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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-03-25 05:03
Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit
Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit - Jaye Robin Brown

Word of Caution: If you hate the Big Misunderstanding trope, then avoid this book, because the entire thing hinges on it. Not only is it a "big misunderstanding" but it's perpetuated by one character consistently lying to everyone, and not even for a very good reason. Well, she thinks it's a good reason. Me? Not so much.

 

This is the second F/F book in a row with a punk lesbian. I guess this is a common enough thing to already be a recognizable trope? Aren't there country-loving lesbians? Or jazz-loving lesbians? Or hip-hop loving lesbians? WHERE ARE MY HIP-HOP LESBIANS?

 

But seriously, this book is both complicated and simple. It's told in a simple, rather straightforward way that rarely delves into the depths that this book could easy delve into given the subject matter, mainly how do LGBTQ+ individuals who need faith in their lives deal with the hurtful messages that too many churches STILL put out there because they're stuck in medieval times. I was looking forward to that aspect of it, because too often the one sole religious person in M/M books often acts like he or she could be an offshoot of the Westboro Church family tree. I know many people of faith, some who are close-minded in that way, but others who really embrace Jesus's teachings about acceptance and loving each other without judgment. So let's look at both sides of the spectrum and everything else in between here, right?! Except it never really happens. *sigh*

 

Jo's dad, who runs his own evangelical radio show, accepted his daughter without hesitation when she came out to him. And now that he's remarried and his new MIL has a stick up her butt about EVERYTHING, and because they've moved to a more conservative, smaller town, he asks Jo to lay low. That is, go back in the closet. And she agrees. So she can get her own radio show that she unironically calls "Keep It Real." I say unironically because she's completely unaware of the irony of the title while she's lying about herself to everyone around her. 

 

Except one boy she meets and befriends. She tells him immediately. Which pretty much pulls the rug out from under her every other time she tries to explain to herself why she can't tell the truth to her girlfriend she's so super in love with. Oh, no! Can't do that! And it leads to one ridiculous, cliched "twist" after another until I just wanted to smack her Cher-style.

 

 

Oh, Cher. Where are you when we need you most?

 

I do like the various different characters. There's a weird subplot with Dana. It was nice to see how Joanna and Elizabeth eventually work out their issues. When Joanna does finally stand up for herself, that's pretty great too but comes a bit too late in the story, so that everything after that is rushed. Joanna overall is a passive character and except for that one moment of backbone, she never really stops being passive. Barnum was great, as were George and Gemma. The pastor of the other church, the not-friendly-to-gays one, has this weird quasi-transformation, maybe? It doesn't really go anywhere. 

 

So I guess there's a hopeful message in here. And I guess this is eventually about being true to yourself, even when that self isn't who you originally thought it was. But for each thing I found to like, there was another thing that annoyed me in equal measure.

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review 2017-01-22 04:07
Semper Fi
Semper Fi - Keira Andrews

4.5 stars for the war flashbacks; 3 stars for the post-war scenes

3.75 stars final rating, rounded up

 

I liked the flashbacks that started out each chapter, going back to boot camp and the various fights and shore leaves they had during the war. We meet some secondary characters that they fought with and get to see how Cal and Jim became inseparable during WWII. The flashbacks steadily grew in tension as the war progressed and they got closer to Okinawa. There was a great sense of place in them, and maybe it's just all the rain we're currently getting here in SoCal, but I felt like I was drenched right along with these guys as they suffered one monsoon season after another. They weren't too graphic, but the second to last one is the most detailed in the war horrors they faced. 

 

It's a good thing those scenes are there, because once we get to the "present" day timeline of 1948, it becomes a pretty commonplace romance. Cal secretly pines for Jim, believing Jim can never feel the same. Jim slowly comes to realize just what all these feelings he has for Cal really means, and he struggles to accept them. But there was just too much pointless sex after awhile. Which is a shame because some of those sex scenes early on were actually pretty hot, but then they just got predictable and boring, at least for me. 

 

This wasn't a gay-okay rewrite of history. They have to discuss how to keep things a secret, as homosexuality was illegal back then, and discuss living arrangements. They go through some struggles that were believable for the times. Though... for guys trying to keep things on the downlow, they choose some questionable places to have sex. Honestly, they act more like hormonal teens than grown men at times.

 

Jim's kids were mostly great. Adam's just a tike and doesn't do much. Sophie's more of a focus and is the main obstacle Cal has to overcome when he first arrives on Jim's orchard. She was written pretty well, but there were a couple of times where I couldn't really believe her dialogue as being that of an eight-year old. The sentiment behind the words was fine, but the way she expressed herself sometimes felt a little too old for her.

 

There's also a little "mystery" about Jim's wife and her death. It was interesting, and not really all that hard to figure out. It's a common enough story for soldiers returning after years away at war.

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review 2016-12-13 06:20
Sex & Sourdough
Sex & Sourdough - A.J. Thomas

Those of you familiar with Thomas's Least Likely Partnership series will likely go into this one with certain expectations, or at least I did. This didn't meet that expectation. It's not nearly as intense or in depth, and really is more of a contemporary romance than anything else, which is why it kind of threw me out of the book in the last half as Thomas moved the story into a more similar themed direction as the LLP series and it doesn't really fit.

 

I really liked the first half with the hiking and how the MCs got to know each other. I liked that they became friends first and that they moved into "something more" more gradually than you tend to see in contemporaries. There was no insta-lust or insta-love here, and it felt more real and genuine to me when they finally realized what they meant to each other. Especially considering all they have to get over first. Anders is coming out of an emotionally abusive relationship, and Kevin is grappling with a terminal diagnosis and is convinced he can't allow himself to get close to anyone. The hiking culture was well done, though I would've like more descriptions of the trail and the places they saw and passed through. It didn't need to be Tolkien levels of description, but I wanted more than the sketches we were given to really put me in the various locations.

 

The second half got a little melodrama llama. We find out that things weren't all as they seemed as far as Anders and his family -

he's just as bad at communication with his parents as Kevin is with his mother and sister

(spoiler show)

- and things escalate with Joel. While such things do happen in real life, this felt manufactured for the sake of drama and ended up feeling over the top. The tiny little mystery Thomas just has to include wasn't all that mysterious and again felt manufactured just for the sake of it. She also never makes it very clear

just how much Anders told Kevin about his visit to see Kevin's family. Anders accidentally outs Kevin, both his sexuality and his illness, and we never see the conversation they have when Anders explains this to Kevin. It's referred to later in passing, so you can conclude that Anders indeed told him everything, thus avoiding any Big Misunderstanding. But since the last half seemed to be going all-in for the cliches, I was expecting a Big Misunderstanding just from the fact we didn't see the conversation happen.

(spoiler show)

The second half could've used some tighter editing and storytelling, for sure, but I still liked seeing Anders's parents and seeing Anders finally make some decisions and figure some things out.

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review 2016-12-13 06:15
We Are the Ants
We Are the Ants - Shaun David Hutchinson

Trigger Warnings: discussion of suicide, suicide ideation, bullying

(including physical and attempted sexual assault),

(spoiler show)

depression,

miscarriage

(spoiler show)

; to a lesser degree, alcoholism, drug use. Also abduction and non-consenual medical procedures/experiments (because aliens). I would really strongly urge anyone thinking of reading this to make sure you're in a good head space, even if these aren't particular triggers for you .This is a pretty grim book most of the time, though it does lighten up somewhat in the second half.

 

So after thinking about this all weekend, I'm going to have to separate out my thoughts on this one. Since I read it for a YA group, that did shift how I read it and what I was looking at while reading. I think as a YA book, it really depends on the kid, and probably not suitable for kids younger than 15 or 16 (depending of course on the maturity of the individual child). It would be one I'd want to discuss with any kid who is reading it because of it's very heavy subject matter, and because it's written so evocatively that it really pulls you into the MC's head space, which is rather dark and dreary for a good portion of the book. I was also thinking that this isn't a book that would've appealed to me as a teen because this is the last thing I'd want to read while also surviving high school. Just, no thank you. I'm also baffled why sex in YA is such a no-no, but

sexual assault

(spoiler show)

gets a pass, along with underage drinking and illegal drug use, both of which are done with parental approval. I can't even say it was under parental supervision, because, well... I don't think it counts as supervision when the parent is smoking with the kid. So as a book aimed at YA age groups, it's not very YA-friendly. Parental advisory, and all that, I guess.

 

All that being said, if I'd been reading this on my own without taking all that other stuff into consideration, it's easily 4.5 stars. This is pretty much everything I look for in a book. I could sink my teeth into it, there was plenty to make me think, and it did a bang-up job of getting me into the MC's mental state, which is not always easy to do with stories centered around depression. Not all depressions are the same, not everyone experiences it the same way, but I grew up with a mother who was suffering from depression and I've had my bouts with it myself. There's a fine line between getting the essence of depression across to the reader and making it feel authentic to the character's experiences and thoughts versus "I just read the DSM description and browsed through WebMD, and this is what depression is!" type of portrayals of mental illness. It's kind of the same difference when watching a movie and seeing the character vs seeing the actor playing the character. I can't speak for anyone else and would never presume to, but in my experiences, this book gets depression right.

 

As for the aliens...

whether they ever existed at all or where just hallucinations that Henry conjured to give himself something else to focus his pain, anger and confusion on, that's left open-ended. If they're real, then it's highly likely the world is going to end. If they're not real, then their absence at the end signals a new beginning for Henry. Things in Henry's life are still far from perfect, but they are starting to look up. We're not told, and it's up to the reader to decide. At least I know which ending I would pick.

(spoiler show)

 

I really liked Diego and Audrey, who were great friends for Henry, and I even came to like his family - kind of. :P Ms. Faraci was great. While I hated Marcus and the other bullies, I did appreciate that Marcus was given depth without turning this into yet another bully apologist bullcrap plot line like the last two books I read that centered on bullying.

(Though I'm not a fan of the "MC is secretly sleeping with his in-the-closet bully" trope. This is the third YA m/m book I've read this year with this trope, and it in fact reminded me so much of [book:Reasons to Love a Nerd Like Me|25823439] - which I did not like - that I was constantly comparing them while I read because they hit all of the same plot points and at pretty much the same pace and for the same reasons. Aliens aside, of course.)

(spoiler show)
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review 2016-09-13 04:06
Motel. Pool.
Motel. Pool. - Kim Fielding

A ghost love story is a new one for me, and not my usual kind of read, but as ever, Kim Fielding delivers a wonderful, character-driven story. As with Rattlesnake, this is a bit on the insta-love side but it's so adeptly written and the characters given such depth that it didn't bother it. She made me believe it, which is made even more surreal because Jack is a fricking ghost!

 

I'm also not usually one to go in for angsty stories, but I love angst when it's done well and it has meaning beyond just making the characters (and the readers) suffer. Jack is a ghost who doesn't know why he's lingering here but left behind a trail of bad decisions and unfulfilled dreams. Tag is a young man raised by alcoholic and mentally unstable parents. He expects the worst and so makes sure that it happens, also leaving behind a trail of bad decisions and unfulfilled dreams. Jack provides a temptation for Tag - the end of living and suffering - and Tag offers Jack an opportunity to get away from the lonely, shutdown motel he's been haunting for the last sixty years. They live in counterpoint to each other, and in each other find respite from their loneliness. 

 

I had no idea where this story was going to go, which is a rare thing to say in m/m or any romance for that matter. I had no idea how it would be resolve - or if it even would be - and I admit to getting a little misty-eyed a time or two. Ok, maybe more than just a little, and that's rare for me too.

 

This story is a gem and even worth a reread at some point.

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