[652]: The Talented Mr. Rivers by HelenKay Dimon

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The Talented Mr. Rivers by HelenKay Dimon
Series: End of the Line, #2
Source: Publisher via Net Galley
Loveswept | September 13th, 2016
Adult Fiction | M/M Romance | Suspense
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars


As the son of an international crime lord, Will Rivers only inherited one thing after his father died: trouble. The Pentasus organization deals in kidnapping and murder, and Will wants no part of the power grab that’s tearing leadership apart. But the only way he’ll be able to escape is with some help from his former bodyguard, Hunter Cain, whose sculpted body and brooding looks keep Will awake at night. Somehow, Hunter has resisted the tension between them . . . until, suddenly, he gives in.

As a German intelligence officer working deep undercover, Hunter has a very good reason to keep Will in the dark about his identity and his intentions. Although the sex is hot, Hunter’s true feelings are a growing liability. Now the only way to save Will from his old life is to push him deeper into danger. But when two strong men are each determined to protect the other, the heat isn’t just combustible—it’s a firestorm.


I couldn’t be happier to get an email notification from Loveswept that this book was available for request on Net Galley. I became an instant fan of Ms. Dimon after reading the first book of this series, Mr. and Mr. Smith. I was easily swept away by her suspenseful and sexy spy novel filled with the type of he-man characters I love reading about in an M/M romance. I knew I had to get my hands on Will Rivers’ story as soon as it became available because the glimpse of what was to come at the end of the first book was nowhere near enough. This book will not be out until September 13th, but heck, letting it sit in my iPad unread is just too much a temptation for someone like me.

We met Will Rivers and Hunter Cain in the first book. Hunter is a member of a German secret agency working with the CIA to stop The Pentasus organization from selling more weapons and secret agents to terrorists. In the first book, Hunter was playing Will’s bodyguard. Being the heir to a dangerous family who has enemies left and right puts will in a constant precarious situation at all times. He needed someone to keep his ass on the line and Hunter was more than happy to provide that for him.  Will and Hunter’s interactions, though, limited was explosive in the first book. And at the end of Mr. and Mr. Smith, Will and Hunter got separated. I was dying to see the reunion between the two.

So we opened this book with Hunter tracking the elusive Mr. Rivers. The reunion was as heated as I’d expected it to be. I knew that they were bound for a head on collision. The sexual tension that has followed them from the first book exploded in the most glorious way! But with the organization still on Will’s heels, and with another weapons group vying to marry into the family, the danger was far from over. And even though Hunter can protect him to the best of his ability, he would do everything to give Will a chance to get his old life back as a carefree student in the States. More than anything, he wanted Will out of the life and the legacy of his family. The couple has a lot of problems to work through, but it was fun seeing them face the issues together. In some way, they’re like the pairing from the first book: tormented with the decisions they’ve made with regards to their relationship.

We also see the return of the CIA motley crew – to my delight. They are as every bit sarcastic and hilarious as I remembered them to be. Ms. Dimon was so efficient in bringing these characters to life. Their personalities clash and meld in perfect synchronicity. This installment was pleasurably fun, sinfully sexy, romantic, and suspenseful in every sense of the word. As much as I’d loved reading this installment way ahead of its release, I’m a little sad I have to wait forever and a day for the next one.

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[635]: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

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The Raven King

by Maggie Stiefvater


I’m a part of the population who died a little when this book’s original publication date was pushed back. I was devastated. I needed to read it like I needed my next breath. But there was nothing else I can do. Earth continued to orbit around the sun. Seasons changed as I came closer to my death. With very little desire to live, I trudged on and waited with everyone. Until that one fateful day when I was given a reprieve: my bookstore had it three days earlier than its publication date. Huzzah.

So I got ready to boogie. I settled in with my Trenta Black Tea Lemonade and told my family to leave me the hell alone. Hours passed. After a few starts and stops, I grew agitated.  Brows furrowed, I start to question if I might be reading a different book. For one, I was reading and rereading passages. For another, I was confused af. This is not the Maggie I knew and love. She was no longer speaking my language. Days passed. I was no closer to deciphering the words. Why was it so complicated?  What changed? Why am I suddenly struggling to imagine what she was describing? I wanted to cry. I wanted to shout at a cruel god who made me wait extra long for a book that will not fulfill its promise of greatness. But I persevered. Who cares if it will take me longer than necessary to read something that I proclaimed to be the most anticipated book to come out this year? I didn’t give up hope. Somewhere in there, I knew I’ll get all the lovin’ feeling back.

The story went on. Gansey and Blue continued to ignore the four-letter-word flashing above their heads. Blue continued to resist kissing Gansey. The women of 300 Fox Way proceeded to exist in their mystical magnificence per usual. Blue’s father was still doing his rendition of R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet. Adam and Ronan circled each other like prey and predator (which is which was everyone’s prerogative). Ronan brought strays he collected from his dreams like always. The story went on but I couldn’t even muster an ounce of excitement for what’s unfolding before me. Because the truth of the matter is, The Raven King dragged. The writing didn’t work for me. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t ever remember Maggie’s writing to be this complicated and long-winded. It’s too pretty for my taste. And I’m the type of reader who was a high tolerance for purple prose. I know how to appreciate cloaked meanings. But above all, If I was disappointed in The Raven King, I was even more disappointed in myself. Because I knew that I would be the black sheep in the community after everything is said and done. I am ashamed.

Towards the end,  a couple of things happened. There was kissing that became a preamble to chapter 39; the culmination of all my wanting happened. For the last two years, I’d imagined how it could be. Who would make the first move? Who would be the first one to  run away after they realized what had happened? I had imagined it in every conceivable way but nothing could’ve prepared me for that moment. It was glorious, splendid, beautiful and way too freaking short. But it doesn’t matter. Because in a few short pages, The Raven King was redeemed. That was all it took. Two kids kissing.

It turns out that I’m easy. I can be bought with the right bribe. You can irritate me with your beautiful words. You can prolong the agony of waiting for my ship to sail. But if you give me everything I’ve been hoping for, you can forget that I ever considered abandoning your book in the first place.

All’s well that ends well.

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[632]: Mr. and Mr. Smith by HelenKay Dimon

27876307 LOVESWEPT | May 24th, 2016
E-Arc via Net Galley
Suspense | Romance | M/M
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars


Fisher and Zach are CIA agents in a secret relationship. But that’s not all they’re hiding. Neither of them disclosed their true occupations to each other. So when Zach got kidnapped by an organization supplying arms to terror cells, Fisher had no choice but to give in to their demands and surrender himself to rescue Zach. What Fisher doesn’t know, however, is that Zach was neck-deep in a case that he himself has been working on for months.

I feel like I should insert an ominous soundtrack right here. Actually, I would have to insert them in random spots throughout the story because it was certainly that suspenseful. This book was so much fun. It had enough humor to cut through the tension. And the relationship drama between Fisher and Zach was oh, so addictive. At times, I wanted to slap Fisher because he refused to see what was in front of him. All he kept focusing on was that Zach lied (as much as he did, mind you!). He was so stubborn.

There was no doubt how much Zach loves Fisher, though. He was ready to sacrifice himself just to save Fisher. These two has chemistry in spades, and even though they frustrated me on many occasions, I rooted for them. Oh, man. The sex scenes were hot. Lol. Nothing like the threat of death to amp up the intensity in the bedroom.

But this book is not only all about sex and romance. After all, they are CIA agents who were up against some very dangerous criminals. The torture sessions were a bit hard to take. It was suspense all the time, so it left very little room for boredom. Ms. Dimon melded romance and suspense well. A one-sitting type of read, honest.

 

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[630]: Beta Test by Annabeth Albert

27286868 Series: Gaymers, #2
Carina Press | May 30th, 2016
Source: Net Galley via Publisher
LGBTQIA | Adult Fiction | Romance
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars


Ravi Tandel is ahead of the game. He’s a top video game developer and he just got asked to present a top-secret project at a huge gaming conference in Seattle. All systems are a go…until he learns his office nemesis is coming along for the ride. Player vs. Player. Fight!

Newly minted MBA Tristan Jones doesn’t seem like the gaming type but he knows the business inside-out. Together, they’ll give an awesome presentation – they just have to survive the cross-country trip. Ravi’s opinion of Tristan is rebooted when he discovers a softer side to the conservative charmer and a new tension builds between them.

Despite their best efforts to keep it casual, things heat up quickly. Tristan is hiding his true self for fear of what his parents might think. Ravi knows that feeling all too well, but he didn’t disconnect from his family years ago only to hide who he is now. To be together, Tristan has to push past his fear and ultimately decide, does he want a future with Ravi? Or is it game over?


The second instalment to Annabeth Albert’s Gaymers series is pretty much what you would expect if you have any familiarity with the first book. It features a romance between two people who would have to answer a question about personal sacrifices. Nothing earth-shattering, mind you. Just what the other would give up for them to be together.

Their relationship wasn’t one of those flash fire types. It was a slow build due to the professional competitiveness they had towards one another. Though they admired each other’s work ethics, they were after peer recognition since they were both newbies at the company.  One can’t help but notice the telltale differences between the two, though. While Ravi was a social butterfly liked by many, Tristan took a while to warm up to anyone. He’s a deliberate person who comes off aloof.

Ravi is an out and proud artist whose family tentatively embraced him being gay. And on the other hand, you have Tristan Jones who comes from a conservative upbringing with a political background and whose parents threatened to cut off financial support should he flaunt his sexual identity. He lives in a very organized world so being with Ravi threw him in a loop.  In the end, Tristan would have to make a choice; one that’s as difficult as it is freeing.

Overall, I enjoyed this book; it was relatively angst-free. But, unfortunately, unremarkable. I just didn’t make a stronger connection with the characters here as I did in Status Update. I still would like to see the rest of this series, though.

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[623]: HIM by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

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I’ve been chomping at the bit to read this book since I got wind of it from Quest Reviews’ blog. I’d forgotten about it for a few months until the book resurfaced last week while I was wasting valuable time browsing Goodreads. Holy Hannah. *fans self* Hockey players. Gay hockey players. Gah-huh.

RYAN AND JAMIE

Since they were teens, Ryan and Jamie has attended a hockey summer camp where they learn to hone their skills on the ice. Ryan has always known that he likes boys more than girls. And he’s always been the rebellious, ballsy type who does everything to get what he wants. It just so happens that he wants his best friend, Jamie. He’s been in love with him for years. One drunken, horny night, he propositioned Jamie. After making good on a bet that he’d lost, he severed all contacts with him because he felt that he forced himself on his very straight BFF.

Years later, their respective schools are about to face off in a hockey championship equivalent to Final Four. When Jamie’s team lost, Ryan could not accept the fact that he’ll never see him again. He’s always regretted the friendship that they’d lost and the radio silence that he initiated. And since he wants to get Jamie out of his system once and for all, he’s going to do whatever it takes to do just that. Even if it means teaching at the same camp for six weeks where it all began.

SECOND CHANCE, FRIENDS TO LOVERS

I mean, who doesn’t enjoy this type of romance, right? Combine that with the hotness that is Ryan and my Kindle practically burst into flames. This is also about Jamie’s realization that he may have been lying to himself all these years. But it wasn’t a gradual thing. He didn’t suddenly realize he was gay because he couldn’t get it up with the girls. Ryan was more like an intense static electricity for him. As soon as he saw him, he knew deep down that underneath the lust was something so much more.

Ryan is a tattooed fantasy come to life. He’s aggressive, persistent, crass, and an honest-to-goodness bad boy of your dreams. Above all, he’s courageous who’s ever so willing to face the reality of who he is and would not wait for fate to intervene. I love that about him. He’d rather face the world with honesty than wait for the rug to be swept under him.

I adore the friendship and the eventual relationship between them. They had each other’s backs from day one, but they’re also very competitive. Their banter was hilarious, but man, they’re hotter when they argue.

Speaking of hot, the sex scenes are guaranteed to get you reaching for ice-cold water so you can douse yourself. My face was permanently on fire not because I was embarrassed, but because reading the sex scenes felt like rubbing ghost chili on your face: painfully hot.

IN RETROSPECT

This writing duo perfectly captured all the emotions of love between best friends. The insecurities, the doubts, and the joy of realizing they reciprocate your feelings. It’s also about finally figuring out who you are and what would make you the happiest in the grand scheme of things. It’s not always an easy decision, but if you’re honest with yourself, the rest will fall into place.

 

 

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[583]: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

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Carry On \ Rainbow Rowell

R  E  V  I  E  W

Plot-wise, this book is one of those that I shouldn’t have enjoyed. Magic, spells, and mythical creatures are typically not my thing. But since Rainbow Rowell wrote it, not reading it goes against my religion. On top of that, this book features  a couple of characters that I loved – and this from reading about them in a book where they’re not even the major characters! Imagine that. The mark of a great story teller is when you can convince a non-reader to fall in love with your work. Those who have read Fangirl and skipped the fanfic about Simon and Baz may not be as in love as I am, but I’ve got to say, Ms. Rowell did a fantastic job in fleshing out these two characters and giving life to a side story that may not even be in her plans to begin with. In fact, she did so expertly that I’ve convinced myself that fantasy novels are something I can possibly enjoy.

SIMON AND BAZ

Theirs was not an easy relationship from the get go. They hated each other on sight. But since they were chosen to be roommates for life by some cosmic fate, they had no choice but to tolerate each other’s presence. Both are convinced that they’re plotting to kill each other. On the last year of their Watford tenure, their relationship will come to a head. In that, they’ll either kill each other for sure, or go beyond indifference and actually admit that there’s something more between them.

THE INSIDIOUS HUMDRUM

What’s a good fantasy book without the ultimate foe? Simon, Baz, and basically the magic world has been battling the Insidious Humdrum for years. But nobody knows what it looks like until Simon and Penelope (his BFF) was taken hostage by the creature himself. He sucks the world of magic every time he shows up, and sooner or later,  there’ll be no place to practice magic because the Humdrum will have them all.

THE PROPHECY

It was prophesied that the greatest Mage will walk the earth to stop the Humdrum. And the prophecy is none other than Simon, himself. But he’s too powerful. Too powerful, in fact, that he can’t control his magic. The Humdrum is drawn to him because he is like a nuclear power plant of magic. And the Humdrum wants him. Of course, not everything is cut and dry. That’s the beauty of this book. There are facets and twists that may be predictable to some, but I appreciated them in my own way. Call me an inexperienced fool, but heck, I enjoyed the fantastical elements of this book.

ODE TO JK ROWLING

I do believe most of Potterheads will readily say this book has echoes of their beloved Harry Potter books. But since I’ve not read them, I can’t really tell you all the similarities and differences between Carry On and the 7 HP books. I know Ms. Rowell is a big fan of Ms. Rowling, so I’d like to assume that this is her sort of ode to the series and its author. That’s not to say I didn’t miss some of the tell-tell signs, though. I saw Harry in Simon; Hermoine in Penelope; and maybe even a smidgen of Ron in Baz. I can’t really say for sure whether or not it’s a rip-off because as I’ve mentioned, I’ve not read the books.

IN RETROSPECT

 Rainbow Rowell continues to amaze me. I fell in love with Simon and Baz from the little taste she’s given us in Fangirl. And to go and somehow give us a well-conceived plot from that is even doubly amazing.


St. Martin’s Griffin | Oct 6th, 2015 | Hardcover, 522 pages | Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars


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[577]: Jefferson Blythe, Esquire by Josh Lanyon

25719256 Jefferson Blythe, Esquire by Josh Lanyon
Carina Press | November 16th, 2015
E-Arc courtesy of Carina Press and Net Galley
Adult Fiction | M/M Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars


Fresh out of college and recently dumped by his long-time girlfriend, shy and bookish Jefferson Blythe is touring Europe using an inherited vintage copy of Esquire Magazine’s Europe in Style.

Jefferson Blythe, Esquire is about old maps, new adventures, getting lost, getting found, getting drunk, and being mistaken for an international criminal. In other words, normal summer vacation when you’re in your twenties.


It’s been a while since I’ve read a book by Josh Lanyon. If you must know, she’s one of those authors whom I trust when it comes to M/M romances. I don’t read too many of them nowadays, but I wanted to read some this month as my contribution to Queer Romance Month. Loving her work is almost as instinctual as loving Sandra Brown’s. I had a great time reading this book!

JEFFERSON AROUND THE WORLD

Jefferson Blythe decided to find himself after a recent break up from his fiance. Armed with an Esquire vintage travel book, he set out to experience Europe in all its retro glory. Adventure was waiting for him as soon as he landed in Heathrow. Mistaken for an artifact thief, Jefferson has no idea that a crazy stalker girl will only be the least of his problems. When his accommodations fell through, he had no choice but to reach out to a man from his past. A man who may not be willing to renew their friendship.

JEFFERSON AND GEORGE

When they were young, Jefferson and George were practically inseparable. But when George came out, they’d become estranged. Jefferson wasn’t ready for the kind of bravery George pulled when he announced to him that he was gay. At the time, Jefferson was only too aware that he too might have some feelings for his best friend. George moved to England; severing ties with Jefferson. Their reunion was strained to say the least. On top of that, there might be some secrets as to what George does for a living. Years of being apart and with no communications doesn’t really make for a warm reunion. But readers will be able to tell that there’s some lingering feelings between the two that has nothing at all to do with friendship.

JEFFERSON IN TROUBLE

Trouble seems to keep finding Jefferson. Stalked, beaten, and kidnapped, Jefferson will find myself the centre of a Fabergé egg scam that will make him the target of a Russian mob family. And in the midst of it all, he’ll have to confront his true feelings towards George and entertain the thoughts of coming out to his family. In the backdrop is the classic beauty of London and the elegance of Paris. Lanyon does not really try hard to make the scenery a part of the story, but it’s there anyway. Though it’s plot-centric, she also spent a lot of time flaying the characters so the readers may be able to empathize with ease. This book is relatively clean as far as sex goes, but it’s never short on tension, suspense and pulse-pounding action.

This book reminded me of what I love about Josh’s stories. Not all M/M romances has to be sexually explicit for any enthusiast to enjoy. Sometimes, all you need is a little heat and a lot of excitement.

 

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[558]: Villa America by Liza Klaussmann

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Villa America / Liza Klaussmann


I’ve always been a fan of books that force me to do a bit more than just to read what was written on its pages. I like it when I have to seek out meaning of unfamiliar words or research the locations and the historical figures that were mentioned. Villa America is just that type of novel. It is the story about the couple whose F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night was said to be loosely based on. Upon reading a bit more about the Murphys, I stumbled upon a group of literati also known as the “Lost Generation”. By definition, it is a group of artists that came of age during World War 1. The Murphys, in one way or another, had a hand in this.

Gerald and Sara Murphy were expatriates who hosted the likes of Cole Porter, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda; Ernest Hemingway, and Pablo Picasso in their French Riviera home aptly called, Villa America.  This novel tells the story of the social dynamics of this group; their relationships, temperaments, and the sexual freedom inspired by the era.

Here, we find Gerald Murphy come to terms with his own, while Sara Murphy became the magnetic north of all the male compass within their circle.  Set in the 20s, the world we’re introduced to was that of luxury, dinner parties, picnics,  and extra marital affairs. And in Gerald Murphy’s case, an affair with a gay man. The Murphys were what you can consider as the centre of the universe for all the parties involve. They’re drawn to their wealth, their kindness, and influential clout.

For all intents and purposes, Villa America is a semi-fictional account of their lives based on a number of books written by the remaining Murphys. It is a lovely rendering of the relationship that blossomed between Gerald and Sara. We also see the heartbreaks this couple suffered. They lost children; friendships were severed, and in Gerald’s case, a broken heart through a difficult decision he had to make. We also see them lose their wealth as most of Americans did during the Depression.

Typically a fan of epistolary method of writing, but I didn’t enjoy the last bits of this book. I wanted to read more, and sadly, the letters were not sufficient enough. You’ll see some brilliant people in a different light. Zelda Fitzgerald was painted as a spoiled, needy wife, and Scott, an ugly drunk. Hemingway was as everything you’ve come to know about him. He likes women, but he doesn’t love them. Villa America is such a great read for fans of the era. It’s luxurious, lovely, and at times, heartbreaking.  


GOODREADS SUMMARY | Little, Brown and Company | August 4, 2015 | Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars


 

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[540]: Anything Could Happen by Will Walton

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GOODREADS SUMMARY | Push | Hardcover, 288 pp. | May 26th, 2015 | Young Adult Fiction | LGBT | Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars


Somewhere along the way, this book’s purpose got lost in the writer’s attempt to channel his inner teen. Somewhere along the way, I got distracted by Elle Goulding’s incessant Eeeeeh eeeeee eeee (don’t ask). Nothing much happened in Anything Could Happen. Besides the predictability of the outcome, this book was not as emotionally gripping as what you would expect from one that tackles such a socially relevant and important subject.

The plot meandered quite a bit. In an attempt to give Tretch more layers, it only prolonged what was an otherwise straight-forward plot. To be honest, this book was over by the halfway mark, because his lamentations about coming out to his family and friends didn’t really have a basis. I’m not trivializing it, because I can only imagine how difficult that must be. He just wasn’t a convincing character. It was not a good representation of what teens with the same issues go through. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say, his fear of coming out was manufactured. As bad as that may sound, that’s how I perceived the character to be.

Also, there are family dramas that didn’t really do much to help the plot progression nor garner empathy/sympathy. What’s more, the family drama stole the limelight from the intended real issue (Tretch’s struggle with his sexuality). Which is unfortunate, because you can see flashes of Will Walton’s almost brilliant writing buried in the rubble of teen angst.

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[516]: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

DSC00096GOODREADS SUMMARY | Balzer + Bray | Hardcover, 303 pp. | April 7th, 2015 | Young Adult Fiction | Contemporary | Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars


Simon vs. Martin Addison 

Sixteen-year-old Simon Spiers knew it was only a matter of time. The awkwardness and uncertainty of his family’s reaction to him coming out is a task he’d rather not deal with just quite yet. Unfortunately, Martin Addison might just beat him to the punch.     When he forgot to log out of his email, Martin discovered Simon’s emails to Blue, and with it, the secret that Simon is gay. So now, he’s being blackmailed. Help Martin get noticed by his friend Abby, or else his secret will be out…in not so many words. 

Simon vs. Blue

In the meantime, things are getting more and more awkward with his little group of friends. Nick likes Abby. Leah likes Nick. Soon, Simon will have to choose a side. And he really wants to meet Blue, but Blue’s reluctance is a hurdle they both need to get over. In some instances, he thinks he knows who Blue is. Or maybe it was just wishful thinking on his end? You know when you want someone to be somebody so bad, it becomes a physical ache you can’t ignore? That’s how badly he wants this person to be Blue. Simon’s life as a gay teen in a Georgia town is every bit as complicated as it is fun. At least he could rest easy knowing that his friends would have his back when ‘the time’ comes. Right?

This is better than Oreo

Like I said, this book is so unbearably cute. There’s teenage drama, sure. But none of the usual stuff. These kids are a’ight. They banded together against what could’ve been a potentially difficult situation, and the parents are painfully awkward, but present! There were moments when I had to go back and re-read some chapters because I like revisiting favourite scenes. I especially liked the seemingly simple, yet complicated relationship between Simon and Blue. The progression it took and how it went from friendship between two boys, flirtatious banter, to eventually professing something more than what each was willing to admit.

If there’s ever a book that I can truly say made me blush alongside its characters, this was it. And it was relentless! It wasn’t just Simon and Blue but the other pairings in this book as well.

Why you should read it

It’s the freshness of the author’s writing; her ability to tell a Young Adult story without the expected baggages that came with the genre; and realistic relationship dynamics between all parties involved. The support group that Simon has is what’s so inspiring about this book. I want kids to read this. Kids that are probably going through the same situations in their lives; wherein they are not sure how their real identities would be received, but cannot go on pretending any longer. There is nothing worst than playing somebody else day in and day out. 

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