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


Review: I Survived Seattle (Coming About #1) by J.K. Hogan


Rating: 4 stars out of 5

I Survived SeattleOnly his best friend’s wedding would make Justice Crawford leave the security of his home to fly across the country to Seattle to assume the best man duties that he has been given.  A  strange place, a schedule of events full of new people?  Just the beginning of a worst case scenario for Justice. Because  Justice is not only a deeply closeted gay Southern man but his social anxiety disorder and OCD make any new or strange situation problematic at best, a nightmare at its worst.  And this is definitely the worst that could happen.  That sometime during the festivities, Justice will be outed to the only friend he has ever known.

Sailor and charter boat captain Nic Valentine is returning home to Seattle from his father’s funeral when an attractive man literally falls into his lap when their plane hits some unexpected turbulence.  Eyes meet, attraction forms, a phone number is exchanged and then….nothing.  Cute guy disappears once Nic leaves the airplane in Seattle.  Nic is certain he will never see that man again but Fate and a wedding brings them together once more.

Justice has let his disorders and closeted status isolate him from society and a chance at love.  Nic’s past includes a closeted boyfriend that hurt him deeply and now he isn’t sure he wants to take another chance with a man who hides who he really is.  But sometimes love finds a way to bring the most unlikely of people together for their HEA.  Will Nic and Justice find the courage to take a chance on each other?

J.K. Hogan’s romantic tale, I Survived Seattle (Coming Ab0ut #1) has two opposite personality characters that meet cute on a plane.  A spate of turbulence, ok, a ton of turbulence throws Justice Crawford into the lap of one Nic Valentine during the flight.  A few words, a couple of flirtatious glances are exchanged and hopes are raised for a lite romcom.

But  initial impressions are often deceiving. One man is on the way to his best friend’s wedding, the other returning from his father’s funeral.  One has serious mental health issues and the other is grieving over his father’s loss.  Not exactly comedic fare and I am not sure the introduction works to frame out the depth of the problems and the complexities in store for both men once they land in Seattle.  But once that plane lands….this story really takes off.  Don’t you love it when that happens?

Justice Crawford is a man sinking under the weight of his problems.  When he was younger, the decision to come out to his parents, cost him home and family.  Only the support of a grandfather in a retirement home, enabled Justice to attend college and complete his degree.  The trauma of that situation forced Justice back into the closet and no one, not even Rory his best friend and only family, knew he was gay.  In addition to being closeted, Justice suffers from a social anxiety disorder and OCD.  Medication has helped but fear and his anxiety have kept Justice in a cage or closet of his own making along with his decision to hide his homosexuality.  Hogan makes this character delightfully easy to empathize with,even with his closeted status.  He is socially inept and closed off, and still we like him.  We see where his past and his anxiety have contributed to the fears he is letting dictate his life and we are able to understand him.

Nic Valentine is the much more genial and open of the two personalities.  He lives aboard his charter boat, accepts who he is and longs for a partner to complete his life.  Nic’s past includes a closeted boyfriend so we can understand Nic’s frustration with and uncertainty about pursuing a relationship with Justice.  Both men come complete with a pair of best friend/girl friends who support them and help their relationship along.  I liked them as well as I did the main characters.  Rory, the best friend, is a little more elusive a character.  It was hard to get a feel for him and that was important given the fact that Justice’s fear over losing him is central to his rationale for staying in the closet.  More of Rory or more of Rory and Justice’s past history would have solidified this element of the story.  And I am not certain how I feel about a certain character who seemed more of a plot device to boost Justice out of the closet than a real human being. Maybe he will grow on me if he returns in the sequel.

J.K. Hogan may reside in North Carolina but she has life on the water and Seattle down pat.  I loved the descriptions of Nic’s boat and the harbor in Seattle.  His carefully organized space and quarters sound realistic and attractive.  Did I want to be there on his boat?  Why yes I did.  I could feel the peacefulness and quiet that Justice felt when he stood on deck because Hogan’s descriptions were able to transport me there to stand next to him.

Another element of this story I appreciate was the degree of  authenticity in regard to Justice’s anxiety disorder and OCD.  There is no magic wand to make it all better.  Instead thee is an adjustment of medication, and long term visits with a therapist to help Justice lead a more normal life.  We get a better understanding of what can trigger anxiety attacks and exactly how that can incapacitate a person.  Like I stated, not exactly comedic fare.  But it works when developing a character that comes across as real instead of a stereotype.   And Justice feels as real as they come.

I Survived Seattle is the debut novel for J.K. Hogan and I found it to be a sweet, rewarding and totally endearing first jump for this author into the m/m romance genre.  From the title I anticipate this is but the first in a series.  Perhaps the next in line just might be the recently married but unhappy Rory? I can’t wait to find out.  But while we are waiting, grab up I Survived Seattle.  You are going to love Justice and Nic and their journey to their own HEA!

Cover art by Wilde City Press. The cover has a number of nice elements but I am not sure they work together to form a cohesive whole.  It’s a little murky but the font is nice as is the Seattle backdrop and inclusion of a boat.

 Book Details:

ebook, 161 pages
Published March 19th 2014 by Wilde City Press
edition languageEnglish
seriesComing About #1

Buy Links:  Wilde City Press   Amazon   ARe