Audiobook Review: “Something Like Winter” by Jay Bell

I moved quickly on to Something Like Winter by Jay Bell (with performance by Kevin R. Free) after loving Something Like Summer so much. Winter tells the same story as Summer, except this time the point of view is Tim’s.

The two books are the story of a decades spanning relationship between Ben and Tim. They meet as juniors in high school and while Ben falls head over heels for Tim, Tim can’t allow himself to come out to return Ben’s love. The two continue to run into each other over the years, with Tim always looking for a second chance.

As much as I loved Summer, I think I liked Winter even more. Ben’s life was good. He was mostly confident in his life and he had good relationships. Yes, there were bumps, but they were over come and life was good. Tim, however, has a more complex and difficult go of it in many ways–partially because it takes him a long time to live as his true self and partially because he can’t let Ben go.

As I was in Summer, there are times that I was angry with Tim for what he was doing in his quest to get Ben. However, seeing things from his side, I at least understand it better. It’s also abundantly clear that, in his heart, Tim’s a good person. Of particular joy, and sorrow, was Tim’s time with Eric. Getting the full story on that relationship was in many ways more important to me than what happened with Ben.

The other wonderful thing about Winter is that it goes further into the future than where Summer ends. These additional chapters were delightful.

I have no doubt that I’ll be picking up Something Like Autumn before too long. That book has Jace’s story (the guy who wins Ben’s heart in his college and post-college years).

Book Review: “Honestly Ben” by Bill Konigsberg

I’ve had Bill Konigsberg’s Honestly Ben on pre-order since I first heard it was on Amazon months ago. I devoured it pretty quickly and I’m sad it’s over. The novel excels at telling a story I imagine many teens go through–dealing with expectations, labels, success (or lack of) and everything else that goes into modern teen life.

Honestly Ben picks up just a few weeks after Openly Straight ends. Ben’s back at school after holiday break. In short order he finds out he’s getting a prestigious scholarship award, he meets a girl he really likes and that he misses Rafe. We also find out so much more about the pressure Ben puts on himself. In Openly Straight, which was from Rafe’s point of view, we only got what Ben said. Now it’s clear how much Ben’s family, especially his Dad, puts on him and how that translates into his behavior.

I love what Bill did with this book. At it’s core, this is a book about labels–the ones we put on ourselves and ones we get from others. Ben just wants to be Ben though and as the book progresses he works hard to bring his true self to light. The journey isn’t an easy one and I suspect Ben’s dialogue with himself is one a lot of teens have today.

Part of this book could be quite controversial for some, and yet I think it depicts real life. Ben acknowledges his attraction to girls but, at least so far in his life, his only male attraction is to Rafe. He doesn’t think he’s gay, not even bi. He can’t explain why Rafe is the only guy he’s attracted to, but that’s what it is. Rafe tries to push him to label himself, but Ben bristles at that. Of course, bi-erasure is a big topic in m/m romance these days, but the book addresses that as well because Ben’s uncle was bi and one of the characters points out that Ben needs to choose. As Konigsberg said in a recent blog post, “Ben, not me, is dealing with a world in which everyone wants to put him in a box, and he’s saying, “Wait. Those boxes don’t feel right to me.”

Kudos to Konigsberg for taking this stand on labels. We can’t tell people what label they should use, as much as we’d like to, and we certainly can’t force people to pick a label before they’re ready.

Ben’s relationship with Hannah (the girl he likes) and Rafe are just a part of this story. The scholarship award puts him in a tough spot too. He does more research for his speech than ever before and learns things he doesn’t quite know what to do with. Then there’s the expectations from his dad. As Ben learns more about himself across the weeks, the more he knows he can’t be–and doesn’t want to be–the man his dad is. On the side of all this is his interactions with the baseball team and what that does to him.

Konigsberg blends all of Ben’s storylines together so well. It’s amazing how it’s all balanced so well and how there’s still room for other side stories, like what Toby does (which I won’t spoil here). This is a masterful piece of YA literature that teens and adult alike can get so much out of. I’m glad he decided to give us this sequel and take the deep dive on Ben. While there are many teens who come out and define themselves publicly, which is great. With this book though, there’s something out there for the teens how don’t know how they define themselves and the struggles that can come along with that.

I’d love to see more of Ben and Rafe, and yet not. This book ends in a good place, but if there can be more I know I’d pounce on the pre-order  button as soon as there was one.

Audiobook Review: “Something Like Summer” by Jay Bell

Jay Bell’s Something Like Summer has been on my TBR for a long time as more and more people recommended it to me. Now with a movie version on the festival circuit, it was high time to find out what captures people. I went the audiobook version, with a performance by Kevin R. Free.

I totally get why this is on so many people’s favorites list. Bell’s characters leap off the page and the three part story is an emotional roller coaster.

Out high schooler Ben has a thing for new classmate Tim. Over some weeks of Ben taking care of Tim after an accident, the two end up messing around. Ben wants a boyfriend. Tim’s afraid to admit he wants that and the whole thing is a mess. In the second part, Ben’s in college but still carries a flame for Tim even as he begin a new relationship with Jase. So much happens in the second part that is completely, wonderful sweet as well as utterly horrible. Then there’s the third part and a very difficult conclusion (I know the book’s been out for a few years but I’m not going to spoil for others).

I have to admit this was difficult to read at times. The choices some of the characters made totally pissed me off. It’s realistic though and Bell crafts the ups and downs perfectly. I’m going to pick up Something Like Winter soon because it’s the story from Tim’s point of view and it’ll be interesting to get the story from his POV.

I’m happy to add my voice to the many who recommend Something Like Summer.

Fiasco Theater’s “Into the Woods”

I’ve been eager to see Fiasco Theater’s production of Into the Woods since it’s stand at the Laura Pels Theater in NYC back in 2015. This stripped down production featuring only eleven actors (half the usual amount) who play all the instruments, is a powerful retelling of the well known tale.

This is the third stage production of Into the Woods I’ve seen, which includes an early 90s touring company as well as the 2002 Broadway revival. Of course, I’ve also seen the classic TV version of the original Broadway cast featuring Bernadette Peters as well as the more recent film. Among all these versions, Fiasco’s is among the best and comes so close to the magic of the televised Broadway performance. Fiasco has transformed Into the Woods–much the way Les Miserables was in 2014 or Spring Awakening was in 2015. It was like seeing it for the first time.

The nearly bare stage represents an attic-type space where the actors tell the story with whatever they can find. That’s an interesting and satisfying change from the stage spectacle of other versions. Plus the actors play the instruments and the acoustic, barebones presentation of the score is beautiful and really lets voices shine.

There are so many standouts in this cast. Darick Pead as Milky White/Florinda/Rapunzel’s Prince was a stand out as Milky White. His very animated portrayal was hysterical and he momentarily stopped the show with the cow’s death scene. Pead’s “Agnoy” duets with Anthony Chatmon II were vocally rich and wonderfully funny.

Evan Harrington’s Baker played a perfect emotional arc and his voice on songs like “No More” and “It Takes Two” were excellent. Patrick Mulryan as Jack was heartbreaking with “Giants in the Sky” and  in the moments leading up to the Giant’s slaying in act two. Lisa Helming Johanson in the dual roles of Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel was so funny and yet touching in both roles. Eleasha Gamble was delightful as the Baker’s Wife. Stephanie Umoh as the Witch filled some huge shoes since it’s so easy to think about Bernadette Peters in the role. Umoh was excellent, especially in the whirlwind as she leaves everyone behind after “Last Midnight.”

Woods always packs an emotional punch as it nears the end. Usually I’m reaching for tissues from “No One Is Alone” on to the end of the show. Here I needed the Kleenex much earlier in act two. There’s a darkness, stress and foreboding that’s played up unlike any version I’ve seen before. It’s effective and extremely powerful.

I’m so glad I caught this production on tour in L.A. I wish a cast recording was forthcoming, but I’m told that’s not happening. The show continues in L.A. through May 14 and then it plays Dallas, in the last tour stop, May 16-28. If you can, don’t miss this journey Into the Woods.

Book Review: “Goodbye Paradise” by Sarina Bowen

A Sarina Bowen book with no hockey? It’s true! And in typical Sarina Bowen fashion, the book is amazing and very difficult for me to put down.

Goodbye Paradise is actually a re-release of In Front of God and Everyone, which Bowen published in 2015 under the pen name of Nealy Wagner. She’s just put this out under her own name and I’m so glad since it let me find it.

The book centers on Josh and Caleb who spent their lives living in a religious compound in Wyoming. For twenty-year-old Caleb, he’s a sort of golden boy who gets the best jobs, is able to drive and his future looks good. Josh, Caleb’s best friend, is nineteen and viewed as weak and less desirable. Caleb knows Josh is about to get thrown out of the compound and he tells his friend where to go to wait for him. Caleb’s not getting thrown out, but he’s going to run to save Josh.

It’s rough to read portions of this book because the boys don’t have it easy. But that only makes their good times all the better. Watching Caleb and Josh figure out how to make their way in the real, non-cultish world is both difficult and adorable. Truly good stuff happens as they make themselves able to love each other. It’s easier for Caleb than Josh, but it’s beautiful watching Josh lose the shackles of his upbringing and make new bonds with Caleb. In true, Bowen style, she throws some stunning emotional curveballs. I was a mess during the last twenty-five percent of this book and it was tremendously satisfying coming out on the other side of it.

The next book in this series is, Hello Forever and I’m eager to get it. It’ll feature a new couple and it’s center but Caleb and Josh will be there too.

Book Review: “The Real Thing” by B.G. Thomas

Coming off Damon Suede’s Lickety Split, I decided to take another cowboy diversion with The Real Thing by B.G. Thomas. This quick read, Amazon has it slotted in the “under 90 minute” category, was a sweet and hot story of a man who loves real cowboys getting one of his own.

Bryan has had a thing for cowboys his entire life. When he goes out, he dresses in what his roommate calls “cowboy drag.” The beginning of the story shows Bryan getting ready and I enjoyed reading just how much effort Bryan put into distressing his clothes so he’d look the “real” part.

After years of trying, Bryan finally does find a real cowboy with Curtis. They click so well on their first meeting that Bryan is scared to reveal that he’s not real. I especially love Bryan has he has so much debate with himself about what he should do.

They do move past the revelation and Curtis educating Bryan in cowboy was fun. These two are so good together that you can’t help but root for them from their first night together. The Real Thing is a very satisfying short read with a wonderful cute meet and perfect scenes that pull then men apart and put them back together again working towards just the right ending.

Audiobook Review: “A Matchless Man” by Ariel Tachna

I enjoyed Airel Tachna’s Unstable Stud, her fist entry in her Lexington Lovers Dreamspun Desires series. I was glad I had the chance over the past week to check out book two in the series, A Matchless Man. This time I went with the audiobook and totally fell in love with the book.

Matchless Man is a wonderful second chances/friends to lovers story. Navashen returns to Lexington after years spent in medical school and establishing his career. He hires his high school friend Brent, now a real estate agent, to help him find a place to live. Navashen needs a place not just for him, but for his special needs brother, Akshad, and eventually for his parents as well.

I loved Navashen’s support of his family. He immediately gets 25-year-old Akshad out from under his domineering mother. While Akshad does need more support than most 25-year-olds, he’s able to do a  lot on his own, but his mother treats him as if he can do nothing. The mother also doesn’t care for Navashen being gay. it’s an interesting dynamic as Navashen loves and respects his mother, but won’t allow her to run his life. And Navashen and Akshad are terrific siblings. I very much enjoyed their story and, in particular, Akshad’s growing independence.

From the romance standpoint, it was fascinating watching Brent trying to set up Navashen with everyone except himself. It’s clear the men are attracted to each other, but are hesitant to make the move. When they do, however, it’s great–but it does have it’s roadblocks.

One of the things I loved best about this book is that Tachna didn’t take any of the paths towards the romance that I thought she would. I’m not going to mention those because I don’t want to give any clues to how things unfold, but I was thrilled I couldn’t figure out how things would work out. An main character with a different cultural background was great too. There was great insight into Navashen in high school and in his currently life as a doctor that was fascinating, along with the cultural expectations on him in regard to family.

Since I listened to the audiobook, I should talk about the performance. I loved John Solo’s work on the book. He handled all of the characters beautifully, giving slight accents where needed and never going over the top. I particularly loved how he handled Akshad. Solo gave a great sense of how the young man came out of his shell as he moved in with Navashen.

Tachna has another installment of the Lexington Lovers series coming in May and I’m excited to see what she’ll do in that book.