Upside Down by N. R. Walker

Published: 21st March 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Blueheart Press
Pages: 258
Format: ebook
Genre: Contemporary romance
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Jordan O’Neill isn’t a fan of labels, considering he has a few. Gay, geek, a librarian, socially awkward, a nervous rambler, an introvert, an outsider. The last thing he needs is one more. But when he realises adding the label ‘asexual’ might explain a lot, it turns his world upside down.

Hennessy Lang moved to Surry Hills after splitting with his boyfriend. His being asexual had seen the end of a lot of his romances, but he’s determined to stay true to himself. Leaving his North Shore support group behind, he starts his own in Surry Hills, where he meets first-time-attendee Jordan.

A little bewildered and scared, but completely adorable, Hennessy is struck by this guy who’s trying to find where he belongs. Maybe Hennessy can convince Jordan that his world hasn’t been turned upside down at all, but maybe it’s now—for the first time in his life—the right way up.

There is a certain delightful charm about this book. It is slightly rough around the edges in terms of style and story but it has heart. There are unique and diverse characters and Walker has managed to show the joy of friendship groups and the adventures of people in their mid-twenties: able to enjoy the freedom of being an adult while allowed to still be young and not have any major responsibilities.

Walker has captured the two differences voices perfectly. Jordon is very excitable but this has its charm at times. You can see Jordan’s mind working a mile a minute and his talkative nature is juxtaposed against Hennessy’s subdued, calmer nature. This may not be the full asexual story that people are looking for, but it does show the actions and mindset of a man trying to work out where he fits in the world. It is also a great introduction to this type of relationship and life that people may be unfamiliar with.

Jordon is definitely someone I think is an acquired taste. He swears a lot, he rambles and is very talkative but this is the character choice Walker has made and it brings some uniqueness to the character. One that also helps understand why he is so reluctant for this added development. Hennessy is the opposite and seeing the two of them together can be quite sweet because Hennessy doesn’t see Jordon’s personality as a flaw.

There are a few dialogue bumps and it isn’t always the most perfect writing but the story comes from a strong start and seeing the boys get to know one another and grow is actually quite endearing. Seeing them get flustered around each other in their own way is joyful and there are many adorable moments of the boys being adorable together. If you know the Surry Hills area there are great Australian references and locations as well.

Sometimes in an effort to cover the fact there is no offer of sex or sexual attraction there are a few misunderstandings that aren’t actual misunderstandings which I think Walker is trying to add some drama where communication would have solved all of the problems. There is admittedly a cheesiness to the story but it is sweet and if you don’t mind slightly sappy, daggy boys and their enthusiastic friends.

The things I loved though was the complexity of the relationship and identity. Seeing Jordon trying to work out who he is and where he fits is wonderful once you get further into the story. There are light hearted moments, cringy moments, but there are also complicated moments that show that trying to find out who you are can be tough and something that takes time and a lot of support.

You can purchase Upside Down via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Lords of St Thomas by Jackson Ellis

Published: 10th April 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Green Writers Press
Pages: 180
Format: ebook
Genre: Historical Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

In the Mojave Desert, at the southern end of the isolated Moapa Valley, sat the town of St. Thomas, Nevada. A small community that thrived despite scorching temperatures and scarce water, St. Thomas was home to hardy railroad workers, farmers, shopkeepers, teachers, and a lone auto mechanic named Henry Lord.

Born and raised in St. Thomas, Lord lived in a small home beside his garage with his son, Thomas, his daughter-in-law, Ellen, and his grandson, “Little” Henry. All lived happily until the stroke of a pen by President Coolidge authorizing the construction of the Boulder (Hoover) Dam. Within a decade, more than 250 square miles of desert floor would become flooded by the waters of the Colorado River, and St. Thomas would be no more.

In the early 1930s, the federal government began buying out the residents of St. Thomas, yet the hardheaded Henry Lord, believing the water would never reach his home, refused to sell. It was a mistake that would cost him―and his family―dearly.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book for review

This may only be a quick read but it is an engaging and captivating story. It crosses two points in time, when our narrator Henry is a young boy and when he is an old man. These two points in time alternate but the story mainly focuses on the earlier time period. I enjoyed this change because from the opening I was expecting the story to go another way and I am glad it went in the direction it did.

The story is about home and the past. It is also about family. Ellis has written a fascinating story that questions all of this and weaves it together with style and seamlessness. The two periods rest side by side and Ellis uses the narrator’s voice to give us all the information we need without heavy exposition. Instead it is woven through and details are revealed at intervals when they are pertinent. Little Henry tells the story of his childhood living in St Thomas and the changes that come about when there is a threat to the town with the construction of the new dam. As a non-American I was interested in the history the story shows about the development of the dam and even though Ellis has fictionalised it, there are pictures included at the end that show where his inspiration came from.

This story could easily have been longer but I am glad Ellis has kept it short. It has a lot more power and through the narrative and dialogue all the information we need has been included without it become too wordy. The character development is all there and through Henry’s reflections and observations we gain more insight into characters whose voices we don’t often get to hear. Ellis shows well and doesn’t often tell and even with his few observations there is a lot said in a few words. The imagery is also wonderfully vivid and I could picture everything Henry is telling us, from the small run down school room to the encroaching water and hard dry desert.

There is heartache and mystery but there is also a bittersweet reality that I really liked. The hardships the family endures and the drama around their lives takes it toil but there is also strong family bonds. The novel takes place across the decades of the 20th century and seeing the changes from the 1930s to the 1990s and beyond not only shows to contrast in the environment, but also in the progress of humanity and it is a reminder of what life was like in those early years. It certainly has a lot of poignancy and intrigue and to capture all that in 180 pages is a wonderful feat.

You can purchase Lords of St Thomas via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Wordery

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Chrysalis (#3) by Nikki Rae

Published: 30th April 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Self-Published
Pages: 257
Format: ebook
Genre: Dark romance
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

After Wolf Manor, Fawn vowed to never be weak, broken, or scared again. She has wrenched her power from the Vultures, visiting them under the cover of darkness to deliver the same drug they’d given her. This version has a different side effect: death.

It doesn’t stop the nightmares, it can’t erase what happened, but revenge is the only distraction from Lyon Estate. Tucked in the wilderness, she draws back into herself until Master Lyon demands they make good on their deal. In order to continue her vengeance, he is to be her Owner—really this time.

While it is a small sacrifice to make, Fawn isn’t prepared to be pulled back into Elliot’s world, where the rules of the Order exist, but in a new way. Running from him sends her into the arms of others in House Chimera. People who should be off limits, but they also stir something within her wholly different than the emotions Master Lyon can conjure. Marius is patient, and she finds herself clinging to him more now than ever before. People like them don’t believe in love, but can they choose it?

Fawn is no longer the prey, but beyond the trees, a lone Wolf is hunting…

I am honoured to be part of Nikki Rae’s blog tour to help celebrate the release of her new book Chrysalis. This is the third book in The Order series and it continues the story of Fawn and Elliot and the secretive underground society in which they’re forced to live in.

I was surprised by this story but not disappointed. After an impressive start the narrative slows down as we see Fawn try and find out where she fits in the new world she has found herself. I felt this was a much slower narrative than the others, not the same slow burn as we’ve seen before, I think I wanted more events to happen rather than such a detailed focus on the emotional side. That might be my own hangover from the end of the second book though.

The blurb says Fawn will never be weak, broken, or scared again, and yet I felt she spent a lot of this story just that. I didn’t quite see the girl who wanted to burn down the establishment. We’d come from Wilt and while there were recoveries and emotional drain and turmoil, I still thought there’d be less vulnerability. I had to keep reminding myself that it was about her mental stability and recovery and the aftershock of everything that has happened. Elliot mentions that he needs to rebuild her after breaking her but I didn’t see her as broken at the end of Wilt, I saw her as her own renewed person. If we’re to look at her as being broken, I suppose that explains why this novel is focused a lot on her personal journey to be “rebuilt” rather than more external story.

That is not to say it wasn’t filled with wonderful things within this focus. There is a seductive exploration of trust and consent which only enforces the foreign, new relationship Fawn and Elliot have. There are more moments of intimacy between the two but there are also a few new moments with characters both new and familiar. The theme that you can love more than one person is evident and there is a focus on sorting through new emotions from Fawn rather than anything entirely explicit.

I think this is where Rae is clever with her titles. It took a moment for it to click but Chrysalis is the perfect name for this book. It’s that in-between stage, that moment of preparation and while I’d have loved to have it go full throttle into action, we needed that time of preparation. Fawn needed that time. I think remembering that is important in understanding this story and the role it plays in the series. Even though I felt conflicted over Fawn’s actions, I still admired her for her strength and her bravery despite her fear. Her own armour she shrouds herself at the beginning is from necessity and even as it breaks away again I saw it reform in a gentler but possibly tougher way.

I was surprised when I learnt there was going to be a fourth book. I’m so used to Rae having a three act story with her series so I am hoping for my explosive conclusion with the next book and I think based on the final quarter that this is possible. After such intimacy and emotion the focus shifts as the rest of the world intrudes once more and wreaks havoc. The illusion is shattered and reality and the past has come back with a vengeance. Rae brings this book to an exciting conclusion and leads us into the the end. Hopefully this includes an ending where we get to see Fawn bring down the establishment and seek the vengeance she deserves.

Overall I enjoyed the exploration of these characters I have gotten to know, but I will admit it felt separate as well. I am looking forward to seeing how Rae is going to conclude this complicated, emotionally charged story. I have complete trust she will do the story and her readers justice.

Be sure to check out Bloom and Wilt to get the full, fascinating story of Fawn and her life because if you like dark romances with some bite, then this will be right up your alley.

You can purchase Chrysalis via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Follow the links to find out more about Nikki Rae

 

Just Be You by M. E. Parker

Published: 15th June 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/Recorded Books
Pages: 293
Format: ebook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

When Scott Cohen got word that he’d been nominated for a Grammy, he wondered if the universe was playing some cruel trick on him. Of all the songs he’d written, why did it have to be that song? 

Over ten years had passed since he’d written the song and even more since Scott had become obsessed with Marshall Donavan, his brother’s best friend. It didn’t matter that Scott hadn’t seen Marshall in years. Nor did it matter that Marshall never belonged to him or even that Marshall was straight. Scott never managed to stop thinking about him. 

When Scott got a call from his manager asking him to submit a song for a movie and a call from his brother Abe informing him of Marshall’s engagement to Julia Sterling on the same day, Scott took it as a sign. It was time to say goodbye and forget Marshall Donavan forever. 

Submitting ‘Just Be You’ to the movie executives was supposed to be Scott’s way of letting go—of forgetting, of saying goodbye. But his plan backfired when the movie became a box office success overnight and his song was nominated for a Grammy. There was no way he’d ever be able to forget. The song would follow him for the rest of his life and so would his unhealthy obsession with Marshall Donavan. 

It didn’t help things when he found himself face to face again with the man who had consumed his thoughts for years. No, it didn’t help at all when he saw the still very sexy and very straight Marshall Donavan for the first time in eight years. It didn’t matter what would happen between them. As soon as he saw Marshall again, he knew that giving up his obsession wasn’t an option… 

Taking a chance on sweet sounding LGBT romances has turned into a good bet for me because I have found some highly adorable books. This book may not be perfect in terms of writing or characters, nor may it be perfect plot wise, but it is fun and has a happy ending while still making you invested in the characters and their journeys.

I loved Scottie, he was adorable without being naïve, and he knows who he is and what he wants. I felt Marshall lost some of himself midway, his character becomes more singularly focused and less complex than he presents at the start but it didn’t affect my enjoyment. The focus is mainly on these two though supporting characters get a look in too, albeit briefly.

The biggest surprise was finding myself getting giddy with adorableness over these two. I did not see that coming but Parker has written a charming book that uses emotions remarkably well and it draws you in. Admittedly it took a while to fully get into the story, some parts felt comfortable other parts I felt disconnected when the writing took me out of the story, but there is a delightful sweetness about this book. There is charm and compassion, and the tensions and obstacles are solid, not manufactured miscommunication and I believed it was possible. Some things did move a bit quickly, but others managed to feel drawn out.

I grinned and squirmed and gasped in all the right places and I was surprised at the events that played out. Parker’s narrative has twists and surprises alongside the expected and I was impressed that there were multiple facets to this story. I honestly didn’t think I was going to get so caught up in these boys and their lives and yet I did. It had promised a happy ending and at times plays out like all the dreams coming true perfect world, but there is heart and conflict which brings depth and emotion.

Something to mention is there are a lot of sex scenes and descriptions of m/m sexual acts. In context they make sense, but there are a lot. While some parts are brushed over, other parts have more detailed descriptions.

Overall I really enjoyed this story. The range of emotions I felt reading this increased my enjoyment because it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops; I had minor second hand anxiety, I had shock, and there were times I had to stop reading because I was in a public place and couldn’t cope having gushing emotions in view of other people. If that doesn’t say enjoyment I don’t know what does.

You can purchase Just Be You via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Noah’s Song (#1) by Jaclyn Osborn

Published: 28th February 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Encompass Ink
Pages: 266
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Noah Derwin knows what it’s like to be different. Being a seventeen-year-old kid in high school with blue hair, piercings, a mostly all black wardrobe, and an obsession with zombies and video games, he doesn’t exactly blend in. But he never wanted to. His two dads raised him to always stay true to himself.

Bastian Hunter prefers structure and predictability. Suffering from a rare disease, every day is a challenge for him, and he prepares for the future by excelling academically and denying who he really is. Everything changes when he meets Noah, the unpredictable variable in the equation he’s built his life around, and feelings he’s hid for so long begin to surface.

Being gay in high school isn’t exactly rainbows and butterflies, and Noah has definitely faced his fair share of bullies. Moving to Port Haven, Oregon opens up new possibilities for him, and he starts falling for the quiet, brown-eyed boy from his English class. Too bad the attraction is one-sided… or is it?

I found this book by chance and gave it a go because it sounded interesting and I’m glad I did because I found myself quite invested and attached to these adorable teenagers and their love story. There are certainly some flaws in Osborn’s story, both in structure and plot, but I still found myself enjoying it all the same. It is a good heartfelt story about being who you are and discovering who you are. It’s cliché at times and a bit unrealistic in some aspects but it a wholesome story that still makes you feel warm inside.

Getting the problems out of the way first, the writing can be clunky occasionally and the dialogue balances between realistic and cheesy, but the intent is there and if you look past the imperfections in the writing, there are some wonderful moments and it is a good story underneath.

On the positive side, there is a good exploration of disability and LGBT issues which was great to see explored in a story and yet not be the Focus of the story or the Point of the story. Osborn has managed to make it just part of who these character are, something that Noah highlights himself. That isn’t to say they don’t contribute to the issues in the story, but there is more going on than Noah being gay, instead it’s like any other young love YA where there’s a crush and general teenage angst and trepidation.

Osborn has clearly tried to break down stereotypes and perceived perceptions, even if she does so by literally pointing it out to the reader. Some of the characters are sweethearts and are good unique and complicated characters but I felt there could have been some better development in terms of some characters, or maybe that’s something that could be improved with an adjustment and naturalisation of the dialogue.

I think what Osborn has tried to do is include too many supportive moments and tried to be too on message. As much as I understood what she was trying to achieve it felt too perfect, too much like everyone was a good person, and for those that weren’t, it didn’t take long and not too many words to change their minds.

I really enjoyed watch Noah find his feet and I will admit I got my own cheesy grin on my face watching him falter and try to act natural around the boy he likes. It was all kinds of adorable and it was one of those nice moments when you could see an outcome long before it happened so you got to enjoy Noah’s confusion and uncertainty around Bas, all the while you just waited for the moment when it all came to a head.

Watching Noah and Bas together was absolutely adorable and I loved Noah’s reaction and interaction with him. Noah himself is a complicated character, there is a lot going on with him that I felt Osborn could have focused more on, again, tied into a stronger writing style, but nevertheless it was an interesting route she chose to take with him because while simple and idealistic characters can be one dimensional, Noah knows who he is and while he still struggles with some things, he is also a little self-assured too. Something which suits Osborn’s expression of him.

Like I say, it’s idealistic but it’s heart-warming. It’s a feel good story that tries to have a nice little message in there even if there are a few flaws in the story and the structure. I still enjoyed it and I was surprised how invested I got in the characters and even more so finding myself with my own cheesy grin on my face at these teenagers which sometimes were just too adorable.

You can purchase Noah’s Song via the following

Audible | Amazon | Amazon Aust

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