Review: Christmas Kitsch by Amy Lane

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Christmas Kitsch coverOn the outside Rusty Baker might look like just another stereotypical football player, just one of many in his high school that looked as though they were popped out of a mold for tall, big, blond rich boys.  But on the inside Rusty is different, a difference that remains hidden until Oliver Campbell, small, dark and out Oliver Campbell, enrolls in his high school and sits next to Rusty in class. When one of the more brutish football players starts in on Oliver in class, Rusty is there to cut him off, making his protection of Oliver clear to all.  A close friendship is started, one Rusty doesn’t understand.  Because Rusty suffers from poor self esteem and thinks he is stupid. Rusty can’t understand why the cute and highly intelligent Oliver would want to be his friend.  Then the day before Rusty is to leave for Berkeley, Oliver kisses him and everything changes for them both.

The hardest thing Rusty ever had to do was leave Oliver behind going to a community college while Rusty left town for a school he knew he wasn’t ready for and couldn’t survive in.  Rusty is under a mountain of stress over everything, from grades to his sexuality and the pressure almost does him in. When Rusty returns home for Thanksgiving, it all explodes when his parents catch him kissing Oliver in the driveway and they kick him out, homeless at the holidays.

While Oliver and his dad may not have material wealth, they are rich in acceptance and love.  And with their support and Oliver’s love, Rusty just might make it through not only the holidays but the rest of his life.

In Rusty Baker Amy Lane has created one of the most luminous, heartbreaking characters I have ever read.  Ten pages into the story I started weeping over this glorious man child who has been made to feel stupid and inadequate for all his years, promptly forgetting that Rusty exists only in the pages of Christmas Kitsch and the fertile imagination of Amy Lane.  Told from Rusty’s point of view, his thoughts and feelings (as well as the manner in which Rusty voices his views that shows just how deep his lack of self esteem is) engage the reader so throughly that you forget about everything around you except for Rusty and his halting path through life.

Trust me when I say that just when you think that Rusty can’t break your heart anymore, then he says something  that seems innocuous on the surface but is so shattering in the truth that it reveals that you find yourself breaking down yet again, grabbing for that second box of tissues while realizing that you are only on page 60 or so of a 256 page story.  Rusty Baker is so incandescent in his innocence and beauty that I almost expected the pages to glow.  He is textured, and glorious and unforgettable in every way.

But Rusty can’t make it alone, either in life or in the story.  So the author has created a group of characters every bit as remarkable and amazing as Rusty himself, starting with Oliver Campbell.  Oliver really is Rusty’s polar opposite from quick intelligence to his physical exterior.  Oliver’s mixed race parentage is evident not only in his name but in his small stature, dark eyes and skin. Equally rich is the latin culture which overlays everything at home from his family’s food to their family rituals.  Oliver is highly intelligent, generous of spirit and out about his sexuality.  This is our and Rusty’s first introduction to Oliver:

Oliver showed up in early September of my senior year, slender, brown on brown on brown. Dark brown hair cut with long bangs around his narrow face, dark brown eyes with thick, thick lashes, and light brown skin. He slouched quietly in the back of Mr. Rochester’s English Literature class and eyed the rest of us with sort of a gentle amusement.

It’s that “gentle amusement” that draws Rusty in as well as Oliver’s acceptance of him no matter what  Rusty might say or the way he struggles with everything in his life.  Oliver is there to quietly shore Rusty up, giving him a look at families who love and support each other with a generosity Rusty has never had in his life.  There is a quiet glow to Oliver that is never outshown by Rusty, they complement each other perfectly. I love Oliver and Oliver’s amazing dad, Arturo, both so alive that I absolutely believed in them as a family.  And that goes for Estrella, Rusty’s housekeeper and surrogate mom, as well as Nicole, Rusty’s young sister just as starved for love and family as Rusty is.  Nicole’s fragility is slowly revealed to Rusty and the reader as she becomes more of a presence in Rusty’s life.  I know that sounds odd but when you read the story you realize just how compartmentalized Rusty’s family is and the impact of that structure upon the children.

OK, I realize I am doing it again, treating these characters as real people.   Amy Lane is a superb storyteller.  She creates worlds, situations and yes, characters that seem as real as any you might meet outside your door.  They are flawed, they bleed as well as breathe.  And when they hurt, you will hurt and bleed along with them.  And that’s because somewhere those characters crossed the line from paper personas to people we love and care for as though they are family.  I have the empty tissues boxes to prove it.

What characters seemed removed, incomplete and insubstantial?  Well, that would be Rusty’s mother and father.  And with  good reason, because they feel that way to Rusty.  His parents are cold, detached from family warmth and familial love, driven by their own ambition and control.  By the author creating characters so coldly ephemeral and disengaged from their children, it helps to establish Rusty’s viewpoint as ours and it helps to understand his upbringing as well as Nicole’s.

There is laughter to be found among the pages to go with the river of tears you will shed for this amazing boy crying out for love and understanding.  And the reader will celebrate the happiness that Rusty (and Oliver) find together after all the obstacles have been surmounted.  I found myself, exhausted, red faced and snotty, surrounded happily by empty boxes of tissues at 3am and promptly wanted to do it all over again.

If I had a minuscule quibble with this story, it would be with the title.  I would have loved it if the title would have been free of holiday references.  Why?  Because I am afraid that at any other time of the year readers unfamiliar with either Amy Lane or this story might relegate it to the Christmas story genre instead of “the must read at any time of year’ category it so deserves.  But that is a wispy sort of quibble, lacking any substance and disappearing as we speak.

I loved, loved Christmas Kitsch.  It is heartwarming as well as heartrending. It is as joyous as it is poignant! And I will read it again and again because that’s what I  do with comfort reads with characters who are real to me and dear to my heart.  I am sure you will feel the same, so grab it up and start reading.  Have that tissue box handy, you will need it.  And as a extra bonus you will be helping LGBT youth in need as well.  This is a Highly Recommended, Best of 2013 or any year.  Don’t pass it by!

Cover art by LC Chase is soft and lovely.

Special Note:

20% of all proceeds from this title are donated to the Ali Forney Center in New York, whose mission “is to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth from the harm of homelessness, and to support them in becoming safe and independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood.” To learn more about this charity or to donate directly, please visithttp://www.aliforneycenter.org

Book Details:

256 pages
Expected publication: December 9th 2013 by Riptide Publishing (first published December 7th 2013)
ISBN13 9781626490864
edition language English
Riptide Publishing’s Home for the Holiday Series

Review: Long the Mile by Ally Blue

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

“Seven out of 10 Americans are one paycheck away from being homeless.” – Pras Michel

LongTheMile_500x750When Judah Jackson is released from prison he has exactly a bag containing two pairs of pants, a shirt, some underwear, socks and $300 in cash, a far cry from the wealthy man who entered prison convicted of insider trading.  At first, Judah thinks it will only be a matter of time before he is working and getting his business back together.  But soon the reality of his situation and new life as a ex con sets in.  No one will hire him and without an income he loses his apartment and ends out on the streets, vulnerable, angry, and alone.

Tobias Simonsen has been homeless for over a year and finds that he has almost adjusted to his status as a man without a job or place to call his own.  Not even his degrees and experience in the restaurant business have been enough to save him from his current life and he is now beyond despair that it will change.  Then he saves a man being beaten in an alley, a man once wealthy and now painfully unable to fend for himself on the streets of Ashville.

Together Judah and Toby find a connection that begins to lift them up into friendship and then something more.  When their relationship starts to heal the wounds for both men, they start to hope for a future together.  Then a change in one man’s situation starts a chain reaction of emotions and events that could shatter their bond forever.  Will their faith in each other and their love keep them together even when reason tells them they will part?

What a moving and timely story from Ally Blue!  Long the Mile focuses on the plight of homeless, a heartbreaking statistic that is rising throughout the nation, especially in these economic times.  Instead of faceless numbers Ally Blue takes this tragic reality for so many and  brings it down to an intimate and relatable level with the characters of Judah and Toby, two men of  different backgrounds and education who end up in the same landscape of homelessness and despair.

This is a tough topic to use as a center for a romance, especially if one of the men is also someone whose criminal conduct and arrogance got him convicted of a felony and sent to prison.  Our first introduction to Judah Jackson is a risky one on the part of the author.  Judah is angry, still arrogant, and not especially sorry that he committed a crime, only that he got caught.  Think of the white collar criminals such as Kenneth Lay of Enron and you can see how such a character might invite scorn instead of sympathy. But that sneering man we meet as he is leaving prison is soon to get a shocking comeuppance as Judah tries to find a job while his small pocket of funds dwindles.  Ally Blue takes us into his mindset as Judah unravels emotionally and physically until he finally runs out of options and ends up on the streets of Asheville.  It is a scary picture, made all the more real by the author’s authentic descriptions and her clear understanding of the humiliation, despair and fear that is the constant state of those who are homeless.

To balance out the picture she is creating, Blue then gives us Toby Simonsen, an educated young man who was working on his career, with a bright future ahead of him until the economy crashed along with his job.  With all hotels and service establishments in trouble, the jobs vanished and so did the hopes of thousands of people along with them.  I loved Toby and my heart broke for him because we understand that Toby has given up after a year on the streets.  The constant search for work as well as the constant rejection wears  upon the soul and only the goodness and understanding of Father Bill and the shelter at Holy Innocents has helped to save him. Ally Blue has endowed Toby with an inner strength that feels real, born out of need and Toby’s innate goodness.  Toby is definitely the easier of the two men to connect with.

Slowly over the course of Long The Mile, the real inner Judah starts to appear along with his history that makes the man he became at least understandable if not  always likable.  And the reader needs that in order to accept Toby’s attraction and eventual love for Judah. If this story has an identifiable weakness, it arrives in the latter part of the book when a event arrives that threatens to tear the men apart.  I think the situation that signals a change in their lives is a perfectly realistic one as is its separate effect on each of them. My only quibble is that Toby seems a little oblivious to what a change in the dynamics would have on Judah with his background.  I kept thinking that perhaps a little more exposition and length would have helped alleviate what felt like a rushed resolution to a terrific  story.

But that quibble aside, Long the Mile is a timely tale no matter what time of year it is.  With its focus on a homeless population that is ever present, Ally Blue has brought this tragedy home and given it two faces we can identify and sympathize with.  When you add the fact that young LGBT youth are a large part of that statistic through no fault of their own other than being gay and the shame and horror deepens.

I  highly recommend this book to all based on its own merit as a heartwarming romance.  But Ally Blue and the publisher just made it easier by donating 20 percent of all proceeds to the Ali Forney Center.  So run, don’t walk and grab it right up.  You will be getting a wonderful story and helping LBGTQ youth as well.

Special Notes:

20% of all proceeds from this title are donated to the Ali Forney Center in New York, whose mission “is to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth from the harm of homelessness, and to support them in becoming safe and independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood.” To learn more about this charity or to donate directly, please visit http://www.aliforneycenter.org/.

 Book Details:
140 pages
Expected publication: December 2nd 2013 by Riptide Publishing

Ally Blue Contest and Guest Blog for “Long The Mile”

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LongTheMile_TourBanner

ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords is happy to have Ally Blue with us today to talk about her latest release, the moving story Long the Mile for Riptide Publishing.  We have a contest to go along with Ally’s guest blog.  The contest details and the Rafflecopter links are listed at the bottom of today’s post. Now, let’s welcome Ally Blue!

Hi folks! I’m Ally Blue, and I’m wandering the internet this week talking about my new book, Long the Mile, part of the Home for the Holidays collection from Riptide Publishing. I’m super excited about this book, not only because I love the characters and the setting (Asheville, NC; my town!) but also because it’s raising money for the Ali Forney Center for homeless GLBTQ youth. It’s a wonderful cause

When my lovely and fabulous editor, Dr. Sarah Frantz, first contacted me about being a part of this Christmas collection, I was interested for a whole list of reasons. First of all, I already knew and respected Sarah as a romance fiction scholar and as a person, so that went a long way. Also, I’d heard good buzz about Riptide both from a reader and an author perspective. Always a good thing. The thing that probably sealed the deal was that twenty percent of the proceeds both from each individual book and from the collection go to the Ali Forney Center. How could I pass that up? The answer is, I could not.

After saying “YES! A thousand times, yes!” the next question was what to write? It needed to be a gay (in this case, m/m) romance. It needed to have a Christmas setting, with a theme of “home” in whatever way I wanted to interpret it. When I started pondering, I found that the answer came to me easily. I was going to take the theme very literally, incorporate our chosen charity, and write about homeless characters who are finding their homes again, both physically and emotionally. Thus Judah Jackson and Tobias Simensen were born.

The setting was easy too. Asheville is a wonderful, colorful, fantastic city, and like every city, we have too many people living day to day without any permanent shelter. I can’t tell anyone’s true story. All I can do is invent one. Or in this case, two. But I wanted to set this book in Asheville. I wanted to imagine what it might be like for my two guys – one who had been homeless for a while, and one who goes from rich to homeless during the book – to meet, get to know each other, and fall in love while living on the street. I wanted to consider how their situation would affect their relationship, and how that relationship would change when the situation changed.

I have to say, I’m pleased with how the book turned out. I hope all of you will be too Thank you so much for stopping by to read today! Enjoy Long the Mile, and all the other books in the Home for the Holidays collection!

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LongTheMile_500x750About Long the Mile:

Sometimes it takes losing everything to find what you really need.

When Judah went to prison for insider trading, he lost everything he thought was important: his business, his money, his power. But when he gets out, homelessness strips him of the one thing he has left: his self-respect. When another homeless man saves him from a beating, he begins to learn to rely on the goodness of those around him.

For Toby, life on the streets has become familiar. Comfortable. So comfortable he wonders if he’s given up on changing his life for the better. Then comes Judah. Formerly rich, newly homeless, all his pride and attitude gone along with his material possessions. Helping Judah feels good. Their unexpected connection—physical and beyond—feels even better.

Their shared situation nurtures a growing closeness that blossoms into something deeper. But when change comes knocking, it will take all their strength to keep fear and insecurity from tearing them apart.

  • 20% of all proceeds from this title are donated to the Ali Forney Center in New York, whose mission “is to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth from the harm of homelessness, and to support them in becoming safe and independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood.” To learn more about this charity or to donate directly, please visit http://www.aliforneycenter.org/.

Author Bio:
Ally Blue is acknowledged by the world at large (or at least by her heroes, who tend to suffer a lot) as the Popess of Gay Angst. She has a great big suggestively-shaped hat and rides in a bullet-proof Plexiglas bubble in Christmas parades. Her harem of manwhores does double duty as bodyguards and inspirational entertainment. Her favorite band is Radiohead, her favorite color is lime green and her favorite way to waste a perfectly good Saturday is to watch all three extended version LOTR movies in a row. Her ultimate dream is to one day ditch the evil day job and support the family on manlove alone. She is not a hippie or a brain surgeon, no matter what her kids’ friends say.

Connect with Ally on the interwebs: Twitter    Facebook profile    Facebook fan page    Tumblr    Pinterest    Fiction With Friction group blog   Goodreads   Love Is Blue Yahoo group

LongTheMile_150x300 tour blog jpgContest Details:

Ally’s giveaway:
Comment on this post or any of the other posts in the tour, and you’ll be entered to win an ebook copy of Demon Dog, book one in my Mojo Mysteries series. I’ll pick a winner on December 1st at 5 p.m. EST. Contest is valid worldwide.

Enter your details in the Rafflecopter below and leave a blog post comment to gain entry in the *Home for the Holidays* giveaway! This week of the tour closes at midnight, EST, on November 30th. One grand prize winner will be contacted at the end of the tour on December 16th. Contest is valid worldwide.

Rafflecopter Giveaway