Audiobook Review: “We Now Return to Regular Life” by Martin Wilson

Martin Wilson’s debut novel, 2008’s What They Always Tell Us, is a stunning book that has been an inspiration to me since I first read it.

Nine years later comes Martin’s second book and it was well worth the wait. We Now Return to Regular Life is a powerful book about what it means to be family, an ally and a friend.

The book opens three years ago, as 11-year-old friends Sam and Josh are headed out, in the midst of a hot Alabama summer day to ride their bikes to the mall to get a videogame. It’s the last time they see each other because by the end of that day, Sam doesn’t come home and Josh and Sam’s sister Beth are both hiding things they know.

Jump forward to the present and Beth gets a call to come home right away because Sam’s been found…and he’s alive. There’s a flurry of interviews, visits from neighbors, and strained relationships that form around Beth, now 17, and Josh, now 14, as they figure out how to cope with this major change in their world.

The POV in the book alternates between Beth and Josh, which was a great way to tell the story rather than having Sam tell the story. For Beth there’s a shift in her friends as she initially gravitates back to the ones that she hung out with when Sam disappeared instead of her more recent ones, including potential boyfriend Donal. Josh, meanwhile, has a disconnect with his best friend Nick while finding himself drawn to Sam, even though they weren’t the best of friends before the kidnapping.

As Beth copes with not being sure of her place at school or at home, Josh becomes the one Sam talks to about what happened during his three years away. There are uncomfortable discussions that lead to a tense finale.

Wilson does a tremendous job balancing the stories of Beth and Josh as they figure out how to deal with Sam’s return and what it means to them while at the same time giving voice to Sam’s story from those three years plus what he has to do to feel right at home. The emotions that run through this book are strong and I loved how Wilson balanced the whole package to create a compelling, satisfying story. In particular the final act as Sam seeks to make peace with his three years away was both heart wrenching and cathartic.

I both loved and hated where the book ended. I loved it because the story really was done (as both an author and a reader I know that) but I still wanted to know more about the journey these characters were on.

I should note as well that I enjoyed the setting for the story too. Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Central High didn’t play as large a role in this book as they did in Wilson’s debut. However, both the city and the school were the setting for this book as well. In particular, the boys journey at the start of the book mirrored one I’d done a few times–although I lived a mile closer to the mall that they did but I recognized their route immediately. Several other locations also reminded me of my high school and college time in the area.

Kudos also to narrators Will Ropp and Whitney Dykhouse who beautifully perform the alternating chapters. They both do a tremendous job of capturing the joy, sadness, tension and catharsis for Josh and Beth.

I hope Wilson doesn’t wait another nine years before his next book because I want to see what story he chooses to tell next.

Audiobook Review: “Something Like Spring” by Jay Bell

Anyone that’s paying attention to what I’ve been reading this year won’t be surprised that I’m totally sold on Jay Bell’s Something Like… seriesSomething Like Spring, despite being different than the first three books because it’s point of view isn’t from a character we already know, was wonderful.

Spring introduces us to Jason, a sixteen year old orphan as he goes to live with yet another foster family. He’s been through many families because he usually finds a reason to force the family to send him back to the group home. There’s a lot to like living with the Hubbards. Not to mention their very hot, biological son, Caesar. The relationship the boys form is adorable as they figure each other out.

The first glimpse of characters we know comes from Jason’s case worker. She’s Jace’s sister, who we met in Something Like Fall. And–spoilers follow from here–as Jason edges into adulthood and runs into some financial issues, he makes a call to Austin and ends up moving in with Ben and Tim.

The book keeps its primary focus on Jason as he figures out his life–what he wants to do and who he wants to spend it with. It’s also a wonderful look at Ben and Tim at a point in their lives that comes after the events in Something Like Winter. Jay Bell, as always, does a tremendous job with Jason’s story where as he balances so many threads–being an orphan, the guys who come in and out of his life, his struggle to figure out what to do when he grows up and lots more. On the other side, I loved getting the continuing story of Ben and Tim and how it fits with Jason.

Like the rest of the books in the series, I did this on audio and Kevin Free, once again, delivers a perfect performance.

If you haven’t taken the leap on these books yet–you should! I’ll be moving on to the fifth book soon because I can’t get enough.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jay Bell for an episode of Jeff & Will’s Big Gay Fiction Podcast and we talked about all things Something Like… Give that a listen on the BGFP website.

 

Book Reviews: “Stage Two” by Ariel Tachna & “Point Shot Trilogy” by V.L. Locey

I love Ariel Tachna’s Lexington Lovers series, which is part of the Dreamspun Desires line, and she’s done it again with Stage Two, which is the third book in the series.

In this one, assistant principal Blake Barnes is dealing with the bullying of two new students. He wants to put a stop to it and protect them, but nothing’s been witnessed and that’s a problem. Blake has to get in touch with their guardian, who turns out to be his high school crush, Thane Dalton.

Thane doesn’t recognize Blake at first when he comes in blazing mad that his nephews are being targeted. Thane is just like Blake remembers him–sexy and a hothead. The solution to the problem is to put the nephews on the stage crew for the upcoming school play, which is supervised by Blake. Thane, being the owner of a construction business, ends up helping and that puts Thane and Blake in close proximity for several weeks.

Ariel does a tremendous job of setting of Thane’s bristly attitude and Blake’s caring for his students mixed with us desire for Thane. She also throws in some terrific curve balls for the two. These characters are wonderful, both with the need to make life good for Thane’s nephews, both in and out of school.

I read Stage Two as an audio book, and I loved John Solo’s narration yet again (he also did Matchless Man). He nails the characters perfectly, both adult and kids.

You can check out Will’s review of this book in episode 91 of Jeff & Will’s Big Gay Fiction Podcast or you can listen to Ariel’s recent interview in episode 81 where she talked about Stage Two along with some other recent releases.

The other book I’ve read involves hockey, which I haven’t read in a while. I picked up V.L. Locey’s Point Shot Trilogy, which is made up of Two Man AdvantageGame Misconduct and Full Strength. I absolutely loved the romance between Victor Kalinski and Dan Arou.

Kalinski is sent down to the Cayuga, New York Cougars after disciplinary issues in Boston. No sooner is he in Cayuga and meeting his new team that he finds an attraction to Arou. The two are absolutely nothing alike. Kalinski is a hulking player, with a temper while Arou is much shorter (a point Kalinski refers to often) and kinder. Arou’s attracted to Kalinski too and the two take off on a wild ride of a romance.

Over the course of the three books, these two go through so much, not the least of which is overcoming what a colossal pain in the ass Kalinski can be because he can have the urge to fight over practically anything. Whereas, Arou rarely gets mad–but boy when he does look out. Locey does a terrific job of turning these guys from bristling against each other to finding the love. Plus she throws some amazing obstacles in their path–as if their very different personalities weren’t enough. I’m not going into the obstacles because the reader deserves the wonder of discovering them. I will say one of the last ones scared me bad because I didn’t see how they were going to come back from it…but, of course, since this is romance they do.

There’s definitely more V.L. Locey in my future!

Book Review: “Fixing Frank” by Jason T. Gaffney & Ed Gaffney

I love category romances and I tend to love romantic comedies and Fixing Frank by Jason T. Gaffney and Ed Gaffney, and presented by New York Times bestselling Romance author Suzanne Brockmann (Ed is her husband and Jason her son), is an absolute delight.

Fixing Frank opens on the day production starts on the web reality show Fixing Our Future, which offers the chance for regular people to earn big money for their charity passion projects. First grade teacher Terry is excited to be on the show to promote a literacy charity. Meanwhile, landscaper Frank is playing for an organization that provides clean water for developing nations. Neither knows the other is among the cast–and seeing each other on set for the first time is where the sparks fly.

In this enemies-to-lovers tale, Terry and Frank hate each other because their boyfriends left them to be with each other. Not only do they not want to be around each other, Terry is concerned about what the producers will do if it’s discovered they have a past with each other. Being brash, Frank meets this head on by announcing that Terry and Frank are actually a couple.

All kinds of hilarity ensues as Terry and Frank end up being a team on the show and have to do all kinds of crazy challenges–like nearly naked car washing and painting each other. They also end up at a reception for their exes, who are actually sponsors of the reality show. Of course, like as in any good rom-com, Terry and Frank really do end up falling for each other but there are more than a few obstacles they have to overcome, including each other.

I loved this third installment of the California Comedy series and will be going back to the first two soon. Jason and Ed, who are also screenwriters, hit all the right romantic and funny moments. There’s also a healthy dose of angst as I really wondered if Terry and Frank would make it work even though I know very well a romance has to have an HEA. But the Gaffneys did a great job of keeping the tension in play.

NOTE: I received a free ebook for an honest review for Jeff & Will’s Big Gay Fiction Podcast. Make sure to check our the interview with Jason, Ed and Suzanne on the podcast.

Book Review: The Senator’s Secret by K.C. Wells

I’ve been meaning to read this for a while and finally took the plunge after getting to hang out with K.C. at RT a couple of weeks ago.

The Senator’s Secret by K.C. Wells was a wonderfully sweet, easy-going read that I absolutely loved. Senator Sam Dalton is running for re-election North Carolina. The campaign is running well until pictures of Sam and one of his volunteers hugging are plastered on the internet by Sam’s Republican opponent. The hug is innocent and meant nothing–but once it’s out there, it’s a campaign issue to be dealt with.

The plan: announce that Sam and staffer Gary are actually engaged and wanting to keep that quiet until after the election so it’s not a distraction. For his time and trouble, Gary will get cash to cover his student loans so he can finish vet school debt free.

What happens, as you’d expect for a romance novel, Sam and Gary fall for each other as they spend more time together. They’re a great couple from the get-go as they do things to be seen around town and telling their manufactured story. They make a great team, which easily evolves into a solid couple. They’re able to smack down the media that tries to proof they’re not really a couple. More importantly, they win over Sam’s parents.

Sam and his parents are fun to watch, even as it starts bumpy because they learn about Gary–and that Sam is gay–through a press conference. Sam mom, in particular is a Southern spitfire and has some terrific scenes.

This book was a perfect Dreamspun Desire with it’s low angst romance, a very timely topic and an awesome couple at it’s center and it’s highly recommended.

Audiobook Review: “The Soldier’s Scoundrel” by Cat Sebastian

The Solider’s Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian has been on my radar for a while because of the amazing reviews it’s received. Will also recently read it and raved about it on Jeff & Will’s Big Gay Fiction Podcast so it was time for me to get on the bandwagon.

Like everyone else, I loved this book.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a historical romance in the true sense of the word. However, this read more like a mystery romance that just happens to be set in a long ago time.

Oliver is the solider who initially meets Jack, the scoundrel, to find out why his sister has paid Jack a large sum of money. Jack was hired to help Oliver’s sister get rid of her husband who was abusive. Olivier ends up finding out about a new case Jack is taking on and, because he’s smitten with the man, he goes along with Jack on the investigation.

It’s not easy for the two to fall in love. Certainly in the time they live, homosexuality is frowned upon by society. There’s also a class difference, which is what seems to be the most difficult for Jack to over come. The back and forth between the men on how to behave with each other, how to accept a kindness (and love) and if they can form a live was equal parts irritating and swoony. The sex they had was at first delightfully tentative and later scorching. Sebastain writes some of the best sex scenes I’ve read.

Meanwhile, since this was an audiobook, kudos to Gary Furlong for the narration. He distinguished all the voices wonderfully and played the romance to perfection.

I’m looking forward to listening to the The Lawrence Browne Affair once it’s on audio as well as this summer’s yet to be released The Ruin of a Rake.

Book Review: “At the Edge of the Universe” by Shaun David Hutchinson

Here’s a book where the cover grabbed me right away. I saw it in the YA section of my local bookstore (yes bookstore, not Amazon) and I had to see what it was about. I was intrigued by the first part of the blurb: “Tommy and Ozzie have been best friends since the second grade, and boyfriends since eighth. They spent countless days dreaming of escaping their small town—and then Tommy vanished. More accurately, he ceased to exist, erased from the minds and memories of everyone who knew him. Everyone except Ozzie.”

That drew me right into At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson and I had to buy it.

The book is a page turner. What’s happened to Tommy? Why is the entire universe shrinking? Entire galaxies and planets are slipping away. What’s Tommy got to do with that? More importantly, why is Ozzie the only one that knows it’s happening?

Ozzie’s an amazing character as he tries to figure out what’s happening, but he also does normal teenager stuff. He’s got a physics project due. He’s got a best friend whose on the cusp of a music career. There are bullies to deal with. Ozzie’s family is falling apart too as his parents are divorcing.

All these things make you root for Ozzie.

Where it comes to the end, however, and by the end I mean the final three chapters, I’m not actually sure what happened or how I’m supposed to take it. I’ve re-read those chapters to see if I missed something and as far as I can tell I didn’t so it might be that I either don’t understand it or I don’t get it.

Strangely, this doesn’t dampen how much I enjoyed the book. The mystery of what was happening to the universe was intriguing and Ozzie’s every day life also had me engaged. As such, I’d recommend this book. If you read it, and can explain the ending, please let me know.

As an aside, I’ll throw out there that this reminded of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where Dr. Crusher ended up trapped in one of Wesley’s science experiments. For her, people were disappearing off the Enterprise and eventually the universe was disappearing too. What I am sure about the ending of this book is that Ozzie wasn’t stuck in a science experiment.