LIKE A LOVE STORY by Abdi Nazemian

It’s 1989 in New York City, and for three teens, the world is changing.

Reza is an Iranian boy who has just moved to the city with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself. Reza knows he’s gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS.

Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who devotes his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. Judy has never imagined finding romance…until she falls for Reza and they start dating.

Art is Judy’s best friend, their school’s only out and proud teen. He’ll never be who his conservative parents want him to be, so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.

As Reza and Art grow closer, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart–and destroy the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.


Title : Like a Love Story
Author Abdi Nazemian
Format : ARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : YA historical fiction, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Balzer + Bray
Release Date : June 4, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating
: ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

LIKE A LOVE STORY is a little like a love story, really. But more in the sense of love for oneself, one’s body, and one’s community. I think it did a really good job of that, particularly when propped up against the setting, but when it comes to the love story, the romance, within the book.. it kinda failed. And by kinda I mean really.

Nazemian’s story takes place on the cusp of the nineties, in 1989, and is set against the AIDS crisis. Not as a backdrop but as a very real threat and very present player for our three protagonists. Art is out and proud and angry. His best friend, Judy, has an uncle dying of AIDS. And the new kid, originally from Iran, is Reza; someone both friends fall for but who, despite initially dating Judy, is closeted. 

I knew this wouldn’t be an easy story but I knew it would be an important one. It was a frightening time and is made even more terrifying when held up against the current social and political climate. Addressing the bigotry and the homophobia was all very visceral and awful but well done. I felt like I was living it. Where the fear of touch, of being touched, infected every interaction. Where not subscribing to white, heteronormative, ideals made you worthy of hate or shunning. Where it was acceptable to wish your son dead just for being queer. Where hate fuelled both sides of the equation; one side for being ushered into an early grave just for being who they were, and the other for not understanding or not accepting people different from themselves.

What I believe failed this story was the characters.

The romance is fast tracked as is fairly typical — though the fact that these two besties go from zero to eleven within half a page over the new kid is unlikely as it is; but for it to be turned into a triangle, infusing unnecessary drama into the mix, just becomes tedious — and ultimately, it’s the leads that do a disservice to the goings on around them. Or, rather, I feel they overshadowed the rest with their nonsense. I outright disliked two of the POVs (one more strongly than the other) but overall it was their behaviours, too, that I just couldn’t stand. 

The most important four-letter word in our history will always be LOVE. That’s what we are fighting for. That’s who we are. Love is our legacy.

I’m heartbroken that this didn’t work but I do think, if the synopsis draws you in, you should still pick it up. LIKE A LOVE STORY is a book that features a four star topic but is, unfortunately, saddled with one star protagonists. 

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


CALL ME BY YOUR NAME by André Aciman – double review!

Call Me by Your Name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliff-side mansion on the Italian Riviera. Unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, at first each feigns indifference. But during the restless summer weeks that follow, unrelenting buried currents of obsession and fear, fascination and desire, intensify their passion as they test the charged ground between them. What grows from the depths of their spirits is a romance of scarcely six weeks’ duration and an experience that marks them for a lifetime. For what the two discover on the Riviera and during a sultry evening in Rome is the one thing both already fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy.

The psychological maneuvers that accompany attraction have seldom been more shrewdly captured than in André Aciman’s frank, unsentimental, heartrending elegy to human passion. Call Me by Your Name is clear-eyed, bare-knuckled, and ultimately unforgettable.


Title : Call Me By Your Name
Author André Aciman
Series : Call Me By Your Name (book one)
Format : OverDrive (eBook)
Page Count : 268
Genre : historical fiction, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date : January 22, 2008

Reviewer : Hollis/Micky
Rating : /


Hollis’ 1 star review

His words made no sense. But I knew exactly what they meant.
–> this is, I feel, a good expression of this entire book but flipped on its head. I understand what I read but I DON’T GET IT

I really don’t. Like, this isn’t me shitting on the overwhelming love people have for this book, or being contrary for shits and giggles.. I, personally, just don’t get it. 

Maybe I hyped this book up in my head for too long, maybe it was because I had these grand expectations, not to mention having put off watching the movie (which I will still) in order to read this first, but.. wow. Maybe, too, it’s my fault for not looking closely at the summary which does go on to detail some of the nittier gritty of what kind of relationship this book features but as I’m #TeamNoBlurbs.. it was obviously a surprise.

The first 60% of this was stream of consciousness confusion, was cringey secondhand embarrassment, was obsessive uncomfortableness.. it was so many things and none of them good. There was no characterization to these characters beyond Elio being consumed, forever fantasizing, and sifting through passages of is-it-really-happening-nope-just-dreaming chaos that made up the majority of his days; it’s intense but.. not in a good way. It’s discomfiting. I either skimmed because I couldn’t anchor myself to Elio’s internal rambling monologuing or because I just couldn’t bear to look too hard at his fixation. And Oliver was, well, a hot and cold dick of a human for the most part. And then suddenly he wasn’t, but it was all.. I don’t know, things being said, and not said, but they seem to understand it regardless? It just felt lazy and set up for the sake of drawing things out and drama. 

Not to mention they were both, at times, grossly childish or selfish.

s p o i l e r s   b e l o w

Case in point : Elio goes from screwing around with Oliver only to go to a girl’s house for more screwing around. Later, the boys have a nice afternoon delight together, then Elio heads out to meet with girl again, after having no discussion with Oliver about the logistics of this, and then when Oliver is missing upon Elio’s return, the latter is all bent out of shape and tied in knots and ‘how dare he make me wait’? Moments later Oliver’s ‘the best person he ever knew’. What the shit kind of whiplash nonsense is this? I actually refuse to tag this as a romance because, I feel, there was none. It was attraction, it was lust, it was physical intimacy (as well as certain intimacies that I believe were included in order to convince us of the existence love, make us believe there was a romance), but to me this wasn’t romantic. It was infatuation.

In the last 40%, however, there was a part or two that felt stronger (but it’s all relative, really) and yet it also transitioned into these scenes with other random characters I couldn’t care less about who rambled on about Bangkok, and various anecdotes as delivered by a poet we never see again, for eight to fifteen pages at a time. I honestly don’t know what was going on and I’m going to be fully honest : I skimmed most of it because I didn’t understand the point of it all.

There was a moving conversation between Elio and his dad near-ish to the end but then we have a time jump and weird transitions and odd conversations between adult Elio and older Oliver, reminiscing and yet not, where we’re supposed to believe this infatuation, this obsession, has endured for over twenty years, and I was just so done, long before this point, truthfully, but at least I saw it through to the end. Where the sequel goes I have no idea. And I definitely need some time to forget most of this experience before diving into the movie. 

That said, I think perhaps the movie will succeed where the book is too much for me. It wouldn’t be the first (and won’t be the last) time an adaptation succeeds in softening the edges of its source material. So I’m hopeful that a lot of what I hated about this book won’t apply to the adaptation but, for right now, I just need space from it all. I’m in no hurry.


Micky’s 1 star review …it’s pretty short

I know a lot of people loved this book but nothing about it appealed to me. In fact, I hated a lot of it. I listened to the first 35% on audio (and hated it), then a week later, I read/skimmed/read my paperback to the end (and still hated it). 

Why did I hate it? I didn’t like either character but I found Oliver to be a pretty awful person, with nothing to ingratiate himself to the reader. More than this though, 85% of the book is Elio’s inner monologue, his egotistical and obsessive mental ramblings poured onto the page for… ever. I disliked this style of writing, I found it incessantly dull and nothing about it worked for me.

Count me out for book two.


TOP SECRET by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Bestselling authors Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy return with their first Male / Male romance in 3 years.

LobsterShorts, 21 Jock. Secretly a science geek. Hot AF.

LobsterShorts: So. Here goes. For her birthday, my girlfriend wants…a threesome.
SinnerThree: Then you’ve come to the right hookup app.
LobsterShorts: Have you done this sort of thing before? With another guy?
SinnerThree: All the time. I’m an equal opportunity player. You?
LobsterShorts: [crickets!]

SinnerThree, 21 Finance major. Secretly a male dancer. Hot AF.

SinnerThree: Well, I’m down if you are. My life is kind of a mess right now. School, work, family stress. Oh, and I live next door to the most annoying dude in the world. I need the distraction. Are you sure you want this?
LobsterShorts: I might want it a little more than I’m willing to admit. SinnerThree: Hey, nothing wrong with pushing your boundaries… LobsterShorts: Tell that to my control-freak father. Anyway. What if this threesome is awkward?
SinnerThree: Then it’s awkward. It’s not like we’ll ever have to see each other again. Right? Just promise you won’t fall in love with me. LobsterShorts: Now wouldn’t that be life-changing..


Title : Top Secret
Author Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy
Format : eBook
Page Count : 319
Genre : NA contemporary, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Tuxbury Publishing LLC and Elle Kennedy Inc
Release Date : May 7, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

I’m honestly just as surprised as you are by this rating.

I’m a big fan of this duo, as individual authors and also for their co-authorered HIM and US duology, so the news that this top secret m/m — a return to the genre AND to writing together after three years — was dropping had me super super hype. And thankfully there wasn’t a huge build up between the announcement and release. But this didn’t live up to their previous works and definitely didn’t feel as strong as many of their solo offerings have in the past.

I’m single, a little depressed, and I’m very horny, with a side of sexual confusion, too.

The plot is full of, like, click baity excellence. I mean that in a good way. It’s a sexual awakening story, with a texting element, and a connection that develops via aliases that completely contradicts their pre-existing relationship. So, all that and basically a hate to love to boot? Hell to the yes. And for the first.. I want to say forty percent? I was clicking that bait, I was riding that train, I was all about that bass. Or something.

I dreamt about sex with men once. Or twice. I never mentioned that to [my girlfriend]. But why would I? I’ve also dreamt of meeting a dragon who smoked clove cigarettes. The things my brain invents while I’m sleeping aren’t newsworthy.

Except there was an added drama element that should’ve made me sympathetic towards one of the characters but instead just irritated me. On the other side of the pairing, there was a different conflict element that made up so much of the lead’s indecision and stress and then, poof, said element literally became a non-issue at a convenient time and place in the novel. What? The transition from realizing who was on the other side of the phone just.. I don’t know, I feel like I missed it? Things both escalated very quickly and yet there was no sense of time passing, no sense of anything meaningful between them beyond boning, and I honestly think it’s because everyone was so underdeveloped. It felt very plot driven, with pitstops for drama, and that was definitely at the expense of the characters’ emotional growth and evolution. Honestly if half the background noise had been cut out it would’ve been far more enjoyable. And there would’ve been much more time for the snarky banter that I liked. Because it was those moments that really did highlight the leads’ chemistry, the sexual tension, the connection.

You’re a yellow lab.” 
I’m.. what?”
A dog. A big, happy dog chasing Frisbees on the beach with his pals. You’re a pack animal.
And you’re.. a pit bull?'”
Not even. I’m a tom cat in the alley. Just passing through.”

So, while TOP SECRET is full of delicious tropes, and an excellent early build, it does fizzle well before the climax. This lacked the fun that I had with THE DEAL, it could’ve done with some of the gravitas demonstrated in STEADFAST, and ultimately I wanted a connection like we had in HIM. These authors are so talented and can handle a range of topics and genres with humour and cleverness and consideration and still drown you in swoons. But I just didn’t get much of any of that with this one. 

RED, WHITE and ROYAL BLUE by Casey McQuiston

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends…

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?


Title : Red, White & Royal Blue
Author : Casey McQuiston
Format : eARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : contemporary new adult romance, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Griffin
Release Date : May 14, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 5 star review

Do either of y’all know what a viscount is? I’ve met, like, five of them, and I keep smiling politely as if I know what it means when they say it. Alex, you took comparative international government relational things. Whatever. What are they?
I think it’s that thing when a vampire creates an army of crazed sex waifs and starts his own ruling body.

I can’t even tell you how happy I am that this book was everything I wanted it to be — and a million things more.

Oh my god, this is like all those romantic comedies where the girl hires a male escort to pretend to be her wedding date and then falls in love with him for real.” “That is not at all what this is like.

RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE is the happiness and sweetness we deserve; not just right now (though maybe especially right now?) but in general. This is one of those rare gems of a story where there isn’t a single character to dislike. Where there is representation in so many fabulous forms. Where there is silliness and drama and charm and swoons and just enough angst to make you hurt and the best kind of ending — the one that makes you cry and cheer and cry some more and hug your kindle to your chest. The kind of ending you’ll relive because you know, absolutely, one hundred percent, that you’ll be reading this book over and over again.

I never thought I’d be standing here faced with a choice I can’t make, because I never.. I never imagined you would love me back.

Royals, politics, biracial rep, bisexual rep, grief, addiction, anxiety.. McQuiston somehow spins it all into a delightful tale that will make you laugh and shed tears and wish you could be friends with the characters within the pages.

Wait, are you watching videos of Justin Trudeau speaking French again?” “That’s not a thing I do!

This is pure fun and totally heartwarming, with tons of real world tongue-in-cheek dialogue (that, hey, it’s nice to laugh about, all things considered), and I’m so happy that release day is (almost!) finally here so I can go about shoving this book in everyone’s face.

I don’t think this election is going to hinge on an email server.
You sure about that?
Listen, maybe if [he] had more time to sow those seeds of doubt, but I don’t think we’re there. Maybe it it were 2016.
^– probably too soon but h o n e s t l y.

Highly highly recommend.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


HEATED RIVALRY by Rachel Reid


Nothing interferes with Shane Hollander’s game—definitely not the sexy rival he loves to hate.

Pro hockey star Shane Hollander isn’t just crazy talented, he’s got a spotless reputation. Hockey is his life. Now that he’s captain of the Montreal Voyageurs, he won’t let anything jeopardize that, especially the sexy Russian whose hard body keeps him awake at night.

Boston Bears captain Ilya Rozanov is everything Shane’s not. The self-proclaimed king of the ice, he’s as cocky as he is talented. No one can beat him—except Shane. They’ve made a career on their legendary rivalry, but when the skates come off, the heat between them is undeniable. When Ilya realizes he wants more than a few secret hookups, he knows he must walk away. The risk is too great.

As their attraction intensifies, they struggle to keep their relationship out of the public eye. If the truth comes out, it could ruin them both. But when their need for each other rivals their ambition on the ice, secrecy is no longer an option…


Title : Heated Rivalry
Author
: Rachel Reid
Format : eBook
Page Count : 310
Genre : adult sports romance, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Carina Press
Release Date : March 25, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating
: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 5 star review

You are very beautiful.
Hottest Man in the NHL, according to Cosmopolitan.”
They are idiots. They put me at number five. Five!
It does seem generous.

I’m pretty stingy with ratings. I know it, you know it, it’s just how it is. However.. today is not that day.

I like girls.
Yeah, no shit.
But I also like you.
Well, lucky me.
Not as a person, of course. But you have a good mouth.

This is an easy five because of the total and utter joy that is this book. I had such a good time reading it, sending screenshots to buddies, and just being completely bowled over by hilarity and feels.. often at the same time. This is my favourite kind of romance — not exactly enemies to lovers but enemies while lovers? grudgingly boning? not quite hate to love but like.. oh whatever fuck it. I give up — but throw in some hockey and opposites attract, not to mention the fantasy surrounding the real people this story is based off of, and I’m just as happy as a pig in shit.

I can’t keep pretending I don’t like you.
You don’t like me.
I do. I.. I maybe like you too much.

HEATED RIVALRY is a joy. There’s really not much more to say. But it’s hot af and also sweet but not in the way book one was; this was gooey, yes, but way more realistically so. I loved the overlap from GAME CHANGER, loved the time jumps, the little flashes of interactions over the course of almost a decade, loved how things came together without ever having to dissolve into angst, loved the ending, loved everything about it, really.

I just don’t understand. How could this have even happened between you? Weren’t there any nice men in Montreal, Shane?
Probably.

Surprising no one I have more highlights than I have words to gush with, and I’m just a pile of soggy grinning goo right now, so, just.. read this.

ps, I want more Game Changers kthanxbai.