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

More Than Friends by Liv Devereaux

Published: 5th September 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Self Published
Pages: 47
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult/Short Story
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Dana and Hope used to be best friends in elementary school. When they got to high school they lost touch. Dana got busy with soccer and Hope found a boyfriend. When they are paired up together for a project, Dana and Hope get the chance to get to know each other all over again. They’ll realize that both girls have changed in the last three years of high school. 

I picked this not looking at the page length, rather by the summary. I could easily see this as a full novel though, Devereaux easily could expand this into something longer, the bones are there. As is it is sweet, a bit rushed and easily solved, but at 47 pages you can’t expect anything but happy coincidences and easy solutions.

Despite this, it was a nice story, and even though it was short it felt established and rounded and a satisfactory read. Dana and Hope were good characters, the dual narration offers two perspectives and two stories, a great chance for readers to see the misunderstandings and hidden secrets which make young romance so lovely.

I would read this again if Devereaux expanded this into a full novel, but for the time being it was a lovely story about young love and repairing friendships.

You can purchase More Than Friends via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

First Kiss by J Tomas

Published: 29th August 2011Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 JMS Books LLC
Pages: 11
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult/Short Story
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Noah Lipinski has a fierce crush on Doug Hathaway, a hot jock on the high school football team whose locker is fifteen down from Noah’s in the hall. When Melissa Bradshaw, only the most popular girl in school, suddenly shows an interest in Noah, he suspects he’s being set up for a cruel joke. She asks him to Homecoming and he refuses to go.

After school, the doorbell rings and Noah’s sure she’s back to pester him about the dance. But when he opens the door, he finds Doug there instead, with an explanation and a much better offer than Melissa’s.

At 11 pages there is a lot of pressure to make a fully rounded story and Tomas almost hits the mark. For a short story is covers the key intrigue points but there wasn’t enough time to get a feel for the writing, or get settled into the story. It is an enjoyable snippet, but I wasn’t totally caught up in the story, Noah was a good character, and I could see the approach Tomas was aiming for, but there just needed a bit more to cement the narrative. Tomas brushes past the characters, enough for the reader to get a glimpse at who they’re meant to be, but nothing sticks beyond one dimension.

I’m not 100% sure more pages would help, there can be power in a short story, there needs refinement in the writing though to make the characters count in the space they have and bring across depth in the story.

You can purchase First Kiss via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Loving Lakyn (#2) by Charlotte Reagan

Published: 20th November 2017 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Inkitt
Pages: 206
Format: eBook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Lakyn James is sixteen years old and hating every second of it. He was supposed to be done, he’d tapped out. End of story, unsubscribe here. Suicide “attempt”, they said. His intentions had no “attempt” in them. 

Re-entering normal life after ‘trying’ to take his own is weird. Especially when the world keeps going like it never happened. He still has to eat breakfast, go to school, and somehow convince a cute boy that he’s too damaged to date. 

Scott White comes with his own problems, namely a habit of drinking too much and being indecisive about rather he wants in the closet, or out of it. Lakyn can’t stand him; he also can’t help smiling when Scott’s around. 

Unfortunately – or fortunately – for Lakyn, life has decided to give him a second chance. He’s not happy about it, but maybe, with a lot of hard work and a good therapist, he can learn to be. And maybe he can hold Scott’s hand at the same time. 

No promises though. 

It’s called Loving Lakyn and genuinely one sentence in I was in love with Lakyn. This is probably a biased opinion because I’d fallen in love with him reading Just Juliet so you can understand my absolute joy when I discovered there was another story about those characters and him in particular. This is a prequel/overlap kind of story from Just Juliet. It follows Lakyn’s story but we also see the backstories of Juliet and Scott which were only briefly touched on in the first book. Knowing how it all ends takes nothing away from how fascinating and brilliant this book is.

There are a few content warnings to be aware of, Reagan has a full list available here, A few obvious ones from the blurb and a few not. There are scenes of cutting, constant reference to suicide attempts and scars, and references to neglect. There are also sex scenes, nothing overly graphic, but there are details. I actually liked how these sex scenes are written actually, they are tasteful but honest and Reagan doesn’t make it anything other than what it is. I promise this isn’t all dark and depressing, Reagan balances out the heavy subjects alongside love and friendship and family. Lakyn is the central character and with the reader inside his head your understanding is unavoidable, and this is where you see how much he is trying to heal but doesn’t know how, he hasn’t got the emotional tools or the strength to do it on his own.

There are brilliant, powerful sentences that pack a punch straight to your heart as well as the story. It’s an emotional journey but it’s enthralling to see Lakyn go through it. Reagan doesn’t give us easy solutions and drives home that Lakyn’s is a complicated life to recover from. I saw parts of myself in him as well as read about things I’ll never be able to understand, but Reagan is brilliant at telling his story. You understand his struggle and it never feels fake, contrived, or dramatised. It felt real and your heart will break for him.

Reagan’s writing is addicting and I loved falling back into this world. I smiled every time I picked up this book and it was the hardest thing to draw myself away from. Every spare minute I had I read, even if it was only another couple of pages. I was drawn in by Lakyn’s story and whether it was the hard parts, or the mushy adorable romance parts it was fantastic. Lakyn and Scott together always made me smile before, and just seeing them together again brought back those memories but this time with greater understanding of their connection.

While Lakyn is not the strongest emotionally, he is also someone who knows who he is. He is not ashamed of being gay, he doesn’t announce it to the world because for him it’s both not a big deal and none of anybody’s business, but he won’t let anybody make him feel ashamed of it either. I related in some way to Lakyn and Reagan expresses his thoughts and feelings in a believable and frankly unsettlingly familiar ways. It just goes to show how believable these characters are. They could be anybody, they could be people we know and that’s what make their stories so beautiful and heartbreaking because they felt real.

With the other characters, it was nice to see Juliet’s journey and understand who she is, especially since we didn’t explore that as much the first time around. I still felt that Rick and Mr James weren’t fleshed out as much as they could have been. I understand that the story focuses on the teenagers and their lives, but so often Rick and Mr James were a bundled deal and felt like a single character. Granted they are slightly more fleshed out this time since they are in this story a bit more, but Rick I think gets left behind.

Despite the big subjects there are also fun and heart-warming moments and the exploration of a new relationship. This story deals wonderfully with the complications of having a closeted relationship, where one person is not ready to be who they are publically. While this is Lakyn’s story, Reagan does a great job exploring Scott’s emotional journey and past. His struggle with accepting his identity and his conservative parents, and his social life at school which he is trying to protect. About halfway through I wanted a third book that focused on Scott’s back story, but by the end of the book it was so beautifully fleshed out alongside Lakyn’s that I felt I understood Scott a lot as well.

Teenage boys falling in love with each other is adorable because they’re both dags and they don’t know what they’re doing and seeing them flounder can be the best thing to read about. I was grinning and making ‘aww’ noises over these two, I was reading page after page with a smile on my face but I loved it. It’s not cheesy it’s adorable and I want more of it.

You can purchase Loving Lakyn via the following

 Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Book Depository

 Fishpond | B&N | Publisher | Book Bub

 

Just Juliet (#1) by Charlotte Reagan

Published: 17th September 2016 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Inkitt
Pages: 224
Format: eBook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Juliet represents the road less travelled. Will Lena take it? 

Lena Newman is 17, her best friend’s a cheerleader, her boyfriend’s a football player, and as far as everyone is concerned, her life is sorted. But that’s before she befriends the new girl. Juliet is confident, slightly damaged, drop-dead gorgeous and a lesbian. 

Lena realizes that her interest goes beyond just friendship. She sets off on a path of self-discovery where the loyalty of those closest to her will be tested. 

I am in love with this book. It’s not perfect but it makes you feel warm and fuzzy and as a person who doesn’t like super romancey stuff, this is a sweet and adorable romance and it makes you all squishy inside.

The story takes place over the final year of high school for Lena and her friends. From the first day of school through the weeks and months Reagan progresses the story through the year, often jumping time. It doesn’t feel rushed but it keeps a good pace, the whirlwind of new friends and a budding romance pulls you along comfortably.

I liked how Reagan uses Juliet and a focal point from the get go. She’s the thing that’s caught Lena’s eye and it starts the story with intrigue and interest. From there we enter Lena’s world and discover her friends and her family and her discovery about who she really is.

Lena’s exploration about her own attraction and sexuality is slow and believable, having gone through 17 years of thinking one way it’s a lot to process when you start thinking another. I enjoyed this slowness between Lena and Juliet, it’s a great progression from friend to girlfriend and with self discovery thrown in the mix it’s bound to take some time. I liked that Reagan allowed Lena time to be confused and to be uncertain, and having a confidant to explore her feelings.

There are some excellent characters to fall in love with. Lakyn, Scott and Juliet are great, complex characters and people who Lena feels a connection with, something with Reagan brings across in her writing. I often felt that Juliet, Lakyn and Scott were more developed characters than Lena’s existing friends. Even though I understand we focus on them a lot more and have time to develop their characters, having these other friends as a featured part of the story meant they had a role to play in Lena’s life. Best friend Lacey is a full enough character, her personality is a curious choice but Reagan makes it work. But there are side characters in Georgia and Kiki who get almost no personality or story. They are portrayed as being slightly disinterested in Lena’s life I think to save them having to be fleshed out, but Reagan gives us Georgia, who we get an almost throwaway sentence that she is a teen mum and I found myself wanting to know more about her, where is this baby boy? How is she coping and wouldn’t her friends be more interested in how her kid is? I wanted her story as well. I don’t need it in a new book, though I wouldn’t say no, but I just wanted her more fleshed out because Reagan gave her such a big story. Compared to Kiki who gets no real drawcard or any depth and so I wanted nothing from her but honestly, I often forgot about them both.

Characters I did love were Lakyn and Scott. I loved those boys so much and from the moment they’re introduced I felt connected to them. Their fun relationship is adorable to see and while Lena and Juliet were wonderful as well, there is a delightful charm about those boys that made me smile.

There are a few tough topics briefly discussed such as drug use, and a brief discussion about suicide, but it isn’t the focus of the story and instead helps to expand on characters and their lives. Reagan is also clear on how talking is important and seeking professional help has changed things for the better so nothing is glorified but neither is it dismissed.

A small thing I loved was the chapter headings. They are done in the wonderful style of phrases and sentences which not only relate to the chapter events, but are also said by characters. It was a clever change from an overall title, or basic numerals. Another things Reagan did really well was the ending. In an epilogue but not an epilogue way she manages to wrap up all these characters lives in a lovely way that feels true to the people we’ve come to know.

I’m really glad I picked this book up because not only does it have wonderfully real characters, but it has diversity and challenges that are relatable to everyone, even if they aren’t teenagers.

You can purchase Just Juliet via the following

 Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery | Book Bub

Angus & Robertson | Book Depository

 Fishpond | B&N | Publisher | Audible

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