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

A Wintery Mix, Favorite Childhood Books, and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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We are expecting a wintery mix here in Maryland, rain, sleet, ice and snow all mixing together to create an equal mixture of beauty and angst.  Trees with limbs that glisten like diamonds to go along with downed power lines and people lost in the cold.  Joy mixed in with a little quiet reflection, softened by the grey skies of winter and clouds laden with snow.

Days like this bring back memories of winters past and winter stories I loved reading to my daughter and the children later at the nature The Winter Bear book Covercenter.  Stories like  The Winter Bear by Ruth Craft and Robert Frost’s Stopping Through The Woods On A Snowy Evening were a perfect way to convey the feelings and emotions brought on by the first snow or a cold, blustery day in winter.

The Winter Bear especially is still so close to my heart.  It’s simple story and the illustrations that hark back to the style of the original Winnie the Pooh never fail to move me.  A lost stuff bear is tangled up in a shrub looking worn , a little dirty and so very alone.  Its winter and the landscape is cold and barren.  Then a small group of children, siblings, finds the bear, gets him down and takes him home where they clean him up, Robert Frost's Stopping By Woods on a Snow Eveningdress in warmly and give that little bear a home with them.  It’s a spare, elegant and concise little story and yet it is so moving that it can still bring tears to my eyes as that last page as the children and little bear are snug  and warm in a little living room with the fire blazing and snow falling outside.  It was first published in 1976 and is hard to find.  But once found and added to your bookshelf, it will become a family treasure to bring out generation after generation no matter your religion or location.  Much like the other book that I love so well, Robert Frost’s Stopping Through the Woods on a Snowy Evening.  The illustrations are in black and white, with a splash of red in places, just glorious and perfect for this poem.  Children and adults alike love looking at them, watching the sleigh travel through town and into the woods with a surprise for the animals that live there.  And then there are those words….such memorable, wonderful words.  The last stanza is the best known..”.The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,But I have promises to keep,And miles to go before I sleep,And miles to go before I sleep.”  I have the entire short poem  at the end of the post today.  But those words and those illustrations together paint a memory portrait that draws adults and children into those woods time and again, a magic that is never lost.  Pick those books up and add them to your holiday collection.

Now I have a very special week ahead starting with a book that made my Best of 2013 within the first ten pages.  That’s when I started sobbing copious tears, a phrase perfect for the floodgate that opened upon reading Amy Lane’s latest book, Christmas Kitsch. Never have I been so moved by a character that quickly had me forgetting he wasn’t real.  Rusty, a wounded, glorious man child, whose open heart and mind is so transcendent that his story pulled me in not to release me until 3am, red eyed, snotty, and happy beyond belief that I had met him.  Amy Lane is running a contest and her author spotlight is Monday with my review of Christmas Kitsch is on Tuesday.  Thursday is a 4 book, 4 author Boys In the Band Blog Tour (and contest).  And Friday and Saturday…well if you have been reading the Pulp Friction authors and their combined series (City Knight, Triple Threat, Wicked’s Ways and Chances Are) then you are in for another treat.  The last book in all their series is a combined effort.  Odd Man Out wraps up all the stories of all the characters and is written by all 4 authors.  They have written a guest blog for Friday to talk about the last book and what’s coming in 2014 for Pulp Friction.  My review of Odd Man Out follows on Saturday.  And there is an amazing giveaway associated with this Pulp Friction Season Finale as well.  What a week ahead!!!!  Don’t miss out on a day of it!

Monday, Dec. 9:    Amy Lane’s Christmas Kitsch Blog Tour, Contest and Author Spotlight

Tuesday, Dec. 10:  Christmas Kitsch by Amy Lane

Wed., Dec. 11:          Tag Team: Fais Do Do by BA Tortuga

Thurs., Dec. 12:       Boys In The Band Blog Tour and Contest, Authors  L.A. Witt, Paula Coots, Rowan Speedwell, and Cecilia Tan

Friday, Dec. 13:       Pulp Friction Author Blog, Contest and Odd Man Out release

Sat., Dec. 14:             Odd Man Out by Lee Brazil, Havan Fellows, TE Webb, and Laura Harner, a Pulp Friction 2013 finale!

Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Review: Lost and Found by Z.A. Maxfield

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

LostAndFound_500x750Rigoberto “Ringo” Salazar is thirty years old, heads up security for the upscale RV Newport Sands Resort, and owns his own “cookie cutter” home.  He is out and part of a large latino family that still loves and accepts him, not caring about his sexuality.  The one thing missing from his life? Someone to love and be loved in return. Then he spies young Gavin Lopez playing saxophone for the summer crowd at the picnic tables and Ringo is lost.

Now a year after that first sighting, things have been rocky for Ringo and Gavin.  Gavin is insecure, rough around the edges, a commitment phobe with anger management issues. Gavin spends as much time driving Ringo away as he does pulling him in. But Gavin is also “the one” for Ringo. Through constant fights, separations, and hot makeup sessions, Ringo has been there for Gavin, where Gavin has wanted his support or not.

But now things are coming to a head.  A recent moment of togetherness, brought on by Gavin’s knee surgery, is shattered when Gavin’s beloved dog Bird runs away and Gavin blames Ringo.  While searching for Bird, Ringo comes to a number of realizations about himself and Gavin.   Things cannot go on as they have, changes have to be made by Ringo and Gavin for them to have a future together.  But Gavin is full of fear and lacks faith in everyone including himself.  It will take a miracle not only for Ringo to find Bird but for the men to find it in themselves to change and move forward.  But Christmas is a season of miracles and what was lost will find a way to come home, whether it be a dog or an abiding love.

There is nothing typical about Lost and Found by Z.A. Maxfield, other than it is a perfect example of a Z.A. Maxfield story.  Part of Riptide Publishing’s Home for the Holidays collection, it is only superficially a “holiday story”.  Below such surface expectations of Christmas memories and holiday traditions lurks the all too human characters that I have come to expect from this amazing author. Her characters are full of imperfections, riddled with insecurities, lacking the tools, the social  niceties that help others cope with society and the stress of the times.  You need to look no further than Gavin Lopez to find the tarnished jewel of this Maxfield story.

I think some people might be put off by Gavin. Or if not Gavin, then’s Ringo’s pursuit of Gavin and a relationship.  But Gavin’s character is a gritty, prickly personification of a person so wounded that his first and only impulse when faced with affection and love is to throw up barriers and inflict enough pain and insult as to make that threat to his self isolation go away.  And Gavin does a quite thorough job of it in Lost and Found.  Towards the man who loves him, Gavin is abusive verbally, sometimes downright cruel. Gavin is childish, sulking and impulsive in his actions.  So why do we like him?  Because Ringo does.  And through Ringo’s eyes, we see beyond the stunted adult into the wounded young artist crying out for help and love.

The story is told in Ringo’s pov.  We understand by hearing his thoughts and feeling his emotions that Ringo too carries his share of pain and past injuries both physical and emotional.  A vet with PTSD, he has adjusted to civilian life but his memories of his tour of duty lurk on the edges of Ringo’s mind, just waiting to reappear.  Ringo has a love of his culture and family but also understands the reality of being an out gay latino in his neighborhood where he is protected not only by his size but by the force of his Uncle Salvo and family.  Ringo’s complexities are apparent whether he is dealing with security issues at the RV park or with the emotional turmoil of Gavin himself.

It is a mark of this author’s skill that, just when the reader is getting so exasperated with Gavin’s actions towards Ringo and Ringo’s constant acceptance of the unrelenting rejection that they want to give up on this couple’s romance, she has Ringo understand that a major change in his approach to Gavin must occur in order for him to go forward in his pursuit.  This is a much needed shift in attitude, and for some readers eyes long overdue.  But again it works to help the reader better understand the men involved and the relationship Ringo is hoping to have with Gavin. One more realistic layer added to an already multilayered story.

Throughout the story, like a line tethering one character to another, is Bird, the chocolate lab who is Gavin’s constant companion and the vessel into which he pours all his love.  Tying an endearing pet like Bird to someone who is off-putting and dislikable as Gavin, at least at the beginning, helps to connect the reader to that person.  It changes our perception of them instantaneously.  For if a dog loves them, then  somewhere inside they must be deserving of being loved, a widely held opinion whether it is true or not.  The reader will find the hunt for Bird gut wrenching, especially if you are a pet owner.  It feels as real as the rest of the story, as does Bird himself.

My only real quibble here is the length.  I think Lost and Found would benefit from a longer length, from novella to novel size.  The end of the story is as realistic and satisfying as these two complex men could have at the time.  I would have loved a little more to the resolution and acceptance, letting the reader revel in the moment a little longer along with the men. T’would have been keeping in the holiday spirit and the miracles that can occur if you want them badly enough.  As it is I still loved Lost and Found and recommend it highly no matter the season or holidays you keep.

Cover art by L.C. Chase is just magnificent.  One of the best covers of 2013.  Perfection in every way from tone, emotion, and character.  Just wow.

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:

140 pages
Expected publication: December 2nd 2013 by Riptide Publishing
ISBN13 9781626490857
edition language English

Contest and Guest Blog by Z.A. Maxfield for Lost and Found

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LostAndFound_TourBanner

Let’s welcome Z.A. Maxfield to ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords to share her thoughts on the holidays and her latest release, Lost and LostAndFound_150x300Found:

Five Favorite Holiday Book Memories

Hello, and welcome to my Lost and Found blog tour! Thanks so much to Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words for hosting me today. I’m so glad to be able to share my latest release.

Everyone has Christmas film memories, and I have a lot of those. But I want to talk about my Five Favorite Holiday Book Memories. These are either about books I’ve read that deal with the holidays, or books I’ve read during the holidays!

When my daughter was two, one of our relatives sent us a tiny little board book called The Christmas Mouse. I must have read that thing a thousand times. She carried it in her tiny baby hand everywhere we went, and as her mother it was my job to read it whenever she wanted it read. Reading a story to a toddler is the BEST Christmas memory.

I used to have a copy of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that belonged to my mother. It was small, illustrated, and had a green leather binding. The embossing on the cover was so worn, you couldn’t read the title, but I loved that book. I kept it in a bookcase next to the bed for years and every time my husband left me a Post-It note I tucked it inside the cover. Somehow, I’ve lost that book and I’m very much afraid it was with the Christmas decorations that burned. But I loved that book. I used to enjoy reading it out loud to my kids.

One year my mother went to a used bookstore and bought me a dozen or so blue tweed editions of the Nancy Drew series from the fifties. I wasn’t feeling well, and I remember lying in bed for several days with a high fever, enjoying those books one after another when I felt well enough to read. That was a great gift and I still have those books and some older editions from the thirties that my mother bought when she was in elementary school. The fun thing about those is that she wrote her name on the inside covers in her painstaking elementary school cursive. (Which looked better than mine does now…)

I used to get really excited about interesting or unusual Christmas ornaments, but as probably everyone in the world knows now, I had a fire and lost all that. At one time, I collected little storybooks ornaments. I had A Christmas Carol, The Nutcracker, and I think maybe one other, I think it must have been T’was The Night Before Christmas. I used to take them off the tree and read them, and the kids liked them, they were the perfect size for little kid hands.

And Finally, MY VERY FAVORITE Christmas book memory is about an AUDIOBOOK! One year as a lark I bought this holiday themed set of cassette tapes from one of the big box stores. The tapes were a compilation of stories, I don’t know, A Baker’s Dozen, The Nutcracker, The Christmas Tea Set, and this one story about a Little Christmas Tree. Every year, we’d make cocoa in travel mugs and go drive around one of the neighborhoods where people take their holiday decorations really seriously. We’d listen to those stories, until we got to the tree one, and everyone would have a cow! See, that story was the saddest, most depressing, most pessimistic story ever, and the kids used to scream at me if I let them listen to it. So, now you know, it’s to honor my family that whenever I tell a story, I always make sure it has a happy ending. There are enough downer stories in the world…I want to remind people that even in the bottom of Pandora’s Box, there was a little bit of hope.

Thanks so much for spending some time with me and the guys from Lost and Found!

LostAndFound_500x750Blurb –
Lost: one dog and two men in need of each other. Found: love.
RV resort security chief Ringo never believed in love at first sight . . . until he saw Gavin playing his sax on the beach for the tourists. But their on-again, off-again affair—even counting all the great makeup sex—doesn’t come close to the relationship he wants. All he really wants for Christmas is a commitment from Gavin.
Instead he discovers that Gavin has had surgery without telling him, so he lays down a relationship ultimatum while Gavin recuperates. Complicating matters even more, Gavin’s beloved dog Bird runs away, and Gavin blames Ringo for the disappearance.
While Ringo throws every resource he has into finding Bird, he learns deeper truths about Gavin—how hard it is for him to trust and how little faith he has in love. Maybe if Ringo can find Bird, he can salvage Gavin’s faith. Maybe this Christmas, they can all find each other.

You can read an excerpt or purchase Lost and Found  HERE. Remember, when you purchase Lost and Found in either ebook format, which you can find  HERE or in the print anthology format, which you can find HERE, you’re helping to support the mission of the Ali Forney Center.

About Z. A. Maxfield:

ZAM started writing in 2007 on a dare from her children and never looked back. Pathologically disorganized, and perennially optimistic, she writes as much as she can, reads as much as she dares, and enjoys her time with family and friends. Three things reverberate throughout all her stories: Unconditional love, redemption, and the belief that miracles happen when we least expect them.
If anyone asks her how a wife and mother of four can find time for a writing career, she’ll answer, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you give up housework.”

Readers can visit ZAM at her  website, Facebook,  Twitter, or Tumblr.

Lost and Found Contest Details:

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To recap, you can find all the blog tour information you need at the Riptide Website, HERE. Be sure you attend all the stops and follow the Rafflecopter instructions for the chance to win a $20.00 Riptide Publishing Gift Certificate and all the songs on my Lost and Found Playlist!  The winner will be drawn on December 8th at 5pm  EST.  Contest is valid worldwide.

Riptide contest details:
Enter your details in the Rafflecopter below to gain entry in the *Home for the Holidays* giveaway! This week of the tour closes at midnight, EST, on December 6th. Then, one grand prize winner will be contacted at the end of the Home for the Holidays tour on December 16th. Contest is valid worldwide.

Riptide Publishing Rafflecopter Link

Book 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/.

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