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Review of Secret (Elementals)

Secret book cover

We’ve already seen life through the eyes of the elementals Chris, Gabriel, and Hunter. In the latest book in the Elemental series, Secret, it’s finally Nick’s turn to tell his story – and a complicated one, it is. Nick certainly ended up being a much more complex character than I had originally thought.

Now I will warn you upfront – this is one of those books that is very difficult to put down. In fact, I read the entire book in one sitting, staying up until almost dawn. Hmm..I remember that happening the last time I read a book in the Elemental series.

Nick has a Secret

Nick is the good twin, the reasonable one, the well-behaved one. But he has a secret….a HUGE secret that is eating him alive so much so that’s he’s broken. He is crippled by stress, worried sick, can’t sleep and, although once being a star A student, is now flunking exams at school.

Since Nick’s secret was revealed in Breathless, I’m not giving away any spoilers when I tell you what that secret is: He is struggling with his sexuality and is having one hell of a time coming to terms with his attraction to Quinn’s dancing partner, Adam – and Adam’s attraction to him.

But how is Nick supposed to “come out” in a testosterone-filled household of his three brothers and Hunter, a former guide? And moreover, how will Gabriel, his macho, volatile twin brother react if – or when – he finds out?

And So Does Quinn

In this book, we delve a little more into the world of Quinn who is Nick’s pretend girlfriend. I really warmed up to Quinn in this novel and loved the fact that the author presented her story as sort of a sub-story to Nick’s.

Her world is falling apart quickly and her home life goes from bad to worse to deadly. Being the saucy, snarky young lady that she is, she tells nobody about her predicament, determined to manage on her own – except the fact that she’s spending nights out in the woods, too afraid to go home.

But help does come….and from the arms of a most unlikely source, much to the chagrin of the Merricks.

Adam Has Secrets Too

While Nick is trying to come to terms with his feelings for Adam, we learn that Adam has a dark, disturbing past of his own and is still trying to come to terms with it….and not always very successfully. One bad decision on Nick’s part tears Adam away from him and their budding relationship ends before it barely begins. Can Nick fix it? Or are Adam and Nick both too emotionally messed up?

And Then There’s the Guide

What would be the point of an Elemental book if there wasn’t somebody out trying to kill the Merrick boys? In that aspect, this book doesn’t disappoint. Right in the midst of everyone’s home and personal drama, a new guide comes to town and he’s worse than the last one (remember Shadow?). He’s ruthless, unfeeling and completely detached from humanity – and he won’t rest until each and every one of the Merrick’s are dead.

The Verdict

The author did a masterful job in her characterizations, plot development, attention to detail as well as illustrating the complicated relationships between the characters. This novel just isn’t about a bad man* trying to kill the Merrick brothers. It also touches on matters of self-discovery, friendship, brotherhood, family dynamics, judgement of others, using others and even romance.

Secret is a solid, fast moving, emotional roller-coaster of a story. If you haven’t yet read this series, start out with Spark, told from Nick’s twin brother Gabriel’s point of view. If you’ve read all of the other Elemental novels, then this one is not to be missed. This might be my favorite Elemental novel thus far, although I enjoyed all of them immensely.

Recommended!

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Wordless Wednesdays – Bella in a Basket

Image of small dog in basket

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Weekly Roundup – March 15, 2014

Image of Lion at Como Zoom

This is my “Saturday Roundup” post where I wrap up the week’s events. provide links to some interesting posts that I came across on the Web during the week and perhaps even throw in a photo or two.

On a Personal Level…

I once again stuck to my writing goal of 2,000 words a day – a continuous streak since January 1st. Being that we are still in the full throes of winter here in Wisconsin, I had no problem with productivity – too darn cold to do much of anything else! So I’m working my butt off this winter with the hopes of slowing down a bit when summer finally makes an appearance.

This week, I completed the third book in my new series featuring sixteen year-old Nick, a high school tarot card reader who can see ghosts – and have begun outlining the fourth novel in the series. I’ve also made quite a bit of progress editing the second draft of the first book. Getting closer and close to publication.

Was hoping to see the new Wes Anderson movie “Grand Budapest Hotel” but it has still not made it to Milwaukee. It’s been out in other cities for over a week already. I’ll be bummed if it doesn’t make it here.

On the Web

Andrew Sullivan posted a short video of Edward Snowden speaking to a South by Southwest audience via Google Hangout, during which he stressed the need for consumers to start encrypting their data, which led to an interesting discussion on the blog. Snowden also Skyped into South by Southwest. You can watch the hour long video HERE.

If you enjoy photography, then you might want to check out these 50 Photography Quotes to Inspire You, posted at the Petapixel blog.

Filmmaker Tatia Pilieva did an experiment during which he asked 20 complete strangers to make out. See the video HERE

Another film by a Seattle artist memorializes his gay grandfather who came out at 90.

Are you a Golden Girls fan? This week, the Towleroad blog posted some of the best gay moments from the Golden Girls. It was fun to see these clips again.

I also came across an interested video in which a photographer tried to get a video of a supposed cougar in urban Hollywood. He succeeds.

Feeling stuck in your writing? Then check out [Alexandra Franzen’s post](http://www.alexandrafranzen.com/2014/03/02/what-should-i-write-about/] featuring 33 prompts get your writing going again.

If you’re looking for reasonably priced cloud storage, then you might be interested to learn Google has slashed the cost of Google Drive to $2.99 a month for 100 gig. That might be the cheapest cloud storage I’ve seen.

Microsoft also was in the news this week. Come spring, the company will begin offering a Personal Office 365 subscription for $6.95 a month.

Kevin Truong is the creator of The Gay Men Project, his own idea to photograph as many gay men as he possibly can all over the world. Great into video to the project – looking forward to seeing a lot more from him.

From the Cape Gazette come a unique take on an obituary. This guy had a great sense of humor!

Are feeling a tad needy? Then you might want to check out Leo Babauta’s article entitled Becoming Emotionally Self-Reliant

And for a good chuckle, check out this video during which two gay dad’s meet the neighborhood “oversharer”. Warning: Not family friendly or for those with a prudish disposition.

And…that’s a wrap!

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Wordless Wednesday – Glendale Bridge

Image of Glendale Bridge on Milwaukee River

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Caturday Weekly Roundup

Picture of a cute kittenThis is my “Caturday Roundup” post where my buddy Leo (the adorable kitten pictured to the right) helps me wrap up the week’s events and provide links to some interesting posts that I came across on the Web during the week.

On a Personal Level…

I stuck to my writing goal of 2,000 words a day – a continuous streak since January 1st. I started second edits on my series featuring sixteen year-old Nick, a high school tarot card reader who can see ghosts. So far, I’ve completed three books in the series with three more planned out. I’m hoping the first one will be released within a month. Keep an eye out for my sexy werewolf novel coming soon as well.

As we’re still in the throes of winter here in Milwaukee, I’ve been focusing mainly on work – there will be plenty of time to play in the summer. Although every time I walk past my motorcycle in the garage, I get a little weak-kneed, waiting for spring to arrive.

On the Web

Andrew Sullivan posted a short film (only 4 min.) that was inspired by the work of H.G. Wells. A beautiful, poetic work.

If sexy, shirtless French Firemen are your cup of tea, then you might want to check out this video. It features an entire fire department lip syncing to “Call Me Maybe” (the poor young men got into hot water for it too).

Another fun French video features two brothers (or brother-in-laws) who call themselves “Les Beaux Frères” and perform an incredible routine on French TV wearing only ….um… A towel.

Queen Elizabeth made the news this week. For the first time ever, according to this article, she publicly acknowledges gay people. Who wudda thunk it?

In the literary world, Anne Rice signs a petition to protest bullying of authors on Amazon.

Another author, Sarah Madison, wrote a wonderful piece entitled “Why a Middle-Aged Woman Identifies with “Frozen”. I saw this movie recently and fell in love with it! I can relate to many aspects of the film that the author mentions in the article And if you really like Frozen, check out the Spanish Version of the movie’s feature song “Let It Go” along with the words here.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits talked in this article about what he learned as a writer. Some Great Tips here.

For my blogger or wanna-be blogger friends out there, Courtney Carver wrote a great article on the Be More With Less blog entitled How to Start a Blog with Purpose.

For my photographer friends, how about a public restroom shaped like a compact camera? It’s true and you can read about it here.

And just for fun, Andrew Sullivan of the Dish posted Adam Baran’s video entitled Jackpot which depicts a teenager’s quest to acquire a treasure trove of gay porn magazines (the movie takes place in 1994, when Internet porn wasn’t so accessible).

In homage to one of the worst winters in the past 35 years, TowlerRoad blog featured a video of two young men Snow Swimming of all things!

And…that’s a wrap!

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Review of Life Lessons by Kaje Harper

Life lessons book cover

Life Lessons Series

I’ve been meaning to read the the Life Lessons series by Kaje Harper for awhile now but have not as of yet gotten around to it so I was overjoyed when I noticed that my Goodreads book club was reading the first book in the series, Life Lessons in March. Now this author is not new to me. I’ve read two other books of hers: Sole Support and Into Deep Waters, both of which I really enjoyed. I had no idea what the book was about but it didn’t take long to figure out that it was a mystery/detective novel because it…

Starts Out With a Body

Right from the get-go, this adrenaline-filled story hits the ground running. The novel opens one evening at Roosevelt High School as young teacher Tony Hart prepares to leave for the night. As soon as the elevator door opens, one of his colleagues, Brian Weston, stumbles into him and drops to the floor. It’s then that Tony notices the knife sticking in Westin’s chest. Tony checks for a pulse. He’s dead.

Panicked, Tony leaves the body in the elevator and calls the police from his classroom. He then anxiously awaits their arrival.

Enter Mac

Homicide detective Jared MacLean – who goes by Mac – arrives on the scene. He and Tony appear to be complete opposites. While Tony is young, a tad twink-ish, opinionated, out & proud and somewhat sarcastic, Mac is masculine, pushing 40, gruff, by-the-book, and straight (or so it seems initially).

We learn as the novel progresses that Mac has had a difficult background – he is a widower and the legal father of a daughter who is not his. The daugher is being raised by his religious crackpot of a cousin, who won’t allow Mac in her house because she believes that Mac and his former wife (now deceased) had the child out of wedlock. We also learn that he is gay but is so deeply in the closet that he doesn’t ever acknowledge Hart’s flirting – or his growing own attraction to the young teacher.

I also found the police procedural scenes to be well-done, thorough and believable. Many authors tend to do a “data dump” when describing crime and police procedures. This was not the case here – the author expertly unfurled information only as we needed it.

The Plot Thickens

The relationship between the two men unfolds a little at a time with Hart being angry with himself for lusting after a straight cop and Mac being unable to let Hart know that his advances are not unwelcome, as he stay firm in his conviction that he will remain in the closet.

The author reveals the inner-workings of the characters slowly, allowing us to get to really know the them. No love at first sight here. In fact, it begins to appear that Mac is never going to let Hart know that he is also gay and attracted to Hart.

There was one especially revealing event in the story – the day Mac and Hart ran into each other at the zoo, each accompanied by a kid. I found their day at the zoo to be one of the more tender moments of the book, as the two men, on neutral turf and off the clock, conversed freely and honestly, providing each other with a synopsis of their life story – and yes, Mac’s sexuality was still unknown to Hart at this time.

No Relief For Hart

The plot of our murder mystery thickens as well and Tony Hart is right in the thick of things, with several threats against his life, as well as another murder and an attempted murder.

Toward the end of the book, we realize that Tony is not the wimpy twink we may have pegged him for. We learn that he is no pushover and can definitely hold his own in a crisis.

And the Part We’ve Been Waiting For…

The stress, as well as the body count, is rising. The threats against Hart’s life are becoming more serious and a murderer is still on the loose. Along with the tension of a high-profile murder case, each man is trying to deal with the attraction he feels for the other. Finally, it all explodes and Hart and Mac ended up in each other’s arm…and in bed. [Fanning myself].

The sex was hot…yet, not overdone. I’ve read so many novels in which once the characters have sex for the first time, we find them jumping in bed with each other every two pages – with the plot of the book gets lost in the process. Not so here. The sex scenes are well-done, relevant to the story and do not overpower or take away from the plot.

The End

Do our heroes survive unscathed? Don’t worry – I won’t tell you how it ends. But I will say that you are in for one hell of a roller-coaster ride! The denouement is tense, exciting, surprising and adrenaline-filled. And believe me, by the end you will really care about what happens to these characters.

The Verdict

Once again, this author did not disappoint. This well-written story was compelling and gripping enough to keep me turning the pages, wondering what was going to happen next. The storyline was fast-moving but not so fast-paced that you lost what was going on. This book was part crime/detective novel, part slow romance – although I will say that theirs is not a fluffy gushing-over-each-other type of romance. This novel is touching, compelling, absorbing and scary in all the right places with extremely well-developed characters. I can’t wait to read the next one in the series. Recommended!

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Wordless Wednesday – Seal

Image of seal

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Review of Just Between Us by J.H. Trumble

Just Between Us

Awhile back, I wrote a review of J.H. Trumble’s book “Don’t Let Me Go” during which I expressed how much I loved that book. I was delighted to see that the Goodread’s Young Adult LGBT fiction group featured another of her books, Just Between Us” for February’s read – not that I needed an excuse to read another of this wonderful author’s books.

Luke is Back!

I was pleased to see a familiar face – seventeen year old Luke Chesser, who served as a secondary character in Don’t Let Me Go. This time, he gets his own book…well, sort of….he shares it with Curtis Cameron (more on him in a bit). While it certainly can be helpful to have read Don’t Let Me Go, it is not necessary – this book stands entirely on its own.

That being said, in “Just Between Us” we see Luke, still freshly heartbroken from the Adam/Nate debacle in the first book, now living in Texas with his mother (I was relived to see his abusive father out of the picture – at least for the time being). He is still very much involved with the marching band at his new high school and during practice, notices the handsome and charming nineteen year-old Curtis Cameron, the new band field tech who had graduated from the same high school. Luke plays hard to get at first but it doesn’t take long before Curtis’s charming way digs right into Luke’s heart and he find himself falling hard for Curtis – and Curtis for him. The two become inseparable….for awhile.

Curtis

Curtis attempts to convince himself that Luke is too young, that he doesn’t want to get involved with a high school student. But he can’t help himself…Luke is just too darned sweet and shy. But before their relationship has a chance to get off the ground, Curtis receives a shocking phone-call while at a family gathering from his ex-lover who accuses Curtis of infecting him with HIV.

Curtis blows it off, not taking the call seriously although it is still in the back of his mind. He finds himself reluctant to take his and Luke’s relationship to the next level just in case. Luke, realizing that Curtis is avoiding physical intimacy, begins pressuring Curtis even more. Curtis finally breaks down and gets tested so he can, with a clear conscience, begin a relationship with Luke.

The World Comes Crashing Down

Curtis discovers he’s HIV Positive. Ashamed and horrified, he refuses to begin treatment, living in what can best be classified as a state of denial. His life spirals downward and he inadvertently cuts himself off from Luke and his supportive family because of his own shame and self-loathing. But moreover, he decides that he cannot – and will not – ever consider having a relationship with Luke. He simply cannot risk infecting this sweet young man with this terrible disease. So before it even begins, their budding relationship is over as Curtis erects more and more impenetrable walls between him and Luke.

This is where the reading gets tough. As a reader, I found it excruciating at times to take this journey with Curtis, watching him self-destruct before our eyes. Being a product of the 80’s, I lost many dear friends to AIDS so I found this book exceptionally difficult to get through in places, as it brought up memories of people whose lives were cut way too short. Luckily, times are different these days and if the patient begins treatment in time, most can expect to live a long life. I applaud the author for presenting timely, well-researched information on HIV and attempting to clear up the many misconceptions surrounding this disease.

Everyone Finds Out

Luke learns the truth about why Curtis had practically cut him out of his life and lashes out in anger and hurt at Curtis. It is about this time that Curtis makes it very clear that they will never have a relationship together. Against his better judgment, Luke promises not to tell Curtis’s family about the illness. We continue to witness Curtis’s slow decline, which is utterly heartbreaking in and of itself, but equally upsetting to watch is his complete rejection of Luke, who is willing to stand by his side no matter what, throughout the good and the bad.

Finally, due to circumstances out of the control of Curtis’, the cat is out of the bag – his family learns the truth.

The Verdict

This was an incredibly touching portrayal of a young man who finds out he is HIV positive. The characters are extremely well-developed and I felt that the reader could really relate to everything Curtis was going thorough – including his shame, fear, disgust, self-pity and self-hatred. While one may not agree with Curtis’s methods, one can certainly understand his fear of infecting the young man that he had grown to love with a potentially life-threatening disease. The character of Luke, who was portrayed as clingy and somewhat needed in Don’t Let Me Go ended up being the adult in the relationship and was called upon to make some tough decisions.

This story made me laugh in places, cry in places and often, wished I could wring Curtis’s neck until he came to his senses. The characters in this novel, including the secondary ones, truly come to life on the pages in all their tenacity, shame, love, hate, fear and human follies. This compelling and powerful character-driven story tackled a sensitive issue with expertise and compassion .

My only niggle with the book – and it’s a personal preference niggle – was that it is written using multiple first point of view; that is to say, one chapter is told from Curtis’s first person perspective while the next is told from Luke’s. I found this a little bit distracting and a couple of times, had to peek back at the beginning of the chapter to refresh my memory on whose mind we were seeing the world through.

Just Between Us is not a light and fluffy feel-good type of read but rather is a heartfelt and at times, raw & gritty peak into the life of a college student recently diagnosed with HIV and the young man who chooses to love him regardless. Recommended!!

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Review of Dialog: Techniques & Exercises for Writing Effective Dialog

Dialog book image

This post is for my fellow writer friends out there. I just completed another book in the Write Great Fiction series and wanted to share it with you. It is entitled Dialog: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialog and is written by Gloria Kempton. I’ve been slowly working my way through the Write Great Fiction series and up until now, my favorites have been Revision & Self-Editing and Plot & Structure, both of which are written by James Bell. After reading Dialog: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialog, I now add this book to my favorites list as well.

For many writers, writing dialog is one of the more difficult aspects of the craft and certainly can be tricky. If you are struggling with dialog or wish to add a little extra polish to it, you’ll find this handy guide an invaluable tool.

The material is presented in a fun, witty and informal matter which makes it especially approachable and does an excellent job at illustrating the mechanical aspects of writing conversation between characters Using passages from well-known novels such as Harry Potter and Moby Dick, the author provides concise examples of the “Do’s”and “Don’t” of writing dialog. The book is not just filled with tips and tricks, but additionally delves into specific details of dialog and dialog structure using specific passages as examples.

The book is broken down into the following Chapters:

  • Chapter 1: Releasing the Voice Within—The Purpose of Dialog
  • Chapter 2: Mute Characters and Stories—Abolishing Your Fears
  • Chapter 3: The Genre, Mainstream, and Literary Story—The Dialog Matters
  • Chapter 4: Wheels of Motion—Dialog That Propels the Story Forward
  • Chapter 5: Narrative, Dialog, and Action—Learning to Weave the Spoken Word
  • Chapter 6: In Their Own Words—Delivering the Characters and Their Motivations to the Reader
  • Chapter 7: There Is a Place—Using Dialog to Reveal Story Setting and Background
  • Chapter 8: Breaks or Accelerator—Dialog as a Means of Pacing
  • Chapter 9: Tightening the Tension and Suspense—Dialog That Intensifies the Conflict
  • Chapter 10: It Was a Dark and Stormy Night—Using Dialog to Set the Mood and Facilitate the Emotion
  • Chapter 11: The Uhs, Ands, and Ers—Some How-Tos of Dialog Quirks
  • Chapter 12: Whoops! Dialog That Doesn’t Deliver—The Most Common Mistakes
  • Chapter 13: Punctuation and Last Minute Considerations—Tying Up the Loose Ends
  • Chapter 14: Dialog Dos and Don’ts—Some Practical Tips
  • Chapter 15: Connecting With Readers—You Can Make a Difference
  • Appendix: Checklist

As you can see from the chapter breakdown above, this comprehensive guide provides a wealth of information that can help you to bring your characters to life and move your dialog writing to the next level. I’ve not seen a better book devoted to the study of dialog than this one and found it not only helpful, thought-provoking and enlightening, but also essential. This in-depth book has found welcome place on my literary bookshelf. Recommended!

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How Coffee Turned Me Into a Morning Person

Morning Person or Not?

I am not a morning person. Never have been. But that being said, I do some of my best work in the morning. Morning is when I’m my most alert and fresh, the time when I am the most productive and given that the majority of the business world works between 9:00 am to 5:00 p.m., I needed to be available to clients during these times.

Since the first of this year, I have written between 2000 – 2,500 words every day without fail, beginning at 7:45 a.m. every morning. But it wasn’t always this way.I used to find getting up early in the morning to be an unbearable, agonizing chore.

(Not)Getting Up in the Morning

Throughout the years, I have tried every trick in the book to force myself to get up in the morning. I’ve tried setting my alarm for 15 minutes earlier every day. I’ve tried keeping my alarm across the room so I had to physically get out of bed to turn it off. I’ve tried alarms that are so jarring that you shoot out of bed like a rocket the second it goes off. I’ve tried progressive alarms that bring you out of sleep slowly, gently and lazily. They all worked – but only for a short while. Then it was back to my normal routine. That is to say, turning off the alarm and jumping back into bed until my body (and not some stupid alarm) decided that it was time for me to get up.

Coffee was the Answer

In order to understand my solution, you first need to know that I love coffee and I admit that I am more than a tad bit fussy when it comes to my coffee. I don’t like weak coffee, shitty coffee, cheap coffee, cold coffee, old coffee, bitter coffee, stale coffee or coffee that has been sitting around in a pot for more than fifteen minutes. I’m not particularly fussy about most things, with coffee being the one exception. There’s nothing I look forward to more than my morning cup of java.

So How Does This All Fit In?

Awhile ago, I purchased a coffee pot with a timer. The idea is that the night before, you prepare the grounds, add the necessary water and set the timer for when you want the coffee to begin brewing the next morning. So I did it. I followed the instructions, plugged in the pot, set my alarm (it plays the sound of a waterfall along with gentle chimes, if you must know) and went to bed.

The next morning, I awoke to the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafting throughout the house. But moreover, I knew that if I didn’t get out of bed right then and there, the coffee would grow bitter from sitting in the pot and become (at least, according to me) undrinkable. Moreover, I didn’t have to sit around and wait for my coffee to finish brewing. It was done by the time my feet hit the floor.

A Combination of Tricks

So for the past several months, I have gotten out of bed immediately when my alarm goes off. Automating my morning coffee routine was the one trick I needed to turn myself into a morning person (as much as one can turn oneself into a morning person).

Now at the time I began this little experiment, I was sleeping until about 10:30 or 11:00 a.m. It’s important to note that I just didn’t set my alarm one day for 7:30 a.m. and simply bound out of bed with a squeal of delight.

No, what I did was to combine my coffee trick with setting my alarm fifteen minutes earlier each week. For example, week 1 the alarm (and my coffee timer) was set for 10:15; week 2: 10:00; week 3: 9:45 and so on. And if you fee the need to spend an extra week or two without changing your alarm time, by all means do so. I think I spent three weeks at 9:00 before I moved on to 8:45.

But I Don’t Like Coffee

I admit, this trick is aimed at coffee connoisseurs who simply can’t bear the thought of allowing a pot of expensive coffee go to waste. If you don’t drink coffee, try the experiment with your favorite tea. Or perhaps, schedule something you really enjoy doing early first thing in the morning. But whatever it is, it needs to be something that will get you out of bed – something pleasurable.

Give it a try and see what happens. Like I said, I’ve tried numerous methods until I finally found one that works. If you are trying to become a morning person – or a forced to become one – then keep trying various tricks until you find the one that works. Often, the simplest thing – such as a cup of coffee – is the one that works the best.

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Wordless Wednesday – Reflections

Reflections in a building

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Review of The Order of the Poison Oak

OrderOfOak

The Russel Middlebrook Series Continues

Last week, I posted about The Geography Club book and movie by Brent Hartinger, and about how much I loved it. Imagine my delight when I discovered that there are now a series of books featuring Russel. So I snatched up the second one in the series: The Order of the Poison Oak and read it in one sitting. Though this book is geared towards Young Adults, I feel that this is a book that anyone can enjoy, regardless of age. As with The Geography Club, I found it an excellent read.

School’s Tough

(Geography Club spoilers below)
At the end of the last book, Russel, who just joined the Gay/Straight Alliance group at school, is outed to the entire school. In the beginning of The Order of the Poison Oak, things are not easy for our hero at Robert L. Goodkind High. Told through the perspective of Russel, we learn that he is the brunt of anti-gay slurs, gets his locker defaced on a regular basis and receives anonymous bullying e-mails. In regards to the old “Sticks and Stones adage, he writes:

”..did it ever occur to whoever wrote that stupid adage that hurtful words might be a pretty good indication that stick and stones are on the way?”

When his friend Gunnar asks Russel if he’d be interested in being a counselor at summer camp with him and their friend Min, Russel jumps at the chance. The idea of being somewhere where nobody knows about him sounds pretty good to him. So off they go….

Off to Summer Camp

Russel, Min and Gunnar arrive at Camp Serenity where they’ll be spending the rest of the summer. During an orientation meeting, Russel notices fellow counselor and strikingly handsome Web, who, as Russel describes him, “was much prettier than any postcard.” When the camp director pairs up counselors who will be working together, Russel plans on working it so he’ll be paired up with hunky Web but to his surprise and dismay, his friend Min cuts him off and pairs herself with Web. Later on, an argument ensues as to whether Web is gay or straight? Russel takes this as a challenge. So who gets him? Ah, but you’ll have to read the book to find out.

Monsters and Hellions and Brats, Oh My

The counselor gig turns out to be much more challenging that Russel had originally thought. The first group of kids who will spend two weeks at camp are disfigured burn survivors and the counselors are given two days of Burn Survivor Sensitivity Training to prepare them. But nothing could prepare Russel for the cabin full of 10-year-old monsters for whom he is to be responsible for the next couple of weeks. They refuse to listen to him and defy him at every opportunity. To make matters worse, it appears it is only Russel who has unruly kids – everyone else’s seem to be fairly well-behaved. Russel finally gains control and the respect of his kids, only to lose it later on through a careless inaction on his part. But he does end up redeeming himself later on through a delightful story he tells the kids and the “secret order” that develops from that story. This was an especially touching and heartfelt section of the book which made me like Russel all the more.

Love on the Rocks…

Russel develops a relationship with someone at camp, only to realize later that it is someone else that he had fallen in love with – he just doesn’t see it at first. Min’s relationship falls apart as well because of Russel’s actions and for a good portion of the book, the two are not on speaking terms. And Gunnar? Well, he decides that he is not going to date anyone at all and declares that he has completely given up on girls. A couple of embarrassing yet comical mishaps (ie. Gunnar tripping on a fish in front of the girl who like him) entrenches his decision even further. Funny that…it seems that love tends to find us especially when we try with all our might to push it away. At one point, things look pretty bleak for Russel, Min and Gunnar. But eventually, it all comes together (well, for most of them).

Learning and Growing

This is one of those books where the reader feels as though he or she is on an emotional roller-coaster – at times I was laughing, at times I teared up; at other times I cringed, while a few times I was angry – all of which indicates a story well told. While Russel certainly does his fair share of screwing up, he also learns and grows throughout the story and is a much different person at the end than he was on Page 1. Through his mistakes, he learns the importance of doing the “right thing” and ends up discovering that we are all special and unique, no matter what our outward appearance or how hard we think we have conformed. I found the characters to be well-developed and for me, they really came to life throughout this book. For me personally, this story brought back  fond memories of the many summers that I spent as a 4-H camp counselor. The Order of the Poison Oak contains all of the things that makes a story great: adventure, struggle, friendship, redemption and yes, even romance – and is an exquisite addition to the YA/LGBT genre. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.  Recommended!!

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Review of the movie G.B.F.

Gbf

I just viewed a fun & wacky indie YA comedy called G.B.F. and I loved it! Unfortunately, this film didn’t receive a lot of press and as such, only played in select theaters. If you wish to see it, you may have purchase or stream it on Amazon.

Jockeying For Position

G.B.F. stands for Gay Best Friend and takes place in a suburban high school. Here we are introduced to three female divas all of whom are battling each other for supremacy of the school. Each one decides that in order to the queen bee, she needs obtain for herself a gay best friend. Not an easy task, considering that there are no out gay students at the high school. But that’s all about to change.

Who’s Out & Who’s Not?

Flamboyant Brent (played by Paul Iacono) is hungering to be popular and sees this as his opportunity for school stardom. But his plan backfires and instead of outing himself, his shy best friend, Tanner (played by Michael J. Willett) ends up being the one who is outed. The three wanna be school queens spend the rest of the movie vying for Tanner’s attention and jump through outrageous hoops to obtain him as her exclusive new GBF.

Stereotypes for Days

The movie pokes fun at many high school stereotypes which some people may or may not find offensive. For instance, the cattiness and vindictiveness of the three young school divas during their quest to have Tanner be their own personal GBF made me think of the sterotypical high school mean girls. The movie also poked fun of those religious folk who do not walk their talk; such as ‘Shley (Andrea Bowen), a mormon who likes to drink and have sex and her mormon boyfriend ‘Topher (Taylor Frey) who has a bad habit of trying to seduce his gay classmates.

Witty Dialogue

In addition to poking fun at stereotypes, the film was rife with witty, fast-paced one-liners and jabs and I found myself roaring with laughter many times throughout the movie. The scene where Brent and his mother (played by Megan Mullally, who played Karen on Will & Grace) watch Brokeback Mountain together was hysterical. At one point, she says in regards to the movie, “Oh Heath, it’s freezing. Swallow your pride and go into the tent. Well, I guess necessity is the mother of invention.”

But it’s Serious, too

While this film certainly can be classified as trite, silly, wacky fun, there is also a serious element to it. This is not simply a story about three stuck-up girls who use a young gay student as a fashion accessory; it is also a tender best-friends love story with an emotional depth that renders it heartfelt. It’s an inspiring film that treats the subject of choosing between popularity and friendship with emotion and humor. This is fast-paced story filled with laugh-a-minute dialog, love, hope, friendship and some angst, that will touch anyone’s heart. And though Tanner and Brent go through some real turmoil, they experience real growth and change – and they come out in the end better people for it.

If you get a chance to see it at your local theater, I recommend you do so (it’s always great to support independent films). It’s a delightful tale of school popularity and friendship that doesn’t disappoint. You can also get it from Amazon HERE. Recommended!!

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Excerpt from a Touch of Cedar

Happy Friday everyone!

Today’s post is going to consist of a little blatant self-promotion. I am including an excerpt from my latest novel, A Touch of Cedar, a gay-themed time-travel ghost story. In this scene, Marek our hero encounters the ghosts for the first time:

Touch of Cedar Cover Image

Excerpt from A Touch of Cedar

Marek clasped his hands in front of him and glanced down at the table. He observed the scratched, faded wood and recalled that Randy had reminded him just recently that it needed some work. Another thing to add to his ever-growing never-ending to-do list. A slight shiver fluttered up his back. He shook himself and drifted back into his thoughts. He involuntarily smiled as a light aroma of cedar passed through the room and he lost himself in pleasant nostalgia. The smell reminded him of his youth on his father’s farm and all the wonderful summers he had spent there growing up. He and his brother would spend hours climbing the huge cedar tree on the edge of the property. How simple things were back then. He felt an ache in his chest as he thought about how much he missed his father these three long years since he had passed.

He inhaled deeply and closed his eyes. Then all at once he snapped to and his eyes flew open. Cedar. It was the same scent he has smelled a couple of weeks earlier upstairs. That odd cologne that was in his room.

The hairs on his arms rose and his skin felt prickly. He glanced down at his arms, intrigued by the strange sensation. He lifted his head and surveyed the room for the source of the odor. He leapt to his feet, walked to the living room and then to the study, sniffing the air as he strode, like a dog with its snout to the wind. The fragrance seemed to follow him and appeared to increase in intensity. Another light shiver tickled his neck and he absentmindedly brushed it away. He made one last defiant entrance into the kitchen where he had first noticed the odor. It was definitely the strongest in here. He sighed loudly, frustrated at not being able to discover the source of the curious smell.

“This is really getting bizarre,” he said out loud. He placed his hands on his hips and silently wished Randy was home. All at once, things seemed to change. His perception of his surroundings became muddled and off-kilter. The kitchen grew brighter and as it did, the smell of cedar intensified. Marek squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and then reopened them, his face frozen. He leaned against the wall for support and an even heat rose on his palms. He saw, or rather sensed, a fleeting movement near the kitchen table and snapped his head toward its source. His eyes grew wide and he struggled for breath at what he saw. To the left of the table, standing in front of the window was a most handsome, unknown man. The stranger’s eyes locked to his and Marek’s eyes grew even wider as his gaze fell upon the man’s smooth, youthful face. He was unquestionably a young man, not older than twenty-three or twenty-four, with solid square features, a heavy head of dirty blond hair and a barely perceptible coating of blond razor stubble glazing his two ruddy cheeks. His light blue eyes flickered as they studied Marek’s face. He was dressed in what could be best described as one’s “Sunday Best” — a black suit coat, whose sleeves appeared to be a little short for the man’s lengthy arms, a vest with a shiny silver chain leading into one of the pockets and a pair of dark but somewhat wrinkly trousers. The cut and style of the man’s clothes seemed to be dated which made the man appears as if he had just stepped out of an old time photograph, although the clothing itself appeared to be new and well taken care off.

Marek drew an urgent breath. “Who are you?”

The stunning stranger did not respond. The smell of cedar was almost overwhelming now and Marek’s head pounded as a result. It was then that he detected — no, actually felt — a cloud of sadness shading the young man’s expression. The man’s grief seemed to swell in the room and settle even over Marek himself. He felt the weight of the man’s sorrow pull at his own chest and solar plexus. Involuntarily, he found himself almost at the point of tears, not knowing why.

He had no idea how long he stood in place watching the stranger watch him. Time seemed to have stopped with Marek unable to move. A thicket of jumbled thoughts swirled in his brain as Marek and the man continued their stare-down. Marek finally found the strength to speak again.

“How did you get in here?” His voice cracked and sounded feeble.

“What do you want?”

The young man’s face then broke into a weak, almost forced smile and he nodded reverently to Marek. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his trousers, the action being carried out so gradually that it seemed as if the entire scene were taking place in slow motion. He broke Marek’s gaze and glanced around the room. A look of surprise then displayed on the man’s face as he began to fade into nothingness. Marek watched wide-eyed as the man in front of him became more and more transparent, the stunned expression still stamped on his face as if he hadn’t expected to begin disappearing. The man’s body then softened, along with his expression, and within moments, resembled nothing more than a light mist. Then, he was gone.

Marek’s hands shook wildly and his heart hammered so hard in his chest that he feared going into cardiac arrest. His shaky legs were barely able to carry him over to the kitchen table. Still gasping, he waved his arm in the air where the man had just been standing. He could feel icy coldness and a prickly energy where the man had stood. A pins-and-needles sensation flowed up his arm. He rapidly jiggled it, trying to shake off the sudden numbness. He then noticed that the smell of cedar had completely disappeared.

He secured both of his trembling hands on the table and settled down on the cold wooden chair. He sucked in a breath through his parched mouth and applied more pressure to the table in an attempt to stop his hands from shaking. His head pounded dully and his knuckles turned white from the pressure he was applying to the table. Realizing this, he wrung his hands together, still fixing his gaze on the location where the eerie man had stood.

His thoughts hammered his brain as he tried to figure out what in the hell he had just witnessed. The image of that striking man floated before his eyes. He laid his head in his hands and squeezed. His heart rate finally lessened and his breathing slowed to a more normal pace. He then looked up as comprehension tumbled over him.

There was only one explanation for what had occurred. This damn place was haunted and what he had just seen was nothing other than a ghost.

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Wordless Wednesday – Tracks

Image of Railroad Tracks in spring