graphic novel, LGBT

My Review: Heartstopper (Vol. 2): by Alice Oseman

Publish Date: July 11th, 2019
Number of Pages: 320 Pages
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books
Genre(s): LGBT, Graphic Novel, YA Fiction

***Warning!!! This review contains spoilers from the previous book in this series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of Heartstopper, Volume 1 – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

I Like Charlie Spring! In a romantic way not just a friend way!

– Alice Oseman, “Heartstopper (Vol. 2)”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Nick and Charlie are best friends. Nick knows Charlie’s gay, and Charlie is sure that Nick isn’t.

But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is discovering all kinds of things about his friends, his family … and himself.

~~~

A charming, sweet, and absolutely heartwarming second volume to this warm and lovable story, Heartstopper continues to steal my heart!

These graphic novels are the perfect amount of light-reading and feel-good material to make you believe in true love and happiness in this wild and unpredictable world. I am just so happy that there are stories like this that are so easily available to find for those looking for LGBT+ books to enjoy, and their such a nice change of pace from the heavier and more action-packed fantasy I also read. I know I repeat myself so much on here about this with books like these, but it’s all so true, just call me grateful I guess!

The story continues literally right where we left off in the previous volume that ended on a very dramatic, soap-opera-esque cliffhanger with Nick kissing Charlie at a party, but then freaking out and leaving him behind because of his confusion over his feelings/sexuality. Charlie is crestfallen until Nick meets up with him later to talk and hash things out, and—spoiler but not really—admits he likes Charlie and wants to try being with him. He’s still not sure what his orientation is or what this all means, all he does know is that he enjoys being with him and he wants to act on his feelings that he has!

One complaint I had in the previous volume was how rushed Nick’s revelation was that he wasn’t entirely straight. To me, it just felt rushed or that not enough emphasis was put on it, so I was very happy to see it explored further in this book, and it was nice to see how despite being unsure of himself and what his orientation was, Nick still wanted to be with Charlie and kiss him and be a happy couple with him, even if he wasn’t exactly ready to go public with it.

That brings me into another interesting subject that this graphic novel brought up: dating someone who hasn’t come out or has even fully come to terms with themselves and their sexuality. It’s a slippery slope and both sides in the relationship have so much pressure on their shoulders in figuring it all out. Everyone deserves to come out on their own terms and at their own choosing, but how long until the other one loses patience and can no longer be kept a secret? This issue is handled incredibly well throughout the story, and Charlie somehow becomes an even bigger sweetheart than how he already is with the patience and tenderness he shows Nick as he’s figuring things out. A major highlight for this specific volume indeed! On the other hand, I’m also glad it’s challenge a little bit in one of Charlie’s friends, who thinks Nick is just using him or that it’s some elaborate prank Nick and his friends are pulling on him. It’s a lot of amazing tension that really adds to the story, and really puts a test on Nick and Charlie’s relationship!

The story is character-driven, so the pacing is a little slow at times, but the soft and tender moments definitely make up for it, and before you know it, you’ve finished this volume too and are already online to get the next volume ASAP—guilty!

There are many issues faced in this story so far that are so relatable to anyone in the LGBT+ community who has come out at a young age; the pressures of two people at different points in their lives, friends who question the legitimacy of their relationship and miss them because they don’t spend as much time with them like before, homophobia from people you thought were your friends, and even the whole coming out to your parents and not being sure how they’ll react. It’s a lot, but anyone who’s been in similar situations to these characters understands what it’s like and it just makes the story so real and so relatable; it’s like a voice being heard after being ignored for so long.

…honestly I’m having a proper full-on GAY PANIC.

– Alice Oseman, “Heartstopper (Vol. 2)”

What I Liked:

  1. Nick’s Not Sure What His Sexuality Is! While I’m sure there are a few guys in the queer community who can complain about a guy who they really liked but didn’t really know what his sexuality was, I really liked this storyline for Nick. It was explored a lot more in this second volume and I kind of liked how he still didn’t have a concrete answer, but it didn’t stop him from wanting to be with Charlie and act upon these feelings he had that were a little strange for him, but still felt so right. There’s a kind of beauty in that; not letting the fear of the unknown keeping you from experiencing joy and happiness from something that so obviously makes you feel those emotions!
  2. Charlie Continues To Be so Freakin’ Adorable! I still love how Charlie is this kind, sweet, awkward, shy, and all around lovable guy who just wants to be happy. We’ve all felt like him at some point in our lives, and my heart just warms at how he has such a loyal and strong circle of friends and family who have his back whenever he may need it. He has the strength to move forward on his own, but there’s nothing wrong with having some help from others who care about you.
  3. Friendships Are Tested! Things get a little tense with Charlie and one of his friends at one point in this volume, and to be fair, it’s not entirely unjustified. It comes from a place of love and compassion, and I thought it was a great representation on the theme of friendship that these graphic novels also showcase.
  4. The Representation! Okay, but people are going to love all the queer representation that’s in these books. It feels like there are more gay people than straight people at times, and the fact that there is a nonbinary character along with even having queer POC characters is also great to see! People looking for this specifically in their reading material should pick these up for this reason!
  5. The Scene With Nick & His Mom! So heartwarming and touching, It reminded me of the scene in Love, Simon when Jennifer Garner tells him that he can breathe and be who he wants to be….it’s just something that every kid who remembers the fear of the anticipation of coming out to their parents and not knowing how they’re going to react needs to hear. It may have also been all the pollen in the air lately, but my eyes were freakin’ watering up when I read this scene.
  6. There’s A LOT Of Kissing! Nick and Charlie are such an adorable couple, and even though Nick has quite a few questions about himself, that certainly doesn’t stop him from being with Charlie and enjoying the pleasures of what romantic couples experience. He definitely makes up for lost time, and seems to really like kissing Charlie, which who can blame him when Charlie is just so…Charlie!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Homophobic Bullying…While it’s actually a pretty accurate portrayal of how certain teenagers react towards homosexuality or anything that’s outside the realm of heteronormativity, it’s still just so tiring to see it and the I still continue to hope that one day it goes away—the hatred and exclusion of LGBT+ people—but this has nothing to do with the author including it in her story. For that alone, this conflict works because it’s real and it’s something queer teens—and adults—deal with sometimes on a daily basis! It’s more me putting it on here to say how I just can’t wait for homophobia and hatred of queer people to go away as time moves forward.
  2. It Felt Like Not Much Had Happened…By this point in reading the graphic novels, part of me thought to myself that for how many pages it is, it felt like not a whole lot actually happened, or I just wanted more to happen that what actually did. The pacing can be a little slow, but to be fair, that’s usually the case with character-driven plots much like this one, so it was a little expected. I think it was more along the lines of I just want the story to move even further along, but there are still two more volumes of these books too!

Conclusion:

Overall, I continue to gush about these graphic novels because they’re such an uplifting and seriously adorable story; I know I repeat that word a lot on here, but it’s also the one word I’d use to describe these books if someone asked me! The story continues on and gets better and better as Charlie and Nick grow closer and their bond become stronger.

I’ve got the next volume in this 4-part series, so I can say it’ll be sooner rather than later to when I’ll start that one and include it on my blog too! Stay tuned!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Erotica, LGBT, Romance

My Review: Collide (Blackcreek #1): by Riley Hart

Publish Date: November 8th, 2013
Number of Pages: 286 Pages
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing
Genre(s): Romance, LGBT, Erotica

Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

This wasn’t ending, and he didn’t know if it would ever end, and Coop didn’t know if he wanted to celebrate, cry, or destroy the whole fucking world.

– Riley Hart, “Collide”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

At ten years old, Noah Jameson and Cooper Bradshaw collided mid-air when they dove for the same football. For three years, they were inseparable…until one day when Noah and his parents disappeared in the middle of the night.

Noah and Cooper never knew what happened to each other. Now, seventeen years later, after finding his boyfriend in bed with another man, Noah returns to Blackcreek looking for a fresh start. And damned if he doesn’t find his old friend grew up to be sexy as sin. Coop can’t believe Noah—the only person he trusted with the guilt over his parents’ death—is back. And gay… Or that Cooper himself suddenly wants another man in his bed for the first time.

There’s no denying the attraction and emotion between them, but can they overcome the ghosts of their pasts to have a future together?

~~~

This was a nice, short, lighter read to enjoy while I’m taking a small break from Fantasy; I don’t know why, but lately as I’m typing this review, I’m noticing that I only seem to be in the mood to read smutty romance novels. I have tons and tons of Fantasy-genre tales on my shelf, and on my desk, and on the floor near my bed, and on my dresser (basically my room is a giant pile of growing books that will hardly shrink anytime soon), but that doesn’t matter because I just want simpler, lighter, and just overall easier to read right now.

Back to this book, but it was a great addition to my growing collection of M/M romance titles.

It was far from perfect and actually there are quite a few things I wish could’ve been better about it, but it still fulfilled what I wanted out of it: it had some really good smutty sex scenes and also just an overall swoon-worthy romance between the two main characters, and even between two side characters too. It was cute, it was absolutely so funny with the banter, it was heartwarming, it was sexy and sizzling, and isn’t that all we really want in a romance novel?

It was the perfect distraction for Cooper to ignore the flood of…contentment… Hearing that their friendship had meant to Noah even a portion of what it had meant to Coop. Which, as a kid, had been everything.

– Riley Hart, “Collide”

What I Liked:

  1. The Smut! If you’re looking for a quick but super hot and smutty book to read, this is a great choice for you! The smut in this book is super well done and really hot content, especially with the whole dynamic of the two main characters with Noah and Cooper. Noah being openly gay for much longer has him kind of in the role of the “mentor” or teacher in a way with how he takes Cooper through the ropes of what they do and what he’s willing to try out as they explore their relationship. Which brings me to my next point…
  2. The Relationship Between Noah and Cooper! I really liked their dynamic for the most part in this story. I like romance stories with the tropes like “second chance,” “small town romance,” “keeping it a secret,” and “friends-to-lovers” and reading about how much these two guys care about each other and the moments where their friendship shine through are so soft and affectionate and heartwarming, which is also so cozy when in comparison to all the scorching hot sex scenes. I find it funny I’m saying this when I’m also a reader who usually doesn’t turn towards a specific story for its fluff versus steam.
  3. The Friends/Side Characters! Both Cooper and Noah have a friend on the side that really be there for them when they individually need it, and even better that they actually end up hooking up! Wes and Braden’s romance gets introduced in this story, but they’ll get the spotlight in the next installment which will be fun because I want to see more of their certain dynamic too!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. How Cooper Is Only Gay For Noah…So the whole “GFY” is an iffy one because sometimes I feel like it’s not the most realistic storyline, but I guess it depends on your own personal views of sexuality. It’s such a fluid subject nowadays, and their are so many different terms and identities that are out there now, and while I can say I support it all and hope anyone who’s questioning who they are has the courage and confidence and support to figure it out, I feel like the “gay for only this person” is a little questionable, or maybe it’s because it’s not explored far enough in this story. Before Cooper reunites with a returning Noah, he was sleeping around with women and never really questioned his sexuality (at least that’s the impression I got). Noah coming back into his life calls a lot into question, and just like that, Cooper is no longer the straight guy he’s always been known as. I also know that there’s no set time of when you are supposed to have this all figured out; some people discover their sexuality at a young age while some may not discover it until they’re 50 with a wife and kids….but the point I’m trying to make is that maybe I just feel like the shift was too quick and not a whole lot of it was explained or explored as much as I wanted it to be. Maybe the author didn’t want to make it that deep of a story at the time this was written, but I guess I was just hoping for more answers in this regard. Like I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the fact that a label isn’t put on a whole lot of him or their relationship was frustrating! I’m never one who needs to compartmentalize stuff like that, so I’m confused at myself about it too, like maybe I’m not as open minded about it all?
  2. The Homophobic Side Characters…With Cooper being a firefighter and sort of coming out of the closet in a sudden way, he deals with some homophobia with some of his fellow coworkers and even a little bit from his uncle. It’s not really an outright hatred of gay people, but it’s more these snide, rude comments and jokes they all make that any gay guy has heard in their life and has made it hard to come to terms with yourself if you yourself are questioning or in the closet. It brought back terrible memories of times in middle school and high school casually say the word “f*g,” or “that’s so gay…” as a way to instead say how something is stupid. I know there are still people who are honestly just against gay people and don’t accept it, but part of me always wishes we didn’t have to face this kind of rejection in fiction, like why can’t books with gay characters at the forefront just not deal with homophobia?
  3. WAY Too My Flashbacks…I’m never someone who’s a big fan of them to begin with, and this book had wayyyyyyyy to many as well. I get it, a lot of the story revolves around Noah and Cooper meeting as kids and how their friendship/relationship has blossomed from it all, but I feel like the amount of flashback scenes could’ve been reduced. I know the past is important to learn from in order to grow and move forward, but in this case I’m falling under the whole “the past is in the past and let’s leave it that way.”
  4. Grammar Issues…The book felt a little amateurish with all the many commas and just simple grammar issues that popped up throughout the book. I mean, I’m not perfect at it all the time either, but when you read a published book you just expect more and hold this sort of thing to a higher standard. You’d think the editors and multiple sets of eyes who look over these words before they’re sent to print would fix this sort of thing.

Conclusion:

Overall, “Collide” by Riley Hart wasn’t as good as it could’ve been, but this was still an enjoyable story that’s a great consideration to anyone who loves M/M romance with plenty of fluff mixed with steam. It’s so great for fans of “second chance” romances or “friends-to-lovers,” or “gay only for you” type of stories. Noah and Cooper have quite the story here, and while it wasn’t exactly mindblowing, that hopefully doesn’t detract from when I say I still really enjoyed this book too, and plan to read on in this series with the two friends who hooked up in this book who also get the spotlight on them too!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

LGBT, New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: Damaged Like Us (Like Us #1): by Krista Ritchie and Becca Ritchie

Publish Date: June 27th, 2017
Number of Pages: 347 Pages
Publisher: Everafter Romance
Genre(s): New Adult Romance, LGBT

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Another book to check out for those who love M/M romance novels, Damaged Like Us was a fun addition to the genre. The relationship that grows between a hollywood heir and his roguish bodyguard is one that can be absolutely addicting to other readers to binge-read.

That relationship is, of course, the main driving force for most of those who’d want to read this book; it was also my favorite aspect of the book as a whole. The two main characters complimented each other very well, and helped each other grow as the story developed. The banter was funny, playful, sexy, and also just so spectacularly done. As you can probably tell by now in this review, It’s hard to say anything bad about the romance of this book.

The theme of family was also something important to take out of this book as Maximoff goes to extraordinary lengths for those he truly cares about. It may not seem like it to some who know me outside of this website and in real life, but the idea of a warm, close knit family is so incredibly important to me, and I always love to see it shown in even fictional families like the one in this book, who are also really popular reality TV stars. The main character even alters his appearance and carefully chooses what color clothes he wears in order to show his pride and loyalty to his father!

There are some parts of the story that I was less than enthused about as well. The writing was questionable in one aspect with the author’s going into 2nd person when describing a character’s path to fame and how you (the reader) should feel about them as a character. It’s a very minor critique from me, but this happened more often than I’d hoped in the story, so I wanted to point it out. The conflict of fame and the downsides to it seemed way too dramatic and over the top at some points as well, and the fact that this new series is actually a spin-off of not one, but TWO other series that are written by the authors. Some readers would love that, but as someone who hasn’t read the others, I also thought this was worth pointing out. I go into more detail on these matters below!

Overall, this was a fun book to read, and a great M/M romance for anyone to check out if they like those kinds of stories. Fans of Him by Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen and Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston will probably really like this book too!

What It’s About:

This story revolves around Maximoff Hale, the oldest son of what appears to be American royalty with his family being well known reality TV stars, and all his life he’s had to deal with having absolutely no privacy from the public. Paparazzi constantly follow him and his family around; even going to the gas station to fill up a car would have him end up all over the tabloids as “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” (Basically, picture his life as being like the Kardashians mixed with the actual British royal family).

Because of this, him and his family have always had bodyguards to keep them safe and protected, but Maximoff’s longtime bodyguard is retiring after the many years they’ve been together. Anxious, he learns he’s getting a new one almost immediately after. Enter Farrow Keene, who’s Maximoff’s crush from his teenage years, and of course is now his new personal bodyguard whom he’s going to be spending countless hours a week with.

Almost immediately, they bash heads together about basically EVERYTHING…but beneath the snarky and cynical remarks, there’s definitely something building between the two. Romantic feelings soon resurface, and sexual tension boils to the surface, but are they willing to cross a line, break a integral code to end up together?

What I Liked:

  1. The Romance Brewing Between Maximoff and Keene! It’s hard to believe this is the writer duo’s first M/M romance title! It was an obvious highlight of this book, the romance that develops between these two characters was one of my favorite parts of the whole story. They start off as reluctant partners as Farrow is assigned to be Maximoff’s new personal bodyguard, they get on each other’s nerves, sure…but as they spend more and more time together, they start to see sides of each other that no one else sees, and they understand each other a lot better. The attraction only becomes more intense from there, and soon they find themselves in a sexy, secret romance that they must hide from not only the public, but also they’re colleagues and Moffy’s family. Is it worth it? What if someone finds out?
  2. The Theme of The Importance of Family! Besides the secret, forbidden romance, family is another huge theme to take away from this book, and probably the rest of the series as well. Even with fame, Maximoff is extremely close to his family and will do just about everything he can to help them, protect them, and make them proud. For every 10,000 fans, there’s probably another 1,000 that hate them, and some people will go out of their way to bring them down, and Maximoff will literally break his back in order for that to not happen. From his many siblings, to his best friend and cousin, and his father with a spotty past, Maximoff is so proud of his family, and I found it to be incredibly noble of him and is so obviously a huge part of his character. Very admirable how far he goes for those he loves.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. This Series Branches Off from Others…So I first notice there’s A LOT of side characters in this book, like, way too many even to keep track of at some points. It turns out, this series is a continuation off both the author’s two other book series: The Addicted Series and the Calloway Sisters. The parents, the uncles, and basically all the other older adults are actually stars of previous works, and that’s why they’re so prominent in this book because it’s going off the fans who’ve read their previous books and are familiar with all of them. Unfortunately, I am not one of those readers…the book is still enjoyable and is able to be read despite this, but you definitely feel like there’s quite a bit that goes over your head in reference to this fact. It’s also annoying because all the books in total equate to, like, 13 books to read, which is commitment I’m honestly not feeling up to doing at this moment.
  2. The Instances of 2nd Person Narrating…This is a small tidbit that kind of bugged me because it happened more often than it probably should’ve, at least in my own opinion. It was lines that felt like: “You know this person because of….You feel this way about them because…” It just felt like lazy storytelling and could’ve been shown to me and not told to me, you know?
  3. The Fame Seemed Over The Top…It feels bad to be criticizing this aspect of the story since it’s the cause of the whole story taking place, but it simply felt like it was overly dramaticized at times. Maximoff is like an American version of Prince Harry, but it seems like even an actual royal prince is able to live a somewhat low-key life. The paparazzi are constantly following Maximoff around, always chasing him in cars on the freeway, and sometimes even going out of their way to offend him and get a rise out of him. Sure, this stuff may actually happen in real life—I don’t truly know since I’m not famous—but the amount of it all that Max has to deal with felt over the top and highly exaggerated.

Conclusion:

A great M/M romance for anyone looking for that kind of story to read, I think readers will love how Farrow and Maximoff’s relationship forms and deepens as the story develops. It’s got the perfect amount of steam and heart that any great romance needs, and that any reader absolutely eats up. It’s not the perfect book; parts of it are way over the top and overly dramatic, but I do believe this book is incredibly enjoyable as long as you can’t take it too seriously. It’s just fun, sexy romance.

I can definitely say that even though there’s a HEA-style ending, I plan to read on in this series to see what happens next. There’s a few things that are left up in the air that will be answered in later books, and I’m interested enough to keep going to find out some of those answers that I specifically seek. Plus, I do really like both the main characters and see where their relationship will go next!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Erotica, Fantasy, LGBT

My Review: Silk and Steel (Silk and Steel #1): by Ariana Nash

*Kindle Edition*

Publish Date: January 18th, 2019

Number of Pages: 380 Pages

Publisher: Crazy Ace Publishing

Genre(s): Fantasy, LGBT

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Warning & Reader Advisory:

Silk & Steel is not a “romance”.

This series is a DARK FANTASY intended for mature readers. While Silk & Steel is a love story, it is not for everyone. It is not categorized on Amazon, and not sold as m/m romance. It DOES feature a strong m/m LOVE STORY that develops over three books.
Silk & Steel features a gay dragon shifter, a bisexual elf, and adult themes. There is triggering content that some readers may find distressing, including implied incest, abuse, violence, dubious consent, and on-page sex. None of these instances are gratuitous. There is heterosexual sex and gay sex. The intense and star-crossed relationship between the two male leads develops over three books.

…When a blurb has this included within describing what the story is about, it really raises your eyebrows at what you may or may not be getting into! Now, the question for you is this: are you someone who immediately turns away from something like this, or does it pique your interest even further? Based off the fact that this is another one of my reviews, I bet you can guess what my answer was.

For anyone who’s looking for a dark fantasy to read, I would definitely say to take this warning extremely seriously, because while I was only more curious about this book, I can recognize that the content within this story can be extremely triggering for more sensitive readers, and this story is NOT for everyone! Yes, there is a M/M love story storyline that is what initially drew me in, but it’s a small aspect that intertwines with a lot of emotional torment, rape, assault, torture, and even implied incest that’s a lot of heavy material to take in all within one book! Seriously, this book goes further with it than even HBO’s Game of Thrones or even Spartacus from STARZ.

Besides all that carnality and absolutely vicious material, what really surprised me was an actually epic war/battling kingdoms style plot that developed. Don’t ask me to name any of the kingdoms back to you, but basically it’s a Fantasy world that Elves, Humans, and Dragon-Shifters. The Elves and Humans have been taken over and oppressed by the Draconic empire, but there are small groups of rebels from both races that are gathering supplies in order to make a stand against the dragons.

Besides sex & violence, the themes of trauma, acceptance & belonging, and even forbidden love make for an actually gripping and action packed tale between two unlikely enemies-turned-lovers: an Elf assassin named Eroan, and a lonely Dragon Prince named Lysander.

Eroan is courageous, stubborn, noble, natural born leader for his tribe. He’s a warrior through-and-through, but his troupe of assassins get captured by the dragons and he becomes the only survivor, and thus becomes a prisoner, which is where he meets Lysander, the younger Dragon Prince.

Lysander is a character your heart will break for because of all the pain he’s had to deal with in his lifetime. His mother and brother have tried to kill him several times because they consider him “broken” for his sexuality, and think he’s weak because he’s not a heartless murderer like they are. Luckily, they’ve been unsuccessful and Lysander has become the greatest warrior under his mother’s rule. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop them from still believing he’s a useless waste of space. He’s been an outcast and the runt of the litter for all he’s known, but lately he’s been absolutely sick of it, and there’s a fire threatening to explode before you know it, no pun intended.

I would agree with the author when she says it’s not a romance title. There’s attraction and sexual acts that happen, but there’s so much pain, suffering, and violence occurring all around that romance feels like too soft of a word to describe it. The love story that’s developing between those two main characters grows in an intriguing way in the sense that they feel a kindred connection to each other that grows to a reluctant mutual respect, and of course, pure lust that may or may not being blooming into deeper feelings of love. There’s still some unsettling instances of rape and death surrounding it all, so it’s not rainbows and unicorns and happily ever afters, far from it.

The world-building was so-so with not much description in the cities/kingdoms and major landmarks, but luckily there wasn’t much mentioned in that regard to kind of save it. There’s some history with the three types of people that’s revealed in a way that’s not info-dumped. I was majorly confused by the point when one character runs into a certain group, it happens around the 60-75% of the book; it felt so randomly placed into the story and was a strange wave within the pacing, but hopefully it gets explained better in the next book. There’s a surprising amount of sub-categories within even just the Dragon empire, and it features different species that make appearances in the story. There’s major dissent that is evident within both the Dragons and even the Elves, which is surprising since you usually figure Elves are all entirely on the same page.

There are plenty of questions that popped up while reading, but I have to remember this is only the first book in a series, so hopefully that means so much more gets revealed as I keep reading on!

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

The Dragon Queen’s reign is one of darkness and death. Humans have vanished under the rubble of their world and if the queen has her way, elves will be next.

Eroan, one of the last elven assassins, lives for one purpose: kill the queen.

He would have succeeded if not for her last line of defense: Prince Lysander. Now, captured and forced into the queen’s harem, Eroan sees another opportunity. Why kill just the queen when he can kill them all? It would be simple, if not for the troubled and alluring prince. A warrior, a killer, and something else…, something Eroan finds himself inexplicably drawn to.

Trapped in a life he despises, Lysander knows his time is running out.

If the queen doesn’t kill him for his failures, her enemies will. There’s nothing left to live for, until an elf assassin almost kills him. A stubborn, prideful, fool of an elf who doesn’t know when to quit. An elf who sparks a violent, forbidden desire in Lysander.

If Lysander can’t save himself, maybe he can save the elf and maybe, just maybe… one stubborn elf will be enough to bring down the queen before she kills them all.

Duty demands they fight for their people. Love has other plans...

What I Liked:

  1. The Lust/Love between Lysander and Eroan! It’s definitely not a romance, per say, but the attraction that builds between these two characters is certainly a noteworthy aspect of this story. It’s pretty erotic in some areas, heartbreaking in others, but one scene in particular stood out a lot to me. Basically, to the other characters, Eroan is about to be assaulted and raped by Lysander, who is not happy about it. He actually has feelings for the captured Elf, and being forced upon the Queen’s captive is the last thing he wants. He leans in and whispers an apology only Eroan can hear, but surprise…..Eroan whispers back “Don’t be.” It may be incredibly creepy or perverted of me, but I found that kind of hot! I mean, at least it was consensual!
  2. Dragon-Shifters! I’d never read a book with these types of characters. I absolutely love any stories with dragons/wyverns/dragon-riders/etc. so to have humans who can change into the flying, fire-breathing beasts was something new for me that I really enjoyed!
  3. MVP Character: Lysander! By far my favorite character so far, my heart goes out for him and all that he experiences just in this first book. Anyone else would’ve given up with all that he’s been through, but still he rises above it all and becomes a better person because of it. He’s never felt like he’s belonged, and has been called broken and useless by his own family, who by the way, has tried to kill him on several occasions as a quick reminder! Seriously hoping the author throws him a couples bones this next book because Lysander deserves some happiness in my opinion!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Human World…What a random introduction into this story, and it wasn’t really explained as to how it is the way that it is. I know that justification doesn’t make a whole lot of sense without more context, but I don’t want to spoil it for readers. All I will say is it happens at about the 60-75% mark in the story.
  2. Homophobia…Poor Lysander deals with it from his mother and even older brother amongst the Dragons. Luckily, they’re the only people that really show any of it, everyone literally could care less about that sort of thing, but anyone who’s in the queer community who’s had a hard home life like that growing up knows how hard and traumatizing that can be!

Conclusion:

Overall, I was actually really surprised at how much I liked this title! Besides all the sex, violence, and torture, the plot actually got pretty intense in the sense of it feeling very similar to an epic battle happening in a show like Game of Thrones! There are some dark occurrences with rape and assault and torture, but if you’re someone who watched GoT in its entirety, it’s not necessarily anything you haven’t seen before, this story is just higher up on the gay male/male romance factor. With that said, it’s not like anyone can really say they enjoyed those moments, but it’s understandable that some readers would rather avoid that triggering content. It’s not for everyone, so definitely take the author’s warning within the blurb!

I’d recommend this title to anyone who likes M/M romance, and if you really liked The Captive Prince trilogy by C.S. Pacat; I think they have a very similar vibe in the first book introducing a very ominous vibe with a lot of violence and sex involved to shock readers but then turns into an epic tale to keep your attention!

This book was one that had me up extremely late—like 3 or 4 in the morning—and has a dramatic cliffhanger of an ending, so much that I groaned into my pillow and immediately purchased a copy of the next book in this series to get on that ASAP! the forbidden/star crossed lovers aspect of the story with the two male main characters is tearing me apart because the author constantly throws things in their way to keep each other just out of reach, and ugh………….it’s torture for me too!

I do have some other titles I need to read first because I have a reader friend/coworker named Erika who I make deals with to have us read books that we pick for each other. If she wants me to read a certain book, I make sure she knows I have a title for her too so we can get what we both want out of it and to be able to talk about yet ANOTHER book we’ve both read. If you don’t have a reading buddy like that, I highly recommend it because one of the worst things a reader can suffer from is being absolutely obsessed with a book/series but having no one to talk about it with in person!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

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