Happy Thanksgiving!

Due to the holiday there won’t be a post this weekend. We hope everyone has a wonderful weekend!

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The Art of Breathing by TJ Klune

I read a lot.  I mean, a LOT.  So asking me to choose one favorite book is like asking a mother to choose her favorite child – it’s a difficult prospect, some might call it impossible.  I have favorite books when I want to read funny, favorite angsty books, favorite sweet books, favorite suspenseful books … you get the idea.

With that being said, I have a few go-to reads regardless of the mood I’m in.  I know the books on this list will feed my soul, no matter what it needs at the moment.  A lot of the books on my favorites list have more than one mood: both angst and humor (yes, it’s possible), suspense and humor, angst and suspense, it goes on.

Right now, the book at the very top of my favorites list is The Art of Breathing by TJ Klune.  It’s the third installment in the Bear, Otter and the Kid series, and oh, the feels!  The book is written mainly from the Kid’s point of view, and it’s simply amazing. If you are into audio books, I also heartily endorse the audio of this book – but you should read it in print first so you know what is coming and when to have your tissues handy, both from laughing so hard you’re crying and from, well, crying.

Tyson Thompson, known as The Kid and previously known as Tyson McKenna, is the type of kid you want to simultaneously choke and hug to death.  He’s a genius, a vegetarian and quite the handful. In the first two books of the series (Bear, Otter and the Kid and Who We Are), he is young and impressionable, and the reader watches him try to deal with everything life has thrown at him and his brother Derrick (Bear to his friends/family). The reader gets to know Tyson through Bear and Otter, but we never really see inside his head the way we see in The Art of Breathing.

When I read the first two books, I saw Ty questioning what was going on and seemingly dealing fairly well – in typical Tyson fashion, which means lots of laughter too. I liked the character of Ty and the way he seemed to be Bear’s conscience at times, but I wanted to get to know him more. The Art of Breathing gives us Ty, in spades. In this book we learn that he didn’t come through his childhood as unscathed as we might have thought.

I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t go into excruciating detail here. Suffice it to say that his poor little brain developed some coping mechanisms that followed him to adulthood – and at times they haunt him. The title of the book comes from a technique that Ty has learned for dealing with the anxiety attacks he suffers from periodically.  As someone who also has periodic anxiety issues, this really spoke to me. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of an anxiety attack, it’s all I can do to keep breathing in and out while trying to keep my heart from beating clear out of my chest.  This is something that Ty deals with throughout the whole book, and it becomes the key to Tyson’s future in a very real sense.

We met Ty’s friend Dominic in Who We Are, and I had the feeling he would be a crucial part of Ty’s story but I had no idea how important he would be. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Dom becomes Ty’s touchstone in a way very similar to the way Otter becomes Bear’s rock. That being said, it’s not an easy road for Ty and Dom, and they have to deal with roadblocks like you would not believe.

While this book is chock-full of angst and tension, it’s also absolutely freaking hysterical in parts, just like the first two books in the series.  There is another dinner party scene that must be read (or heard) to be truly appreciated. The relationship between Otter’s brother Creed and his wife Anna and son JJ is comedy gold. The reader also gets to spend time with some characters from another book of Klune’s, and it was absolute genius of TJ to include these guys in the saga of Tyson Thompson.

At the end, we know Tyson Thompson in all his damaged, struggling glory.  He keeps thinking he’s broken and we see him wondering if he can be fixed. He’s a very real person to me by the end – actually, he’s very real to me by the time he leaves for college. TJ Klune does not sugar-coat anything, but he has such a talent for writing hope. All of the main characters (and some side characters as well) struggle mightily at times, but there is always hope. The struggles we see the characters face are real things that a lot of people deal with every day, but there is always a helping hand giving the character hope that it will all turn out all right in the end.

And that, right there, is why this book is at the top of my favorites list right now. Life is messy and sometimes it just sucks sideways.  But we can always find hope if we know where to look.

Heather Porter

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A Little Too Broken by Brad Vance

One of the things I love about Brad Vance’s work is the quality of the writing. Sometimes, I feel as if I have to choose between hot sensuality, good writing skills, and a deep connection between and to the characters. But not with Vance’s stories.

In A Little Too Broken, we meet Jamie and Tom, both of whom have their personal issues. For Jamie, his diagnosis as HIV positive has left him feeling isolated and as if there’s no hope for romance, or even casual sex. At the Humane Society, Jamie meets Tom, who is a veteran and is the administrator of a charity that matches services dogs with veterans who need them.

What I love about this story is its honesty. There are depictions of what Tom sees, thinks, goes through as both a wounded veteran, with very real depictions of the way PTSD affects his daily life. And, as an amputee, both the physical struggles and the insecurities of having someone see his body inhibit his willingness to even attempt a physical relationship with anyone are told in such a way that I’m not left pitying Tom, but admiring him for the strength of will that’s kept him going.

As for Jamie, he begins the story so isolated, so unsure of himself that he can’t commit to adopting a second cat. In his mind, it’s going to end badly, because after all, hasn’t everything else in his life? But, still, the way Vance handles his insecurities, I’m not left with an “aww” moment where I want to knit Jamie mittens. I want to kick his ass. I want to tell him to suck it up, buttercup.

A Little Too Broken is a fabulously written story that has enough angst to make it interesting, but not so much that I was left curled in a fetal ball at the end. It rings so true and realistic that I want to buy Tom and Jamie a beer and catch up on their lives. Along with all of Brad Vance’s book, this is one I’ll re-read often, to discover all the nuances of the writing that I may have missed on my first, fast-paced consumption of another excellent story.

Lucy Watson Campbell

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Strawberries for Dessert by Marie Sexton

I’m choosing this one as it’s part of my favorite series, the Coda series by Marie Sexton. The thing is, it’s not the main story that made me chose to write about this one, it’s just a piece of it. Zac and Angelo are my favorite characters. Ang and I are bonded. The scene that I am speaking of is at a party at Jared and Matts’ house. Ang meets Cole, and they go back into a bedroom and “hook up”. They do so with Zac’s permission, but still in many people’s eyes it’s cheating.

I had loaned this book to a coworker, and she loved it. However, she hated Ang. She hadn’t read A to Z first, and this really colored her perception of him. We had a really good discussion about it. It really made me think about relationships differently. Zac gave his blessing. He wasn’t mad that Ang had a quickie. My co-worker felt that meant Zac didn’t have the “balls” to stand up for himself and what was right. My response was that it’s not my place to feel offended or upset at someone else’s relationship, if it works for them. No one was hurt or upset. They were both happy with the decision that was made.

Dawn DeBarr McReynolds

 

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Wrestling With Desire by D.H. Starr

This book is a very first for me by D.H. Starr, and will NOT be the last! It was a contemporary story of two high school guys, primarily written from Derek’s POV, who seem different yet compatible on the surface, but as the story progresses, and as Scott’s POV is also brought into the mix, the relationship brings out the wonderful and sometimes heartbreaking differences within each man, and between them in their relationship.

The secondary characters, namely Beck, the wrestling team, the school, and the city itself (with the lovely descriptions of the river, the outdoors, the music store), were an essential element of the story, but didn’t detract from the story or waver your focus from these two men.

Rather, it strengthened and defined them, and while there WAS some well-meaning interference from their family & friends (Beck especially), how each man dealt with the changes, the decisions to be together, the things which drove them apart, depression, desire, and resolution were wonderful to experience in their eyes. This book lends itself toward a sequel, because the story of these two men aren’t over, and whether they journey solely or together in this future they call life, they DO journey, live life, and will hopefully continue to live each moment with fierce desire.

Now after reading this book, I cannot wait to read the others BRAVO, Mr. STARR!!

 

Tamerut Anna Prince

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The Brick Yard by Carol Lynne

This is my favorite book because of the growth of the characters and because this story touches my heart. This book has characters that are passionate about what they know, yet are willing to grow. I think this is Carol Lynne’s best book so far.

The Brick Yard is a gym, not one of those places with treadmills in this line, and cycle bikes in that line, and steppers over here, but one of those places where men train to be mixed martial arts fighters.

A man named Tony Brick founded the Brick Yard. He has a heart for those in trouble and those who have nowhere to go, but he is one of those old school guys who never tells you what good he is doing, or talks about emotion, or makes it easy for you to get to know him. He’s gruff, strong, and does the right thing because that’s what he does. Even though this story is not about him, he is still an incredibly dynamic character.

I love the Brick Yard partially because of Brick, but also because of the two main characters, Lucky and Dray.

Lucky grows up in a bad situation. He is one of those kids who will fall through the cracks if no one helps. When Lucky shows up at the Brick Yard, Brick gives him a part time job, a place to sleep, and checks to see that he does his homework.

Lucky’s hero Dray, one of the fighters, is outed by an ex-lover, Lucky pays attention and determines that he will never go through what Dray has. As Lucky grows up in the world of the Brick Yard, he learns a passion for Mixed Martial Arts and loses himself in the fighting. When a problem arises, he learns he has to deal with his past and grow beyond who he is now.

Even though I know this book isn’t supposed to be a series, I shall continue to hope. I love book series, especially ones that have depth and passion. Who knows? Either way, I will continue to reread The Brick Yard often. The growth and depth of the MC is wonderful to read, and the passion for life and love is a blessing to feel.

Susie Bisch

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Pray the Gay Away by Sara York

Pray the gay away by Sara York is one of those books that just hit home for me.  Usually I read books that are light that I can easily escape into for a short time. This series of books was not that for me. I would read a bit and put it down swearing I wasn’t going to go back to it only to pick it up again.  For the first time I was reading about characters that I not only understood but I felt their pain.

Jack the jock, and oldest child of very strict religious parents, has always known he was gay but never acted on his desires until he met Andrew.

Andrew was a new kid in town whose parents moved him to Sweet after his parents found out that he was gay.

Sara takes us on their journey that is pain filled and true to life, and leaves us wanting more of Andrew and Jack.

As for a guy who has experienced the bad side of life I am glad to see Sara tackle a hard subject and give it respect and not gloss over or sugar coat the bad in order to get to the good. I wouldn’t hesitate to read it again and am looking forward to more from Sara.

Dylan Ross

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