A Lucy New Release Review: Harmonious Hearts 2018 Young Authors Challenge Anthology

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Rating:  5 stars out of 5

Harmonious Hearts 2018 – Stories from the Young Author Challenge
Authors: A. Aduma, Arbour Ames, Nick Anthony, M. Caldeira, Kat Freydl, Sonali Gattani, B.K. Hayes, Mattye Johnson, Daniel Okulov, Chloe Smith, Chelsea Winters

Diversity is our strength, and now more than ever, the voices of young LGBTQIA authors need to be heard. Harmony Ink is proud to showcase the next generation of talented writers in our fifth annual Harmonious Hearts anthology. These authors, all between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one, are the winners of our Young Author Challenge and represent the future voices of our community. We are honored to showcase these writers, their experiences, visions, and the glimpses into their hearts in these pages. Join them on their journey and help us celebrate their courage, their love, and their unique ways of seeing the world.

The talented young writers who contributed to this book should be proud.  While all the stories are tied together by the LGBTQIA theme, they are all unique and approach their subjects differently.  They are definitely not all light-hearted and fluffy and a couple of them made me so angry or sad.

Just a Phase by M. Calderia Taking that big step of admitting who you like can be scary but it’s a little easier when you have a no-nonsense best friend supporting you. While Meg tries to pass off her attraction to girls as “Just a phase, huh?” Emme is having none of it, giving Meg courage.  I was happy that she got her brave on.

The Language Unspoken by Chelsea Winters Cody struggles with asthma, being tossed out by his homophobic mother and trying to do too much.  “But Cody had almost lost everything to get where he was after he came out and his mother cut ties with him, and he wasn’t going to give it up for the world.”  He has two awesome friends in his roommate, Alex, and his best friend, Ellie.  He works at a flower shop and is immediately taken with a beautiful stranger who comes to order flowers.   He believes he has too much baggage and “…I’m not really, like the choice most people would make or anything…”  He’s more than he thinks and I was glad someone else noticed. 

A Boy Like Edgar by Nick Anthony Gabe is an art student who has the technique perfected but doesn’t have the passion, the spark, that makes a true artist.  “My work was heavy and precise, with dark, moody palettes, and obviously showing a lot of skill.  I wasn’t like some of my counterparts, full of energy and color, making strokes with abandon and whimsy.  That had been bred out of me.”   It isn’t until he meet Edgar, a fellow art student, that he starts to realize what all that color and energy can come to mean and that was lovely to read.

Of College and Lost Dogs by Mattye Johnson A sweet story of a new beginning at college and the making of new friends.  Learning to sign to be able to communicate with them has an added bonus. 

2:00 AM by Sonali Gattani  This was one of the stories that took my heart and stomped on it.  Told completely by texts to his best friend, Kara, this is so bittersweet and seriously made me cry. It is the mark of a gifted author that through the tears I was able to see the hope even as I was so angry with Kara’s parents.  I am usually not one for sad or angsty stories but this was one of my favorites because it was so real.  Well done.

143 by Chloe Smith A little bit of paranormal in this tale of Penelope, her dad and the aunt that no one talked about.  I liked how Penelope was honest with her dad, not only about her sexuality but about how he made her feel growing up. “While he was there physically, I never felt he was there for me, not really…”   That made a difference and Aunt Catherine was there in spirit for her.  I loved the meaning of 143 and the Twitter conversations.  Love is worth it.

Dev’s Law by A. Aduma Facing the wrath of your father for being honest about yourself isn’t easy but it’s softened when you have someone by your side.  That’s what Dev wants to be for Law when he is caught with gay porn by his dad.  The only thing more embarrassing would be how T came out to his family.  While this could have been heavy, it wasn’t and I appreciated that.  And let’s talk about Dev’s mother, who is now my spirit animal. “She didn’t even shy away from talking about anal sex, like the prepping and all that, importance of lube and enemas…”  With both Dev and Law, no less.  Go mom! Another favorite.

The Head That Wears a Crown by Kat Freydl All I can say is, everyone, and I mean everyone, should have a brother like Cal but especially those who have a father like theirs.  Charlie is dealing with so much and their father is a homophobic televangelist that leaves them to fend for themselves but Cal is there for Charlie, always.   I can’t even say how much I admired them.  “You’re just Charlie….You’re just.  You are.  You’re immune to semantics.”  Loved.

The Train Station by B.K. Hayes Whoo, a sad one where I was so worried about what was going to happen.  As you figure out what is up with the train station, I wanted her to understand what this would mean.  I don’t want to give anything away but I did want to know what happened to Aleja.  The ending was such a relief.

Subtle by Daniel Okulov My total favorite of the anthology, a lesson in how you treat people, how you judge people and most importantly, that you can change those things.  Matty has autism and while his big brother, Justin, starts out very selfish and I was rolling my eyes at him but the new babysitter, Dakota, helped him be better.  Dakota understands what it’s like for people to not get you and that made a difference.  Loved this one.

Someone Else’s Star by Arbour Ames This one was just too sad for me. Or maybe it just made me too angry, that Kelly promised to always be there for Fletcher but broke that promise without warning.  The message from Blue just made me madder.  Kelly seemed to be this amazing person and then lost my respect. 

Cover art by Paul Richmond shows the back of a person standing in front of a rainbow colored graffiti wall.  I thought this fit the feel of the book, as the stories were all different yet linked by the rainbow.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press  |  Amazon

Book Details:

eBook,Paperback, 234 pages
Published October 1st 2018 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1641081449 (ISBN13: 9781641081443)
Edition LanguageEnglish

A Lucy Review: From the Ashes by C.M. Valencourt

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Sometimes stories with a dead character seem manipulative, that it is used to twist your emotions and I hate that so I really went back and forth about offering to review this book.  Now that I’ve experienced it, I’m not sure I will be able to do to justice to how I felt about it.  Two former best friends, Hunter and Derek, who were torn apart by one simple kiss have now had to reunite at their friend Justin’s funeral.  Justin has a request as his final wish.  Derek, Hunter, his girlfriend of three years, Paige, and his closest friend and fellow cancer patient, Jaimie, are to go on what should have been a group road trip and spread his ashes. Hunter especially is really not on board with this idea but he will do it for Justin.

The problem is four years before Derek reacted truly badly to the kiss with Hunter and destroyed the friendship of all three, with Justin the innocent victim.  He didn’t even tell Justin what had happened, just ghosted both him and Hunter.  For his part (because he is also not blameless when it comes to Justin), Hunter couldn’t handle the memories that Justin conjured about the three of them so he also left Justin behind.  Derek was the first person Hunter came out to and his terrible reaction really affected Hunter.  Justin tried for a while to keep them together but finally he backed off, even though these were his best friends.  He was a smart man and he sort of understood what happened but he missed his friends.

Justin has left specific instructions on where he wants the group to go to do this. He left them enough money to do it right and he took into account each person when he made this trip, even planning down to ice-breaker questions for the car.   Jaimie never knew the pre-cancer Justin; Derek and Hunter never knew the sick Justin; Paige knew both but not the way he was with Derek and Hunter.  They all have to fill in the blanks for each other as they follow the instructions in his letters.   Paige has possession of the letters “But we don’t know what we will be doing on the trip.  I didn’t peek inside the envelopes.

The trip is dictated by Justin through the letters he leaves to the group.  START HERE is the first and you start to get to know Justin.  “When I get better, we’ll all go on the trip together, because I’m pretty confident in my ability to make it pretty epic.  We’ll read this letter and take a shot every time I get too sappy.”  So much hope.  He’s chosen these four friends because they had the biggest impact on his life and he wants this trip to be fun. Because you know, the funeral was yesterday and “Of course, it was the funeral with the most tears the parlor has ever seen, and they needed wet floor signs and everything.”  Justin, even while struggling is funny. So off to Cedar Point they go, to throw ashes off the Millennium Force as their first stop. 

Derek, “treating anything even slightly homoerotic like it was an airborne pathogen” sometimes really annoyed me.  I had a hard time liking him at times because of it. The awkwardness between Derek and Hunter as they are jammed in the back seat together is painful.  Justin had asked that Derek, a film director student, document the trip via camera and so at least he has something to distract himself from thinking about the pain he caused. Hunter, surprisingly, forgives him pretty easily for the four years of ghosting and they do what Justin wanted, falling back into friendship.  In Chicago they hit up Boystown to eat at the Chicago Diner and as a vegan Chicagoan, this was a great scene for me.  I love that place! I was so there with Jaimie (the veg) “I’m never settling for a sh**ty side salad or some soggy fries ever again.”   There is a time the trip focuses on Paige and Justin’s final gift to her and I just wanted to hug her for the loss of her first love who loved her so much. They share memories of Justin, get to know each other and experience life for Justin as they drive to the places he wanted them to see.

The road trip is bittersweet and the letters from Justin to each one of them priceless.  I loved Paige and Jaimie and Hunter.  Luckily, I ended up liking Derek, though it took a while.  Hunter, who is going to be a social worker and help people.  Paige, who lost her love and still sees good in life.  Jaimie, who didn’t expect to survive cancer and even get to have a life.  And Derek, who for really the first time is facing something hard.  They all loved the same friend, who wanted them to be friends.   Hunter’s sister, Julia, is another great character.  Their policy of asking if the other just needs to vent or really wants advice was awesome. 

There are so many times that you see the extent of Derek.  He doesn’t like beer yet drinks it because “I feel like I belong if I have a beer.”  He is so clueless sometimes as to how he hurts people, especially Hunter. He’s living with the guilt that he didn’t reach out to Justin or even respond when Justin kept trying.  He wanted to tell them he was sick.  “And it’s my fault he didn’t.’  Derek folded the letter slowly.”  The letter that talks about that had me bawling for this young man with the big heart. “Stuff got really bad yesterday…I almost finally did it.  But then I couldn’t and it had time to settle, and I don’t think I have the courage anymore.  I love you guys, but I don’t think I could bear it if you changed your numbers, or didn’t remember my voice, or worst case scenario, I told you what was going on and it didn’t change things.” 

The friendship between Derek and Hunter returns, with some added bonuses, but Derek is just not able to be honest and as you get to understand his parents, things become clearer.  His shame in the shower was so sad but then his plan for staying with Hunter made me want to slap him. “He was desperate, desperate to put Hunter second…”  Seriously, he doesn’t get it.  But you want him to figure it out.

I was thinking maybe 4 stars for this book but Justin, who has died before the book starts, is worth five stars.   What to even say about this caring, funny, loving man who tried so hard to mend the friendship of Derek and Hunter and even when he couldn’t, forgave them and still loved them. The young man who wrote his own obituary? “Sorry, mom.”   Justin was so positive, so in love with life, adventurous and happy.  “He insisted we go to a club two weeks before he passed.  I had to hold him up, but he wanted to dance.”  He was just heartbreaking and I cried so hard for the loss of him. “Living like nothing hurt and everything was possible.”  If I’m being honest, I cried through the writing of this review as well. 

This is the first book by C.M. Valencourt and they blew me away. The book is sad, yes, but it’s hopeful as well.  I want them all to find happiness and keep the memory of an adventurous young man alive in the way they live their lives.  “Little do they know, I have a fantastic attitude.  I’ve never been discouraged in my whole life.” 

Cover art lovely and perfect.

Sales Links:  Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 196 pages
Expected publication: October 9th 2018
ASINB07HMC46W7

A Lucy Review: Play it by Ear (Replay #2) by K.M. Neuhold

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

This is the second book in the Replay series which tells the stories of the members of Downward Spiral, an epically professionally successful band where the members are falling apart.  Or at least, the band is on the verge of falling apart because of some of the members.  This one tells the story of Lando, who in the first book was a rock, a support of the other band members.  At the end of book one, Face the Music, there was a very clever set up for the books to come and I was very happy that Lando was next. 

Lando was supposed to be one of two of the song writers for the band but in reality he has been doing it all.  From trying to keep Lincoln from hurting himself and keep Jude from self destructing to being responsible for all the song writing and it has taken a toll on him.  “I feel wrung out physically and emotionally.  I’m a battery with only ten present life left and no charger in sight.”

When their manager, Archer, suggests everyone take a vacation after the tour has to be canceled, Lando packs up and heads to Florida.  Nine years ago he had a weekend in Florida with someone he fell in love with.  He gave his phone number and they promised to keep in touch but it never happened. So for the past nine years the songs he’s written have been about Dawson, his muse and his long lost should have been.  “I”ve written a dozen songs about him. I’ve stayed up nights thinking about him. I’ve gotten drunk and cried over him. I hardly know him, but in nine years, I haven’t been able to shake him.” He is thinking maybe he will see Dawson there, even if he isn’t totally hopeful.  “Maybe there’s something wrong with me. Surely it can’t be normal after nine years to still want him so much.”  But he has his grandfather’s story of knowing immediately upon meeting her who he would marry to make him think love at first weekend is possible.

Except, lo and behold, Dawson is also taking vacation at the same time and he does run into Lando. This meeting was a little coincidental but I was okay with.  The problem? Dawson had an accident nine years ago and lost not only his hearing but also his memories.  While Dawson has had a serious crush on Lando as the bass player for Downward Spiral, he doesn’t remember spending the weekend with Lando, the man.  Dawson is a writer who’s words have deserted him and he’s now working as a bartender, sort of just existing.  He was this fearless man before and things have changed.  He has the support of his wonderful sister, Parker, but that is sort of it.

The book is told in first person point of view, alternating Lando and Dawson.  In addition, it has flashbacks from nine years ago and today, cleverly titled Track, Side A or B.  While I used to dislike first person, it has definitely grown on me because now I like getting into the mind of each character.  Here in particular it’s helpful because Dawson is deaf and he does have memory gaps, so understanding where he is coming from was beneficial.  It is a little heartbreaking when you realize that he puts everything into his calendar because he is terrified of forgetting.  “Most days, the fear of forgetting something is worse than the actual forgetting.”  He puts in what he did that day just to make sure he remembers.

When they run into each other at a bar in Florida Lando is overjoyed and then shocked when he find that Dawson, the man he’s dreamed of for years, doesn’t remember him at all.  “He doesn’t recognize me. I’ve been obsessing over im for nine years, and he doesn’t even remember me. Could I be any more pathetic?”  It was a hard moment.  “I’ve spent all these years falling in love with the memory of a man who doesn’t exist anymore.”

But then he’s happy to get to know this new Dawson, who is a big fan even if he can’t remember what the songs sound like.  And while he thinks Cherry Lane (the song Lincoln wrote about Jace) is “….okay, but the rest of the album is much ….more.  They’re poetic and captivating. They’re original and beautiful.”  So he loves the songs that Lando wrote, and happen to be the songs Lando wrote about him.

Lando does convince Dawson to spend some time with him and they work on getting to know each other again, this time with text messages and notepads instead of conversation with some bittersweet moments when Lando knows things about Dawson that Dawson can’t remember.  Lando is so sweet, trying to learn ASL so he can communicate better.  He is not the spoiled selfish rock star that you would expect.  He is kind and gentle.  This book is definitely softer than book one, because Lando is softer than Lincoln and it comes across.

They have obstacles to overcome, including paparazzi, a lost phone, trying to reconcile the past with the now and trying to get past the writer’s block they both seem to have.  Lando hasn’t been able to write any songs, Dawson hasn’t been able to write any stories.   Lando’s advice was so apt: “instead of trying to write a book that will change the world, let yourself try to write a book that will change one single person’s world.”   We get to see Dawson try to find that fearless man he used to be and you just know how difficult that is.  “Can I be brave again? Is that still in me?”

Dawson has some great insights into Lando. “I wonder if he ever does things because they’re what he wants the most, instead of what makes everyone around him happiest.”  That sums up Lando well and he deserves to be happy himself.  There are a few times that Dawson doesn’t react well to things Lando reveals but you have to give him that – for Lando it’s been nine years of longing whereas for Dawson it’s really the first time he’s with this man.

Archer, the manager, is so amazing and takes care of so much I was really looking forward to his book.  Unfortunately, from the teasers in this book I have a feeling his is going to take a turn towards a theme I don’t care for so I may have to skip it.  I will be bummed if so.

I liked the first book and I loved this one.  There was just something about it that grabbed my heart and held on.  I wanted so much for these guys.  Even more, I was so happy that there was no magical fix of Dawson’s loss of hearing because in the real world it doesn’t work like that.  Lando was in love with the man, unconditionally.  Just what we all should have.

The cover art by Inked Design depicts Lando with the city in the background and the beach in the foreground.  I found it very fitting and both books in the series have covers that show the band member almost exactly as I pictured them.

Sales Links:  Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 290 pages
Published July 2nd 2018 (first published June 29th 2018)
Original Title Play it by Ear
Series Replay (add it to your Goodreads list here)

Rock Bottom

Play it by Ear

Face the Music

A Lucy Pre release Review: My Crunchy Life by Mia Kerick

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Rated 5 stars out of 5

This young adult book focuses on Kalin, who goes by Kale, a 16-year-old searching for himself in that angsty adolescent time known as high school.  He’s facing a mother who was downsized from her job and has no pretty much abdicated from her adult responsibilities, a dad who is trying really hard, and a brosin, Hughie, (“…by my definition, a person who is midpoint between an irritating brother and an annoying cousin…”) who is sharing (invading) his room.  Kale is now a hippie, with dreadlocks that fall into his eyes, organically hand tie-dyed t-shirts, a vegan diet and a need to do “hippie things”, meaning he needs to find a social cause to embrace.  He does this by joining REHO, Rights for Every Human Organization.   It is here that Kale meets Julian.  Julian has big time problems at school, mostly in the form of a huge bully named Sydney.  Julian is incredibly smart, wants to be the best at academics so he can get a scholarship to college and be a doctor, attempted suicide and is now seeing a therapist.  Julian is transgender, a female trapped in his male body, and he’s bullied unmercifully for that.  “I have no problem with the world addressing me as Julian.  In fact, I insist upon it, even with those like Dr. E, who know that, inside, I’m actually a girl.  I want to be called Julian until the day I begin to live as one.”    Julian joins clubs to make sure his academic resume is complete and one of those is REHO.

The story is told in alternating first person point of view of Julian and Kale and I truly appreciated that.  I liked getting into the problems that both these teenagers are struggling with and how they are trying to deal with it.  It connected me with these characters so much more.   When Kale goes on socialactivism.com to find a cause I rolled my eyes at him. But it got us to where we wanted to be, REHO.

In addition to the trials of Kale and Julian, there is also the family trouble facing Hughie.   He’s a sweet boy who was living under a bridge until Kale’s dad took him in.  Hughie’s mother, “Serenity”, is a stripper and a truly bad mother.  When Serenity (real name Mary Pat) wants to see Hughie, I felt so bad for him.  “It’s like he can’t bounce back from the idea of coming face-to-face with his own mother.”  Because she isn’t a good mother and poor Hughie doesn’t have that sense of belonging to Kale’s home and family.  He’s like a sort of permanent house guest. He is the one who gave Kale the nickname, Crunchy, because of all the granola he eats in a house of serious meat-eaters.

Hughie, Sydney and Julian are in all classes together and they are all vying for the top spot of valedictorian.  That is one reason that Sydney is such a nightmare – she wants to stress them both away from being able to snag that spot. 

The one thing that saved this story from being an “all women are horrible” type is the volunteer best friends of Julian, Anna and Kandy.  Thank Pete for them, because they supported Julian and they were evidence that not all women are horrible.   Yes, Kale mother is not great, Hughie’s mother is awful, Sydney the bully and her female posse are the worst.   But Anna and Kandy, along with Julian’s mother, are gems.  Mama is so amazing, her support is what every kid should have.

As Kale comes to realize he likes Julian, he is struggling to come to terms with his sexuality.  Is he gay? Is he bi?  He isn’t really sure, he just knows he is coming to like Julian.  He sits by him at REHO, and is stunned to realize Julian goes to the same high school.  It’s funny that even though both Julian and Hughie have much bigger stresses and issues to face, I still was sympathetic to Kale as he tries to navigate what he’s feeling.  Anyone who says the teen years are the best is delusional in  my book. 

Julian is attending REHO as he is facing his body changing even more into something he abhors.  He is also facing the aftermath of trying to kill himself.  “I still have soul-sucking nightmares about the day I tried to die – dreams about the loneliness, the anxiety, and the hopelessness that brought me to the point that I thought it would be better to be gone.”  It’s heart-wrenching to know that there are so many kids who feel that way.  Julian is his true self- Julia – at night and then has to do the difficult task of “…putting the boy back on in the morning after being myself all night.”  He has to “…numb his body and spirit” in order to be what society says he has to be.  But not forever, Julian. 

Julian doesn’t immediately hit it off with Kale.  He believes Kale is cute, but a poser.  When trouble comes for Hughie, and he takes off,  Kale gets some insight into himself and he doesn’t like what he is seeing.  “Like self-absorbed…or insensitive.  Or both.”  And really, he is.  As he comes to realize that “I’m the Walt Disney World Hippie Theme Park of teenage boys in Crestdale” he begins to do what many adults fail to do.  Look at himself and realize he needs to change. “And maybe I have no idea who I really am, other than a guy who professed to be pro-human rights but who looked the other way at the human being in desperate need who lives in my frigging bedroom with me.”  He’s only 16 but he’s going to be an amazing adult. 

Kale and Julian are slowly becoming friends when Kale is hit with a revelation at REHO that he didn’t see coming and he handles it badly, mainly because he sort of makes things all about him.  But it seemed a true reaction from someone who is struggling with their own identity.   Julian has his mama’s support again and I wanted to cheer for her.  “You chose the only path you could follow.  And now, by beautiful, smart, and courageous daughter, I hope you will follow it with pride”.  Jules has the strength because of that support.

The moment when Kale has to decide whether to do what is right, what is best for him, and what is easy was a great moment, even as it was a painful one.  The ending of this was so perfect, sweet and YA and lovely.  This coming of age story isn’t incredibly angsty, despite some very serious themes, but it’s a story of growth and I thought it was just right.

The cover, by Aaron Anderson, is simple and completely captured the feel of Kale.  The tie dye, the mushroom dreads, the sweet face – it all really leant the picture of who Kale was trying to be and I liked it.

Sales Links:  Harmony Ink Press | Amazon – no links yet for Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 180 pages
Expected publication: June 26th 2018 by Harmony Ink Press
ISBN139781640803923
Edition LanguageEnglish