Hi, everyone, and many thanks to Queer Romance Ink for inviting The Novel Approach Reviews to become a contributing member of the community! We’ll be stopping by every Friday with a handful of some of our favorite reads reviewed during the week, so if you’re looking for a good book to curl up with and get you through the weekend, we might have just the recommendation for you.
A Boy Worth Knowing by Jennifer Cosgrove
Publisher: NineStar Press
Length: 173 Pages
Category: Young Adult, Paranormal
Blurb: Ghosts can’t seem to keep their opinions to themselves.
Seventeen-year-old Nate Shaw should know; he’s been talking to them since he was twelve. But they aren’t the only ones making his high school years a living hell. All Nate wants is to keep his secret and keep his head down until he can graduate. That is, until the new boy, James Powell, takes a seat next to him in homeroom. James not only notices him, he manages to work his way into Nate’s life. But James has issues of his own.
Between dead grandmothers and living aunts, Nate has to navigate the fact that he’s falling in love with his only friend, all while getting advice from the most unusual places.
Ghosts, bullies, first love: it’s a lot to deal with when you’re just trying to survive senior year.
The Brief: A Boy Worth Knowing is one of the best YA books I’ve read recently. Wonderfully realistic, witty, and charming, and I so, so, so adored Nate. I loved James, too…but Nate, you guys…he was fantastic. Jennifer Cosgrove gave him such an authentic voice, I truly felt like I was inside a high school boy’s head. The same was true for James as well; in fact, all the characters read as very true to life. There’s nothing that bothers me more in reading YA than it feeling forced, or painfully obvious that it’s anything but a teenager or young adult writing the story. Cosgrove definitely seems to have the knack for it, though.
Play Dead by Avery Cockburn
Length: 170 Pages
Category: Contemporary Romance
Blurb: Colin’s wounds have finally healed. He’s ready for his big comeback on the football pitch and can’t wait to return to a normal life—especially the rampaging sex he and his boyfriend, Lord Andrew, once indulged in.
But Andrew has his own invisible wounds. Each day the memories of that near-fatal attack tighten their grip on his mind. Yet he must stay strong for the man he loves, the man who almost died to save him.
Colin knows something’s wrong. The more questions he asks, the more Andrew hides behind his aristocratic stiff upper lip. A surprise turn of events may give them the justice they crave, but will it be enough?
When Andrew finally breaks down—in typically spectacular fashion—he must learn to trust like never before. And Colin must learn there’s more than one kind of strength.
Because with a love as mad as theirs, there’s no such thing as normal.
The Brief: Post-traumatic stress has a part to play in Andrew and Colin’s story, and in many ways, it becomes a third partner in their relationship, that’s how omnipresent it is, and it’s not without a few tugs at the heartstrings that we see this couple struggling their way through what Colin eventually learns is Andrew’s anxiety and depression, not to mention Colin’s efforts to come back from a debilitating injury suffered in Playing to Win (which I feel is a must-read-first, but, then again, I may be just a bit biased because I love it so much). The darker tone of Play Dead reflects not only the realistic effects Colin’s brush with death and his recovery has placed on their relationship, but the genuine trauma inflicted on Andrew himself as he relives that single moment over again in his nightmares. The once outgoing boy who’d loved all the Twitter attention and public appearances now finds fear and anxiety and depression have turned him into a virtual recluse whose rare public outings fill him with dread. What became evident to me as I was reading this novella is that it wasn’t written as drama for drama’s sake; instead, it felt important for us readers to understand that Colin and Andrew’s happily-ever-after didn’t begin at the end of Playing to Win, and that the “I love yous”, as romanticized as this concept so often is in this genre, weren’t a handy fix for everything that had come before. These boys might be young (god, they’re so young), but there’s now no doubt they’re good for each other too, and that they’re in this together, come hell or highwater.
My Dragon, My Knight by John Inman
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 200 Pages
Blurb: Danny Sims is in over his head, torn between his abusive lover, Joshua, and Jay Holtsclaw, the bartender up the street, who offers Danny the one thing he never gets at home: understanding.
When Joshua threatens to get rid of Danny’s terrier, Danny knows he has to act fast. Afraid of what Joshua will do to the dog, and afraid of what Joshua will do to him if he tries to leave, Danny does the only thing he can do.
But Danny isn’t a complete fool. He has enough sense to run into the arms of the man who actually cares for him—the man he’s beginning to trust.
Just as their lives together are starting to fall into place, Danny and Jay learn how vengeful Joshua can be.
And how dangerous.
The Brief: First and foremost I can say, without a doubt, that the way in which this novel’s material was handled was with the utmost honesty and sensitivity. Is there both physical and mental abuse in this novel? Yes, there is, and it permeates quite a chunk of the first half of the book, so if you are triggered by reading such material, you may want to rethink diving into this story. However, I can tell you that what author John Inman does in developing his characters and allowing us to glimpse the inner thoughts and emotions of their hearts and minds is truly inspiring. We live inside Danny’s turmoil, his doubts, his fears and his shame. It is true, realistic and painful to read, and yet the end result, his triumph over the abusive relationship that has all the makings of a deadly one, is beautiful to read. The way in which Jay comes back to the land of the living after such personal loss, and finds love once more, is equally as moving. These two characters could not have been more fully realized and believable. On the flip side, and a near perfect foil to our two heroes, Jason could not have been the more perfect embodiment of evil insanity. John Inman carefully crafts a story of survival and love, and infuses it with some hair-raising moments of pure evil that will rock your world and then some.
The Bisti Business (A BJ Vinson Mystery) by Don Travis
Publisher: DSP Publications
Length: 310 Pages
Blurb: Although repulsed by his client, an overbearing, homophobic California wine mogul, confidential investigator B. J. Vinson agrees to search for Anthony Alfano’s missing son, Lando, and his traveling companion—strictly for the benefit of the young men. As BJ chases an orange Porsche Boxster all over New Mexico, he soon becomes aware he is not the only one looking for the distinctive car. Every time BJ finds a clue, someone has been there before him. He arrives in Taos just in time to see the car plunge into the 650-foot-deep Rio Grande Gorge. Has he failed in his mission?
Lando’s brother, Aggie, arrives to help with BJ’s investigation, but BJ isn’t sure he trusts Aggie’s motives. He seems to hold power in his father’s business and has a personal stake in his brother’s fate that goes beyond familial bonds. Together they follow the clues scattered across the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness area and learn the bloodshed didn’t end with the car crash. As they get closer to solving the mystery, BJ must decide whether finding Lando will rescue the young man or place him directly in the path of those who want to harm him.
The Brief: Book two in the BJ Vinson mysteries is an excellent standalone—you don’t need to have The Zozobra Incident under your belt before you get into the second. However, they’re both awesome, so why not start with the first?
The series isn’t cute. It isn’t cuddly. Confidential Investigator BJ Vinson (BJ to anyone who doesn’t want to get on his bad side) is a class-act guy who loves a good challenge, but he almost doesn’t take the case this time. BJ makes no secret about being gay, so when his client starts in with a gay slur on their phone consult, BJ’s two seconds from hanging up. In an odd twist, the client admits that he not only knew of BJ’s sexual predilections but that BJ being gay is why he sought him out for the job in the first place. Annoyed, but admittedly intrigued, BJ gives the man a few more minutes to explain himself. Turns out, the bigoted client’s son, Lando, is missing, and Lando went missing with another man… a man Lando’s father suspects of being his son’s lover.
The Mystery of the Curiosities by C.S. Poe
Publisher: DSP Publications
Length: 200 Pages
Blurb: Life has been pretty great for Sebastian Snow. The Emporium is thriving and his relationship with NYPD homicide detective, Calvin Winter, is everything he’s ever wanted. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, Sebastian’s only cause for concern is whether Calvin should be taken on a romantic date. It’s only when an unknown assailant smashes the Emporium’s window and leaves a peculiar note behind that all plans get pushed aside in favor of another mystery.
Sebastian is quickly swept up in a series of grisly yet seemingly unrelated murders. The only connection tying the deaths together are curiosities from the lost museum of P.T. Barnum. Despite Calvin’s attempts to keep Sebastian out of the investigation, someone is forcing his hand, and it becomes apparent that the entire charade exists for Sebastian to solve. With each clue that brings him closer to the killer, he’s led deeper into Calvin’s official cases.
It’s more than just Sebastian’s livelihood and relationship on the line—it’s his very life.
The Brief: While Sebastian and Calvin are slowly but surely progressing with their relationship, they are also each dealing with their vulnerabilities—you can feel the fear that Sebastian has about losing Calvin. I really liked book one in this series, The Mystery of Nevermore, because I was familiar with Edgar Allan Poe, but with this sequel, the series gets even better. Max Ridley, Sebastian’s assistant, gets wrapped up in this mystery too, which I thought was fun because his character brings a lot of humor to the story. I was also intrigued because I knew of P.T. Barnum—the first thought when you hear the name is always the circus, but he brought us the “curiosities” too, which were bizarre, and it was interesting to see how C.S. Poe constructed a fantastic plot around them.
These reviews and more can be found at The Novel Approach Reviews