Tag Archives: LGBTQ Story

Blood Bound (Youkai Bloodlines Book 3) by Courtney Maguire Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A heartbreaking breakup between two immortals sends one on a quest to find comfort and warmth among humanity while the other struggles to keep the peace between their people and those they’ve made peace with in author Courtney Maguire’s “Blood Bound”, the third book in the Youkai Bloodlines series.

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The Synopsis

Two hundred years can strain even the seemingly eternal love of the youkai.

When Hideyoshi’s coldness drives them apart, Hiro finds comfort in his friendship with Takanori, a vociferous human man he met at a ramen shop and can’t seem to keep away from.. Everything Hiro had to fight for from Hideyoshi, Takanori gives freely, making it all too easy to turn away from his responsibilities–and Hideyoshi–in favor of something sweeter.

But while Hiro is off playing human, danger is brewing among the Youkai. Hideyoshi, still reeling from his breakup with Hiro, struggles to uphold the promise they made to the Hunter leader, Kyo, but the Youkai’s loyalty has been challenged by Hiro’s abrupt disappearance. With Hunters literally banging at the door, Hide must find a way to bring Hiro home or risk igniting the war they’ve spent the last two hundred years trying to prevent.

Content Warnings: graphic violence, terminal illness, depictions of grief and depression/mental illness, suicidal actions

The Review

As a relative newcomer to the series, I appreciated that the author did such a fantastic job of crafting a well-balanced narrative both for newcomers like myself and longtime fans of the series. The mythology and world-building the author did with the Youkai and the Hunters and the conflict that had brought them to this tumultuous point was amazing to dive into, for it gave a whole new mythological journey to the typical “vampire” story. 

The two things that stood out to me were the character growth these protagonists had and the attention to detail the author gave the inclusion of Japanese culture and history. The emphasis on the psychological and spiritual nature of who the Youkai are and their struggle to maintain their humanity gave weight and emotional pull to the character’s arcs, and made readers invested more into their personal developments over the narrative. Meanwhile, the author really did a fantastic job of conveying the emotions and heartbreak that comes with grief and loss, and really brought that raw pain to the pages early on, examining what the pain of loss is like for those who will always outlive those who surround them daily.

The Verdict

A masterful, entertaining, and incredible read, author Courtney Maguire’s “Blood Bound” is a must-read LGBTQ+ Fantasy novel. The attention to detail in the character’s backgrounds and sexuality perfectly mirrored the attention to detail surrounding Japanese culture and mythology and elevated the emotional undercurrent of themes surrounding grief and loss in this supernatural fantasy world the author has crafted. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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Blood Bound cover reveal - Courtney Maguire

Courtney Maguire has a new MM paranormal historical romance out, Youkai Bloodlines book 3: Blood Bound. And there’s a giveaway!

Two hundred years can strain even the seemingly eternal love of the youkai.

When Hideyoshi’s coldness drives them apart, Hiro finds comfort in his friendship with Takanori, a vociferous human man he met at a ramen shop and can’t seem to keep away from.. Everything Hiro had to fight for from Hideyoshi, Takanori gives freely, making it all too easy to turn away from his responsibilities–and Hideyoshi–in favor of something sweeter.

But while Hiro is off playing human, danger is brewing among the Youkai. Hideyoshi, still reeling from his breakup with Hiro, struggles to uphold the promise they made to the Hunter leader, Kyo, but the Youkai’s loyalty has been challenged by Hiro’s abrupt disappearance. With Hunters literally banging at the door, Hide must find a way to bring Hiro home or risk igniting the war they’ve spent the last two hundred years trying to prevent.

Warning: graphic violence, terminal illness, depictions of grief and depression/mental illness, suicidal actions

Publisher | Amazon | iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Universal Buy Link | Goodreads

Art Card Meme


Giveaway

Courtney is giving away a $10 Amazon Gift Card with this tour:

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Excerpt

Blood Bound Meme

Chapter 1: Trainwreck

Spring 2004

You can live a hundred lifetimes and the world will still surprise you, hit you like a high-speed train and drag you along the rails before dumping you off a thousand miles from where you started. Sometimes, the ride isn’t as violent as all that. Sometimes, it feels like a vacation, an escape, like falling in love. But, the end of the line is always the same—a broken, bloody mess far from home.

Sitting on a hard cobblestone path in my two-day-old funeral suit, I stared at a pillar of granite with his name on it, a fifth of Jack in my gut and my soul shattered into a million pieces. Aikawa Takanori—the name of the train that hit me.

A broad shadow fell over me and I closed my eyes against it. I knew who it was, knew the sound of his steps, the way the air trembled in his presence. Sakurai Hideyoshi. He sat down beside me on the stone path without a word, so close our shoulders touched. Over two hundred years had passed since the day we met, and his nearness still made my skin prickle. His fingers brushed against mine as he slipped the nearly empty bottle of whiskey out of my hands and raised it to his own lips.

“You knew it would end this way,” he said, his voice low and cold. Not a judgement or an accusation, just a statement of fact.

“If you’re here to lecture me, you can save it,” I said, snatching the bottle back out of his hand.

There was something shocking about seeing him again, sitting there like an inkblot on my vision. The same solid frame, the same dark features, sharp as cut granite and just as immovable. How much time had I spent pounding myself against that hardness, like the ocean against a rocky cliff, trying to break it away? Now I observed him as if from a distance. Something bitter pushed up against my grief, but there was no room for it, so it settled back into my gut. He had been my home before Takanori, but now he was almost unrecognizable. He hadn’t changed, of course. I was the one who was different.

“How long since you’ve drank something besides whiskey?”

“Not since—” I broke off, my eyes darting to the gravestone. My hands trembled as I took a long pull off the whiskey bottle. It could have been hours or years, every second since that day stretched into an eternity.

“Come with me,” he said, pulling himself gracefully to his feet. I didn’t move. “Hiro.”

“I can’t,” I choked. I struggled to breathe around the ball of grief wedged in my throat. He was here for a reason. He wanted something and I couldn’t give it to him. “I’m not…ready…”

“He’s dead. It doesn’t matter if you’re ready,” he barked. The words were sharp, the edge of a blade iced over, and they cut deep.

He grabbed the collar of my jacket and yanked me to my feet. Without even waiting for me to catch my balance, he turned and stomped off down the path. It had been this way since the day we met, Hideyoshi plodding ahead without looking back, so confident I would follow. I found it comforting somehow, like nothing had ever broken between us. We would always be Hideyoshi and Hiro. The shape of his back would never change. He would never get sick and die.

I ran my hand over Taka’s name on the granite and felt my heart tugged in two different directions. Another train had come, this one promising to take me back to somewhere familiar, but part of me was afraid. What if I got there and found it wasn’t my home at all anymore, but just another strange place that would leave me even more broken?

But, Hideyoshi was right. Taka was dead, the home I could have had here reduced to ashes. I had nowhere else to go.

My chest constricted and I cursed under my breath as I ran to catch up to Hideyoshi, falling in step just a few paces behind. The sun was setting as we exited the cemetery and darkness fell quickly over the narrow streets of Tokyo. Neon signs lit up one by one with an electric pop as we passed, the early evening crowds already taking their places in the izakayas that lined the street and disappearing into basement bars. Hideyoshi led me all the way to Ikebukuro and the busy streets surrounding Sunshine City. Wires hung like spider webs overhead, feeding power to the garish artificial light. Loud music and cigarette smoke filled the streets and the smell of sweaty bodies started a scratching under my skin that had me gritting my teeth.

He stopped in the most crowded part of the busy street and looked over his shoulder at me for the first time. My gut clenched. I knew what he wanted. I scowled and shook my head, but he simply pinned me with those needle-sharp eyes that didn’t take no for an answer until I relented.

His silent command: Sing.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. The scratching under my skin intensified and the sounds of the city died away as something else rose to the surface, something dark and dangerous. When my eyes opened again, the electric lights paled behind the glare of human life, every movement leaving a streaky after image in blue and white. My pulse sped and my mouth watered. I pulled in a deep breath and my voice rose from the depths with an old song, something traditional that took me back to a different Tokyo, and despite its terrible purpose, it warmed me. My heart swam in it, cleansed its wounds in it.


Author Bio

Courtney Maguire

Courtney Maguire is a University of Texas graduate from Corpus Christi, Texas. Drawn to Austin by a voracious appetite for music, she spent most of her young adult life in dark, divey venues nursing a love for the sublimely weird. A self-proclaimed fangirl with a press pass, she combined her love of music and writing as the primary contributor for Japanese music and culture blog, Project: Lixx, interviewing Japanese rock and roll icons and providing live event coverage for appearances across the country.

Author Website: https://www.courtneymaguirewrites.com/

Author Facebook (Personal): https://www.facebook.com/courtney.maguire.37

Author Facebook (Author Page): https://www.facebook.com/CourtneyMaguireWrites

Author Twitter: https://twitter.com/PretentiousAho

Author Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/courtneymaguirewrites/

Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19774498.Courtney_Maguire

Author QueeRomance Ink: https://www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/courtney-maguire/

Author Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/~/e/B082S34S7W

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Opposed Desires (Rehoboth Book 2) by Katherine McIntyre Review 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

When a woman known for her bravado and sexual casualness is confronted with a shock that brings down her defenses, the bar owner and woman that has made it a point to avoid her finds herself drawn to this new side of the woman during one fateful summer in author Katherine McIntyre’s “Opposed Desires”, the second book in the Rehoboth series. 

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The Synopsis 

Closet Romantic falling for the Hookup Queen? Never gonna happen… until one memorable vacation changes it all.

When it comes to women, Aubrey Moore believes in no-strings-attached hookups and keeping things simple. On her beach trip, her plan is clear—hit the bars and find single hotties. What she doesn’t bargain on is the phone call from her sister. Distraught, Aubrey would like to have a breakdown in private, but the one woman who’s never fallen for her slick lines takes her by surprise and blurs her simple rules.

The last thing owner of the Renegades bar, Selina Beckett, expects to see on vacation is Aubrey Moore in the middle of a personal crisis. Every time they meet, they clash—whether Aubrey was picking up women at Selina’s bar or flirting to try and get her attention. Selina’s not interested in flings, cheaters, or womanizers, so she’s made a point to avoid Aubrey at all costs. But this raw, real side of Aubrey convinces her to bend those rules, just a little.

The more Selina gets to know Aubrey beyond the bravado, the more she begins to fall. But each day closer to the end of their vacation marks a return to reality—one where this entanglement between them won’t survive.

The Review

This was a gripping and heated LGBTQ-driven romance! The author shows the perfect way to balance emotional storytelling with passionate and driven relationships between two protagonists that readers can relate to and root for. The exploration of two women who only know one another’s surface-level personas and grow close after those personas are shed was such an amazing storytelling tactic, as it explores what happens when what begins as an antagonistic relationship can quickly develop into a whirlwind romance overnight. Yet it was the way the author showed how much work and baggage this kind of relationship takes to work through that made the payoff of this relationship so enjoyable.

The author’s pacing of the narrative was what really sold this story to me. The set-up between these protagonists obviously set up this feud of sorts between two very different women, and yet the pacing allowed readers to see how the layers surrounding their feud were shed and the mystery behind both of their circumstances and mindsets on relationships as a whole came to be, allowing them to find a bond and connection neither thought possible.

The Verdict

Emotional, heartfelt, and sizzling, author Katherine McIntyre’s “Opposed Desires” is a must-read romance. The book is perfect for readers missing those steamy summer romances during these cold winter months, and fans of LGBTQ narratives that give purpose and the perfect amount of romance into the story will absolutely fall in love with this story. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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Opposed Desires - Katherine McIntyre

Katherine McIntyre has a new FF contemporary romance out: Opposed Desires. And there’s a giveaway!

Closet Romantic falling for the Hookup Queen? Never gonna happen… until one memorable vacation changes it all.

When it comes to women, Aubrey Moore believes in no-strings-attached hookups and keeping things simple. On her beach trip, her plan is clear—hit the bars and find single hotties. What she doesn’t bargain on is the phone call from her sister. Distraught, Aubrey would like to have a breakdown in private, but the one woman who’s never fallen for her slick lines takes her by surprise and blurs her simple rules.

The last thing owner of the Renegades bar, Selina Beckett, expects to see on vacation is Aubrey Moore in the middle of a personal crisis. Every time they meet, they clash—whether Aubrey was picking up women at Selina’s bar or flirting to try and get her attention. Selina’s not interested in flings, cheaters, or womanizers, so she’s made a point to avoid Aubrey at all costs. But this raw, real side of Aubrey convinces her to bend those rules, just a little.

The more Selina gets to know Aubrey beyond the bravado, the more she begins to fall. But each day closer to the end of their vacation marks a return to reality—one where this entanglement between them won’t survive.

Publisher | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CAN | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Universal Buy Link | Goodreads


Giveaway

Kathleen is giving away an Amazon gift card with this tour:

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Excerpt

Opposed Desires Meme

They reached the edge of the boardwalk, the sand and the sea stretching before them in a pale strip that clashed with the inky darkness of the waters. Something loosened in Selina’s chest at the sight. The ocean always calmed her, especially at night when most of the daytime rabble had retreated. She was used to being surrounded by people, but sometimes she preferred the solitude.

“I’m sorry for dragging you away from your friends,” Aubrey said, loosening her ponytail to run her fingers through her hair. The moonlight highlighted her deep brown strands, and the way they fell down to her shoulders made her seem a little softer than the sharp, pointed woman Selina’d come to know. She found this side of Aubrey far more alluring.

“I could’ve done this by myself,” Aubrey admitted. “I just lost my mind a little bit back there.”

“I wouldn’t have left if I didn’t want to.” Selina shrugged. “Bars aren’t really my scene.”

“Said the bar owner.” Aubrey gave her the side-eye. “Why even own one then?”

Selina swung her arms by her side, staring at the half moon overhead. It glowed with pearlescent promise, a steadiness she’d always longed for. “Spend your whole life traveling from one town to the next and you get desperate to set down roots. I wanted to create a safe space for folks like me, and I needed to stay in one place. Renegades ensured that.”

Aubrey shook her head, a throaty laugh escaping her throat. “I’ve known you for four years now, and I’m pretty sure that’s the most you’ve ever shared about yourself.”

“Well, we’re having a truce tonight,” Selina said. “Tomorrow I can go back to loathing you, and we can return to the usual witty repartee.”

Aubrey pointed at herself. “Me? Witty? Glad you think so, doll. I don’t keep track of half of the things that leave my mouth.”

“Good to know,” Selina murmured, a smile nudging her lips. The earnest note in Aubrey’s voice had her warming up to the woman far faster than she had in years. The lack of an agenda helped too. Selina slipped off her sandals to hold them in her hand, walking barefoot on the sandy shore. “Won’t the girls be wondering where you went?”

Aubrey shrugged. “They’ll assume I took someone home. It’s my MO when I pull the vanishing act.”

“That sounds pretty lonesome.” The words slipped out before she could help herself. Selina licked her lips, not knowing what to say. The salt air wove past her, caressing her senses.

“Different bed every night? How could that be lonely?” Aubrey joked, yet her voice scraped over the words like a tire crunching uneven rocks. She cast Selina a sideways glance. “Maybe a little,” she admitted, her dark eyes somber in the surrounding dark. The slight gleam from the moonlight only enhanced that sharp, vibrant beauty. This version of the woman, framed by moonlight and unguarded with her hair down, struck Selina as far more gorgeous than the sweet-talker she regularly saw at the bar.

Aubrey bent down to slide off her sneakers, and Selina couldn’t help but follow the motion. Those long legs were on full display, all corded muscle and defined calves, and the red shorts she wore showcased a gorgeous sculpted ass. Selina never argued that the woman was hot—Aubrey Moore undeniably, unequivocally raised her temperature, but she was also the exact sort of person Selina needed to avoid.

She wanted someone to settle down with. Someone who wouldn’t get bored, or cheat, or ditch her when the routine got too monotonous. Been there, done that. She’d learned her lessons well and committed them to heart.


Author Bio

Katherine McIntyre

Katherine McIntyre is a feisty chick with a big attitude despite her short stature. She writes stories featuring snarky women, ragtag crews, and men with bad attitudes—and there’s an equally high chance for a passionate speech thrown into the mix. As an eternal geek and tomboy who’s always stepped to her own beat, she’s made it her mission to write stories that represent the broad spectrum of people out there, from different cultures and races to all varieties of men and women.

Author Website: http://www.katherine-mcintyre.com

Author Facebook (Author Page): http://www.facebook.com/kmcintyreauthor

Author Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/pixierants

Author Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/authorkmcintyre

Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6473654.Katherine_McIntyre

Author Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Katherine-McIntyre/e/B00J8U4VNU

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The Stark Divide: Liminal Sky #1 by J. Scott Coatsworth Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

As Earth is on the verge of collapse, one of three ships makes the journey across the stars to find a new home as several generations look to become humanity’s future in author J. Scott Coatsworth’s “The Stark Divide”, the first in the Liminal Sky series. 

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The Synopsis

Some stories are epic.

The Earth is in a state of collapse, with wars breaking out over resources and an environment pushed to the edge by human greed.

Three living generation ships have been built with a combination of genetic mastery, artificial intelligence, technology, and raw materials harvested from the asteroid belt. This is the story of one of them—43 Ariadne, or Forever, as her inhabitants call her—a living world that carries the remaining hopes of humanity, and the three generations of scientists, engineers, and explorers working to colonize her.

From her humble beginnings as a seedling saved from disaster to the start of her journey across the void of space toward a new home for the human race, The Stark Divide tells the tales of the world, the people who made her, and the few who will become something altogether beyond human.

Humankind has just taken its first step toward the stars.

Book One of Liminal Sky

The Review

A truly engaging, emotional and heartfelt sci-fi epic that does a phenomenal job of setting up the saga the author has laid out before readers. The way the author is able to take a universally used concept of Earth on the verge of destruction and humanity’s last hope and blend this theme into a wholly original mythology and sci-fi goodness was a real work of art. 

The defining drive behind this novel was the amazing character development. These characters quickly became the heart of the story, showcasing the diversity and natural way the characters interacted with one another in this sci-fi epic story. The author’s use of LGBTQ+ characters felt natural and part of the fabric of this universe the author has created more than something forced, making these characters and their stories shine brighter than ever before. 

The Verdict

A truly one of a kind read filled with action, emotionally charged stories spanning multiple generations, and a wonderful cast of characters, this is a great sci-fi story that is not to be missed. The Stark Divide is a magnificent story filled with a unique mythology surrounding the survival of the human race, and the eloquent mixture of epic sci-fi with personal character growth and interactions make this a truly memorable read. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Scott spends his time between the here and now and the what could be. Ushered into fantasy and sci-fi at the tender age of nine by his mother, he devoured her library of Asimovs, Clarkes, and McCaffreys. But as he grew up, he wondered where the gay people were in speculative fiction.

He decided it was time to create the kinds of stories he couldn’t find at Waldenbooks. If there weren’t queer characters in his favorite genres, he would write them himself.

His friends say Scott’s brain works a little differently–he sees relationships between things that others miss, and often gets more done in a day than most folks manage in a week. He transforms traditional sci-fi, fantasy, and contemporary worlds into something unexpected.

He also runs Queer Sci Fi and QueeRomance Ink with his husband, Mark, sites that bring LGBTIQA communities together to celebrate fiction that reflects queer life and love.

Facebook Profile: www.facebook.com/jscottcoatsworth

Facebook Author Page: www.facebook.com/jscottcoatsworthauthor/

Author Website/Blog: www.jscottcoatsworth.com

Dreamspinner Page: www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/index.php?cPath=55_1189

QueeRomance Ink Author Page: www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/j-scott-coatsworth/

Goodreads Author Page: www.goodreads.com/author/show/8392709.J_Scott_Coatsworth

Amazon Author Page: www.amazon.com/J.-Scott-Coatsworth/e/B011AFO4OQ

Just Like That (Albin Academy #1) by Cole McCade Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young teacher returns to the school that tormented his youth, and is surprised by the bond he creates with his former teacher, who soon becomes something much more than colleagues in author Cole McCade’s “Just Like That”. 

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The Synopsis

Summer Hemlock never meant to come back to Omen, Massachusetts.

But with his mother in need of help, Summer has no choice but to return to his hometown, take up a teaching residency at the Albin Academy boarding school—and work directly under the man who made his teenage years miserable.

Professor Fox Iseya

Forbidding, aloof, commanding: psychology instructor Iseya is a cipher who’s always fascinated and intimidated shy, anxious Summer. But that fascination turns into something more when the older man challenges Summer to be brave. What starts as a daily game to reward Summer with a kiss for every obstacle overcome turns passionate, and a professional relationship turns quickly personal.

Yet Iseya’s walls of grief may be too high for someone like Summer to climb…until Summer’s infectious warmth shows Fox everything he’s been missing in life.

Now both men must be brave enough to trust each other, to take that leap.

To find the love they’ve always needed…

Just like that.

In Just Like That, critically acclaimed author Cole McCade introduces us to Albin Academy: a private boys’ school where some of the world’s richest families send their problem children to learn discipline and maturity, out of the public eye.

The Review

A powerful and emotional read, the author does a great job of building a complex story that focuses on character development above anything else. The bond between Summer and Professor Fox is engaging and real and draws the reader in immediately. 

The balance of the two characters and their personalities was unique to see unfold here, as was the way they balanced one another. From Summer’s submissive, quiet, and yet determined personality to Professor Fox’s strong, reserved, and more assured personality, these two drive home the romance and drama of the two character’s pasts, which compliments their growing bond as well. 

The Verdict

A moving, engaging, and emotional read that plunges the depths of the reader’s hearts, author Cole McCade’s novel “Just Like That” is a fantastic LGBTQ read that pushes the genre forward and creates memorable and relatable characters. If you haven’t yet be sure to grab your copies today! 

Rating: 10/10

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Buy Links

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1335146458 

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/just-like-that-cole-mccade/1135613577

Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/just-like-that/id1491922418 

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Cole_McCade_Just_Like_That?id=tsbEDwAAQBAJ 

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/just-like-that-12 

About the Author

Cole McCade is a New Orleans-born Southern boy without the Southern accent, currently residing somewhere in Seattle. He spends his days as a suit-and-tie corporate consultant and business writer, and his nights writing contemporary romance and erotica that flirts with the edge of taboo—when he’s not being tackled by two hyperactive cats. 

He also writes genre-bending science fiction and fantasy tinged with a touch of horror and flavored by the influences of his multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual background as Xen. He wavers between calling himself bisexual, calling himself queer, and trying to figure out where “demi” fits into the whole mess—but no matter what word he uses he’s a staunch advocate of LGBTQIA and POC representation and visibility in genre fiction. And while he spends more time than is healthy hiding in his writing cave instead of hanging around social media, you can generally find him in these usual haunts: 

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Excerpt

“Extinguisher first, then sand,” the voice ordered. “Dr. Liu, if you insist on getting in the way, at least make yourself useful and remove anything else flammable from the vicinity of the blaze. Quickly, now. Keep your mouths covered.”

Summer’s entire body tingled, prickled, as if his skin had drawn too tight. That voice—that voice brought back too many memories. Afternoons in his psychology elective class, staring down at his textbook and doodling in his notebook and refusing to look up, to look at anyone, while that voice washed over him for an hour. Summer knew that voice almost better than the face attached to it, every inflection and cadence, the way it could command silence with a quiet word more effectively than any shout.

And how sometimes it seemed more expressive than the cold, withdrawn expression of the man he remembered, standing tall and stern in front of a class of boys who were all just a little bit afraid of him.

Summer had never been afraid, not really.

But he hadn’t had the courage to whisper to himself what he’d really felt, when he’d been a hopeless boy who’d done everything he could to be invisible.

Heart beating harder, he followed the sound of that voice to the open doorway of a smoke-filled room, the entire chemistry lab a haze of gray and black and crackling orange; from what he could tell a table was…on fire? Or at least the substance inside a blackened beaker was on fire, belching out a seemingly never-ending, impossible billow of smoke and flame.

Several smaller fires burned throughout the room; it looked as though sparks had jumped to catch on notebooks, papers, books. Several indistinct shapes alternately sprayed the conflagration with fire extinguishers and doused it with little hand buckets of sand from the emergency kit in the corner of the room, everyone working clumsily one-handed while they held wet paper towels over their noses and mouths with the other.

And standing tall over them all—several teachers and older students, it looked like—was the one man Summer had returned to Omen to see.

Professor Iseya.

He stood head and shoulders above the rest, his broad-shouldered, leanly angular frame as proud as a battle standard, elegant in a trim white button-down tucked into dark gray slacks, suspenders striping in neat black lines down his chest. Behind slim glasses, his pale, sharply angled gray eyes flicked swiftly over the room, set in a narrow, graceful face that had only weathered with age into an ivory mask of quiet, aloof beauty.

The sleek slick of his ink-black hair was pulled back from his face as always—but as always, he could never quite keep the soft strands inside their tie, and several wisped free to frame his face, lay against his long, smooth neck, pour down his shoulders and back. He held a damp paper towel over his mouth, neatly folded into a square, and spoke through it to direct the frazzled-looking group with consummate calm, taking complete control of the situation.

And complete control of Summer, as Iseya’s gaze abruptly snapped to him, locking on him from across the room. “Why have you not evacuated?” Iseya demanded coldly, his words precise, inflected with a softly cultured accent. “Please vacate the premises until we’ve contained the blaze.”

Summer dropped his eyes immediately—habit, staring down at his feet. “Oh, um—I came to help,” he mumbled through the collar of his shirt.

A pause, then, “You’re not a student. Who are you?”

That shouldn’t sting.

But then it had been seven years, he’d only been in two of Iseya’s classes…and he’d changed, since he’d left Omen.

At least, he hoped he had.

That was why he’d run away, after all. To shake off the boy he’d been; to find himself in a big city like Baltimore, and maybe, just maybe…

Learn not to be so afraid.

But he almost couldn’t bring himself to speak, while the silence demanded an answer. “I’m not a student anymore,” he corrected, almost under his breath. “It’s…it’s me. Summer. Summer Hemlock. Your new TA.” He made himself look up, even if he didn’t raise his head, peeking at Iseya through the wreathing of smoke that made the man look like some strange and ghostly figure, this ethereal spirit swirled in mist and darkness. “Hi, Professor Iseya. Hi.”

Copyright © 2020 by Cole McCade

Music From Another World by Robin Talley Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Two young penpals discover a far deeper connection than either realized during a time of the fight for social change in author Robin Talley’s “Music From Another World.”

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The Synopsis

It’s summer 1977 and closeted lesbian Tammy Larson can’t be herself anywhere. Not at her strict Christian high school, not at her conservative Orange County church and certainly not at home, where her ultrareligious aunt relentlessly organizes antigay political campaigns. Tammy’s only outlet is writing secret letters in her diary to gay civil rights activist Harvey Milk…until she’s matched with a real-life pen pal who changes everything.

Sharon Hawkins bonds with Tammy over punk music and carefully shared secrets, and soon their letters become the one place she can be honest. The rest of her life in San Francisco is full of lies. The kind she tells for others—like helping her gay brother hide the truth from their mom—and the kind she tells herself. But as antigay fervor in America reaches a frightening new pitch, Sharon and Tammy must rely on their long-distance friendship to discover their deeply personal truths, what they’ll stand for…and who they’ll rise against.

A master of award-winning queer historical fiction, New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley once again brings to life with heart and vivid detail an emotionally captivating story about the lives of two teen girls living in an age when just being yourself was an incredible act of bravery.

The Review

This book is unique in that it speaks of the fight for equality for the LGBT community in the ’70s, yet can easily speak to the struggles facing that very same community today. The battle against hatred and violence not only from the outside world but the people who are supposed to love you most is felt strongly throughout this novel from both protagonists and those in their lives. 

Novels need to have an emotional component to a tale such as this, to keep the readers invested and to showcase the very real struggles facing the LGBT community, and the author does a fantastic job of creating a setting and characters that do just that. The conflicted feelings of identity, love, and friendship during this era that demonized anyone who didn’t fit into a specific box really drove the narrative forward, crafting a unique story that really speaks to the heart. 

The Verdict

An emotional evenly paced read with an impactful cast of characters, author Robin Talley’s “Music From Another World” is a stellar read that captures a gripping era of social change and the fight it took to get there. The brutal struggle of being surrounded by religious-based hatred towards an entire group and fighting to understand themselves, the protagonists bring readers on a whirlwind journey that many can get behind. If you haven’t yet, grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Robin Talley studied literature and communications at American University. She lives in Washington, DC, with her wife, but visits both Boston and New York regularly despite her moral opposition to Massachusetts winters and Times Square. Her first book was 2014’s Lies We Tell Ourselves. Visit her online at robintalley.com or on Twitter at @robin_talley.

Social Links:

Author website: https://robintalley.com/

Facebook: @robintalleywrites

Twitter: @robin_talley.

Instagram: @robin_talley.

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6469490.Robin_Talley

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Music-Another-World-Robin-Talley/dp/1335146776

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/music-from-another-world-robin-talley/1131130958#/

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335146779

Books-A-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Music-from-Another-World/Robin-Talley/9781335146779?id=7833509719461

AppleBooks: https://books.apple.com/us/book/music-from-another-world/id1458725405

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Robin_Talley_Music_from_Another_World?id=yEy7DwAAQBAJ

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Excerpt

Excerpted from Music from Another World by Robin Talley. © 2020 by Robin Talley, used with permission by Inkyard Press.

Tuesday, June 7, 1977

Dear Harvey,

I hope it’s okay for me to call you Harvey. In school, when they taught us to write letters, they said adults should always be addressed as “Mr.” or “Mrs.,” but from what I’ve read in the newspaper, you don’t seem much like the adults I know. I’d feel wrong calling you “Mr. Milk.”

Besides, it’s not as if I’m ever going to send you this letter. I’ve never kept a diary before, but things have been getting harder lately, and tonight might be the hardest night of all. I need someone I can talk to. Even if you can’t answer back.

Plus, I told Aunt Mandy I couldn’t join the prayer circle because I had too much homework. Tomorrow’s the last day of school, so I don’t have any homework, but she doesn’t know that. If I keep writing in this notebook, maybe she’ll think homework is really what I’m doing.

I guess I could write to my new “pen pal” instead. That might count as homework. It would be closer than writing a fake letter to a famous San Francisco homosexual, anyway, but I can’t handle the thought of writing to some stranger right now.

Technically you’re a stranger, too, Harvey, but you don’t feel like one. That’s why I wanted to write to you, instead of “Dear Diary” or something.

It’s ironic, though, that my pen pal lives in San Francisco, too. I wonder if she’s ever met you. How big is the city, anyway? I read a magazine article that said gay people could hold hands walking down the street there, and no one minds. Is that true?

Ugh. The prayer circle’s starting over. Brett and Carolyn are leading the Lord’s Prayer again. It’s probably the only prayer they know.

We’ve been cooped up in the church basement for five hours now—my whole family, plus the youth group, plus a bunch of the other Protect Our Children volunteers. Along with Aunt Mandy and Uncle Russell, of course. The results from Miami should come in any minute.

You probably already know this—wait, who am I kidding? Of course you know, Harvey—but there was a vote today in Florida. They were voting on homosexuality, so our church, New Way Baptist, was heavily involved, even though we’re on the opposite side of the country. Everyone in our youth group was required to volunteer. I worked in the office Aunt Mandy and Uncle Russell set up in their den, answering phones and putting together mailings and counting donations to the New Way Protect Our Children Fund. We had bake sales and car washes to raise money to send to Anita Bryant, too.

You know all about Anita Bryant, obviously. You’re probably just as scared of her as I am. Although, come to think of it, whenever I see you in the newspaper, you look the opposite of afraid. In pictures, you’re always smiling.

Don’t you get anxious, having everyone know? I’m terrified all the time, and no one even knows about me yet. I hope they never find out. 

Maybe I should pray for that. Ha.

Okay, the Lord’s Prayer is over and now Uncle Russell’s making everyone silently call on God to save the good Christians of Florida from sin. I hope I can keep writing without getting in trouble.

Ugh, look at them all, showing off how devout they are. The only two people in this room who aren’t clasping their hands in front of them and moving their lips dramatically are me and Aunt Mandy, but that’s because I’m a grievous sinner—obviously—and Aunt Mandy keeps peeking out from her shut eyes at the phone next to her.

I’m not sure how much you can concentrate on God when you’re solely focused on being ready to snatch up the receiver the second it starts to shake. Maybe she’ll grab it so hard, it’ll crush to a pulp in her fist like one of Anita Bryant’s fucking Florida oranges.

I wonder what you’re doing tonight, Harvey. Probably waiting by your phone, too. Only you’re in San Francisco, and if you’re praying, you’re praying for the opposite of what Aunt Mandy and everyone else in our church basement is praying for.

It seems pointless to pray now, though. The votes have already been cast, so we’re just waiting to hear the results. There’s a reporter from my aunt and uncle’s favorite radio station in L.A. sitting at the back of the room, ready to interview Uncle Russell once we know what happened. Even though we basically already do.

My mom showed up at church tonight with a box of balloons from the supermarket, but Aunt Mandy wouldn’t let anyone touch them until the announcement, so at the moment the box is sitting in the closet under a stack of old communion trays. The second that phone starts to ring, though, 

I just bet Aunt Mandy’s going to haul out that box and make us all start blowing up those crappy balloons.

I wonder if you’ve heard of my aunt. She wants you to. She knows exactly who you are, of course—you’re her enemy.

Which makes me your enemy, too, I guess. I’m not eighteen, and it’s not as if I could’ve voted in an election in Miami even if I were, but I’ve still spent the past two months folding up comic books about the destruction of Sodom to mail out to churches in Florida.

I’m a soldier for Christ. That’s what Aunt Mandy calls me, anyway. And since I do everything she says, she must be right.

Writing to you instead of praying with the others is the closest I’ve ever come to rebelling. That’s how much of a coward I am, Harvey.

I wish I had the nerve to tell my aunt to go shove it. That’s what I’d really pray for—the nerve, I mean. If I thought prayer ever helped anything.

Shit, the phone’s ringing. More later.

Tammy

Burn Zone (Hotshots #1) by Annabeth Albert

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Desire and danger lurk as a seasoned fire rescue crew member Linc finds the younger brother of his late best friend Jacob joining the crew, stirring up old feelings despite a promise never to pursue anything that he made to Jacob’s brother years earlier in author Annabeth Albert’s “Burn Zone”. 

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The Synopsis

Danger lurks everywhere for Central Oregon’s fire crews, but the biggest risk of all might be losing their hearts…

Smoke jumper Lincoln Reid is speechless to see Jacob Hartman among his squad’s new recruits. Linc had promised his late best friend he’d stay away from his little brother. And yet here Jacob is…and almost instantly, the same temptation Linc has always felt around him is causing way too many problems.

Jacob gets everyone’s concerns, but he’s waited years for his shot at joining the elite smoke jumping team, hoping to honor his brother’s memory. He’s ready to tackle any challenge Linc throws his way, and senses the chemistry between them—chemistry Linc insists on ignoring—is still alive and kicking. This time, Jacob’s determined to get what he wants.

Close quarters and high stakes make it difficult for Linc to keep his resolve, never mind do so while also making sure the rookie’s safe. But the closer they get, the more Linc’s plan to leave at the end of the season risks him breaking another promise: the one his heart wants to make to Jacob.

The Review

This is definitely an emotional, steamy, and engaging read for those who like passionate LGBTQ romance reads with a hint of action, drama, and intensity. The character development and ongoing struggle of the characters felt relatable. 

From Linc’s growing desire and a mixture of guilt combining with his own identity within the fire rescue crew community he had been engaged with for years to Jacob’s desire to honor his brother’s legacy and finally earn the respect of his family and the people his brother and Linc had worked with for years, the struggles of these two’s lives when combined with the intense romance brewing between them made for a compelling read. 

The Verdict

A gripping evenly paced read, author Annabeth Albert’s “Burn Zone”, the first in the Hotshots series, is a must-read for any fans of the LGBTQ romance/contemporary genre. A fantastic setting and heart-pounding look into the world of fire rescue crews, the story of these two men, and the journey they go on together is something readers will not be able to put down. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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Buy Links

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Burn-Zone-Hotshots-Book-1-ebook/dp/B07YCQ7VQW

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/burn-zone-annabeth-albert/1133792901

iTunes: https://books.apple.com/us/book/burn-zone/id1481346634

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/burn-zone-2

Google: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Annabeth_Albert_Burn_Zone?id=3eWxDwAAQBAJ

About Annabeth Albert

Annabeth Albert grew up sneaking romance novels under the bed covers. Now, she devours all subgenres of romance out in the open—no flashlights required! When she’s not adding to her keeper shelf, she’s a multi-published Pacific Northwest romance writer.

Emotionally complex, sexy, and funny stories are her favorites both to read and to write. Annabeth loves finding happy endings for a variety of pairings and is a passionate gay rights supporter.  In between searching out dark heroes to redeem, she works a rewarding day job and wrangles two children.

Connect with Annabeth Albert

Website: http://annabethalbert.com/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AnnabethAlbert 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/annabethalbert 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/annabeth_albert/ 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6477494.Annabeth_Albert 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Annabeth-Albert/e/B00LYFFAZK 

Author Q&A

BURN ZONE is the first book in the Hotshots series. What three words best describe BURN ZONE?

Danger, heat, and loyalty! All three words apply on multiple levels here! 

What is Linc’s most surprising quality?

His tenderness. Linc’s deep and abiding loyalty is what people notice first with him, but it’s his private tenderness with Jacob that surprised (and delighted!!!) me the most with him. 

What quality do you love most about Jacob?

Jacob is fearless and tenacious. He knows what he wants and he goes for it, full tilt, whether that thing is his older brother’s best friend, Linc, or smoke jumping.  

BURN ZONE is full of amazing tropes: age difference, grumpy & the sunshine one, older brother’s best friend, rookie/experienced expert, and hurt/comfort. Which trope was the most fun to write for Linc and Jacob’s story?

I knew going into this that this was going to be a deeper examination of best friend’s little brother trope.  I did best friend’s brother with At Attention (Out of Uniform, book #2), but the stakes were lower than they are here as far as the familial relationship. I wanted the characters to have to really grapple with some big feelings. And those feelings give rise to some of my favorite hurt/comfort scenes that I’ve done. All the tropes play together to make this one of my favorite books I’ve done—I loved watching my initial idea of angsty brother’s best friend evolve and grow with the other tropes. 

What would you like readers to take away from reading Linc and Jacob’s story?

Sometimes the heart knows what it wants and won’t stop until it gets its way. Linc and Jacob are meant to be, even in face of opposition and adversity. Their relationship is ill-advised—they work together, Linc’s his mentor, and he’s Jacob’s older brother’s best friend. On paper, they are terrible for each other, but in actuality, they are perfect for each other, the missing half to the other’s heart. They’ve been in love, in a way, for years and years, and all that longing pays off in explosive chemistry. I think what I want readers to take away from this story is “Trust your heart. The rest will follow.” If you trust in your heart, then all the obstacles can be tackled, one by one. 

Who was your favorite secondary character to write in BURN ZONE?

Garrick! He gets book 2, HIGH HEAT, coming to you in July from me and Carina Press! I can’t WAIT for you to meet Garrick and Rain! 

Where did the inspiration for the Hotshots series come from?

I wanted to do a Central Oregon series, and after spending time in the region on family trips, I was fascinated by how much of the summer season is dominated by wildfire risk. After writing Rough Terrain (Out of Uniform, book #7), I really, really wanted to do more parachute-loving characters, and what’s better than one hero who likes to jump out of planes? Two! And a whole team of them! I wanted to return to the team feeling from Out of Uniform with a close-knit fire community in a part of the country that I truly love. 

Writing about smoke jumpers in Oregon must have resulted in some interesting research for the Hotshots series. What’s the most interesting or surprising thing you’ve learned so far? 

So much amazing research! One thing that I loved finding out about was how smoke jumpers repair a lot of their own gear. They are responsible for repairing and maintaining their equipment and a lot of time that means sewing and other highly dexterous tasks that you might not associate with rough-and-ready firefighters. 

BURN ZONE and the Hotshots series returns to the ‘band of brothers’ feel readers loved in your Out of Uniform Series. What do you love about writing the ‘band of brothers’ feel into your books? 

I love loyal groups bound by more than just friendship or family. I love people brought together by a shared passion for serving their community. I love putting them in the sort of life-and-death situations that our real life frontline heroes face. Loyalty to each other goes far beyond a job. It’s a calling, and sometimes it results in sacrifices. I like to honor that hard work and sacrifice in my books and pay tribute to these heroic vocations. It’s inspiring and also fascinating, examining the community created by people brought together to serve the greater good. 

HIGH HEAT, the second Hotshots book comes out this summer. What can readers expect from Garrick’s story?

I loved every single thing about writing BURN ZONE, but Garrick was one of my favorite parts. He’s a foil for both Linc and Jacob, and he’s the sort of freewheeling, easy spirit that absolutely embodies the smoke jumping community. But what happens when that job, that community is threatened by an injury beyond your control? Garrick’s book was a chance for me to delve deep into what happens when life doesn’t go according to plan. But it’s also a tremendously fun book. There’s a dog in need of a home, a kinky new younger neighbor, a hot tub, and shenanigans aplenty as Garrick and his co-hero Rain, discover what truly makes a home. With the whole series, you can expect fire drama in the background and lots of adrenaline pumping, but also deep, meaningful feelings and warm, squishy endings.  

High School Queens (The High School Queens Trilogy #1) by Zachary Ryan Review

TRIGGER WARNING: THIS NOVEL DEALS WITH THEMES OF SELF-HARM, EATING DISORDERS AND MORE. READER DISCRETION ADVISED. 

A group of young teens facing the last few months of their high school lives at an elite prep school discover a threat hiding in the shadows, threatening to expose the secret lives they are all leading in author Zachary Ryan’s novel “High School Queens”. Here is the synopsis. 

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The Synopsis 

They all thought they did a masterful job of keeping their secrets close to their chest. These stupid fools thought they were the high court of this kingdom, but they had no clue who was really pulling the strings. You might wonder to yourself, who would be that heartless to make them backstab their friends, expose other’s secrets, and lose their morals? You don’t need to know who I am, but you better remember my name, The Marked Queen.

Danielle, Andrew, Delilah, Aman, and Jasmine all are now faced with a mysterious villain whose one goal is to ruin each of their lives. They must protect their secrets at all cost, or they’ll be the next victim on Marked Day. They know what’s at stake, and they’ll stop at nothing to continue being: the rich spoiled girl, the normal teenager, the girl who isn’t banging the principal, the straight vlogger, and the girl who isn’t her dad’s punching bag. What happens when The Marked Queen changes up the game just in time for prom? Will each of our favorite puppets survive? Or are they willing to backstab each other just to keep up their personas? The only thing lost at this prom wasn’t going to be their virginity.

Sex, Lies, and High School Queens explores the major theme of self-acceptance. Can they learn to accept all their flaws or pray victim to The Marked Queen? Each chapter continues to fill your sweet tooth until the climactic moment at the prom where you get to have that final bite of the bitch cake you’ve been dying to consume.

The Review

 What a fun, dramatic and engaging read. The writing style was incredibly unique, as readers jumped from character to character in each chapter, with a personal narration of the character’s growing problems from the mysterious figures hiding in the shadows, waiting to expose each person’s secrets. 

From hiding their sexuality from the world and their families, to keeping their self-destructive tendencies to themselves and the lifestyles they find themselves forced to live in, each character has an intense and profound secret that defines their journey, and readers will watch not only as each character finds their rock bottom, but the lengths to which they will go to keep their secrets to themselves. 

The Verdict

This is a must read novel for any LGBTQ Drama/Romance fans out there in the YA world. A powerful character study of the problems teens are faced with nowadays, the mystery of the Marked Queen and their plans for the elite members of the prep school play out like the high octane drama of the hit series Pretty Little Liars, with a bit less murder. Who is the Marked Queen, and what is his/her ultimate goal? Find out in author Zachary Ryan’s novel “High School Queens”, the first in the High School Queens saga, today! 

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Zachary Ryan grew up in a black-and-white box in Maryland, before moving to Chicago to start a new life. There, he found that he was accepted for his misfit status—and learned that it’s perfectly normal to spend your twenties feeling lost and confused.

After a disastrous sexual encounter, Ryan stumbled on a group of true friends, or “soul cluster,” that he connected with. Through his writing, he hopes to help other broken souls out there find comfort amid the chaos.

https://zacharyryanbooks.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Zacharyryanbooks/

This Side of Paradise by TK Olsen Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Once in a while you come across an author who is able to engage an audience in a matter of just a few simple pages, and that’s what we have today. Author TK Olsen has brought to life an incredible story of two men from very different cultures who find their own personal paradise in the short story This Side of Paradise. Here’s the synopsis:

“Huritt looked gorgeous in his suit, albeit very out of place. He had lovely tan skin, a color only Jin could dream of achieving, and dark brown eyes, lighter than Jin’s almost black ones. They both had short, messy dark-brown, almost black hair, and Huritt was just a tad taller than Jin; however, that wasn’t much as Jin was blessed with being almost six feet in the height department. Huritt also had calloused hands and strong lines of his face, smoothed out by the softness of his skin and slight roundness of his cheeks. Jin hadn’t really experienced races outside of his own, this really was his first time meeting a Native person in real life; however, he was drawn to the male in ways that made his heart soared and his father’s legacy cry. Huritt was beyond gorgeous and Jin’s father was going to kill him.”

The story of two boys and how they found their side of paradise.

The story was very thought-provoking and entertaining. The story of Jin and Huritt is amazing to watch unfold, bringing a natural and emotional LGBTQ romance to life while exploring two people who fall in love despite their very different cultural upbringings. It showcases the struggle members of the LGBTQ community go through when living in a culture or family that abhors people who simply want to love who they love, and the struggle to find happiness and peace while living in that kind of hostile environment that forces young people to repress who they really are.

It’s a very impactful story that is also a quick read, coming in at only 18 pages or so. Yet in that short amount of time you come to know Jin intimately and see his struggle and his passion for Huritt come to life. These characters are so engaging that you will be left wanting to explore their lives even more, and that’s what true storytelling is all about. If you haven’t yet be sure to pick up your copies of TK Olsen’s This Side of Paradise today!

Rating: 10/10

https://amzn.to/2tOdLHM