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Book Review: “This Fire Inside” by Jordan Nasser

I’ve eagerly awaited Jordan Nasser’s This Fire Inside since I completed Home is a Fire and The Fire Went Wild last year. I love the characters in Jordan’s Parkville, Tennessee.

This book picks up towards the end of the summer break, following the events in The Fire Went Wild. In an effort to get out of town after their huge public outing, Derek and Luke head to New York City to visit some of Derek’s friends. Luke also wants to pay a visit to his high school mentor, and best friend, Fletch.

Fletch is a mess. And I’ve known people just like him from my time living in the South–loud, brash and thinks the world revolves around him. He made me cringe, which is of course his job. He makes Derek cringe too.

Luke falls right back into Fletch’s orbit and that’s trouble for Derek and Luke’s still-new relationship.

It can be tough to watch a couple you thought was stable get tossed on it’s head, but it works here. Consider that Derek and Luke are in a very new relationship and Luke is also newly out. It makes sense there could be trouble from many angles. The friendship (for lack of a better word) is an interesting exploration of male bonding in high school and college and how it can follow in to adulthood.

Beyond Derek and Luke’s relationship, Derek starts a business and that makes for a solid secondary story. Uncle Barry has a tremendous story of his own, which I think is deserving of it’s own book. There’s also lots of shenanigans with Derek’s Scooby Gang and a pretty epic finale as well.

I hope there’ll be a book four (and it sounds like there will be). There’s more to Derek and Luke’s story that needs to be told, plus Parkville has so many fun characters it’d be a shame to not give them more story time too.

This book was worth the wait. It was very much a page turner. The ending will trouble some people. For me, it worked well and means I’ll be waiting patiently for Nasser to write the next installment.

NOTE: I received a free ebook for an honest review for Jeff & Will’s Big Gay Fiction Podcast.

Book Review: “Lickety Split” by Damon Suede

Full disclosure–I’ve never read a Damon Suede book. I’m not sure why. We’ve got his books. I just  haven’t picked one up. When Lickety Split was announced I knew it was time to finally read him.

It’s a hot, lusty, often cantankerous book that I loved. I admit I want to slap the main characters for being so difficult, but that was all part of the fun.

As the book opens, Patch Hastle is on his way home to Hixville, Texas, to bury his parents. Patch hasn’t been home in years–he took off at sixteen because he didn’t feel wanted or understood. Patch discovers his dad’s best friend (and Patch’s nemesis), Tucker Biggs, has been made executor of his parents’ will and that the family farm is in a living estate for Tucker. It’s a big mess for the man who just wants to get home, bury his parents, collect his inheritance and return to NYC to open a nightclub and continue his career as model and DJ.

Tucker’s changed in the six years Patch has been gone. He’s willing to give Patch the land so he can get back to NYC and his plans. Patch can’t believe this is possible. As he goes through his parents’ things, and spend time around Tucker, he slowly discovers that Tucker may not be the man Patch thought he was. Patch’s confusion runs deep. He’s had a crush on Tucker most of his life even while he hated the man for making his life hell at times.

Suede does an amazing job creating friction between Patch and Tucker (and he should since he teaches writers how to create characters like these). The hate/love cycles between them are peppered with bouts of explosive hate, intense sexual release, truly tender moments and times of confusion. It’s all mixed into a package that’s hard to put down even when you’re totally frustrated with the characters for not realizing how much they belong together.

I’ve never read a book that uses sex like Suede does here. Sex is usually fairly quick and lets the characters get to know each other a bit better but often don’t really move the plot. In Lickety Split, though, the sex scenes are epic in nature and provide a lot of insight into Patch and Tucker. They learn a lot about each other through the sex and the reader learns even more. It’s sex that goes far beyond just being hot.

This was a hot page turner and I’ll definitely pluck Suede’s other books off our shelf in the near future.

NOTE: I received a free ebook for an honest review for Jeff & Will’s Big Gay Fiction Podcast.

Book Review: “Openly, Honestly” by Bill Konigsberg

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the sequel to Bill Konigsberg’s Openly Straight for sometime now. Honestly, Ben arrives at the end of the month.

In the meantime, Bill released a short story, Openly, Honestly, to bridge the two books so we can reconnect with Ben and Rafe and where they are in the aftermath of the events of Openly Straight.

Openly, Honestly is set over the holiday break that comes after the first book–after Rafe has come clean with Ben and destroyed their relationship. Both boys miss each other. Rafe doesn’t know how to fix what he’s done and his best friend, Clare Olivia, is trying to give him a present to take his mind off the situation. Ben, meanwhile, is at home with his family with no one to talk to about what happened. He still finds a good time with his family though.

It’s only five chapters, but Openly, Honestly was a nice appetizer ahead of Honestly, Ben. To whet the appetite even more there is a sneak peak with two chapters from the new book (and those chapters have me all the more anticipating the book’s release).

Book Review: “Awakened” by Igor Max

I’m into reading YA thrillers these days (especially since I’m writing a cyber thriller series of my own) and I’m glad Igor Max’s debut novel Awakened: Book One of the Mind Agents Series crossed my path.

The story’s about a group of four young people who are brought to a government facility. Their results on an IQ test show that they’re likely to have psychic powers. For the most part, the kids don’t even know they have these powers until they’re forced to use them to save their lives–and eventually everyone else’s. It seems that they aren’t the first to be studied for abilities. One of the program’s earlier participants has escaped from jail, determined to destroy the world.

Max does a wonderful job of introducing Jack, a typical teenager trying to get through school while taking care of his grandfather. He has no idea what’s going on when he’s abdicated, given no information and tossed together with three other kids: Chris, Maya and Sabine. We also meet the evil Kasym who has a plan to unleash armageddon.

The tension ramps up perfectly as  Jack and his friends discover how to use their powers and exactly what’s at stake. I don’t want to give away too much because Max takes the reader on a fantastic ride in Awakened. I will say the chase through Washington D.C. is thrilling and the book ends tremendously, although with a bit of a cliffhanger. I’m already looking forward to book two, Deceived, which is due out in March (I’m so eager that I’ve already pre-ordered it).

Book Review “The Tomb of Heaven” by Geoffrey Knight

I’ve been waiting for the next installment of Fathom’s Five since 2011 when The Curse of the Dragon GodWith the release of The Tomb of Heaven, Geoffrey Knight gives us a little tease of the gang in advance of  The Temple of Time (which is coming later this year).

This novella is like going to the movies to see a short serial (although the complete story is here). Like all the Fathom’s books, the story is a globe trotting adventure–this time from remote research island to NYC to Pakistan to Kashmir. Jake and Shane, along with reporter Daniel (a.k.a. Shane’s boyfriend) are on the hunt for the Tomb of Heaven, where there’s, according to myth, an elixir of immortality. Of course, the bad guys can’t be allowed to get their hands on that.

Unfortunately, there are bad guys at every turn for the trio and you can never be sure who to trust. Two stand out moments in this book are the car and motorcycle chase through a marketplace and gaining entrance into the tomb itself. Both of these sequences show off Knight’s skill and writing an action and suspense filled sequence.

We are also reminded through a couple of scenes what else is happening in the Fathom’s universe–in particular that Eden remains very sick.

I hope Geoff finishing the next book soon. It’s been a long wait for The Temple of Time and I’m more eager than ever to get my hands on that book.

Book Review: “Good Boy” by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy

I’m a huge fan of Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy’s Him and its sequel Us. It shouldn’t be surprising that I’d pick up the next book that, at least partially, continues Jamie and Wes’ story. Good Boy, focuses primarly on the larger-than-live Blake Riley, who was introduced in Us, and Jess, Jamie’s sister.

For Jamie and Wes fans, this book is a must because (spoiler alert if you’ve not read Him and Us) it contains their wedding. Which is every bit of awesome they deserved, especially for Wes who gets a very nice present from Blake (and this is something I wish could’ve been explored a bit more–but I get why it wasn’t). After the wedding, it’s nice to see the guys settle into married life in Toronto.

As I said though, this isn’t about them. It’s about Blake and Jess and it’s a great read. While Him and Us had some comedic elements (and Us had a lot because of Blake), this is more full out romantic comedy between the two of them. After planning Wesmie’s wedding, she decides event planning isn’t for her. What she focuses is on is how she felt about taking care of Jamie during his illness in Us. Nursing school is her thing and that takes her to Toronto.

The opposites-attract between Blake and Jess is so perfect. She views him as a loud oaf with a giant ego. He views her as a sweet, pretty girl he’d like to bang. As they both smooth each other’s edges a little bit, we learn a lot more about Jess insecurities as well as some events in Blake’s past that are nothing short of shocking but also kind of amazing because of how he handled them. Watching these two come together while also growing as individuals was awesome.

Kudos to Sarina & Elle for extending Wes & Jamie’s universe. Good Boy is the start of a new series of standalone books called WAGS. I suspect I’ll be picking up more of these in the future to keep tabs on the Toronto team.

Also, just for the record, I completely agree with Blake: Glitter totally belongs at a wedding.

Book Review: “Jack & Louisa” Act 2 & Act 3 by Andrew Keenan-Bolger & Kate Wetherhead

I read Jack & Louisa Act 1 back in 2015. When Act 2 came out it managed to fly under my radar. However, with the release of Act 3 at the end of January, I was able to catch up with these theater kids created by Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Wetherhead.

Jack and Louisa are two middle school aged musical theater nerds who meet in Act 1 when Jack moves to Shaker Heights, Ohio after his Broadway career is derailed by his voice changing.

Act 2 picks up the story shortly after Act 1 ends. Jack and Louisa spend New Year’s in New York with Jack’s parents. They take in some shows, meet some of Jack’s friends and even go to the show Jack was fired from, which is a huge growing moment for Jack. Once they’re home and ready for the second half of seventh grade, it’s time for the spring musical (Guys & Dolls). Their new director, a former Broadway performer, puts Jack, Louisa and the G&D cast through a lot of drama.

In Act 3, it’s initially off to musical theater summer camp where Jack and Louisa make some new friends. For Jack, his friendship with Teddy is one he can’t quite figure out because it feels like it might be more than friendship. Once Jack & Louisa are back home, it’s the start of eighth grade and a decision about whether they should try out for the local production of The Sound of Music or enter into the Ghostlight Competition where they’d put together their own show. For Jack, it’s a hard choice. He knows Louisa wants to do Sound of Music, but he wants to go to Ghostlight because Teddy’s going to be there.

These books were wonderful. As a musical theater nerd myself, I love how packed these books are with references. Within a page, Act 3 referenced Michael John LaChiusa’s Giant (which I think is one of the most under-rated musicals I’ve ever seen) and Jonathan Larson’s pre-Rent musical Tick, Tick… BOOM! Beyond the references, Jack and Louisa continue to be such relatable characters, even for me some four decades older than they are.

Jack’s growth in Act 2 was amazing, especially for someone his age. He came face to face with the worst thing that had ever happened to him when he ended up going to see the musical he’d been fired from. He had the expected meltdown at having to do it, and even in the aftermath he wasn’t pleased with himself. Later, as he goes through the Guys & Dolls rehearsal he learns a lot of stuff about not underestimating people and about dealing with people who are intimidated by you. Yes, even a seventh grader can intimidate people. Louisa goes to great lengths too as she tries to defend and support her friend.

For Act 3, Jack and Louisa both get their first brush with love and it’s so sweet for both of them. I love how it’s handled with just the right touch. Especially perfect is how Louisa approaches Jack as she figures out what’s going on with him. The scene where they first really talk about who each might be attracted to is one of the most poignant of the series.

Jack’s shift from actor to director was also handled brilliantly. He learned so much in that experience, sometimes by doing things horribly wrong, that it makes me wish this book had been around when I was actually in middle school. It might’ve helped me navigate things better.

As with Act 1, the authors do a great job of hitting all the right beats with their young characters. The books are page turners and should be a must for anyone (kid or adult) who is into musical theater or wants to read some sweet, but very realistic, stories about growing up.