Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Safe, C. Kennedy

- Review by Mr Austro-Hungarian

SafeSafe starts with Caleb, a senior, becoming frantic and searching for a boy named Nico, as he discovers that a teacher has tattled (sorry, no better word for it) upon seeing Caleb and Nico kiss at school – a peck at that. 
The story then elaborates on how their respective parents are called in to the school to ‘deal with this issue’, and how – until now – no-one knew their forbidden secret; and love that has spanned almost a third of their lifetimes. (Over a third, if you count when they first met.) Then we are taken on a ride throughout their lives together, from when they were innocent ten year olds, until present day.

Now, truth be told, I found next to nothing wrong in the story. This novella is a wonderful representation of how sweet young love can be, in a world where teenagers are becoming increasingly flippant about being in relationships for the sake of having one. The story – from where Caleb knew where to find Nico at the beginning, until Caleb then lovingly walks Nico into the school one more time at the end – had me feeling very lucky that I had stumbled upon their world, even if it was fictional. Their love oozed through the dialogue, through their actions, even though their many sexual rendezvous’.
I also found this book realistic, to sum it up in one word. Even though there were points that did seem a little mature at times – mostly to do with dialogue –
 ‘…He opened the drawer and rifled through the miscellany of objects until he found the bottle of lube. He smiled to himself. Thank God for parental lectures.’
- it wasn’t enough to detract from the enjoyment of the realism, compared to that of a standard intelligent teenage male. Even though this quote, and a few other passages, could seem rather left of centre coming from Caleb, I can forgive this. Heck, I was talking like this to myself at 15/16. The dialogue was also fairly consistent in this style, so I did not mind.

I also liked the overall 'fit' of the characters. Caleb was 5’10; Nico was 5’2. Caleb loved taking care of Nico – and oft’ referred to him as “my Nico” or “little Nico”, and Nico was portrayed as frail, with just cause thanks to an abusive father. Caleb seemed to have a stronger personality, and Nico seemed to be quieter/more reserved. Caleb was a manlier figure, whereas you always sensed Nico was slightly more feminine.
And all of these characteristics enhanced the relationship – it made it feel like something that would work not only in a book, but also in real life. They had their strengths and their (admittedly, few) weaknesses, but they played to these and complimented each other almost perfectly. Because of this, even when you might think to yourself “Goodness, they are so young to be in a relationship of this magnitude”, they have such chemistry that it just never seems wrong at any stage.
These boys were also portrayed as quite exceptional individuals. Caleb was a great swimmer, earning straight-A’s, had a good friend base and did not cop crap at school until the teacher outed him. Nico was, more or less, the same. (Sans the gift for sport.)
But is this a negative, like it often can be? No. There was never a time in this novella where you questioned if these boys were too perfect. Nico and Caleb were kind, sweet, loyal, intelligent and beautiful – but never once did you want to scream at the characters, or even dislike the characters, because of this. This is a credit to Cody Kennedy; that is a very hard thing to do, and he did it beautifully.
But, all of these reasons aside, the main reason I want to applaud Cody Kennedy for Safe is due to the handling of the sexual content within the story.

*Cue Mr. Austro-Hungarian getting on his soap box*

This novella, according to my mother, received mixed reactions when it came to the age Caleb and Nico became intimate. In the story, they partook in mutual masturbation at 13, and it explores two other forms of sexual contact from there on in. Did these sexual acts between the two protagonists seem unrealistic. Absolutely not.
As a teenager, I still remember high school and all of the tales of/actual sexual adventures and relationships at my school. For her twelfth birthday, a classmate of mine proudly demonstrated her edible underwear to the girls in my English class; my heterosexual friends started having sex (and I do not mean mutual masturbation) at 14/15, and – by 15/16 – if you were not having sex, you were in the minority.

Now, does this seem age inappropriate to you? You may choose to think so, or you may choose to think not. But the reality is that these teenage boys would have experimented with acts of a sexual nature in real life, whether or not you chose to ignore it. You can bury your heads in the sand but it doesn't make it go away.
In actual fact, the word realistic is the most appropriate word I can give to you within the context of this debate. Are there practical limits you can draw? Absolutely. I feel if anal sex was introduced too soon – or even more advanced sexual play – this particular book would have been too sexually inappropriate for a young adult audience. But it isn't inappropriate.
It went from mutual masturbation to intercrural sex and oral masturbation. They didn’t ever have anal intercourse in this book. Not once. And for this, I am almost certain that the author knows and has researched the adolescent mind very thoroughly. Knew the audience this book was aiming for. It's right. When I talk to my gay/bisexual friends and drawing from my personal experience, the median ages with which we first partook in anal sex was about 17/18; the median age for when most first started sexual exploration was 14.
Believe me when I tell you that anal intercourse, as much as social media would tell you otherwise, is a daunting thing. It is not taken lightly, and is usually performed for the first time when you completely trust an individual - of course there are exceptions to anything. As teenagers we are still often hardwired to be as safe as we can, contrary to popular opinion –

Caleb leaned in and saw what Nico had been reading. Abstinence Plus. “You’re studying sex education?”

‘”Yeah. My parents wouldn’t sign the consent form and, well, since we’ve done a lot of things I wanted to see what I had missed and, well, I wanted to make sure what we were doing was okay.”

‘”Is it?”
‘Yeah, we’ve been real safe, especially because we’ve never been with anybody else.”’

In a young adult book, the last thing I would want is for an adolescent to go out and perform sexual acts, just because it was in a book and they wanted to try it. This is where my feelings about anal sex between younger people come into play. As much as it can still be safe, it has more risk involved than the sexual acts explored within Safe. This is the first reason I decided to highlight this passage of the book – I thought it was a very sensible decision to add this on Cody Kennedy’s part, as this highlights that not every sexual act will come without risk.

But the second reason I added this passage to the review is the last point that I wanted to make – education and awareness is the best provision for safe sex. When I was at school, I was never made aware of what I could do with another man. In actual fact, at my school,  gay men justdidn’t exist. And if they did, they were most certainly NOT having sex. Er, WRONG!
Luckily for me, however, I had a very loving, wonderful and supportive family network around me, who knew of my sexual orientation quite early on. If I ever needed to talk to my family about sex, my mother would just talk about it like I had asked her what the weather was like on that particular day. Sex education and parents who are switched-on, books with realistic portrayals of teenage sex. All good stuff. Of course adults can stick their heads in the sand, jump up and down about books like Safe, and others out there, and just let online sexual olympics do all the talking for them. Sound good? Not really.
My heterosexual friends were sometimes at a loss as to where they could go for practical guidance about sex too. Let's face it, Sex ed is a bit clinical. My best friend, who first had penetrative sex when she was 19, had to come to me for sexual advice, hello, gay guy here, as her family would rather completely ignore the fact sex exists than talk about it. Not sensible. Not cool. Not safe.

So this is my final word of advice on this book, and on this topic. What made the relationship between Caleb and Nico so palpable – so beautiful, loving, sweet and real – was that the sex between them accentuated the way they loved each other. Caleb often thought about how Nico would feel whenever he touched him; whenever he kissed him; whenever he made him feel bliss; Nico did the exact same thing. And this was why I thought the love between Caleb and Nico took on a new level – an extra dimension that I had not yet seen in any other young adult book. (Besides maybe Rose and Dimitri in Vampire Academy).
So, for this reason, Safe gave me hope that – soon – an influx of gay young adult books will be there for any young men, or women, that need them; to turn to these books for education about what a healthy relationship can be, if their family and education ignore the existence of their desires. Let's have something other than fade off page, okay? Mother Dearest always said to me: “If you are going to do anything, I would rather know. That way, I can protect you.”

And this, along with the myriad of other reasons to love about Safe, is why I give it 5 stars.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover (Most Popular Guy in the School #1), Robbie Michaels

          “Bill was happy. My mother was happy. And I’d seen him naked and hard – I was happy too. We were all happy…” 

                -Review by Mr Austro Hungarian

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover (Most Popular Guy in the School, # 1)
The quote above basically describes this book, pretty much in a nutshell. It was designed to make us happy – everyone in the book was happy, and I am about 99 percent sure the author was happy writing this.

It is your typical feel-good, social outcast/math nerd meets school jock that has it all, and they fall head over heels. In this particular book, the social outcast is in the form of Mark, a gay senior who has made it his life goal to emulate the turtle, to blend in and withdraw, if necessary. You see, he lives in a very small town, and has found anonymity the best way to deal with aforementioned homosexuality – don’t ask, don’t tell.

At the start of the book, he is forced to unpack school fundraising chocolate boxes from a truck, to make up for lost credit in Gym. (Because, being the quintessential nerd he is, he has an in-built ineptitude for sport.) This is when we cue in the meeting of Mark and Mr. Mary Sue Bill Cromwell, who takes his form as the god-like, chiselled and oh-so-lickable head jock.

As the story progresses through the first few chapters, we see Mark and Bill make a very fast friendship – and courtship – due to a very well-timed snowstorm and car malfunction on Bill’s part. (Well, at least the car was on Bill’s part; I do not think he can manipulate the weather, but I wouldn’t put it past him.) Then we see life unravel for these two love-struck teenagers, as they battle family abuse, STD’s (Small Town Disease) and dealing with being gay where there are, quite frankly, no gay men that don’t live in Narnia.

Now, I thought this book was okay. It wasn’t bad; quite far from it, actually. What did like about this book?

- I thought that the author who wrote these books has a nice flair for the histrionic monologues, which was part of the reason why Mark was a favourite character of mine. 

- I thought that the ideas and sentiments that were conveyed through book were sweet and lovely, albeit packed with enough saccharine to cause me to choke on said love.

- I enjoyed the way the book conveyed the way small towns work, particularly when the author used the mother as the prime vessel. Why?
   - Did she know the genealogy of everyone that had lived in that town? Check.

   - Furthermore, could she delineate the difference between who was a respected family, and who was not to be associated with? Check.
   - Did she have everyone on speed dial? Check.
   - Furthermore, did everyone on her speed dial list actually have a talking, friendship-more-than-acquaintance relationship with her? Check.
   - Did she treat guests with more vigour than her own family? Check…for about 1/3 of the book. (This should have been developed a lot more, in my opinion.)

I thought that this was pretty typical; a stereotype, perhaps? Probably. But I knew many of my friend’s mums that were exactly like this when I was growing up, and perhaps even worse.

- I also enjoyed Mark’s narration, for the most part. He did enough to keep me entertained when the dialogue perhaps wasn’t as sharp as it could have been, and for that I applaud him.

- The final thing that I enjoyed is that Mark masturbates. I know, I know, this point treads a line of controversy in regards to how much sexual activity is to be shown in the Young Adult genre, but I thought that this small touch of realism was a nice addition.

However, there were flaws within the writing too. What were the major things I didn’t like about this book?

- It reached halfway. I know, that criticism is so utterly generic. But to quote Miss Elle Woods: “I have a point, I promise!”

I was slightly disappointed, because until about the halfway mark, I was on track to giving this book – provided it went the way I thought it would – 3.5/4 stars. But then it almost seemed like the author decided to floor the brakes and turn the book into a fairy tale about how a man, his perfect boyfriend and a preachy mom and dad can conquer everything in life with immeasurable kindness and unfailing warmth. 

Is this entirely bad? Not entirely. I do like it when people are nice and kind. But this, couple with the infallible kindness of random strangers met by the boys along the way just ramped it up to the level of absurdity. 

For example, there came a point in the book where Mark and Mary Sue Bill fly on two aeroplanes; one to get to Chicago, and then the exchange aeroplane to California. 

On the first flight, an air hostess asks Mark every two seconds if he was enjoying himself on the flight, just because he looked a tad scared getting on. Then she gives them coupons to exchange for food on their next flight. And then she gives them, complete strangers who she barely knows, the contact details and address of her elderly and rich mother, because they might need accommodation, and they seem like such nice boys.

On the second flight, we have a gay couple, arousing Mark from his sleep by saying that Mark and him are “the cutest couple ever”, and then they proceed to ask about where they are headed, why they are going there, and whatever else floated their boat to ask. What tops this second scenario off, however, was that they were offered a ride to the destination they were headed, by two complete strangers that they had just met, and accepted without any second thought. Now, I may have a slightly cynical nature, but this scenario was just very…off. Why would a seemingly intelligent young man, with what appears to be a very switched-on mother that should have given him stranger danger lessons, be accepting a ride that easily? 

Because they were a part of “the gay brotherhood”, apparently. Geez, that sounds perfectly reasonable to me. Please remind me of this the next time I see a random gay man in the street; I can’t drive and could always use a lift!

The other major reason this novel grated on me was:

- Bill Cromwell…

…do I even need to say it?

…he was a Mary Sue. A big one. He had intelligence, textbook beauty, good body, popularity, kindness, a way with parents, and could convince anyone of anything. (Including that time where he told the air hostess’ mother (yes, they actually went there) their whole life story – unprovoked – which made her feel all soft and fuzzy and invited these boys to stay in a luxurious flat so that she could have company. This was the point where I wanted to throw Bill Cromwell into the ocean that they could see from aforementioned apartment.)

The funny thing is that, whilst he was made to be perfect, he also had no voice as a person. At the beginning of the book, he was, quite literally, the person that would take directions on whether he was to eat that night from a magic 8 ball.

But then, after a big, life-changing event happened, Bill turned into a man that took the world by  storm, did not ever question himself, and took charge of every situation that he was faced. God, I wish that happened to me.

Now, there was a reason for this, but the change was too sudden and would never be that extreme…ever.

There were other minor flaws, including:

- Lack of character fluidity, in dialogue and in the person itself. Often, I found that my perceptions of people changed more times than I needed to inhale air, which can only mean that the people were written inconsistently throughout. I also thought that this then made the dialogue stilted; I almost sense that to keep the character’s personality relatively consistent, the dialogue needed to be repetitive and almost formulaic. (I swear, if Bill said “thank you” or “you do not need to do this for me”, and Mark’s mother and father had any more uplifting, cliché or stereotypical talks one more time…)

- Plot holes. One example being - Bill’s father “goes away” after something happens with Bill’s family. (It is also tied in with the life-changing event I was talking about with Bill). After this, it is never explained where he goes. Bill asks incessantly, and Mark’s mother and father keep repeating things along the lines of: “We haven’t buried him, if that’s what you think.”

Seriously?! Bill’s father has gone; even though he wasn’t a nice man, you could still give him a clue as to where you bloody put him...even if it was in the ground! (I personally would have enjoyed that, it would’ve given Mark’s parents a voice that wasn’t so bloody nice and kind!) If I didn’t dislike Bill so much, I would feel sorry for him not knowing. But alas, this lack of persistence and gall is another reason why I formulated:

Question: Where the hell did they put Bill’s cerebral cortex – along with the other anatomically significant parts of Bill’s brain – when they took it out for cleaning?”

Hypothesis: We didn’t bury it!

Sigh. It almost sounds like I hated the book. I really didn’t. I guess because it was a nice, feel-good story that the flaws weren’t as immediately grating as they could have been.

And I guess this sentiment is exactly how I should draw this review to a close. If you want a feel good story that will make you believe that true love knows no boundaries – including the boundaries of popularity, social prejudice and first perceptions – then give this a go. It will deliver as promised.

A copy of this book was supplied to Greedy Bug by Harmony Ink in return for an honest review. 

Thursday, 11 April 2013

You Belong With Me, Jeff Erno

A nerd falls for a popular jock who is not out of the closet. Throw in the popular cheerleader girlfriend, the bullying by another jock, a story modeled after a popular Taylor Swift video (including the title) and you have a fairly predictable teenage story.

- Review by Cindi

You Belong With Me
Wesley Harris is sixteen.  He is openly gay and has never hidden his homosexuality.  He has been bullied for years but has managed to keep that from his parents.  Brad Johnson is seventeen and a popular baseball player at the high school that he and Wesley attend.  Brad's family moves next door to Wes and his and Brad's bedroom windows face each other.  They start communicating via notes held up to the window.  Wes is aware that Brad is straight as he has been dating the captain of the cheerleading squad on and off for awhile.  That doesn't stop Wes from crushing on him anyway.  A friendship develops between the two boys away from school but they keep up the note thing anyway.  It's a fun way to communicate with each other and neither boy wants to stop it.  It doesn't take long before Brad confides to Wes that he thinks he is bisexual and that he has feelings for Wes.  Wes is over the moon though his mother warns him to be careful.  He should have listened to his mother but that is just the opinion of this reader.  

In a short amount of time Brad and Wes become a secret couple and even venture into sexual contact.  Everything is going well for them until suddenly something happens and it's not. Brad has a run-in with his homophobic father and suddenly everything he had said ... and done... to and with.. Wes is tossed aside.  At this moment I despised Brad.  He had built up Wes and led him to believe that they would be okay and that he didn't care what anyone thought about their relationship.  Then suddenly that changed and not only does he toss Wes aside but he says hurtful things.  I had a difficult time coming back from that especially considering that I adored Brad up until this point.  

On top of the Brad thing, Wes is being bullied at school by another jock... the same jock that Brad's former girlfriend had cheated on him with.  The bullying is taken to a whole new level and something is finally done about it.  This, of course, causes repercussions for Wes and he is thrust into a dangerous situation later as a result.

For those familiar with Taylor Swift's video of You Belong With Me you have seen this story in its entirety with the exception of one or two slight variations.  Actually, if you haven't seen the gay version of the video I suggest you do so as it is more accurate to this book (and not just the fact that both characters are male) as one of those characters is a baseball player (like Brad) instead of a football player like in the hetero version.  Both characters communicate via notes from their bedroom windows.  The prom incident from the video is there.  The two boys (after having broken up) sit on a park bench and the 'girlfriend' shows up to pick up Brad.   Wes dances around his room while singing into a hairbrush.  The cheerleader girlfriend wears "high heels and short skirts"... the list of similarities is endless.  I am aware that this was undoubtedly intentional but I am surprised at exactly how similar the book is to the video.  I knew what was going to happen right before it happened.  

While I found this story to be entertaining and I am a definite fan of this author, I also felt like I was reading the same Young Adult book that I have read countless times.  Throw in the similarities to a video that I have been forced to watch again and again (I have a teenage son who recently went through a Taylor Swift phase) and I found very little originality in the story.

There's the jock who is in the closet.  The nerd who is bullied.  At least one homophobic parent. I am in no way making light of bullying or the fear one goes through in coming out of the closet.  But I had hopes of reading something different from almost every other Young Adult book I have read recently.  Unfortunately that is not the case with You Belong With Me.  I did enjoy the story of Brad and Wes but I found myself eager to finish it.    I also should mention the gay icons who are mentioned repeatedly throughout with one actually being in a very unrealistic scene in the book (albeit via video).  There is an epilogue at the end of the book that shows the two characters a bit farther down the road in their relationship.  As much as I wanted to see Wes and Brad a few years later, I felt that it was unnecessary as I found myself having a difficult time going from the teen Wes and Brad to them as adults so quickly.

Overall, the story is good but as I said, predictable.  For fans of Taylor Swift, this is right up your alley as you are given a written (gay) version of almost the exact video of You Belong With Me, one of her more popular songs.  For me, it just felt like more of the same.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Letters from the Sky, Tamer Lorika

A very nicely written LGBT YA and fantasy story.

- Review by Kazza K

Letters from the SkyWhen Letters from the Sky begins the main character, Jeanne, has had an intense dream. Her dreams are definitely surreal and seem prophetic throughout the book. After her latest dream, she rips out a piece of paper from a school notebook and writes -

I haven't seen you in a week but I still hope you'll come back for me. I'm sorry, I know you say to trust you but I guess I'm still too young or scared. I feel strange sometimes and I don't know why.

...which she places under her pillow before heading off to her morning ritual of her hair being braided, rationed breakfast and meeting her best friends, Paris and Jedrick, so they can head off  to school together. Jeanne is 13/14 and her two friends are the same age. Paris is pretty and an incorrigible flirt. Any cute boy is fair game. She is also quite upfront about how she feels and a little blunt. Jedrick, whilst not blind, is sight impaired, hates being treated as if he is handicapped, and he and Paris have an unusual relationship of not quite fully recognised love. Jeanne is not popular, not unpopular, polite, quiet and sweet. She seems to find no fault in anyone.

The characters live in the shadow of a world at war. Of rations, blacked-out windows, planes droning overhead striking fear into people's hearts, Jeanne's Papa listening to the radio about bombings and propaganda drops from planes. There is darkness coming. Drawing closer. Jeanne lives with her Maman, her Papa, her Gramaman and baby sister, Suzette. The town is in the Vichy region and is always described as grey - the people, the buildings are all quite monochromatic, which I imagine would be the case for a young person living in this period of time. But the sky is always given more than just a greyness.

In one of Jeanne's classes one the most interesting characters,  Ms Milovskaya, discusses something that piques Jeanne's interest -

"If you get out your books and turn to the story you were to read last night, I want to discuss something you might not be familiar with. It's an eastern motif, the red string of fate. One supposes lovers who are destined to be together are connected by an invisible red string."
Paris, from her seat just in front of Jeanne, threw her hand up. "If it's invisible, how can it be red , too?" "It's only a story ," Ms Milovskaya responded gently. "A romantic idea about connection. It's an insight into another culture." 

This 'romantic idea' fascinates Jeanne -

Jeanne raised her hand. "What if...." Her voice caught. She cleared it and spoke again. "What if the person you loved lived very far away?"

Ms Milovskaya cocked her head, contemplating "Well, dear, I think that's the point. No matter how far away they are, you are connected to them...."

I think it's wonderful to believe in love like that," Jeanne said...     
"Oh, yes. Yes, it's a wonderful story. I take it you enjoyed it?"
"Very much. Do you think it works even if the person you love doesn't exist?
"Everyone has someone Jeanne. Even if it's not quite how you planned it...." She trailed off.

Jeanne is an unusual girl, she has intense, some would say prophetic dreams, and in pictures she draws or sees there is an element of either the surreal or haunting. She also has a companion of a night, not every night though, named Jericho. Jericho talks to Jeanne of things that are new or amazing in the world - a tough olive tree growing where it shouldn't, a two headed snake, things of wonder and beauty always lulling Jeanne into sleep -

"Sleep little one...in a tunnel deep under the earth , a phoenix has begun to cry." The spell continued, and Jeanne drifted quietly away, secure and safe and warm and in the arms of her angel-spectre-lover-guardian.

Jericho appears at random times and Jeanne wants so much more of her Jericho. Jericho always tells Jeanne that she will come back -

"I'll come back soon. Trust me. I'm coming back for you. We were made for this weren't we?"

So, when she really feels the need, and the wind is right, Jeanne sends her paper-plane messages skyward. But there comes a time when Jericho is scarce and Jeanne becomes quite despondent. She knows Jericho has told her to trust her that she will always come back when she can but it just seems like, perhaps, it is all a dream and she isn't as real as Jeanne would like. Plus this time it has been a while between visits.

There is a lot to this story. And this review really can't do it justice. It is an awakening-of-feelings and desires story, but with a paranormal theme, it is about a young girl loving with all her heart and wanting to have a life with someone who loves her, wants to share 'cheese on toast', talk, be interested in each others lives, sleep together, wake up and do all the things a couple does together. She wants to know that one day she can have a committed relationship. Only she wants it with another female -

Any time Paris pointed out a boy, Jeanne had to really squint to see something special. Maybe she just had a different perception of beauty. She thought Jericho was beautiful. Paris was, too. Ms Milovakaya was tired, too, though, and she was absolutely gorgeous when Ms Roma was with her. It was only then she seemed like a whole, complete person. 

Ms Milovskaya and Ms Roma are in a committed relationship. I don't think I'm giving anything grand away here. Ms Milovskaya is always flushed and late coming to class and always saying goodbye to a somewhat cheerful Ms Roma, the school nurse.

Things now take a turn in the book. Because Jeanne is faltering, lost and unsure whether Jericho truly exists, Jericho needs to take action to make Jeanne feel their attachment. So she brands Jeanne. This is not something Jericho does lightly, but because some events have occurred, are occurring, and Jeanne really needs their invisible red string, Jericho agrees. This is a source of many difficulties after it occurs for both Jericho and Jeanne. The brand is a mark that others can see which seemingly pops up over night on Jeanne's face. The town is superstitious and 'bad omen' is suddenly becoming the catch-cry about Jeanne. Her own mother and the children at school are afraid of/angry at Jeanne. Even Jeanne's mother seeks the local priest out to bless her 'bad omen' daughter. This was well done - it looks at how people treat others who are different in society, expectations we place on our own children to fit in. Behaviour becomes aggressive and hurtful, but Jeanne is a beautiful soul. This was well done - it looks at how people treat others who are different in society. The sudden brand also ties in with the Cohen family inexplicably disappearing from the town, which corresponds with Jeanne being seen as a 'bad omen'  Little did they know who and what the real bad omen was for the history of the time, and soon for their region. People in the town don't know about Hitler's treatment of the Jews, yet.

Just a couple of minor things I want to mention. The use of explanation marks could be a bit much. The writing was good and I got the emphasis of many things that did not need the extra emphasis placed on them. The words 'transparent' and 'minced' were thrown out there more than a few times. Jericho could have been utilised a bit more, the time she spent with Jeanne was not as much as I would have liked for full three dimensional development. The branding that was done against Jericho's order was not as explored as I would have liked. However, it is not a long ebook (approx. 170 pages) and a lot was delivered in the word count allocated. Just some of my feelings and observations. None of these things really detracted from my overall enjoyment of Letters from the Sky.

Overall -

I really enjoyed this book. It is a 5 star read for me. The title is perfect. The writing is, by and large, quite lovely and very interesting. The story is sweet, there is no spoon-feeding the reader. There is no sex or swearing but there is no need for either. Don't get me wrong, there is some touching and tenderness between Jeanne and Jericho, but not in an overt manner. It is appropriate for the target demographic and beyond. This may be a lesbian YA read but my son is now interested in reading it after I discussed it with him. I believe that it is a book suitable for many YA readers from thirteen  upwards to adults, irrespective of sexual orientation. It is definitely for those who like a paranormal theme, perhaps some history, and something a little different. And it is different. I hope people who may not ordinarily read an LGBT YA may consider adding this book to their reading list. It is not fast paced but isn't boring, there are some lovely words, and the way the story is developed made me want to keep reading. The war is never mentioned by name so you can choose to see it in any way you want. I'm older, so I worked within known historical parameters. The characters are interesting and behave in a time-and-place age appropriate manner. A lovely read.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Finding Our Way (Finding Our Way, #1), Jayson James

Two long time friends discover that what they feel for the other is much more than friendship.  This is the story of them finding their way.

- Review by Cindi

Finding Our Way

Justin Parker and Derrick Wilson have been best friends since middle school.  Now juniors at Chandler High School their friendship has only grown closer as time has gone by.  Each has a girlfriend.  Justin's is Stacy and Janie is Derrick's.  Life is going well for each boy.. on the outside.  Things are not so great at each of their homes.  While Derrick has an overbearing family who insists on him spending more family time with them, Justin is thrust in the middle of his parents' marital problems at every turn.  Regardless of their home issues, they always have each other.  The friendship is strong enough to endure pretty much anything.  In the middle of a game of truth or dare with friends Justin and Derrick are dared to kiss each other.  They must tongue kiss for a full minute in front of their girlfriends and closest friends.  There is confusion for each boy as they both discover that the kiss was more than a dare between friends... it turned them both on and threw in a load of confusing feelings for each boy.  This is where the story of Justin and Derrick begins.

This is told from the beginning as journal entries in a sense with each boy typing out their part of the story.  Because of this, the points of view shift back and forth between Derrick and Justin throughout the entire book.  Some may be confused over this but I found it to be a nice way of getting inside of each character's head.  

This is not just the story of Derrick and Justin.  There are quite a few secondary characters who are integral to the story.  

I will start with Justin's parents.  They fight constantly and do not hesitate to bring Justin into the middle of these heated arguments, at times trying to get him to choose sides.  Because of their issues with each other, they don't acknowledge or pretend to care about Justin and what he does.  As a result, he does things to try to get their attention even if the attention he receives is bad.  All he wants is for his parents to acknowledge he is alive.  Justin has an older brother, James, who is away at college so it is only Justin and his mother and father at home most of the time.  James, when he is in town, is not a good influence on his younger brother in any way.  Justin wants alcohol?  No problem.  Call James.  I am obviously not a fan of James.

Then there are Derrick's parents and younger siblings.  His siblings were okay for the most part especially his younger brother Devon.  I adored this child.  He was a typical pre-teen and you can't read about this kid and not like him.  Derrick's parents on the other hand are different. I found no love for either.  Sure they took care of Derrick and provided for him but their attitudes and expectations left a lot to be desired.  The mother is the worst.  She constantly complained if Derrick (a 17-year-old boy) wanted to have time with his friends and she was always pushing him to spend more and more time with his family.  I get that... the family thing... this is very important.. but there is a difference between wanting to have family time and smothering and Derrick's mother fell into the latter. Having helped raise three sons of my own, my early views on the mother may simply be because our parenting styles clashed.   Later, my opinion of her was cemented and there was no coming back for me as far as she was concerned.

Now to the other secondary characters.

There are the twins, Tyler and Tyson, who spend an unusual amount of time together even for twins. Throw in Ryan and Hayden who may or may not be more than friends.  Then there is Stacy, Justin's girlfriend.  I really liked her from the get-go. Janie, Derrick's girlfriend, on the other hand?  Not so much but I won't give away why.  

Now to the mains... Justin and Derrick.

I liked Justin a lot.  I felt deep sympathy for what he was forced to deal with on a daily basis with his parents.  He did not handle the stress well and as a result turned to other means for relaxation (and I'm not referring to just sex).

Derrick was a bit much but he grew on me.  He does not always handle things in the way one would expect but it is typical of a teen his age so I was able to overlook it.

Derrick and Justin, now that they have discovered the true nature of their feelings, must find a way to make the relationship work without it harming either as far as their family lives are concerned.  What about their friends?  There are a couple who love to throw out the word "fag" at every turn so how will they react when the truth of Derrick and Justin's relationship comes out?  What about classmates?  Their girlfriends?  Most importantly their parents?  What happens if the relationship fails? Will they be able to stay friends?

The story of Derrick and Justin is told over a period of months.  There is more that I wish I could point out but I won't type spoilers in this review.  I had a few issues with this book but not necessarily with the story as a whole (with the exception of the third one).  One, this book would benefit greatly by having it edited better.  There are numerous errors throughout that stand out.  Two, there are a couple of inconsistencies that others may not have noticed so I won't mention them specifically here. Three, there is one thing that was in this book that normally I would not be able to overlook as it is major a pet peeve of mine (to put it mildly).  The characters are young so I chose to let it go in this case as I understand that it was almost necessary for Justin and Derrick to move forward.

Overall, this is an interesting friends-to-lovers story.  It has the classic coming of age and teen issues so it is realistic for the ages of the characters.   The sexual situations are not overdone and seemed to be age appropriate even if the wording in parts was more adult.  There are a few unresolved issues that I am sure will be addressed in the next book of the series.

I love the cover.  If I understand correctly, the cover artist is the author.  If so, beautiful work Jayson, and very fitting for the story.

This book was provided by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Play Me, I'm Yours, Madison Parker

Play Me, I'm Yours
A wonderfully written Young Adult book by an author who has quickly jumped on my favorites list.

- Review by Cindi

Lucas Tate is a seventeen-year-old boy.  He enjoys playing piano over sports.  He dresses a little different from his classmates.  He is sensitive and is known to tear up without much warning.  He doesn't enjoy what some might consider manly things: working on a vehicle with his father, helping with repairs around the house.  That is just not Lucas. He has only one friend, a female named Trish, who has decided to take him under her wing though her plans are not always what's best for him.  He's made fun of and bullied because he doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the teens at his high school.  He has a fifteen-year-old brother who is embarrassed by him, a father who doesn't support his music and is convinced that it turned his boy different He was close to his mother once upon a time but that changed when she decided that he was becoming a mother's boy.  She is known to tell him to try harder to make friends if he mentions the bullying. 

Twinklefingers.  Fairy Tate.  Lucy Liu.  Lucy.  These are only some of the names that Lucas is taunted with each day.  His brother hates him.  His father is ashamed of him.  His mother gives him bad advice instead of encouraging him to be himself.  His teachers do nothing to stop the taunts and often laugh along with the others.  With the exception of Trish, Lucas is alone.

Trish is the complete opposite of Lucas.  She is outgoing and personable.  She has made it her mission to find Lucas a boyfriend.  Throw in his mother doing the same and life gets even more complicated for the teen.  Funny, considering Lucas has never come out with either.

Lucas's mother tries to set him up with a popular football player who defines the word "hot" for all the girls at Providence High School, Alex Goodman.  Trish chooses an openly gay boy, Donovan, who has probably never seen the inside of a closet in his life.  Both boys are popular but in different ways.   Donovan is full of self-confidence and cares very little about the feelings of others, Lucas included.  Alex is an all around nice guy who secretly feels that Lucas is being treated unfairly by others.  

Both boys are obviously out of Lucas's league.  Why would they want the freak Lucas?  Then there is the fact that Alex is obviously straight.  Donovan is openly gay but he's not a nice guy and this is proven on more than one occasion both in public and private.

Lucas harbors a crush on a boy on his brother's swim team, Zach... a boy who writes the most romantic poetry for class assignments that they bring Lucas to tears.  The poetry is obviously written for Zach's girlfriend.  What would it be like to have someone love Lucas the way the other teenager obviously adores his girlfriend?  Lucas has to keep his crush to himself as no way is Zach gay and if he is?  He would never look at Lucas twice.  Lucas keeps his crush to himself while quietly watching the other boy during swim practice and secretly wishing he would look Lucas's way.  Lucas will stick to his music and hope that someday he will have what others seem to have.  He just has to survive high school.. and Trish... first.  What Lucas doesn't know is that Zach also harbors a crush on Lucas.  

This is a very nice Young Adult book.  While there are some similarities to other books of the genre it does not fall into the more of the same category.  Each main character is gay though not out with everyone.  Neither is struggling with their homosexuality so there is none of the running away in fear of one's feelings like you see in other books of this type.  Your heart will break for what Lucas is forced to endure from not only his classmates but his own family.  You will see the value of friendship and learn that it's okay to be yourself.  You will fall in love with Zach as he works diligently to prove to Lucas that he sees him for himself, not how others do.  You will root for both teens to find their happily-ever-after.

There are a few funny moments in this book.  Lucas's dad gives a sex talk to Lucas and his brother that is priceless.  I found myself giggling the entire time.  Lucas loves Cyndi Lauper and this is shown in a very big way.  I loved reading about his love of eighties music as that was this reviewer's decade, so to speak.  

The secondary characters, while not all likable, were entertaining.  My feelings are mixed on Lucas's parents and brother.  Donovan is the type of character you love to hate.  Trish, though she means well, is a bit overbearing and inadvertently puts Lucas in embarrassing situations at times.  Alex Goodman is the perfect straight friend who is willing to give up part of his popularity if it means standing up for his new friend.

As for Lucas and Zach, I adored both from the very beginning.  Lucas just wants to be himself.  He wants to find love.  He wants friends.  Through no fault of his own he has a hard time doing all three.  Zach is perfect.  The star of the high school's swim team and an all around great guy.  He has to work hard to prove to Lucas that he is worthy but when he does it is done beautifully.

Overall, an outstanding book.  I discovered this author by accident a few months ago when I read her short story, Sock it to Me, Santa! a book which made it on my favorites of 2012 list.  When I saw that Play Me, I'm Yours  was coming out I could not read it fast enough.  Madison Parker has now gone on my very short author auto-buy list.  I can't wait to read more of her work.

This book was provided by Harmony Ink Press in exchange for a fair and honest review.