A MelanieM Review: Finally Home (The Traveler and the Tourist #2) by Zee Kensington


Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Finally Home coverBangkok, Thailand. 2011.  Seasoned traveler and noted cuisine writer Christopher J. Springer meets/rescues Marco Mineo at the airport.  Marco is making his first trip away from home and chose Thailand as his destination only to be overwhelmed upon his arrival.  Meeting Chris changed his life as the culinary author takes Marco under his wing, showing him the true Thailand over the next 10 days.  But it was more than that.  During that time, Chris and Marco became lovers, another first for Marco, a closeted gay at home.   When the time came for Marco to return home and Chris to journey on to his next destination, neither was prepared for how much it hurt to part and how deeply they would miss each other later on.

Los Angeles, CA.  Once home, Marco finds himself sliding back into a life that’s no longer enough to satisfy him.  He’s unhappy about working for his uncle, he’s throughly back in the closet because of his fears, and he’s missing Chris more than he ever thought possible.  Then he gets a text from Chris who is coming to L.A. and everything seems possible and scary once more.

Chris has traveled the world, free to go where he wants and hook up whenever it was possible with no strings attached.  But something changed in Thailand when he met Marco.  Now in Mexico, Chris finds his thoughts consumed with the young man back in L.A.  When his publisher cancels the third leg of his assignment and offers him a replacement city in the U.S., Chris jumps at the chance to see Marco again and chooses L.A.  The Marco he finds is a deeply unhappy one.  Chris understands Marco’s fears and hopes to help him slowly out of the closet.  But a family crisis pulls Chris away and Marco is left to decide what and who is important in his life.  His fears that keep him in the closet or his love of Chris?

I was reading the anthology Two Tickets to Paradise when I came across my first Zee Kensington story, Krung Thep, City of Angels.  That story blew me away.   From the moment Marco steps off the plane onto the runway at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and meets Chris Springer, the author pulls us deep into the Thai culture, from the street food vendors to the back alleys of this mesmerizing city.  Her descriptions of the food  made my mouth water and the vivid imagery of the sights and sounds of Bangkok had me itching to catch the next plane out for my own adventure.  And the relationship that sprang up between Marco and Chris in that short story?  Believable and sort of magical.  It was one of my favorite stories in that anthology for good reason.  So imagine my joy in finding Finally Home, the sequel to that amazing story.  My only trepidation?  Would it measure up to the original I remembered so well?

Well, yes and no.  And no, primarily for just one reason.  That only the prologue takes place in Bangkok.  Here the author brings those readers unfamiliar with Marco and Chris up to date on the circumstances of their first meeting and the beginning of their relationship.  Readers, its not nearly enough.  Run, don’t walk and grab up that story.  It’s a must read.  But the prologue does a good job in bringing some of that initial magic home here.  Than this story really gets started in Los Angelos, Marco’s home.  Again, Zee Kensington applies her wonderful skills in bringing places and people to life.  For Marco comes (and lives) with his very close knit Italian family where the very idea of personal space is lost.  His mother is constantly fixing her son up on blind dates with women Marco has no intention of ever seeing again.  For reasons that will be revealed in the story, Marco has a very good reason for remaining in the closet at home. And his love for his family, which telegraphs beautifully in scene after scene , makes his fear realistic and at times overwhelming.  Helping Marco stay closeted is his uncertainty about his relationship with Chris.  He has so little experience that he’s afraid to ask Chris where they stand.  And again we get that too.

Kensington has chosen to make Chris nine years older than Marco.  It works as Chris has been traveling for years.  But while Chris is a seasoned world traveler, he is almost on the same level as Marco when it comes to commitment and relationships.  He too has had problems with his family over his homosexuality so Chris understands Marco’s fears of abandonment.  That’s a nice touch.  I thought the dynamics between Chris and Marco worked because Chris isn’t trying to push Marco further than he can accept, knowing it must be Marco’s decision.  There is also a nice playoff  between their ages, backgrounds, and yes, experience.  It works on all levels.

What did I miss?  The cultural and sensual experience that was Thailand.  Zee Kensington relayed that so well that I felt I was there.  The author’s stay there conveyed a vividness to the scenes and an immediacy to all Marco and Chris’s travels  that I remember today.  In its place are the street vendors of the less visited side of Los Angeles, the truck vendors and the East L.A. food scene.  It’s good but no replacement for the culinary banquet that was the first story.

What will the readers find frustrating?  The realistic give and take, the misunderstandings and the shaky course of  Chris and Marco’s relationship.  It’s a path strewn with obstacles, many of their own making and you will find yourself wanting to give each a shake or two.  But that’s because you have become so involved in their future together and  deeply connected to these characters along the way.  I so hope that this is not the end for Chris and Marco.  There are other places and culinary adventures awaiting them.  I wanted to see them together through Mexico and Kenya.  Perhaps later, one can always hope.  In the meantime, I will reread Krung Thep again and enjoy my taste of Bangkok and the beginnings of Chris and Marco’s journey to HEA.

I highly recommend Krung Thep, Finally Home and Zee Kensington to all lovers of food, travel, and hot men in love.  I can’t wait to see what this author has in store for us next.

Cover art:  Paul Richmond.  While I liked elements of this cover, the model for Chris is just too young.  That throws it off for me completely.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press     All Romance eBooks (ARe)   Amazon       Finally Home


Book Notes:  Sequel to Krung Thep, City of Angels
The Traveler and the Tourist: Book Two
Krung Thep, book one of the series, can be found in the Two Tickets to Paradise anthology.

Book Details:

ebook, 220 pages
Published August 29th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press
edition languageEnglish
seriesThe Traveler and the Tourist #2


On Tour with Brooke Johnson & Natalya Parks and The Need To Touch (contest)




 I am sitting with authors Brooke Johnson and Natalya Parks to find out more about themselves and The Need To Touch.  They’ve brought along a prize of  two signed paperback copies to give away.  To enter to win, visit this Rafflecopter link to enter and for more contest details.  Must be 18 years of age or older to enter.



STRW:   The Need to Touch is the first book in the Stay True series.  Which came first the idea for the series or the first story?

Brooke and Natalya: The story, when we first started writing we hadn’t decided on the ending. But now that the story is finished we have an idea how the whole series will play out.

STRW:  Regional “voices” can be tricky.  Go too far and the character can fall into caricature ville. Not go far enough and the character is left without any local “flavor”.    How did you all avoid that syndrome?

Brooke and Natalya: Brooke was married to a country boy and Natalya grew up on a farm. We used this to create Ryder. Ben is a lot like Brookes friend from high school who was the original idea for the book.

STRW:    Ryder Harrison grows up on a small ranch in Montana.  Is that location and setting based on research or experience?

Brooke and Natalya:The location of Montana is from research. We chose it because it wasn’t too far from California but would still be a huge change and adjustment for Ryder. The ranch setting is from experience.

STRW:    Bentley Carter has a background of abuse.  That also is such a sensitive topic that writing that into a character needs to be handled believably.  Do you all feel that came across?

Brooke and Natalya:Yes, Brooke has an associate’s degree in adolescent psychology and is working on her bachelors. Natalya grew up in an abusive environment.

STRW:  Why write with a partner?  How did that come about?

Brooke and Natalya: We’re both gifted in different ways when it comes to writing. Where one of us is a little weaker the other one is stronger in that area. We have a lot of fun when we start brainstorming story ideas.

Brooke had a gay friend in high school who committed suicide at the age of sixteen. She wanted to write this story to inspire young adults that true love can prevail no matter how old you are. Brooke started an outline and asked Natalya for help and we went from there.

STRW: Do you find writing with a partner presents more challenges or less when trying for cohesion and fluidity in a story?

Brooke and Natalya: We actually feel in our situation it helps. Brooke writes faster which pushes Natalya to write more. Brooke tends to get attached to one character and has some difficulty brining out the other characters as much as the one she’s attached to. Natalya has an easier time seeing all the characters. Brooke is good at getting a basic story going where Natalya is good at adding details and making the story stronger. We have come to the conclusion that having two people write two different characters makes it easier to ensure the personalities of the characters are stronger and more realistic. Brooke does not enjoy editing. Natalya actually kind of enjoys it. We feel we make a very good team.

STRW:   Why go with teenagers to begin with?  Do you intend to “age” them through the series?

Brooke and Natalya:Actually they’re young adults. Ben is 20 at the beginning of the story and turns 21. Ryder is 19 and turns 20. Yes we do intend to age them throughout the series.

STRW:   Or will each story feature different characters?

Brooke and Natalya:The series will continue to be about Ben and Ryder. We will be bringing new characters into each book and characters will be leaving.

Book Name: The Need to Touch
Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21455376-the-need-to-touch?ac=1
Author Name: Brooke Johnson & Natalya Parks
Authors Bio:
Brooke Johnson:

Brooke Johnson lives in Louisiana with her five girls, wonderful boyfriend, and many pets. When she is not working on finishing her current degree, she can be found fishing, coloring, or blowing bubbles with her kids. Just over a year ago, Brooke decided she wasn’t going to back down from her dreams, and started writing full time. With the encouragement of her family she is proud to be publishing her books for the world to read.

Brooke started reading later in life. Unlike many authors who have always had a special love for reading, Brooke didn’t pick up a book until she was in her late teens. She remembers wanting to find something to do with her mom, who has always been her best friend. One day her mom was talking about a romance novel that she just read. Not being interested in it all, Brooke gave in and read the book. She’s been her mom’s reading partner ever since. They can now sit and talk, laugh and even cry about all the books they have read over the years.

So, with great pride and honor, Brooke is happy to thank her mother for encouraging her to not only read, but to follow her heart, and write her own books. What started as simple poetry on scrap paper, at the age of seven, is now a dream come true. Brooke started writing but felt something was missing. When she started writing with Natalya Parks, everything seemed to fall into place, and now here they are. Launching books, and writing more. This may be the first you see of them, but Brooke is determined that this won’t be last. Brooke is excited for you to meet their characters, and fall in love with the men that they have spent many hours with over the last year, just for you!!

Natalya Parks:

Natalya parks lives is Louisiana with her beloved dog, Napoleon. Natalya enjoys spending as much time as possible with her children and grandchildren.
Natalya has had an ongoing passionate love affair with books since she was four years old. While her friends were getting in trouble for not reading she was getting in trouble for reading. She was late for dinner, forgot to do her chores, stayed up past her bedtime, forgot about homework and was late for the school bus on many occasions; because she couldn’t put the book down. Her most embarrassing moment caused by reading a book occurred when she was in seventh grade. The school bus pulled up to her stop and of course she couldn’t possibly stop reading. The story was just too good. So with her nose still in her book she slowly made her way down the aisle of the bus. She as she got to the top of the stairs she tripped over an instrument case that was jutting out just a bit into the aisle. Where she promptly fell head first down the stairs landing in a heap in the dirt, her feet resting on the bottom step. Natalya was wearing a dress that day.

She has wanted to be a writer since she was a teenager but never thought she could write anything good enough for someone else to want to read. Her dear friend Brooke convinced her otherwise and literally dragged her into the world of writing. Something she will be forever grateful. Now, not only does she get to love and enjoy works by other authors but also those that she has contributed to as well. Her mind still goes tilt, tilt when she thinks about the fact that she is a published author. Dreams really can come true.

Author Contact:

Need-to-Touch-for-AmazonSMTitle:  The Need To Touch by Brooke Johnson & Natalya Parks
Publisher: Cool Beans Publishing and Editing, LLC
Cover Artist: Aj Corza

Sales Links:     Amazon   Barnes & Noble   Smashwords        All Romance (ARe)   Website


The Need to Touch Blurb:

You can only win someone’s heart once you’ve captured it.

Nineteen year old Ryder Harrison grew up near a small town in Montana, working on the family’s ranch and in love with his best friend, Landon Pennington. That was until his Grandfather decided he needed to go to college in California. Ryder promised his Mom before she died that he would finish his education. Staying true to his word, Ryder packs his clothes, and heads to California, confident that it would all be one big disaster. The only thing he hadn’t planned on was meeting Bentley Carter.

Twenty year old Bentley Carter has enough emotional issues to write his own ‘How to Cope’ manual. Surviving an abusive childhood, he made a personal promise to always stay true to himself, and never let emotions overrule his common sense. Content with his current life and friend with ‘benefits’, Ben is determined to not let his new roommate affect him.

Uncertain about their places in the world, and with each other, Ryder and Ben struggle to understand the person who is not what they thought they wanted, yet who they are unable to live without. Living in a sometimes cruel and unforgiving world they are determined to embrace the reality of falling in love and the challenges that follow.

The Need to Touch Excerpt:


Two days since meeting Ryder and I was considering changing majors.

It’s been thirty minutes since this lecture began, and I couldn’t remember one word the professor said. The cause of my distraction was chewing on his pen, two rows down from me. I groaned, and then tried to cover it with a cough. My face felt hot as the girl next to me glared in my direction. Why did he have to do that with his pen? It wasn’t until everyone closed their books that I realized I had stared ay Ryder through the entire lecture.

I continually found reasons to spend time with him. So I shoved my stuff in my bag and rushed out of the classroom. I was eager to run into him in the hallway, maybe then I’d get him to talk to me.

I rushed past a bundle of people gathered in the hallway. It wasn’t as though he was hard to find. Ryder was tall and solid muscle; I bet he looked even better naked. Ryder smiled as I fell into step next to him.

“So, what did you think?” I asked as we took the stairs to our dorm room.

“It was okay. I could swear someone was watching me the whole time.” Ryder said.

Tour Dates/Stops:
8/25: MM Good Book Reviews
8/26: Andrew Q. Gordon
8/27: Elisa – My Reviews and Ramblings
8/28: Jade Crystal
8/29: Amanda C. Stone, EE Montgomery
9/1: Parker Williams
9/2: LeAnn’s Book Reviews, Iyana Jenna
9/3: The Hat Party
9/4: Love Bytes
9/5: Kimi-Chan
9/8: Cate Ashwood
9/9: Prism Book Alliance
9/10: Hearts on Fire
9/11: Fallen Angel Reviews
9/12: Foxylutely Book Reviews
9/15: Love of Bookends
9/16: Wake Up Your Wild Side
9/17: Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words
9/18: Hearts on Fire
9/19: My Fiction Nook

Rafflecopter Code:  Rafflecopter Prize: One of two signed paperbacks.  Must be 18 years of age or older to enter.  Please use the link below for the entry form and for all contest details.


a Rafflecopter giveaway