few for this book**

BLURB

Following the attacks on Vintage City by the Deathtrap Debutantes, life quiets down, and the superheroes are temporarily without work. Unfortunately, unemployed superheroes mean bored superheroes, and with Peter’s birthday just around the corner, Eric asks for help in coming up with the most creative gift he can give a boy who’s got everything. Tapping into everyone’s fondness for computer games, Eric enlists the heroes’ help in experimenting with a video game in a desperate bid to amaze Peter with something unique.

What they don’t expect is a game that’s been sabotaged by an old nemesis. Eric and the heroes suddenly find themselves trapped in a horror game, forced to advance against the clock or be stuck in it forever. With three of their friends vanishing from the group, Eric and Ridley are forced to use their wits and their limited abilities to fight their way through monsters that are meant to keep them from finding the others. Outside, Althea as Spirit Wire, along with unexpected allies, scrambles to keep a delicate connection with her friends as she tries to save them all.

REVIEW

I absolutely adore this series and Eric is one of my favorite characters of all time. This is the sixth installment of the Masks series and everything I love about Hayden Thorne’s writing is once again present here. While this book was truly the first different book of the series than all the previous ones, it also held it’s own and I found that I liked it very much.

After the havoc wreaked on Vintage City by the Deathtrap Debutantes, the city is in a lull of blissed out peace, leaving time for Eric to once again become concerned by his lack of present for Peter’s upcoming birthday. Even though his job at Mrs. Chang’s chinese restaurant has earned him his first paycheck, finding something to gift his incredibly wonderful superhero boyfriend who is incredibly rich and already has everything is next to impossible. And when he does come up with an idea, that uses his own love of video games and Althea’s interference to pump up the experience, he and the gang of heroes fall into a trap made by a past villain. Now, they’ll have to find new ways of using their powers (or in Eric’s case no powers) to find themselves out of an electronic maze.

The major difference with this book is that Eric and the heroes (except Magnifiman) are separated from the rest of Vintage City and the colorful characters we’re used to seeing. Though they do all show up at some point in the story, this book exists in a void and against a villain that isn’t directly battling them. The change in setting, tone, pace and even dynamics among the group all make for a story that will probably jar some readers. It will certainly be a book that you’ll probably love or hate. Thankfully, I was hoping for a change in the series, and I got that. It wasn’t in the way I expected, but I was able to roll with the punches and once I did, and decided what I hoped I’d get out of the story, I was happy and satisfied.

What I most loved about this book is that Eric finally gets his chance to become a hero. It is more than the few scenes in the past where he’s felt part of the group or gotten to make some form of direct impact for the good of the whole. Here, we see the two underdogs of the main characters (Eric and the new hero Ridley) get their chance to make a real impact on the story. I appreciated this not only because it was satisfying for me as a reader who always rooted Eric on, but also because Eric has really matured over the series. After his time as a supervillain under the Noxious Nocturne in the original trilogy, Eric has been forced to become satisfied with being a bit of a hangers on, the only normal human among his friends with powers. And with that maturity, I had hoped that there would come an opportunity for him to be rewarded for that, instead of feeling like the (even subtle) angsty outcast.

That is really what this book is all about, and situated at this point in the series (roughly the middle point) it proved a turning point in the series (at least it’s looking that way). The game they become trapped in makes their characters into a two dimensional representation of themselves, and as such, Eric is rendered even more impotent. The story is a vast metaphor for their lives, and by Eric heroically taking the lead and seizing the opportunity to solve the obstacles in front of him (of course, not without help), he’s triumphing over his own place in the world and instead of only seeing the limitations of that world for him, he’s finding his place.

This makes me so excited to see what is to come! I’m hoping to see more overarching plot. There is one, even though at this point it is rather slow moving and sparse. Even though the first three books were hard to read, I appreciated and now miss that they had that connection from book to book. The last couple of books have felt rather like episodes, and while they’re very enjoyable to read, I’m less invested in them than I was previously. I’m hoping that as the series turns into the final stretch, we’ll start to get that connection back and see real progression in the relationships from book to book. I suppose the relationship between Eric and Peter is rather solid at this point, all that is left to move forward is their sexual relationship and with Eric at 16, we probably won’t be getting any smexxin anytime soon 😉

As always, I recommend this book and more importantly, this series to everyone. I love it and continue to look forward to each new installment!


Title: The Bridge
Author: Hayden Thorne
Publisher: JMS Books
Length: 5,062 words
Genre: gay YA Historical
Heat: 1 – Sweet/None
Sex Frequency: 1 – None
Keywords/Tags: France, rich/poor, Matchmaking, Superstitions
Rating: LOVED IT!

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Remy Pépin’s been dealt too many harsh blows in his young life. Orphaned, miserably poor, and subjected to occasional bullying from his employer, Remy’s only source of joy and hope is in a superstition shared by a dear friend, Mathilde Jolicoeur. It’s a superstition involving a lit candle sitting by a window, which Mathilde claims attracts luck.

Day after day, Remy lights his candle and waits, convincing himself not to hope for good fortune to come his way — until one snowy evening, when another boy appears at his doorstep, seeking shelter.

REVIEW

Well, this is the story I’ve been waiting for! Since I’ve been reading Hayden’s series of stories published at JMS/Queerteen, I’ve found a reason to enjoy them all. They’ve all had a singular medium to employ the message at it’s heart, whether well-known fantasy devices like a haunted forest (The Haunted Glade) or the playful rendering of a Goethe poem (Erl-King). This story is delivered in a familiar vein, but in a way that I was sure to love — the literary historical. I’m not very well-known with the French Novel, besides studying a big of Proust. I am, however, very familiar with the Russian Novel, which are similar in many ways.

There is something that is almost provincial with this story, in the way that second-hand characters are used as a catalyst for the main characters, thereby becoming the focus of the story themselves. The focus of such a character in this story, yet tempered with the narration of Remy, the object of her meddling, uses this sort of antiquated way of writing to bring what feels like a real setting in past and place to the modern times. Then, adding in the particular bits of stylistic choices (like the abbreviation of a first name), bring the story together, making the attention to the style of writing the most important aspect here, and one that brings a special kind of authenticity to place and time.

For me, who love Russian Literature, this was special even though it is only loosely related in style. But I can see that with this story in particular how much Hayden Thorne cares about what she writes. That is isn’t just the message she has to impart, but the vehicle to depart it. Very well done.

Title: The Water-Irises
Author: Hayden Thorne
Publisher: JMS Books
Length: 7,338 words
Genre: gay YA, Fantasy, Historical
Heat: 1 – Sweet/None
Sex Frequency: 1 – None
Keywords/Tags: Fae, allegory
Rating: Me Like

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Hugh LaCaille’s quiet, scholarly life is interrupted one day by a wealthy but obnoxious businessman who hires Hugh as a tutor to his young son. Ignace Fournier is incensed Aubin’s passion for nature and poetry is a threat to his dream of seeing the boy grow up to be just as successful as his father in commerce. When Hugh finally meets Aubin, he realizes there’s a great deal more than what meets the eye as far as the boy’s concerned … particularly his curious and outlandish stories involving a strange kingdom found at the bottom of a pond filled with water-irises.

The most alarming claim Aubin makes touches on a special friendship he’s nurtured with the young ruler of that mysterious kingdom. Forced under time pressure to instill discipline into the boy, Hugh grapples with questions he’s never before faced, and he finds himself looking deeper into his heart for difficult answers … and even more difficult choices.

REVIEW

This story, like many others of Hayden Thorne’s, is about the meeting of magic and reality, which come together as a metaphor for the crushing expectations “adult” life can have on youth. Seen from his tutor LaCaille’s point of view, Aubin is a dangerously romantic boy whose flights of fancy of the magical world outside his cottage grow day by day. LaCaille himself is a scientific man — almost devoutly theoretical in the face of the empirical evidence that often surrounds him. He’s fascinated in the world, but in such a way that is severe in it’s restriction. Aubin’s father is a man of commerce, and in both LaCaille and Aubin’s eyes the very nature of all that wrong with the world — baseness and greed. The meeting of these three worlds is the setting, and the lens through with each sees the world is their nature — one romantic, one scientific, and one long past given to basic animal impulse.

What is really the focus, though, is how this setting and microcosm of the world at large is shown to crush Aubin, who day by day under LaCaille’s tutelage and his father’s harsh demands seeks the place that sustains him, the fae-like forest around him. Where it is his haven, the austere cottage lined with a merchant’s tools is the representation of all in the world that is crushing his spirit.

The way this is shown in the story is interesting because even while the subject matter (the magic all around him) is unbelievable to LaCaille, our narrator, the way in which he see’s the relationship between Aubin and his father is uniquely his own and in the end, what helps him to understand Aubin and see the world around him in a new light.

Once again this is also a metaphor for a young gay man, which is barely touched directly in the story, of a world’s expectations that can crush one’s spirit. The fact that LaCaille is an almost completely objective witness to this in the beginning, though surprisingly accepting to change, spins the story into a hopeful tale of triumph over societal expectation.

This was a beautifully told story, just like all of Hayden’s and this one didn’t disappoint. As always, very well done.


Title: Erl-King
Author: Hayden Thorne
Publisher: JMS Books
Length: 5,152 words
Genre: Gay YA, Fantasy, Alt. World
Heat: 1 – Sweet/None
Sex Frequency: 1 – None
Keywords/Tags: fae, Goethe
Rating: Me Like!

BLURB

Baltasar grows up in a world of absolutes, of black and white, right and wrong. Just as his brothers and sisters who went before him, the boy is groomed to follow only one road, at the end of which is a life no different from his parents’ and grandparents’. His parents’ strict teachings and the naïveté that results, however, render him ignored and friendless, and Baltasar spends much time alone.

During one of his solitary wanderings in the countryside, he stumbles across an enchanted land and its melancholy, ageless ruler — a land full of color and magic, and a bond that defies everything he’s always known about the world. But what’s unusual, tempting, and exciting doesn’t always lead to a clearer path, and Baltasar is forced to choose between two wildly diverging worlds, with each exacting a high price.

Erl-King is a retelling of Goethe’s ballad by the same title.

REVIEW

Based on Goethe’s Erlking, a variation of the Scandinavian and later German tale, Hayden Thorne’s Erl-King diverges in many ways from it’s previous incarnations while staying fundamentally true to the tale of an Elf King of the woods who preys on children.

Goethe’s short poem is about a man riding home at night through the woods with his child. The child is frightened by an elf king he sees following them and his father tells him various things, such as “tis a wisp of fog”, etc. The child continues to be frightened, and when the father reaches their home, he sees that the child is dead. What made this story wonderful for me, is having read Goethe’s poem first, which I hadn’t read before. There’s quite a bit of play that Hayden does with the story, forming the original tale to fit with the stories that she tells best, about young men on the cusp of adulthood. In Erl-King, Hayden’s hero is Balthasar, a young man who has grown up in a colorless world, molded into a person and life he doesn’t want to live. Here, the Elf King is at once a saving grace from that life and at the same time a death from everything Balthasar has previously known.

Hayden’s stories always fascinate me because if I were to read them and not consider the detail in the prose then I would miss the whole story, and that is the case here. The dichotomy between his childhood and the beckoning call of the Elf King is shown through color.

Suddenly his mind was invaded by color: subtle hues at first, variations of black, white, and brown, followed by more complex shades, most of which he’d never seen. The slight trickling grew to a more energetic torrent of reds, blues, and yellows, and, overcome by the discordance, he lost consciousness.

Where the new colorful world he’s suddenly exploring is the realm and influence of the Elf King, the drab monochromatic hues represent not only his childhood and future, should he choose it, but his family. The important key, however, is in opposition to the original poem. Where Goethe’s father in the poem tries to reassure his son by denying the presence of the Elf King, in Hayden’s story Balthasar’s father asks if he “sees others in the shadows”, Balthasar replies, “You only see the willows through the fog, Papa.” This shows the boy in the paternal light, as he is on the cusp of making his choice — shadow and familiarity, or light and possibly love.

I like how Hayden shows the Elf King as a lost and misunderstood figure. His chase through the woods after Balthasar isn’t out of a mysterious malice, but spurned love.

I love these little shorts that Hayden writes and I’ll continue to read them. This one gets a Me Like from me 😀

Title: Clouds’ Illusions
Author: Hayden Thorne
Publisher: JMS Books
Length: 5,125 words
Genre: Gay YA, Fantasy
Heat: 1 – Sweet/None
Sex Frequency: 1 – None
Keywords/Tags: allegory, magical realism
Rating: Me Like!

BLURB

Five-year-old Simon, along with his parents and older sister Amy, go to a carnival one day. When a sudden deluge separates the family and leaves Simon alone and frightened, the child undergoes a journey of maturation as he searches for his parents and sister.

Wandering through the ruined carnival, Simon encounters rain-soaked clowns, muddied carnival-goers, and a special young boy named Brian, who’s also lost. The longer Simon stays in the carnival and the rain that continues to threaten everyone’s fun, the more he learns about life, and he leaves the carnival a man with hopeful prospects ahead of him.

Clouds’ Illusions is a modern fairy tale, a metaphor for a young gay man’s coming-of-age with all its illusions and truths, and the wisdom that comes from the marriage of rain and sun.

REVIEW

At once magical realism and also allegory, Simon’s foray into the carnival at 5 and his subsequent growth throughout his life is highlighted by the surreal. This is probably the most dream-like story I’ve read of Hayden’s and it doesn’t follow a chronological timeline. It’s a story that I’d like to have all my friends read and then discuss with me 🙂

This really is a story that is best left without description. I have a feeling that the purpose is for every reader to experience it differently, which is certainly possible, lending to more subjectivity than most stories. But what I saw was really a story of loss and growth. The last paragraph of the blurb describes the intent of this story perfectly, a metaphor for a gay coming of age.

The allegorical nature is what I connected to the most. Allegory is at times overly symbolic. That’s the point — one thing represents something else. The change from rain to sunlight, the paint melting off the carnival-goers faces weeping away the paint and revealing the harsh lines life brings to faces. The stuffed animal Caesar, who even when Simon is older silently watches him — a steady, sometimes forgotten and sometimes embarrassing innocence. It is, like it is meant to be, a rather sad and sweet tale that never leaves behind the wonder a young, five year old boy sees when he enters his first carnival and it seems like a fairy land.

I really enjoyed this story, but I’d rather have you read it for yourself than anything more I could review for you. Just remember, don’t start this story expecting a typical narrative, and keep your mind open. If Jorge Luis Borges wrote with childlike glee, this could be similar to one of his creations.