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 Beginning of Knowledge
Author: Anne Brooke
Publisher: Wilde City
Length: 12k words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Erotica
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 4 – Very Often
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, Charlie Harding Presents, Wilde City Press Erotica Week, Dark, Kink (Pain, Humiliation), Public Sex, Self Discovery
Rating: Really Liked It
When University administrator Alan Castleton meets temporary worker and talented pianist Luke Milton, he doesn’t expect to become obsessed with the handsome young blond. But soon he is heavily involved in a passionate and angry affair, and exploring the dark shadows of his own personality in a way he’s never encountered before.
The more Alan tries to break free from his obsession, the deeper it entangles him. The dangerous split between his reason and his sexual desires threatens his peace of mind and, when the crisis point comes, he must decide once and for all the kind of life he should lead.
Now this is the type of erotica that I like to read! I mean, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a romp or what have you but Anne has written a darkly erotic story that is much more a story about self-discovery than a rough frame for porn without any reason. And Anne is so good at writing these types of stories. Here we have a man (Alan) who is at a point in his life of stagnancy. His relationships always fail and he’s grown to believe it’s solely because of him and his reaction is to abstain from any kind of relationship for a while and go about his life concentrating on his job. What he doesn’t expect is Luke, the new temp in his office that pushes all his buttons — the ones he learns that he’s not sure he ever wanted pushed. Luke makes him feel powerful, but only at the end of his degradation and abuse against him, and that feeling of power over Luke is at the same time addictive and dangerous.
What we have with this story is almost a character study of a man who feels powerless finding power over someone else. He learns throughout the story just how dangerous he is, but that is both because he is in denial of who he really is and that he hasn’t really dealt with his feelings and his past. I think that more than anything this is a smart story, because Anne forces you to confront your own feelings about Alan and Luke. Many will finish this story seeing the sex and pain as the focus, of one man being dragged into a world of Dominance that he doesn’t understand and finding that he revels in it. That it, and the story, is dark and sinfully sexy. I came away with something different from this story, and perhaps that’s what defines this story more than anything, your own perception of it. I found it as a story of a man, Alan, who doesn’t understand himself. He ends up in a darkly addictive spiral out of control because he never faced his issues head on. He always tries to run from them, and so they hold on to him all the stronger.
But it is worth finding out on your own. The writing here is superb. I felt as if I knew Alan intimately only a few pages into his first person narrative because for all that he’s blind to what is going on he’s starkly transparent. So I commend Anne for writing a story that is indeed knowledgable, that is informative but at the same time seductively sexy. I think you should read this one just to see what you take from it.
Posted by Cole in 5 Really Like It, Authors A-C, Contemporary, Erotica, Heat 4 - Spicy & Smutty, Sex Freq 4 - Very Often, up to 15k Tags: Anne Brooke, Charlie Harding Presents, Dark Theme, Humiliation, Kink, Pain Kink, Public Sex, Self-Discovery Focus, Short Story, Wilde City Press, Wilde City Press Erotica Week
Title: Academic Pursuits
Author: Lou Harper
Publisher: Amber Allure
Length: 29k words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 4 – Very Often
Keywords/Tags: Lou Harper Week!, Hot College Daze collection, College, Playboy/Manslut, Straight Men, Multiple Partners, Awesome Female Characters, Art, Artists, Self-Discovery Focus
Rating: Pretty Good
Jamie Brennan is putting “cad” back into academia!
The son of a well-to-do family and blessed with both dark good looks and buckets of confidence, Jamie lives for the chase. He has a well-deserved reputation around college as a seducer of straight frat boys. No man is off-limits to Jamie—he’s happy to help fellow gay students out of the closet, too. He even has lustful designs on his oblivious English professor, so it’s no surprise that his amorous pursuits often land him in sticky situations.
There’s just one flaw in Jamie’s perfect world—Roger Hunt. The hunky grad student, who dresses more like a lumberjack than the talented artist he is, gives Jamie hostile looks every time their paths cross. Jamie tries to ignore Roger, but they can’t seem to stop running into each other, and Jamie’s beginning to wonder if it’s more than chance that continues to steer them down the same halls…
The reviews are coming… slowly! But I’m getting there, slowly but surely 😉 I have to admit that this was one of the books that I read back in May when I decided to review Lou Harper’s backlist that I read immediately because I already had it and then promptly forgot to review it. I had an oopsie moment this week when I started to write the review because I’ve read so many college themed stories in the past few months that I wanted to be sure I completely remembered everything. And that’s kindof a big deal when you think back to how well you remember books that you’ve read because how much you remember the book and how you felt about it says what impact it makes on you. So when I opened the book again for a little refresher read, it immediately came storming back to me.
I wrote a review yesterday for Hanging Loose where I talked quite a bit about my happiness that that book took the plot completely through the romance, instead of stopping early on in their relationship. Of course, there is an exception to every rule — no author or book is the same. But, I’ve read quite a few books that just take the story up to the honeymoon phase and then leave things at that, and my disappointment when at that point the book often feels unfinished. Academic Pursuits is the one major exception to that, in that this book is really about self-discovery over the romance and your feelings about this book will most likely depend entirely on how you like Jamie. We first meet him while he’s initiating Hollins, another straight frat boy, into the joys of gay sex, something he’s grown quite the reputation for. But Jamie isn’t really that great at reading situations or people, which shows in his ignorance of how some people at his college view his promiscuity. And the promiscuity really suits Jamie just fine. He loves sex and he’s rather charming and good looking, and he certainly makes no mistake about what sex with him entails. In fact, he often makes sure that he’s not leading a guy along. He makes no excuses because he’s rather happy with his life and the way he lives it. It isn’t really until he meets Roger that those perceptions start to change. At first, all he knows about Roger is that the man seems to hate him, which is a shame because the artist is really pretty sexy. It isn’t until the two run into each other enough to finally really start getting to know the other, when they can break down the facade they both see in the other.
I really kindof liked Jamie because he’s so at home in his skin. He makes no secret of his sexual liaisons nor his intentions. He isn’t playing anyone. He just likes sex and has no need to settle down. Nor has he met anyone yet that he feels that way about. I totally got that. But that also means that he has sex with multiple partners, even after he’s met Roger. So for those who really like their main characters to stick with each other and to have a pretty pure romance plot, this might not be your book. For most of the book, he and Roger aren’t together. The course of their romance on-page is in the barely getting to know you’s, and then later in the book Jamie’s change in perception about his feelings for Roger, what that means for him, and his understanding about Roger’s perception of him. This really is a book of self-discovery. Jamie is spending his college years having casual sex and it is only with serious feelings for someone that he starts to understand how others might have viewed him, and also how he wants to change. Not really because his behavior was bad, but because it just doesn’t suit him anymore.
I’ll let you discover the details yourself, but there’s a lot else in this book to like, like his cousin/roommate Jo who is totally awesome, and his own matchmaking efforts for her and for some of his conquests. And you know, for a guy in college, his sexual portrayal is pretty spot-on, you know? The whole reputation as a seducer of straight frat boys might put a funny spin on the situation, but I liked that this was a pretty accurate portrayal of college life.
So, don’t miss out on this one folks. It’s pretty short at 29k words and it’s a fun read. And I didn’t even feel like I needed a sequel!
Posted by Cole in 16-40k, 4 Pretty Good, Authors G-I, Contemporary, Heat 4 - Spicy & Smutty, Romance, Sex Freq 4 - Very Often Tags: Amber Allure, Art, Artists, Awesome Female Characters, College, Hot College Daze collection, Lou Harper, Lou Harper Week!, Multiple/Other Partners, Playboys, Self-Discovery Focus, Straight Men