Author: Will Parkinson
Publisher: Dreamspinner (Harmony Ink)
Length: 53,637 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary YA Romance
Heat: 1 – Sweet/None
Sex Frequency: 1 – None
Keywords/Tags: Debut Novel, High School, Unrequited Love, Closeted, Best Friends, Straight/Gay Male Friendships, Coming Out, Coming of Age, Art/Artists, Sports, Baseball, Athletes, Abuse, Machiavellian Bad Guy, Evil Teenaged Girls!, Secrets & Lies
Rating: Not Feelin’ It
The day Jackson Kern walks into Taylor Andrews’s classroom is a momentous day in Taylor’s life. He’s had crushes before, sure, but as time goes on, this is starting to look a whole lot more serious. Still, Jackson doesn’t return Taylor’s feelings.
Taylor has his own admirers, though. Kevin Richards is used to getting what he wants, and what he wants right now is Taylor, so when Taylor rejects him, Kevin retaliates. At first Taylor’s entourage rallies around him, but then Kevin takes his deception one step further and Taylor sees his support dwindle, teaching him the valuable lesson about who he can truly consider a friend.
I’m always eager to pick up a baseball book and even though I’ve been interested in several and still plan to review a few of them, it has been a while since I’ve picked up a book from DSP’s young adult imprint. From what I gather in the acknowledgements, this is Will Parkinson’s debut novel. Sometimes it’s a gamble picking books to read by a new author or an author I’ve never read, but that’s another part of reviewing that I like. Reviewing gives me the opportunity to read new authors and it feels like I get to enjoy more of the perks, like finding a surprise that’s worth it. Often, it’s different though and while I like some of those books I also don’t like some of them. I’m afraid to say that this book fell into the latter camp for me. While it wasn’t a total disappointment, I just didn’t connect with the book.
Taylor is a gay sophomore in a Milwaukee, Wisconsin high school. His best friend Benny is straight and the only person alive who knows his secret. They’re best friends and always have been and Benny is a rather special guy that is wise beyond his years, intelligent and loyal. Pitch opens on the day that a new student starts at Taylor’s school. Jackson walks into Taylor’s homeroom, looking nervous and totally sexy and Taylor immediately wants to draw him. What follows over the next year is an intense unrequited love that just doesn’t seem to go away, no matter how hard Taylor tries and Benny cautions. No matter how much Taylor is told that Jackson is disgusted by his little boy crush from Jackson’s cheerleader girlfriend, Taylor just can’t seem to stay away.
It isn’t until he and Benny gain some perspective on their problems during the next summer, camp counseling for abused kids, that Taylor starts to grow up. He still has feelings for Jackson, but he’s less likely now to follow him around like a lost puppy. So when a kid from a neighboring school asks him out during their Halloween dance, Taylor decides to take him up on it. He really starts to like Kevin, but he is prey unknowingly walking into Kevin’s trap. It takes some extremely tough decisions and way too much heartbreak and drama to realize that much of what he thought before wasn’t true, about most of the people he knew.
There are two aspects of this novella that I had a difficult time with. The first are the characters. This, especially, is subjective. Part of what oftentimes makes a young adult novel good are the bad choices of the characters. More often than not young adult stories have a moral and it can walk a fine line in the hands of the author between preachy and poignant. The style of this story went a bit over the top and that just wasn’t something that I was really looking for. For high school students, who I freely admit can be some of the cruelest humans on Earth, many of the actions of these characters went beyond immature and foolhardy. I would have appreciated the characters and their decisions (even the bad ones) more if their actions had been more subtle and less ascribed to their particular archetype. Kevin’s actions in particular required me to suspend disbelief a few times.
As I said before, those decisions and your own feelings about them are more subjective than usual. My other problem with this story was in the writing. I applaud this author for writing and writing and sharing their work. But like many new authors I think that there were some fundamental writing problems that this author needs to work on. Mostly it will just take continued writing, so even though this book wasn’t for me, I sincerely hope that this author keeps up with it. Part of the novice prose problems were dialogue and restraint. In a way, the second has quite a bit to do with the first. This book didn’t fall into too bad of a habit of telling rather than showing, but there is importance in letting the characters express themselves in their own ways instead of being a vehicle to express the author’s view. I’m not talking about preaching about issues or anything like that here. I simply mean the difference between the characters’ observations and personality and the author’s. Almost continually there were times while reading this that I stopped and thought that a character wouldn’t say or think that. The dialogue, in a similar way, oftentimes sounded familiar for all the characters and didn’t seem to represent the individual characters. Restraint is important because readers don’t need all the information. It’s a partnership, you know? The readers picks up on the clues the author leaves and pieces them together and in that way one small action tells you more about the character than a whole page of narration.
Ultimately, this book just wasn’t for me because of the more dramatic plot twists. I have seen a couple of 5-star reviews around so I’ll be interested to see if any other readers/reviewers feel the way I do, or if this turns out to be a reader favorite. I’ve been a part of the more unpopular opinion before!
Posted by Cole in 2 Not Feelin' It, 41-75k, Authors P-R, Contemporary, Heat 1 - Sweet/None, Romance, Sex Freq 1 - None, YA Tags: Abuse, Art, Artists, Athletes, Baseball, Best Friends, Closeted, Coming of Age, Coming Out, Debut Novel, Evil Teenaged Girls!, Harmony Ink Press, High School, Machiavellian Bad Guy, Secrets & Lies, Sports, Straight/Gay Male Friendships, Unrequited Love, Will Parkinson
Title: Four Corners
Author: Kate McMurray
Length: 72,033 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: Kate McMurray Week!, Friends to Lovers, Straight/Gay Male Friendships, Best Friends, Childhood Friends, Baseball, Sports, Flashbacks, High School, Second Chances, Chicago
Rating: Really Liked It
Since childhood, Jake, Adam, Kyle, and Brendan have been teammates, best friends, brothers. Then one day, when they were twenty-five, Adam disappeared without a word, devastating his friends—none more so than Jake, who had secretly loved Adam since they were teenagers.
Now, five years later, Adam is back, and he has his mind set on Jake. But those years of anger, hurt, and confusion are a lot to overcome, and Jake doesn’t find it easy to forgive. He isn’t sure they’ll ever fit together the way they did. Jake, Kyle, and Brendan have moved on with their lives, but Adam’s high-profile career keeps him in the closet—the same place he’s been for years. Still, his apologies seem sincere, and the attraction is still there. Jake desperately wants to give him a chance. But first he has to find out why Adam left and if he’s really back for good.
Whew, this was a doozy for me — an intensely personal read and one that’s particularly difficult for me to review. The basis of the story is a bit of a Big Chill setup. Four childhood friends (the Four Corners because of the bases they all played on their high school baseball team) are split up when one of then, Adam, disappears for 5 years. Jake has been in love with Adam since they were in their early teens. Actually, probably before that but he didn’t know what his feelings meant. Though he knows that Adam is gay as well, it’s something they don’t speak of. When they all leave to go their separate ways for college, Jake is free to move on from his feelings for Adam and explore his sexuality.
But when Adam leaves, it destroys their close family. A new dynamic emerges over Adam’s five year absence. Brendan and Kyle become the ones Jake is closest to, and though they’re both straight (well, Kyle is a question mark!), they’re fiercely protective of him. It’s obvious that in all these years no one has claimed the feelings that Jake still harbors for Adam. But now those feelings are tainted with anger at Adams absence and confusion over what Jake did to make him leave.
When Adam turns up, almost as if nothing ever happened, their new dynamic as three best friends are thrown out of whack. But Jake can’t stay away from Adam. And when Adam starts doing whatever he can to make up his absence to Jake, it throws all of their relationships in turmoil. Why did Adam leave, refusing contact all those years? And can he ever really come to terms with being gay and out?
As I said, this was an intensely personal read for me. I have a feeling that some readers might have a hard time understanding Adam and why he did what he did. Make no mistake — despite my feelings, I felt like Kate McMurray did a remarkable job explaining his emotional turmoil and what he was going through to make him take such drastic action as to leave everyone behind. But, without going into too many details… I’ve been in that position before and so I could really understand what makes someone want to flee and the intense betrayal that causes.
I admired the writing in this story. I can’t say that it’s my favorite of Kate’s novels, but that’s only because I love Out in the Field so much that this book would have to be absolutely extraordinary to top that. But, this is really a grown up romance novel. Not to say that any kind of book with sex in it is childish! But… I think that this story is given care to represent a situation and real emotion in a way that isn’t sugarcoated. The characters aren’t written to be liked, but to simply play out their emotions, through which they make you like them. In fact, my feelings about both Adam and Jake were ambiguous until over halfway through the story when I felt like they both, at the same time, were starting to be accountable for their actions.
I rarely say this, but my favorite part of this book were the flashbacks. They aren’t classic flashbacks, more Jake’s memories depending on where he is in the story and what he’s thinking. But they tie the past and present perfectly together, framing the similarities and differences between the past Adam and Jake and the present Adam and Jake and showing the drastic dynamic change between the group of friends. It’s this atmosphere and mood of joy and solidarity created by the flashbacks that just how Adam’s disappearance messed up their group.
This is definitely a recommended read. And no matter how personal of a read it was for me, it wasn’t particularly angst-filled. Kate seems to have a knack, now that I realize I’ve said something similar in most of my reviews of her books this week, for allowing the characters their emotional turmoil but not taking things too far. The epilogue is sweet and gives this story a firm HEA. There’s also a free short sequel called “Shortstop” that was posted recently on the Dreamspinner Facebook page. I can’t find the link and I can’t find it on the Dreamspinner FB page (thought I didn’t have long to look), but I know it’s there from a google search. So, if you can find it, it’s really cute and shows Jake and Adam as a couple two years after the end of the novel.
Edit: Here’s the link to the free sequel short, “Shortstop”: http://dreamspinnerpress.com/blog/2013/05/24/sexy-anniversary-short-shortstop-by-kate-mcmurray/
Make sure to read my interview with Kate McMurray today!
Posted by Cole in 41-75k, 5 Really Like It, Authors M-O, Contemporary, Heat 3 - Sexy & Mild, Romance, Sex Freq 3 - Average Story to Sex Tags: Baseball, Best Friends, Chicago, Childhood Friends, Dreamspinner Press, Flashbacks, Friends to Lovers, High School, Kate McMurray, Kate McMurray Week!, Second Chances, Sports, Straight/Gay Male Friendships
Title: Blind Items
Author: Kate McMurray
Length: 60,462 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: Kate McMurray Week!, Politics, Closeted, Coming Out, Famous, Paparazzi!, Funny Guys, Writers (Columnist/Reviewer), NYC, Straight/Gay Male Friendships, Childhood Friends, Best Friends, Teachers
Rating: Really Liked It
Columnist Drew Walsh made his career by publicly criticizing conservative, anti-gay politician Richard Granger. So when a rumor surfaces that Granger’s son Jonathan might be gay, Drew finds himself in the middle of a potential scandal. Under the guise of an interview about Jonathan’s new job teaching in an inner-city school, Drew’s job is to find out if the rumors are true. Drew’s best friend Rey is also Jonathan’s cousin, and he arranges the meeting between Jonathan and Drew that changes everything.
After just one interview, it’s obvious to Drew that the rumors are true, but he carefully neglects to mention that in his article. It’s also obvious that he’s falling for Jonathan, and he can’t stay away after the article is published. Still, Jonathan is too afraid to step out of the closet, and Drew thinks the smartest thing might be to let him go—until Jonathan shows up drunk one night at his apartment. The slow burn of their attraction doesn’t fade with Jonathan’s buzz, but navigating a relationship is never easy—especially in the shadow of right-wing politics.
I’ll be completely honest with you. This is one of Kate’s earlier books, but I really didn’t know what to expect from it. Part of it is that the secret relationship scenario is very hard to pull of, and then combined with the politics — I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it. To my surprise, I actually found that I enjoyed the story (mostly because the character of Drew was so fabulous he pulled it all off!), but I also found this book to have some of the best writing I’ve seen from Kate. The prose is often times lyrical, which all really comes from Drew’s voice. He’s fabulous and campy at times, yet at times heartbreakingly vulnerable with a solid core of admirable strength, and in that combination when the story really needs it, his voice rang completely clear for me. It was almost harmonious in it’s poignancy.
Drew tells this story as a man out and proud and quite perceptive of the world around him. He’s a fierce friend and honest man, at times too honest and righteously indignant on behalf of himself and those he loves that he can hurt other people. He’s well meaning and finds fault with himself before others. And self-sacrificing.
A columnist for a leftist rag, in which he mostly expounds gay gossip and rails on prominent conservative Kansas Senator Richard Granger for his anti-gay speeches, Drew finds himself in a coincidental bind. Richard Granger is his best friend’s uncle. Rey, his straight best friend from childhood is now a major movie star, is willing to introduce him to his cousin Jonathan, even though Drew’s boss wants him to do a feature on the young man, now teaching at a NYC magnet school. An anonymous source has come forward to say that the senator’s son is gay and Drew is suppose to get the scoop.
It’s a nightmare of epic proportions when Drew meets Jonathan and realizes how attracted to him he is. He already feels uncomfortable with the idea of outing anyone, and meeting Jonathan and becoming involved with him could mess up his best friendship, as well as make him start to see the senior Granger as a real person. Soon, Drew is being pulled every which way, and when reporters start looking for their own scoops, it puts their relationship to a real test. Have they just been playing at a real relationship? Or, is Jonathan too messed up by his father’s expectations and guilt to ever be out and free to have something real? Should Drew just abandon the whole thing before it blows up in his face?
As you may have gathered, I really connected with Drew. Not only did I find him engaging, but I really admired him, and I don’t think the story could have played out in any different way. Drew is at the same time pragmatic and a dreamer, two parts of him which battle in his attraction and love for Jonathan. Is it better for him to sacrifice his happiness now for a better possible future? Drew is really tormented in this story, not only with Jonathan, who at time he loves and hates for his weaknesses, but with himself.
The real relationship of value in this story is actually with Drew and his best friend Rey. The story starts with them, and in a way, they’re the central relationship in this story. I can’t help but fall in love when an author gives me this — a real, solid, brotherly friendship between a gay man and a straight man. Maybe it’s because I never thought it was possible when I was growing up. I had a hard time with my own straight guy friends in high school. No matter how much they accepted me, in ways they didn’t, and probably couldn’t at that age. None of us were mature enough. But college turned everything around with me, and I made one particular friendship with another guy that was indeed brotherly and somewhat like Drew and Rey. Madison Parker wrote a similar friendship into her YA book Play Me, I’m Yours. Honestly, that’s the way to my heart authors, and I adored Rey for that very reason.
The only disappointment I had with this story was the ending, which felt a little rushed to me and seemed to cut off just a tad too early. But it was a small disappointment and didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the rest of the book at all. So even though I officially rate this book Really Liked It, I loved this book and I loved reading it 🙂
Remember to visit tomorrow for my interview with Kate McMurray! We’re discussing her new book, Save the Date available now from Loose Id, her love of Baseball and NYC. Tomorrow’s reviews are the baseball ones — Out in the Field and Four Corners!
Posted by Cole in 41-75k, 5 Really Like It, Authors M-O, Contemporary, Heat 3 - Sexy & Mild, Romance, Sex Freq 3 - Average Story to Sex Tags: Best Friends, Childhood Friends, Closeted, Coming Out, Dreamspinner Press, Famous, Funny Guys, Kate McMurray, Kate McMurray Week!, NYC, Paparazzi!, Politics, Straight/Gay Male Friendships, Teachers, Writers