Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze by Benjamin Roech


Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze by Benjamin Roech
Publisher: Deep Hearts YA
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Romance, LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Fifteen-year-old Rainey Cobb never thought meeting someone could actually change her life. But, then again, she’s never met anyone like Juliet.

It’s 1995 and The Cobb Family Band, led by Rainey’s rock star parents, has arrived for a week-long gig at the Midwestern resort owned by Juliet’s family. Dazzled by Juliet’s carpe diem attitude, DIY tattoos, and passion for grunge, Rainey falls hard. And when Juliet gives Rainey a mixtape that unlocks her heart’s secret yearnings, Rainey starts seeing herself-and her vagabond, show-biz life-through new eyes.

If Rainey quits the band, her parents’ fading career might never recover. But if she doesn’t leap now, she might be stuck forever in a life she didn’t choose…and always wonder who she could have been.

One summer really can change everything.

Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that addressed Rainey’s summer romance. She and her love interest were both so young and still unsure of where they might land on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. It was interesting to see how they addressed their feelings as they both explored their identities and tried to figure out what they wanted out of life. I don’t want to give away any spoilers here, but this was nicely written and felt very realistic for their ages and for the era they lived in.

I also enjoyed the subplots about Rainey’s complex relationships with her parents. She was beginning to grow up, and her mother, Tracy, wasn’t always ready for all of the changes that was going to bring to their band and to their lives in general. While there were a few times when I shook my head at how much effort Tracy was putting into preserving traditions that were not necessarily working so well as her children asserted their independence, even these moments were genuine and necessary for what was to come. Adjusting to change isn’t easy, especially for parents who have given their children such unconventional upbringings so far.

The character development was handled beautifully. Every member of the Cobb family was three dimensional and well written, and this was especially true for Rainey. I found myself wishing that she were a real person so we could talk about poetry and make mixtapes for each other all summer long. It was delightful to see how she, her brother, and their parents all grew as individuals over the year that this novel covered. If the author ever decides to write a sequel, I’d love to find out what happened to these characters next!

Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze was utterly perfect.

Thunder by Dylan James


Thunder by Dylan James
Publisher: Deep Hearts YA
Genre: Young Adult, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (199 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Grant Peters is sixteen and wants nothing more than to just compete in calf roping at rodeos and keep winning gold. But there are two obstacles in his path.

The first is Logan Summers, also sixteen, and also into calf roping. Logan is Grant’s only real competition and every time Logan wins, he gives Grant a smug little smirk that sets Grant’s blood boiling. Deep inside, though, Grant knows that his hostility toward Logan is about more than that smirk; it’s about feelings he’s not ready to acknowledge.

The second is Grant’s parents being close to selling the family ranch and moving to the city, away from rodeo, and away from his horse, Thunder.
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So when Grant discovers evidence of a deadly cougar stalking the ranch, he decides to take it upon himself to hunt down what would undoubtedly kill the little business his family has left if word got out. Of course, as soon as he sets off into the woods, he runs into Logan, who is undertaking the same hunt to save his own family’s ranch.

Now, these two teenage rodeo nemeses have to overcome their hatred for each other and their uncertainty about themselves if they have any hope of coming together to save their families’ businesses.

Not every adventure announces itself ahead of time.

Grant was a well developed main character. He was kind and intelligent. Even better than that, one of his biggest flaws had to do with how he handled emergencies. He preferred to fix things himself instead of asking for help even in situations that really could have used extra people working on them. Seeing how this flaw impacted the course of his story only made me like him more. There was something very relatable about someone who struggled with something that was hard to overcome and that had a serious impact on his life. Grant felt real to me, and I always get excited when I meet characters who fit that criteria.

As much as I liked Logan, I found it confusing to have two narrators. His persona was so similar to Grant’s that I had trouble telling them apart. The fact that some scenes switched between them without clearly letting the audience know that was happening only added to my confusion. He would have made an equally good sole protagonist, but I think this story would have worked better if only one of them had explained what was happening in it.

The romance unfolded nice and slowly in this tale. I always appreciate slow-burning relationships, especially for characters like these that had a lot of other stuff on their plates when the audience first met them. It made perfect sense for them to focus on more pressing matters before spending much time thinking about their love lives.

I’d recommend Thunder to anyone who loves horses or nature.

I Was a Gay Teenage Zombie by Alison Cybe


I Was a Gay Teenage Zombie by Alison Cybe
Publisher: Deep Hearts YA
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (164 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

“Y’know, if I was a sexy type of undead, like a vampire or something, I’m sure I’d have some kind of supernatural power to bring any guy I liked under my charismatic control. Best I can hope for is to not decompose over someone’s shoes. How romantic.”

And you thought it was hard coming out as gay… Jay was a perfectly normal teenager, like any other awkward, antisocial, gay teenager. Until he was bitten by a mysterious zombie boy.
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Now, Jay has far more on his mind than he can handle. Not only is he struggling to keep his troubled family together and deal with his unfulfilled love for the hottest guy in school, he also needs to keep in check his urge to devour human flesh. All the while making sure his decomposition doesn’t show. As if he wasn’t already enough of an outsider…

This unique story offers a fresh and exciting new twist on the young adult LGBT coming-of-age comedy horror tale. Shockingly aware and witty, this thrilling tale by acclaimed horror and dark fantasy author Alison Cybe dishes up side-splitting laughter, stomach-churning horror, heart-rending drama and everything you’ll need to know about growing up when you just don’t fit in.

Some zombies are full of surprises.

Jay’s character development was marvelous. Like many teenagers, he dealt with moods that sometimes changed rapidly and often felt like no one in the world understood him. Ms. Cybe captured what it’s like to be a teenager perfectly. If that wasn’t enough, Jay also changed in all sorts of delightful ways as his body continued to look less like the person he’d been before he was bitten. He felt real to me, and that’s always something to praise.

There were some parts of the storyline that weren’t well developed. This was especially true when it came to some of the things the protagonist did to hide his injury, illness, death, resurrection, and undead afterlife from the people closest to him. I was surprised by how oblivious his parents were to all of these developments, and it would have been nice to have more reasons for them missing such blatant signs that something had dramatically changed in their son’s life. If they’d been included, I would have given this book a much higher rating. Everything else about it was great.

The descriptions of what it felt like to be zombie were well done. Every universe has their own rules about how this process works and how long it takes. This was definitely one of the longest transformations I’ve ever read about, so I was fascinated by how slowly Jay changed after he was bitten. It was also interesting to see all of the ways he didn’t conform to the typical stereotypes of this monster. Sharing specific details about them would give away too many spoilers, but the author did a great job of putting her own twist on traditional zombie lore.

I Was a Gay Teenage Zombie should be read by fans of the young adult and horror genres alike.

Gay Love and Other Fairy Tales by Dylan James


Gay Love and Other Fairy Tales by Dylan James
Publisher: Deep Hearts YA
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (275 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Jordan Ortiz decides he can no longer hide who he truly is. He’s gay. He comes out to his family, then he comes out to everyone, and it goes well. Like, way better than he thought possible. But that’s about where it ends. There aren’t enough out gay kids at school for him to build a queer social life or even consider the possibility of dating. For now, he’s happy to be the gay bestie for his BFF, Hannah.

Benjamin Cooper is the captain of the football team and has known Jordan for almost his whole life. And he has a secret. When they won an award at the science fair in grade nine, Jordan hugged him—and that’s when Ben realized he had feelings for Jordan. As he watches Jordan come out and flower into who he is, he can’t help but feel ashamed—ashamed at what a coward he is compared to Jordan.
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When a broken leg and fair-weather friends leave Ben feeling lonely on Christmas break, he spends New Year’s Eve with Jordan, just hanging out in his basement like they used to years ago. But as the countdown to midnight happens and the ball is about to drop, Ben has something else in mind. At the stroke of midnight, he kisses Jordan.

What starts with a surprise kiss leads to a year of shared secrets, hidden love, relationship troubles, and broken hearts. Through it all, one fact holds true—Jordan loves Benjamin and Benjamin loves Jordan. But is that enough to carry them through when Ben wants to stay firmly in the closet, to the very point that this might destroy what hope they have of true love?

Falling in love isn’t always a simple process.

Bullying is a complicated subject, so I was glad to see the author take such a nuanced approach to why students bully each other, how bystanders affect this process, and what might persuade at least some the bullies to stop. Some of the most interesting scenes in this book were the ones that explored how this all works, especially when the adults aren’t paying attention and the bullies think they can get away with anything they’d like.

Jordan and Benjamin had very similar voices in this story. That is, when the point of view switched between them from one chapter to the next, I would have had some trouble telling who was narrating that part of the storyline if their sections hadn’t been marked. They had such similar personalities and speaking styles that it wasn’t always easy to tell who was who. If not for this, I would have chosen a much higher rating as I enjoyed everything else about the plot.

The romance between Jordan and Benjamin was nicely written. I liked the fact that they moved slowly at the beginning of it. Not only did that make sense for their personalities, it gave the audience plenty of time to come up with our own reasons why these two characters should end up together. I know that I started rooting for that ending very early on due to how well they got along and how much they had in common!

Gay Love and Other Fairy Tales should be read by anyone who loves the romance genre.