LGBT, Romance

My Review: Boyfriend Material: by Alexis Hall

Publish Date: July 7th, 2020

Number of Pages: 432 Pages

Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca

Genre(s): Romance, LGBT

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Mum patted him reassuringly. ‘Oh, Oliver … I am sure you are one of the best gays.’

I glanced back to find Oliver looking faintly flustered. ‘Mum, stop ranking homosexuals. It doesn’t work like that.'”

— Alexis Hall, “Boyfriend Material”

In the summer of 2019, news was spreading quickly about a queer romance between a fictional first son of the first female president (also fictional) and the prince of Wales. It was one of the biggest queer romance titles simply because it had such a mainstream marketing campaign and got so much attention when compared to almost any other story like it previously published. Growing up, I was questioning myself and my sexuality, and one of my favorite places to go was always the bookstore. It would’ve made the doubt, the questioning, the fear, and the initial self hatred so much easier if there’d been more LGBT titles being showcased like there is now, which is why I’m so happy that younger readers have so many more titles available so they don’t feel so alone with so many questions.

Cut to the summer of 2020 a year later, and there’s this book that is also a summer queer romance release with the minimalist style that seems to be taking over the romance-genre book cover design with two handsome looking men, who of course look like total opposites! That that, plus the title being “Boyfriend Material,” I was instantly hooked and knew I’d love it.

Maybe this means there’s going to be that one big M/M romance novel released every summer? If so, I’m way more than A-okay with that!

I will admit this was a slower read just because it’s more character driven, which is a norm when it comes to romance titles, and lately I’d been making it a point to read more Fantasy-genre titles over romance, so this was a strange change of pace. The humor is what really keeps you going until the romantic feelings start to develop between the two main characters. I know, that’s not necessarily a selling point, but for anyone who enjoys quirky and extremely particular characters and british-style humor will get a kick out this title.

I will say this title isn’t as great as Red, White, and Royal Blue in the sense that this book doesn’t sweep you away as much because the romance in that was so whirlwind and enchanting and magical, and the romance in this title is much more grounded and realistic and down to earth, and also maybe therefore more relatable.

I don’t know about most readers, but it was actually so scary how much I could relate to the inner conflicts that both the main characters–Luc O’Donnell and Oliver Blackwood–were dealing with. Luc had a hard time growing up with a rockstar dad who ditched him and his mom when he was three, and he’s had run-ins with the paparazzi and them capturing all Luc’s less than stellar moments. He’s had a hard time being able to trust people, so he keeps himself at a distance emotionally so he doesn’t get hurt again, but it’s left him with a lot of self hatred, depression, and feelings of hopelessness. Oliver also has his own issues, but I don’t want to go as in depth about that because part of that is the whole experience of reading it for yourself, but all I can say is how I so deeply related to both the main characters and their inner struggles. That alone is what made this book one that I really enjoyed!

Since it’s a romance title, I suppose I’ll talk about that specifically too. The romance that builds between Luc and Oliver was a well drawn out slow burn of what is not necessarily enemies-to-lovers, but more haters to lovers, and there is a difference! At first, these guys don’t get along, they couldn’t be more opposite from each other in terms of lifestyle choices, clothing style, and even locations they frequent. Both of them need dates to certain events in order to stay off the hook from nosy parents, or to keep a job–which is totally illegal, but read the book for that whole argument–so through a mutual friend, they agree to be their fake boyfriend. It’s a rocky start, but as they hang out, test each other on basic facts, and get to know each other better, that’s when the tension builds and you see little moments or words said that makes your heart quench and you want to squeeze something out of pure affection.

These weren’t just your whatever kisses. They weren’t take it or leave it, get your coat on pulled kisses. They were everything I thought I could never have, everything I’d been pretending I never wanted, telling me that I was worth it, that he’d be there for me and put up with me and wouldn’t let me drive him away.

Oliver Blackwood was giving all that to me, and I was giving it right back. In the clutch of hands and the press of bodies and the urgent heat of his mouth on mine.”

— Alexis Hall, “Boyfriend Material”

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

Wanted:
One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.

I don’t want fine. Fine isn’t enough. It’s not about the open fire or whatever other clichés you can conjure up, but yes, I want a connection. I want you to care as much as I care. I want you to need it and want it and mean it. I want it to matter.”

— Alexis Hall, “Boyfriend Material”

What I Liked:

  1. The Humor! Perhaps one of the funniest books I’ve read ever if not this year alone, I really did find myself laughing at some of the lines the author dropped in this book, from both character’s dialogue to having Luc being our narrator throughout the course of the story. Some of it went over my head because some of it was definitely that british humor that’s not everyone here in America’s cup of tea, but the characters were all so distinct from one another; they all had their particular quirks that you came to expect from them whenever they appeared, and whatever they said or did. From Luc’s coworkers to his diverse inner circle of friends, it did feel over-the-top in some parts, but as you read on it’s exactly what you’d expect from each and every one of them all the same. The Nerd Daily‘s review on Goodreads said it perfectly: it’s like one of those 90’s sitcoms like The Nanny where it had that particular slapstick type of humor, but it works in the right setting!
  2. Both Character’s Inner Struggles! So I really felt the pain and inner turmoil that both Luc and Oliver deal with that makes them both believe there’s something wrong with them and they’re incapable of love. I won’t go into too much detail over what they are exactly, because part of the reading experience is figuring it all out for yourself, but man oh man…I can just say I’ve been where they’ve been and I still am somedays too. It made me root for them and their happiness even harder; great character development!
  3. Luc’s Mom! You know those mom characters that are just gems, and they absolutely steal the show/scene everytime they make an appearance? Luc’s mom is such a delight being a former french rockstar from the 80’s, and can’t cook at all which is a huge part of her charm, even with the crazy 85 year old lady who’s her best friend.
  4. Luc’s Friend Group! They had such a unique dynamic that I really enjoyed! There’s Bridgett who we see the most of; she’s super bubbly, always late, and works for a publisher and thinks she’s getting fired with every little fire that pops up with a client. There’s Tom, a young Idris Elba doppelganger who works for some secret service that has him travelling to undisclosed locations. There’s Priy, who’s an extremely gay muslim girl with braided hair, and will kick anyone’s ass who touches her pickup, and lastly, there’s Charles Royce-Royce (Yes. Both are named Charles Royce and got married).

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Ending Was Rushed…This is becoming such a consistent issue with contemporary romance titles being published in recent years–at least it’s an issue for me–is how the ending feels so tightly packed, crowded, and/or just so last minute. The ending of the book is so important because sometimes it’s what leaves one last impression of the whole story with the reader, and I’m just not a fan of this occurrence happening, especially in books I really like or love!
  2. The Whole Thing With Luc’s Dad…So minor spoiler alert, but not really…. Luc’s dad, who ditched him and his mom all those years ago, is back out of the blue because of one reason that’s not the TV show he’s a judge on: he has cancer. That’s also not the reason why I have it under this part of the review, it’s more about how this subplot ends that I was less than enthused about.
  3. No Smut…Now, this is such a minor issue in all seriousness, but based off what I’ve read in the past, the fact that this book treats the romance scenes in a more fade-to-black kind of way was a bummer. Without going into too much detail, Oliver is really uptight and stuffy out on the streets, but wicked in the sheets, but you only get a minor impression of it in the book!

Conclusion:

Another hilarious, charming, and entertaining M/M romance title of the summer! It felt like Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall was this year’s version of Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, which was by far the one really big LGBT romance that was a huge summer hit.

I recommend this title to anyone who love’s the LGBTQIA+ romance novels, I know I say this literally every time I post a review of them, but I’m so happy to see so many more titles in the queer romance genre that are being published + are actually mainstream, and aren’t hidden away in some off to the side shelf if you were to try to go looking for it in the local bookstore.

The playful banter, the hilarious characters, the inner conflicts of self doubt and isolation will grab your heart and pull you into such an endearing, character driven story of two unlikely guys who fall in love under the popular “fake relationship” trope.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

LGBT, New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: Us (Him #2): by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Publish Date: March 8th, 2016
Number of Pages: 322 Pages
Publisher: Rennie Road Books
Genre(s): New Adult Romance

***Warning!! This book review contains spoilers from the previous book in this duology, read on at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review for book #1 – Him – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Love is friendship set on fire.”

– Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy, “Us”

I absolutely adored the first book, Him, by these two amazing authors! They’re my go-to writers for anyone who’s looking for a funny, raunchy, well written, and overall entertaining contemporary new adult romance series to get into! Looking at a few reviews of this sequel, I was curious why some people were hesitant to start it…I mean, the first book could totally work as a standalone with how it ended, but if people loved it so much, wouldn’t they want to keep seeing what happens next? Sure, some people brought up the cash cow argument, and I can understand that argument, but kept an open mind as I’d opened this book and got back into the world of Ryan Wesley and Jamie Canning.

Overall, I wasn’t disappointed in this book and enjoyed it immensely! It had all the characteristics of what I’d enjoyed so much about the first book besides the obvious “second chance” and “friends to lovers” romance tropes. If anything, this sequel showed an incredibly realistic portrayal of the struggle of finding ones place in the world as the newly emerged adult group aged 18-25. The struggles of finding that dream job, financial worries, even still the coming to terms of one’s sexuality and their first serious relationship. The relationship is explored and shows how both people need to work in order to make the relationship work past its initial honeymoon phase.

While I enjoyed this book a lot, I can say I just didn’t enjoy it as much as the first book too. I felt like Him would’ve been just fine as a standalone novel, and despite the relatable issues the characters dealt with in this title, I felt like maybe this book was a way for the authors to possibly bridge into another project of theirs, and I’ll go more into that later on in this review. The main thing I dislike the most about this book was the issue of the lack of communication between Jamie and Wes, but it wasn’t for the same reasons I usually dislike that conflict.

There also was a big emphasis on a fictional lamb disease that was treated similarly to the bird flu and even the 2020 COVID-19 situation, but on a much smaller scale. I was scratching my head about this plot point, mainly because it really makes a bigger presence in the story than I thought it needed to, and with how the world is right now with the novel virus, I was hoping for less and less focus on this sort of issue…

There were a great amount of side characters, a lot more this time around than in Him which is great! The main characters had more people to really interact with that were around their age and for us to get to know and fall for too! Blake in particular is an acquired taste, and is a lot to take in at first, but he does eventually grow on you.

I would argue that this next title is actually a stronger novel than the previous book, but maybe because of it being too realistic with the real world issues, it’d diluted the entertaining factor and was less “fun” I think. That, along with repetitive issues we thought were solved in the first book, and with my thought on it being a bridge into more future projects amongst these authors, maybe that’s what people didn’t like as much this time around.

Despite all that, It’s still an incredibly well written continuation of an amazing queer love story!

What It’s About:

Book #2 has us brought back into Wes and Jamie Canning’s world five months after they reunited at the end of Book one. They’ve confessed their love for each other, they’ve moved in together into their apartment in Toronto, Jamie introduced Wes to his family, and Wes started his rookie season in the NHL and is absolutely KILLING it on the ice!

Everything seems perfect for the two childhood best friends-turned boyfriends in love, except for how they have to keep their whole relationship a secret…there’s never been an openly gay player in the NHL, and who knows how it’ll go if a rookie were to come out of the closet and cause a media field day. While it isn’t the greatest set up, Jamie and Wes both agree to wait with the news until his first season is over and their schedules aren’t both so hectic. It starts off easy enough, but soon the secret becomes a much bigger burden to carry on their shoulders.

Jamie’s job isn’t exactly what he signed up for either, and the hiding really takes a toll on him especially, but at least when it’s just him and Wes in their apartment, everything goes back to euphoric bliss and they can just be themselves…at least, until Wes’s noisy teammate moves in upstairs and pops up at their door without any warning!

The world seems to want to keep them apart, and is constantly throwing just about everything it can between the two of them, so can they overcome it all? Their relationship will definitely be put to the test…

What I Liked:

  1. The Hint of More to Come! What I mean by this is there is a spinoff book series that gets going that I definitely saw coming after a few interactions between two secondary characters: Wes’s teammate, Blake, and Jamie’s sister, Jess. There’s a few moments between them that had me guessing, but then they both disappear for awhile, and part of me wondered what’s going on there…turns out, plans for them to start a spinoff were happening! The first book is called Good Boy, and based off some other characters, there’s a slew of stories coming our way for the WAGS series these authors have going for us!
  2. What Comes after the HEA! We all know the first book could actually totally be a standalone with how much of a Happily Ever After we get with Wes and Jamie! This book showed us what goes on after that moment, after the honeymoon phase, and how a relationship needs work in order to survive. Both guys try to do so much to make each other happy, and both realize how hard the real world can be, even for a pro hockey player. I thought the idea of them trying different things and trying to work at their relationship was an intriguing and realistic portrayal that anyone in the New Adult age range can relate with, queer or straight.
  3. Just as Sexy as Book #1! While there’s plenty of fluff to melt out hearts with the soft and tender confessions of the heart from both male main characters, BUT there is plenty of raunchiness and sexiness in this book that smut lovers can also appreciate.
  4. Great Secondary Characters! There were actually quite a bit of fun side characters that added to this sequel, and more people closer to Wes and Jamie’s age than the coaching staff at the camp, and the teenage players they coach. There’s Blake, Wes’s teammate who moves into their apartment complex (I go more into him below), there’s Jess Canning who is always finding some new business venture to try out, and there’s Wes’s other teammates who tease him for his bright green dress shirt. They added a lot to the story, and I can see some of them starring in the spinoff WAGS series I’d mentioned above too!
  5. Jamie Canning’s Struggle! Wes was kind of the star of the first book for me, so I’m glad it got switched over to Jamie for book #2. Let me also make it clear that I’m not happy about Jamie’s suffering in this story—I’m not really a sadist, masochist or whatever term you say—but more with how it was handled and the issues that were brought up. I get Jamie’s growing frustration with him and Wes having to keep their relationship under wraps. With it was a growing fear of losing each other, and whether they’ll be able to overcome all the adversity, and some of the communication issues with that. A lot of people struggle with talking about that emotion: fear. Those fears turned to doubt on both the situation and themselves: Do I sound unreasonable?…Am I being selfish?…Is it worth bringing it up?…Am I asking too much?…Do I love the person enough to put them through this?…Do they love me enough to stick by me not matter what? Both guys ask themselves these questions, and both are terrified of ending up having their hearts broken in the end, and adding the fact that they hardly see each other as much as they’d like, neither guy wants to bring up these heavy topics with the time they are allowed, and thats totally valid and a realistic worry we all can relate to. These communication issues I can get behind…
  6. Jamie’s Mom! The woman continues to be a total saint who doesn’t change this time around in the net book, and continues to be a great mom for both Jamie and Wes, especially for Wes since his parents are pretty much MIA and have left him behind to rot.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Repetitive Lack of Communication…Now, I usually get annoyed by this being a big issue in ANY romance novel, which is ironic because I know I am someone who is terrible at communicating my feelings. I am such a moody bitch sometimes, and will do the passive aggressive act with the silence or the “I’m fine.” line—I can’t help it, it’s a character flaw of mine, but that doesn’t mean I don’t lie awake at night kicking myself for it—and for a m/m romance I can see why it’s an actual plot point. Speaking as a guy myself, I can say that guys are not the greatest when it comes to sitting down and communicating that stuff…it’s just the way we’re programed, and I’m not trying to make this a toxic masculinity thing; it’s just not all guys like talking about that stuff, even if they’re queer. Not all girls like to either, so don’t get at me! The issue I have with the communication issues in this book in particular are because we’ve already dealt with the same issue in the previous book. They’d already gone through it, so I’d hoped they’d learned their lesson this time around…yeah, not so much I guess.
  2. Blake’s Immaturity…I like Blake; he really grows on you. At first, he’s pretty obnoxious and does the text lingo in his dialogue and gives people lame nicknames (example: Jamie is “J-Bomb“… #lame) Plus, he’s yet another obstacle that gets in the way of Jamie and Wes’s happiness, so that alone instantly makes you annoyed with the guy. Like I said, he grows on you, but it takes a while for that to happen.
  3. The Use of Illness and Medications for the Plot…Maybe it’s because as I’m typing this, America is in a pandemic with COVID-19 and I’ve been in the whole isolation and #socialdistancing, but this whole part of the story didn’t resonate all that well with me, and also just became a bigger thing than I thought it needed to be. I understand the whole thing that happened with Jamie and his meds, it’s happened to me in the past and is an actual side effect for certain people and medications they’re prescribed, but it felt like the whole thing could’ve been handled differently to make it better for the story.

Conclusion:

A good sequel to an iconic LGBTQ+ m/m sports romance, but not as strong as its predecessor; I still enjoyed the real world struggles Jamie and and Wes faced not only with themselves, but also their relationship and the steps they both needed to take in order to keep their relationship still working past the HEA. It felt incredibly realistic and is completely relatable to anyone who’s close to their age and trying to find out where they exactly belong in the world today as a new adult. The issues they both face are great examples of the emerging genre between Adult and YA, and prove it can be more than just the angsty romance that has filled a lot of the genre itself.

While showing more of Jamie and Wes’s relationship, it also lays some easter eggs for the next project the authors are working on, which is a WAGS series that most likely will star the notable side characters you meet in this book as well, which just means us readers can remain in this world of queer hockey players, and the romance on and off the ice!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, LGBT, New Adult Romance, Romance

My Review: Captive Prince (Captive Prince #1): by C.S. Pacat

Publish Date: April 7th, 2015
Number of Pages: 270
Publisher: Berkely
Genre(s): LGBT, Fantasy, Romance (M/M), New Adult

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

Back around the time when I’d first found this book, I’d made it a point to search for more queer romance stories, specifically of the M/M variety, because why not celebrate my own queerness and read books with my people as the leads, am I right? Doing some research into finding titles, this trilogy showed up quite a lot, like, actually A LOT. Tumblr, Goodreads, lists all over the internet, and Bookstagram all had high praise for this trilogy, and with it being described as a M/M Fantasy romance, added with seeing some amazing fan art (like the one below), I was sold and knew I had to get my hands on them.

Fan artwork of Laurent & Damen, image courtesy of @gabriella.bujdoso on Instagram

Upon reading it, I found out that it’s actually very little fantasy; there’s no wizards, dragons, elves, white walkers or anything magical. It’s considered Fantasy based on the fact that the story takes place in a fictional land, so I almost considered it to just be a period piece, or even just historical fiction to a small degree. It’s set in medieval times, with opposing countries on the brink of war with corrupt and powerful courts filled with deadly secrets and intrigue.

It’s funny to look at other reviews of this title and see that it’s either “OMG I LOVE THIS, IT’S AMAZEBALLS AND ITS SO EFFING GREAT,” or “WHY DO PEOPLE LIKE THIS CRAP? SLAVERY AND TORTURE ISN’T SEXY, THIS IS DISGUSTING & I HATE IT!” …Honestly I was more towards the middle. Yeah, there is some problematic subject matter within the story that may trigger certain readers: there’s torture, slavery, kidnapping, sexual assault & rape, voyeurism, and even some pedophilia (yeah, even I can admit that’s a lot). I personally was not so taken aback by it all, but I understand that other readers would for sure be turned off to any of those triggers to keep them from going near this book, it all makes it incredibly controversial, which is what also made me more interested.

What It’s About:

Damen, a warrior prince and next in line to ascend the throne of Akielos, is taken prisoner when his half-brother seizes the throne with brutal power after their father passes away, and strips him of his identity and has him shipped off to enemy territory in order to hide him away and greedily keep his newfound place of power.

Map of the world of the Captive Prince Trilogy, image courtesy of fuckyeahfictionalmaps Tumblr profile

Damen, now turned slave, is brought to the northern realm of Vere, and becomes a pleasure slave for its Crown Prince, Laurent. Laurent is everything thats vile about the Veretian Court; he’s manipulative, vindictive, pampered, spoiled, sadistic, cruel, but Damen also couldn’t deny that he was absolutely gorgeous.

Trying to survive and find any way to escape back home, Damen soon gets wrapped up in the dark, twisted web of the Veretian Court, and soon discovers that more is going on behind closed doors than he’d ever anticipated. It will require him to find allies in unexpected places, and work together with Laurent in a dangerous chase towards the throne, but keep his true identity a secret when he discovers that Laurent has a reason to despise him more than anyone else…

What I Liked:

  1. It was Character-Driven! There isn’t a whole lot of world-building, but this story mainly focuses on the two main characters, Laurent and Damen, and their developing relationship along with others including guards, royals, slaves and courtiers. It’s funny though: Laurent is absolutely despicable in this book, like, he’s actually portrayed as an elitist human douchestick. Even thought it’s obvious that him and Damen will end up together, you really question it at times like: “What does he see in him? How will they ever actually get together?” He’s an interesting character though; he does some heinous things, but then it turns out later that he was actually helping someone or doing it for the good of the cause, and you slowly turn around on your initial opinion of him. The author does an amazingly job of his development; it’s so fragile and delicate, but again, so well done.
  2. Haters-to-Lovers Trope! Based on how the two interact, you can easily decipher that any sort of romance between them is going to be a slow burn. Damen and Laurent absolutely despise each other right off the bat, but must become reluctant allies when secrets are revealed and they learn they need to work together. There’s sexual chemistry that develops, but it moves at a slower, but realistic pace both sexually and otherwise.
  3. Queer-centric! The vast majority of the cast of characters are male, and everyone is some sort of version of being queer, or at least not straight. It’s funny, but it’s like being straight is the taboo, sinful, forbidden way for people to be, unless it’s simply to create an heir. I found it completely refreshing how it’s never questioned by anyone, it’s a normal way of life which made me sigh at how much I wish we could live in a world like that, where people don’t get so bent out of shape for who they’re attracted to.
  4. Complexity of the Characters! The character work done in this story is incredible. There’s plenty of subplots throughout, and you really start to wonder about the characters and how they operate; why are they like this, what are their true intentions, and what isn’t the author telling us? There’s definitely a feeling that things are not what they appear to be in both the characters and the plot, and that will keep you longing to find out more.
  5. Its Subject Matter is Controversial! This book is trigger warnings galore, and it’s something that quite a lot of people are not going to be able to read. It makes you uncomfortable, it’s unsettling and even kind of perverted in some scenes. Our society likes to shy away from these topics (rape, sex slaves, abuse of all kinds, torture, kidnapping, pedophilia), even censor it entirely like it doesn’t even exist. I say, just because a book has these topics in it doesn’t make it a bad book. Yes, the author has them all within her story, but she does present it in a delicate way and touches on them much care. She doesn’t glorify it or make it seem like its alright; it’s oppressive and heavy, and unfortunately for some that experience it, it’s all they know and it’s been normalized for them. They don’t know any better, and this terrible treatment is expected of them, at least in their minds. It’s sad, it’s depressing, but you know what? It’s not too far off from the world we live in today; things like this are happening, and censoring it and ignoring it won’t make it fully disappear. Exposing ourselves to it allows us to open our minds and make us more aware of the world; maybe not in a good way, but gives us a deeper understanding of it in some way, and that its not a safe place, and if we don’t like it, we should do something to help create change.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Politics…I’ve said it before, but I’m not a big fan of politics in works of fiction (It’s just a personal preference of mine), and this book has quite a bit of it. Sure, political intrigue helps further the plot of the story, but when things got to technical in terms of the way the courts are set up, along with rules and societal norms & regulations, I admit I was tempted to skip over it to get the story moving faster during those parts.
  2. Very Little World-Building…The world that the author places this story in is fictional, and there are some references to how it all came to be, but I wish the author went a little more in depth with it and how the world she created developed over history. It seems like there’s a ton of it, but it’s only ever hinted at and never fully explained. It’s funny though, Vere resembles renaissance Italy, where people are dressed in frivolous, campy costumes with intricate detail and shows little skin, but are much more open about their sexuality amongst themselves. Akielos is the complete opposite; they resemble Ancient Greece or Rome where everyone wears barely-there togas and even the architectural style is more open like the Pantheon, but they’re more conservative with their sexuality; it’s kind of ironic if you think about it.

Conclusion:

Overall, this was an incredibly eye-opening book that’s certainly controversial and something that a lot of sensitive readers will not enjoy, which is understandable. I can recognize my own privilege and know that none of the subject matter really upset me all that much (maybe just slightly made me uncomfortable at most), but understand that someone who may have suffered a similar kind of abuse will not appreciate it in this book.

The author has created an interesting world, even if not as much as you’d like is revealed, but the characters and the vague but obvious sense that more is to come really drives you forward. The characters have some unknown depths that you want to uncover more of, and in the climax, it becomes apparent that there’s some sort of plan in motion that thrillingly gives in an air of mystery.

I found myself still hoping for more in a lot of aspects of the story, including the developing relationship between the two characters, but I was definitely entertained enough to want to keep reading, and ***mild spoiler alert*** I can say that there’s so many good things to come in the next two books that will satisfy whoever is willing to stick with the story long enough!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

LGBT

My Review: Into?: by North Morgan

Publish Date: May 22nd 2018
Number of Pages: 363 Pages
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Genre(s): LGBT

Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

Let me start off by saying that this book was kind of a buzzkill…not that it’s horrible and not worth reading, in fact, I knew it was going to be a sort of darker tone going into it based off of other people’s reviews on Goodreads. I would say it’s subject matter really makes you stop and think to realize some things in your life; social status, the conflicting importance of social media and how we use it, the shallowness of “insta” fame and reputation; those themes are all so totally emphasized, but in the end, how meaningful is it all, really?

What It’s About:

The story revolves around the main character, Konrad Platt, who is a 34 year old circuit-gay man who is the kind of guy on social media that everyone loves but also hates: he’s got a great body, he’s always traveling to exotic locations, at the craziest parties, Coachella, and he’s a blond/blue eyed model-esque stud with a pretty decently sized following on Instagram. He is moving to Los Angeles to get away from his ex and his new boyfriend. Konrad continues the urban gay party scene, but admits to himself over and over how he wants something more out of his life. He wants to settle down, find love, and be happy, but the problem is his own insecurities and constant obsession with his filtered image that keeps dragging him back in. No, I’m not talking about the Clarendon filter either…

What I Liked:

  1. Konrad as a Protagonist! He is a likeable character with his admissions of how meaningless the whole gay party scene is; you want to cheer him on and hope he finds someone. It was just so frustrating when he would go back to old habits; taking drugs, obsessing over the next party, stalking hot men on social media to messaging guys on Grindr, and lots of random sex with other hot guys as an attempt to fill the void he feels, or just because he’s bored.
  2. The Abuse! Now, before anyone labels me as sick, awful, or sadistic…hear me out from a simple storytelling standpoint. Konrad meets a special someone through a decent chunk of time; they message each other, he goes and visits him (not without making sure they take a shirtless picture on the beach together and post it on the ‘gram), and eventually move in together, but it takes a turn for the worse. What was truly heartbreaking about it was how Konrad was unaware of it for a long time, even with a ton of red flags popping up with the guy. He thought he’d finally found someone to be serious with, but it really went the wrong way, kind of like Sansa Stark back in Season 1 of Game of Thrones, when she was betrothed to Joffrey Baratheon…and look how that turned out…While tragic, this has to be one of the more meaningful and emotionally impactful parts of the story, one of the parts that really make the whole book stand out.
  3. The Darkly Realistic Undertones! While some can get into the story because its a novel about the gay urban party scene , the real impressive part comes from its dark underbelly in terms of themes. Sexual Attraction, Lust, Self Destruction, The Human condition and finding our meaning in this world is what will make this book haunt reader’s minds after they put it down. It seems shallow on the outside, but there’s something deeper and much darker than what is primarily seen on the surface.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Urban-Gay Scene Insider Scoop…This book allows the reader to kind of see inside the inner mechanisms how how the gay party scene goes, and while it was still informative to a degree for anyone interested in the topic, the book still casts a pretty dark shadow over it all. I’m what Konrad refers to as a “non scene” gay and it seems like they just get written off as boring and not worth any time. If someone wasn’t a “masc” partying gay man with muscles and a good social media following, they’re not worth it. Like I said before, Konrad is aware of all the shallowness and insignificance of it all, but he still lets it consume his life and make it seem like the most important thing. 
  2. The Writing Style…Konrad is the narrator of the story, but it’s very non-descriptive to the point of is it intentional to focus on the idea that he doesn’t pay attention to any of that? to which, it’s ironic since he’s all about how he appears…he describes others with barely any physical descriptions if any at all. The writing is also in a style that I’d compare to an entry in a diary. “We did this, then we did that and this happened, he said this to me and then we….” There are some areas of actual dialogue, but not a huge amount to be honest, just mostly run on sentences, like Konrad is retelling all of this to a friend.
  3. The Importance of Social Media…I mean, we all sort of already know that Social Media isn’t something to take all that seriously, that it’s only a small glimpse into someone’s life, and it’s heavily filtered on the positive side to the point that it looks like a big bragging contest. But the more interesting aspects were these unspoken rules people, especially gay men, have to follow on messaging people. Konrad messages several guys through the story, some that are already in relationships, and at one point he thinks to himself like: ‘he said this’ so he actually means ‘that’ like it was some secret code, or you have to wait a certain amount of time before you respond so to not look desperate, and in all honesty…it makes me depressed about the possibility of trying to be a gay man dating in this society now a days.
  4. Romance is Dead…This book gave me anxiety about how unaware I was about how dating worked in the gay scene, especially with social media so heavily involved, and makes me worry about myself in ever finding someone. In the story, Konrad wonders at one point if being a gay male in this world means he’s stuck in a constant stream of polygamy and partying; never actually settling down and meeting someone meaningful, but still will go on Grindr to find a random hookup, or take someone home from the gym, and I sincerely hope that’s not the case…I think you just need to seriously separate yourself from all that, and try to find something else to give your life meaning. If someone you meet can’t do that, then maybe they aren’t worth the time, as sad and disappointing as it may be sometimes.

Conclusion:

This book is a unique read; it has a unique subject matter on the gay partying scene, but if anything, this book also showed me how I have even more determination to never get into it. I would recommend this story to anyone, straight or queer, because it does have an interesting amount of deep thinking ideas of the struggles of dating in modern times, the human condition, attraction, self image, self destruction, and finding acceptance and meaning in your life, and it makes you wonder what’s truly more important; our mental and physical happiness or how influential we are with our online presence.

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell