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: The Leather Bar Mural
Author: Ewan Creed
Publisher: Wilde City
Length: 12k words
Genre: m/m Erotica
Heat: 5 – Off the Charts!
Sex Frequency: 5 – Over and Over
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, Charlie Harding Presents, Wilde City Press Erotica Week, a bit of BDSM, m/m/m scenes, m/m/m+, Voyeurism, Public Sex, Kink, Dirty/Pig/Raunch, 1970s, Recent Historical, Magical Realism, Paranormal Twist, Anonymous Sex, Erotic Art, Cops, Sailors, Multiple Partners
Rating: So So
In 1975 both gay and sexual liberation were in full swing. Alex loved the sexually charged atmosphere of the leather bar where decadence was in full swing. Anything might happen there and something usually did. One night something happened which he hadn’t quite bargained for and Alex was transported beyond the walls of the bar and into a dark carnal wonderland of sexual abandon. In this shadowed world the men of his fantasies prowled the shifting maze of alleyways seeking sexual gratification in whatever form it appeared. Follow Alex on his journey into the mural and into a world of perpetual desire and fulfillment, a world that can trap a man for all eternity as surely as a spider’s web can trap its prey.
Alex feels the sexual liberation in the air and he’s always been happy with casual hookups. Why conform to heterosexual sexual dynamics like monogamy when he’s so happy having sex with who he pleases and then moving on? That is, until he meets Bill. They have a wonderful time together and to Alex’s surprise, outside of bed as well as in it. Then, after two weeks, Alex finds himself back in the same place, single and alone, but with his perspective completely changed about relationships.
So in a move to cheer himself up and step back into his old life of sexual debauchery and freedom, he heads to his favorite leather bar. While there, he considers the mural in the bar in a way he hasn’t before. The sexy sailor, leatherman and farm boy seem almost real…
This rather surreal story didn’t give me any clues as to it’s final destination. In retrospect, the first part of the story is a setup for what will come later, but as I read it I assumed that this would be a regular gay romp, albeit full of leather, darkroom orgies and well-maintained mustaches. That’s what it seemed like at first, until Alex starts to talk about Bill and work through his own issues with sexual liberation and his — perhaps shamefully buried — desire for companionship and monogamy. The failure of that ideal, when it seemed so impossible in the first place, makes Alex want to feel utterly fulfilled with casual sex, especially in the face of Bill’s post-Alex activities. It seemed to me anyway, that in such a moment of seeming isolation among the crowd, Alex finds his own fantasy in the mural. And his investigation of that shows him pleasure in what he could never feel in the real world.
Okay, seriously though, all analysis aside, this is a pretty hot story as long as you’re into some real raunch and dirty sex and multiple, multiple partners. This is pure erotica, which makes the setting all the more appropriate because besides the magical realism/fantasy aspect of the story, the best place for pure, dirty, animalistic, sex is this time period and setting (though it’s not ever specifically mentioned, the feeling of the story made me imagine the 70s Chelsea Piers in NYC, or somewhere else known for large congregations of public gay sex). Also, though he has a few encounters himself, I found it interesting that Alex has a pretty large voyeuristic streak. Most of the sex in the story doesn’t involve him, except as an active observer.
I like to read an erotica story like this every now and again. Quite a lot of the gay erotica you’ll find online seems to feel that the raunchier the better, but I appreciated that while this story didn’t skimp on the dirty sex it did provide an interesting plot. But yes, the plot does follow the sex, not the other way around 😉
Posted by Cole in 3 So So, Authors A-C, Erotica, Heat 5 - Off the Charts!, Sex Freq 5 - Over and Over Again!, up to 15k Tags: 1970s, a bit of BDSM, Anonymous Sex, Charlie Harding Presents, Cops, Dirty/Pig/Raunch, Erotic Art, Ewan Creed, Kink, m/m/m scenes, m/m/m+, magical realism, Multiple/Other Partners, Paranormal Twist, Public Sex, Recent Historical, Sailors, Short Story, Voyeurism, Wilde City Press
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
Posted by Cole in 5 Really Like It, Alternate World, Authors S-U, Fantasy, Heat 1 - Sweet/None, Sex Freq 1 - None, up to 15k, YA Tags: allegory, Fae/Elves, Goethe, Hayden Thorne, JMS Books, magical realism, Short Story