Surrender Your Sons

Surrender Your Sons 
Author: Adam Sass 
Publisher: North Star Editions
Release Date: September 15, 2020 
Genre(s): YA Fiction, Conversion Therapy
Page Count: 392 
Rating: 5 stars out of 5 

Today author Adam Sass tweeted : "After 7 years, 12 revisions from scratch, and 110 rejections, Surrender Your Sons has arrived."  

After reading this book, in a strange way I could understand the rejections. This is a difficult book to embrace at the start.  It is daunting to dive into what looks to be a heartbreaking tale of children forced into gay conversion therapy.  But .... here's the thing. There's just something about Adam Sass' book that is equal parts unspeakably sad, affirming and resilient, uplifting and bizarrely humorous at times.  

Connor Major comes out to his uber-religious mother, at the insistance of his boyfriend, who assures him that he's feel so much better out of the closet. Except, when Connor is kidnapped in the middle of the night and taken to an island 2 hours from Costa Rica, it is because his own mother has paid for him to go through a gay conversion program there with Nightlight Ministries. Their tagline is "Surrounder your sins" and life on the island involves pretend date nights with members of the opposite sex, writing daily in an expulsion diary, never touching another boy with your hands, and any number of petty rules and regulations, as well as the constant threat of much worse "discipline."

Head mistress "Miss Manners" Ramona is the perfect symbol of the camp.  She wears a bright lemon yellow dress (think 50's housewife) ... with the filthy blackened hem. What occurs at Nightlight is the dirty underbelly of the Christian edict to "love the sinner, hate the sin." I don't want to spoil the intricate plot, but Sass blends a rich tapestry of the campers - sweet Marcos, Molly, tiny little Owen, the dainty-wristed Beginner boys - Ben Briggs, former camper and now employee, the Reverend Stanley Packard, Karaoke Bill, with the lingering mystery of Ricky Hannigan. Add in a strong vibe of "Lord of the Flies" and the book grabs your interest and does not let go.

Probably my only niggle was that all the action of the book takes place in an incredibly fast-paced 48 hours, but the rich character development, the heartbreaking reveal, the courage and resilience of the campers is so well-done.  5 stars and a Recommended Read.

I received an ARC from the Publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for a honest review.

A Friend in the Dark (Auden & O'Callaghan Mystery Series #1)

Title: A Friend in the Dark (An Auden & O'Callaghan Mystery #1)
Author: Gregory Ashe and CS Poe
Publisher: Emporium Press
Release Date: September 8, 2020
Genre(s):  Crime / Intrigue
Page Count: 251
Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Read book blurb here

Having just finished this book, I'm stunned.  Well, mostly right now because of the unexpected what the hell cliffhanger at the end, but also because this book grabs you by the throat and drags you into the world of Rufus O'Callaghan and Sam Auden - two damaged, lonely men brought together by the death of their mutual friend, detective Jake Brower.

Sam knew Jake from their time in the military, as well as a complicated relationship of sorts (It was fun, let's not pretend it was anything else).  Jake's death, coupled with blackout drunk emails from Jake hinting at a police cover-up, bring Sam to NYC in order to find the killer, where he quickly meets Rufus, who has the same mission.

The authors dole out small crumbs of information about each man, and I suspect we'll be learning details through every page of the remaining three books in the series.  While it's frustrating in one sense, it is equally heartbreaking.
Alone wasn't new to Sam; he'd always had a part of himself that he kept separate, isolated. The part that wanted more than a one-off. The part that thought about stupid things like the future. But Rufus took alone to a new level. Sam had been with him for almost twenty-four hours now, and he hadn't seen any sign that Rufus had anyone in his life. [...] Who did Rufus hang out with, go to the movies with, shoot the shit with? In a city of almost nine million people, it seemed impossible that the answer was no one.
Rufus, with a long lean frame and flame-red hair, has this "crazy, sexy, nerd vibe" with a mind like a steel trap and a voracious appetite for knowledge, underlaid with unknown tragedy.  Sam is barely described in the book - other than he looks like a "big-ass action figure" - but he has a lot of sensory issues; he can't process noise, being touched, he wears his tee and socks inside out because of the seams, etc.

The plot draws you in as Sam and Rufus slowly unravel the conspiracy, at times a bit too slowly, but it is tightly focused and well-developed. I don't want to say too much because it is so well-done and I don't want to give an spoilers.

Combined with the revelations about their respective pasts, as well as this fragile new relationship between Rufus and Sam, "A Friend in the Dark" is a tantalizing introduction to what looks to be an amazing new series.  5 stars and I highly recommend this book!

The Foreign Affair (The Delingpole Mysteries #3)

Title: The Foreign Affair
Author: David C. Dawson
Publisher: Park Creek Publishing
Release Date: September 8, 2020
Genre(s): Crime / Spy / Intrigue
Page Count: 272
Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Read book blurb here

The Foreign Affair is set in Berlin during Folsum Europe (Europe's biggest fetish event, modeled after the Folsum Street Fair in San Francisco).  Dawson does an exceptional job with the setting, giving us the flavor of Berlin's cafes and coffee shops, its architecture and parks, as well as a concert event - "Classic Meets Fetish - in a church with leather-clad classical musicians.

Dominick is visiting his 19-year-old son Matty who is attending the Technische Universitat. Matty's boyfriend, Professor Alex Krovopuskov, is a visiting professor of biomechatronics from Russia. Dominick has his doubts about Alex, mostly because of his age (40), but before he really gets to know him, there is a horrific chemical gas attack on a popular gay bar, and Alex is the prime suspect.

The intrigue begins, with Alex's disapperance, a mysterious death seen only by a homeless immigrant in an industrial park, and strange messages from a dating app.  My chief niggle about the first two books in this series was the plots were overly complex with far too many characters and moving parts, but this book was just right - a tight, well written plot featuring a small cast of well-developed characters and some skillful misdirection.

Add in the start of a new relationship with a very sexy leather-clad German attorney and this is a perfect mix of intrigue and romance.  Very readable and definitely very enjoyable! 5 stars.

I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Common Goal (Game Changers #4)

Title: Common Goal (Game Changers #4)
Author: Rachel Reid
Publisher: Carina Press
Release Date: September 21, 2020
Genre(s): M/M Sports Romance
Page Count: 282
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Read book blurb here

Rachel Reid writes great hockey romances and has crafted a stellar cast of characters associated with her fictional New York Admirals team.  If you haven't read any of the books in the series, I think this book can work as a stand-alone, but if you like M/M sports romance, you will definitely want to dive into the Game Changers series!

In this latest installment, star goalie Eric Bennett is nearing 41 and seriously pondering retirement. Recently divorced, living in a stunning NYC penthouse designed to highlight his art collection, committed to his yoga practice and clean eating, silver fox Eric is "efficient in all things - efficient, disciplined and practiced."  But Eric is a fish out of water with his bisexuality and has absolutely no chance in moving beyond the theoretical in the complex gay dating world.

Enter Kyle, 22, unattached bartender / art student and unabashedly fond of men like Eric ... tall, lean ... mature.
If Kyle had one weakness - and he didn't; he had many - it was confident, attractive older men. Also, confident, attractive younger men. Also, men.
Reid utilizes one of my favorite themes - teacher / student in the gay arts.  Eric thinks Kyle "looked absolutely stunning, like a fallen angel who was only on this planet to teach mortals how to fuck" and once Eric finally decides to take up Kyle's offer, what ensues is a lot of incredibly sensual, steamy, sticky adventures as Kyle allows Eric to relinquish control and gladly shares his extensive sexual expertise and enthusiasm. The heat rating is way off the charts - enjoy!

Since the main focus of the plot is (a) getting Eric to explore his bisexuality and then (b) will he or won't be go all-in on a relationship with Kyle, there is a lot of repetition as each man ponders their relationship for numerous scenes.  But on the whole, this was a rather small niggle and I would definitely recommend this book (and all the other books in the series).  4.5 stars.

I received an ARC from the Publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Best Laid Plaids (Kilty Pleasures #1)

Title: Best Laid Plaids (Kilty Pleasures #1)
Author: Ella Stainton
Publisher: Carina Press
Release Date: August 31, 2020
Genre(s): Historical, Paranormal M/M Romance
Page Count: 282 pages
Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Read book blurb here

In her debut novel, set in post WWI England, Ella Stainton introduces us to two academicians, Ainsley and Joachim, who are different in nearly every way, yet are perfect for one another.

Joachim is a no nonsense middle class Englishman with a wry sense of humor and an imposing physique, but a rather tender heart. He still carries physical and emotional scars from his service in WWI. Joachim is working toward a doctorate in psychology, while resigning himself to the fact he will need to be careful and hid his queerness for the rest of his life once he achieves his goal.  Joachim's final doctoral thesis is on "the manifestation of delusions in those otherwise accounted as sane."

Enter one brilliant, insanely gorgeous, gay Scotsman Ainsley Graham with what appears to be ADD, heir to a large estate and a scholar who "had annihilated his reputation as one of the Empire's most learned folklorists by publicly insisting that he chatted with ghosts.  On a daily basis."  He is also an exquisite ginger with a fondness for wearing plaid, and is "simply the most magnificent creature Joachim had ever encountered in his life."

Ainsley gives Joachim a driving tour of paranormal locations,  and in between ghostbusting, Ainsley and Joachim indulge in deliciously explicit sex with more than a touch of dominance on Joachim's part.  Ainsley simply does not do cuddling ... or emotion ... or relationships and feelings make his stomach ache and skin itch. So Joachim figures he needs to stay in charge so he can walk away unscathed since both men agree this is just a few nights of exquisite passion and nothing more.

So many things work so well in this story, and Stainton balances this incredibly sexual relationship and the feelings each man is trying to tamp down, and blends in with the paranormal explorations. Ainsley truly does talk to ghosts ..... but Joachim is able to also see them and some of the encounters with Ainsley's family members are so touching.

She also touches on the aftermath of WWI  and grieving for all the young men who died in that war "with some notion that their sacrifice might mean something, not realizing it didn't when all was said and done."

Ella Stainton has hit it out of the ball park on this debut book, and I love her unique voice and solid writing talent. 5 stars.

I received an ARC from the Publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.