Five Stars: Into the Blue by Pene Henson

Into the Blue (eBook package)

A while I promised a review of Pene Henson’s Into the Blue, which has received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly as well as excellent reviews from Romantic Times and USA Today — so well deserved!

Into the Blue is the moving story of long time best friends Tai and Ollie, who grew up surfing the North Shore of Oahu together. This book is Henson’s debut novel; it’s beautifully written and aches with the complexities of the protagonists’ stories. Their history and friendship is handled with great skill. There is never a moment when the forward progress of the story is bogged down by exposition that fills us in on the past. Instead we are treated into an inside view of their found family (their roommates Hannah and Sunny, and Ollie’s little brother Jamie) through the story, within it. It is immediately clear that Ollie and Tai have a very special friendship. Our perception of how special becomes more clear as we get to know Ollie, who is by turns prickly and unsure, who has a hard time with other people but who is quietly magnetic and lovable, even when it’s hidden from everyone but those who know him best. He’s foiled beautifully against Tai, who is magnetic as well but also magnanimous and outgoing. Together they make sense; when their relationship takes a turn from friendship to lovers, there is something between them that intrinsically works, even when we can clearly see them testing and blundering through situations of their own making.

I mentioned the beautiful writing; the landscape that Henson places her characters in is so vibrant. There’s such attention to detail. I felt transported – this book is a wonderful getaway. The sense of pause, that in between, that moment in their relationship where they can be something other than the friends they always have feels like a treasure and privilege to witness.

While Tai was a joy to read, Ollie was, for me, a revelation. I love his complexity and reticence. I love how he’s portrayed, like the world doesn’t always fit him, or like he’s not sure how his edges fit into the world. This is the second book this year I’ve read with a demisexual character and Henson handles his truth and story very carefully and thoughtfully. She also handles Tai’s progression through their relationship deftly – we get a good sense of how Tai packed the potential for feelings away when he and Ollie were younger after Ollie’s mother passed away, how and why he chooses to go along with the change in their relationship, but also how his fear of falling for Ollie and harming their found family complicates everything once they are brought back to their regular lives. None of these are over explained or overwrought. Instead they feel natural, and like the mistakes young men make when they’re figuring out what they want in life and how to get it.  Henson’s trust in the reader and in her characters makes falling in love with them as they fall for each other feel utterly natural and earned.

Five stars—if I could, twenty stars – for this stunning debut. Five as well for the beautiful cover, which makes me want to run away to the nearest beach to re-read this book yet again.

For a chance to win a 25$ gift card from Interlude Press, check this postthis post out on the author’s blog about her virtual book tour!

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Bang!

I’m gonna start July off with a bang! Or some other fireworks holiday kind of metaphor that’s terrible…

Rounding up some info: my books are 25% at Smashwords! So if you’ve been waiting for a great time to grab a copy of Hush or What it Takes, go for it!

If you want LOTS of great books, Interlude Press has some *amazing* books coming up that are on sale — all of their pre-order books — which includes Pene Henson’s upcoming novel, Into the Blue.

I have to write this book a proper review, but for now, just LOOK at the gorgeous cover.

This book is lush and beautiful and will just grab your heart. It got a starred review in Publishers Weekly and has gotten some great reviews ahead of it’s release — so I promise you, this book is really something very special.

You can preorder Into the Blue in print and e-book format, and I cannot recommend it more!

As for the rest, who knows? We are hard at work on Idlewild (yay!) and I am messing with an idea for a fourth book I am SO EXCITED FOR, which will be my Camp NaNo project. Wish me luck and motivation!

Finally, I am going to encourage everyone to get involved in the 1000 Book Challenge. Interlude Press and The Trevor Project have partnered to raise money for The Trevor Project and to get LGBT YA into libraries, head over here to find ways you can support this awesome project.

 

Andrew and Milo Exposed

The things you didn’t know! Today I thought it might be fun to give y’all some little insight tidbits into my main characters from What it Takes that you wouldn’t get in the book. When I did my twitter takeover on Interlude’s twitter account a bit ago, I had a couple of readers ask me what it was like to fit twenty years of story into one book. In a word, hard! It really meant judicious storytelling and knowing a whole bunch of stuff that I didn’t have room to write in. There was some fun character stuff — sketches and the like — that I did before the book came out and for my VBT I thought I’d share.

First though, to set the scene, can we look at some pictures of these boys first? I love to use Pintrest to find inspiration, even if I have a pretty clear idea of what the characters look like.

Milo was a little hard to pin down — I have a few pictures that have elements of who he is, but this one is a great one, what I imagine he’d look like at twenty. Make his hair a darker and more auburn red and his eyes a little more slate blue and bam!

face:

As for Andrew…I’d never heard of Alex Pettyfur until I started trolling around for Andrew inspiration but OH YES COME TO MAMA. This man. Perfection for Andrew:

Loove Thi Pic Alex Pettyfer | Photo | corny | Fans Share Images:

So what’s the skinny on the character secrets?

Well for starters,  Milo hates to have people sing Happy Birthday to him. He never got that really at home and it always made him feel too seen elsewhere. He also has really deeply hidden and over the top dream wedding fantasies. Not even Andrew knows about that when they’re kids. Milo also always wanted a Malamute puppy. He wasn’t allowed to have pets as a kid, but when he was ten her read a book about large dogs and fell in love with a picture of one. His list of reasons as an adult for why it would make sense to get one include that they’re good family dogs and laid back, but secretly it’s because they “talk” back when you talk to them. He’s seen videos on YouTube and it’s adorable.

As for Andrew, he secretly writes weird, awful dystopian novels that even he doesn’t like. In the back of his mind it’s because they remind him of Milo. Partly that’s because he doesn’t understand the genre and he thinks that’s something Milo might like based on the kids of books he does like to read. As we see in What it Takes, their reading (and video game) tastes do not really line up. Also, Andrew once harbored a really intense, brief crush on Demi Lovato. He’s still not sure why, considering that he’s pretty much always known he was gay. Maybe it was the blue hair phase, or knowing all of the stuff she’s overcome. She just generally seems kind of badass. Plus, even as a gay man he can admit she’s got a great body.

~*~

Both Hush andWhat it Takes are available for purchase now at:  Interlude Press Web Store
AmazonAll RomanceBarnes & NobleBook Depository, Apple iBookstore, Smashwords, and Independent Bookstores

Perhaps a New Start

Happy New Year to all of you lovely readers! I hope this year brings you many things — good health, good friends, love and great books! To start the year off, I thought I’d offer you an excerpt and a little insight into one of my main characters: Milo.

In 14 days, What it Takes will be hitting the shelves (so to speak), and I wanted to share a little bit about the book with you guys. A theme in What it Takes seems very apropos for this day: new beginnings, fresh starts, and goodbyes.

Personally, I don’t make New Years resolutions. I stopped years ago after I had a particularly bad period in my life and realized that making a promise on one day that I was bound to forget or let go of wasn’t as effective in changing my life and going in the direction I *needed* to go for healing and peace. So I made myself a promise that *every day* could be a new one. I forget this all the time, but when I remember, this is a time when I can take a breath and remind myself that this moment is a new start. I generally focus this energy on a desire to be a kinder person and to do my best at achieving my goals.

Milo and I share many things. We come from similar family pasts, and many of his struggles are things I went through. As well, a lot of the way he shaped his healing as an adult was inspired by my own journey in letting go of particular demons and healing. Perhaps my journey took longer and had a lot more painful steps, but I tried hard to give Milo genuine healing and coping skills.

One of the hardest things we have to do in life to heal or to grow past a painful past is to allow ourselves to let go and to move forward. Sometimes this means saying goodbye: to a person, to a place, to a dream, to a resentment. Doesn’t have to be all, but the message is the same.

Milo’s father’s death is a big turning point for him. It’s a place in his life where he can chose to go in many directions. Where the biggest source of his trauma is no longer physically present. In the following scene, we see the beginning of that conversation between Milo and Andrew, in which they talk about the opportunity this moment presents Milo and what that could mean for his future. Which goodbyes might be good for him, and what things might not be able to let go of.

~*~

Light filters between the ill-fitted boards cobbling their fort together; it filters through the trees from afar, registering as a small twinkle until he comes close enough to see clearly. There’s a blanket over the open square that was the lookout window. Milo can’t help but think that nothing has changed, yet nothing is the same because he’s not the same boy who built this sanctuary and walked through the framed door into a world of make-believe Andrew could always craft so easily and vividly.

Milo clears his throat before stepping in. Andrew is sitting with his legs curled in the far corner, huddled into a fleece blanket. A lantern casts light and shadows around the small room. It’s small enough that there’s not enough room to sit without bumping knees or feet.

Andrew’s sleepy-eyed and mussed; he looks small under the blanket that envelops him.

“How long have you been here?” Milo asks, keeping his voice low.

“I don’t know,” Andrew whispers back. His lips tremble in the cold. Milo moves to get closer, but Andrew gestures him back. Milo settles back with a sigh.

“It’s not that I don’t—” Andrew tips up a shoulder, and his face is rueful. “I thought we should talk.”

Milo wraps himself in his own blanket, covers the lantern and knocks it over. Once he’s untangled and righted it, he’s temporarily blinded by the direct glare. He blinks; when he looks around he notices how much darker the walls are than he remembers.

“Hey,” he says softly, nudging Andrew’s knee. “You painted.”

Andrew looks up, and Milo can see him swallowing. “Yeah, I did.”

“When?”

“When I came home for the long weekend in October.” Andrew’s fingers trail down the wall. In the night, the walls look black except where the lantern reveals a deep blue. Above his head are scatters of light pricks and moons and planets.

“Finding your way?” Milo jokes lightly. Andrew has always found his way by the stars, not using standard constellation maps, but his own visions.

“Searching for Cygnus,” Andrew says. Milo’s not sure which one that is, only that the irony in his tone means something.

They don’t say anything, letting the night settle over their tiny retreat like its own blanket. Milo lets this place, a place that was always theirs—one that they’ve outgrown—settle him. He dropped out of sleep heavily; that something’s missing feeling startled him until he realized it was Andrew. That disoriented him even more.

He takes time, now, to look him over. That uneasy sense that they’ve both changed irrevocably in the months since September has dissipated. Andrew doesn’t look any different—he’s the boy Milo has always known. Well, man. They’re supposed to be men now, forging into adult lives away from school and their parents.

“I can’t tell what I’m feeling,” Andrew says.

“Yeah, I’m sort of there myself.”

“It’s cold. This is dumb,” Andrew opens his blanket and arranges himself, inviting Milo to share his body heat. They shuffle and tangle until they’re perfectly fitted in a space a shade too small. This is the shape of my childhood, too tight around me. But Andrew makes it okay.

“Are you okay?” Milo asks.

“Of course I am.” There’s a tiny thread suggesting otherwise in the words, though.

“How is this going to work?”

Andrew’s fingers slide between Milo’s, tracing the beds of his fingernails and the palm of his hand. “I think you have to say goodbye.”

“I didn’t mean home. I meant us.”

~*~

What it Takes is currently available for pre-order and will be out Jan. 14th.

Enter to win a copy of What it Takes in the Goodreads giveaway!

Gifts: pictures and an excerpt!

If you happen to follow my tumblr account, you might have gotten a little spoilerish peek at two lovely men who served as inspiration for Milo and Andrew. They aren’t perfect matches, but they each have lots of features that do match my boys at two different ages: Milo as a teen (although his eyes are a beautiful dark blue in the book) and Andrew as an adult.  If you want to sneak a peek at them, head over to my tumblr page. I also post pretty pictures relevant to What it Takes (AKA lovely shots of the Cape) and assorted flotsam. Every now and then you’ll find little gifts (like the pictures of the boys for example) that won’t be up here for a while.

As we get closer to the release of What it Takes (21 days…but who’s counting?), I though that, in the spirit of Christmas, I’d give everyone an excerpt from just a lovely scene where they boys both try to navigate their very complicated relationship.

~*~

Andrew gladly lets Milo drive his car; he hates driving, especially when he can play radio DJ and watch the scenery go by. He looks at Milo: the way the fading light before dusk changes the tone of his skin; the way the muscles of his arms stand out and his lips curl as he sings along, awfully, to the radio. Milo smiles at him and Andrew flashes a brief one back, wonders how obvious he’s being, and looks back out the window at the slipping sand that spills onto the road and the ramshackle businesses along the road.

“So what got this bee in your bonnet?” he asks suddenly.

Milo shrugs. “You sound like my grandma.”

“Awesome; I like her. Let’s focus.”

“So… okay.” Milo clears his throat and his fingers tighten on the wheel. “I um, think I have something to tell you. But I’m—”

“Is everything okay?” Andrew interrupts, scanning his memory for any signs of additional distress Milo might have displayed in the last few months.

“Yeah. Well. I mean, um… whatever. But I—”

“What? You’re worrying me.”

Milo sighs and pulls into the parking lot of a restaurant with a giant crab on the roof. “I can’t do this and drive.”

“Okay,” Andrew says slowly, then unbuckles his belt and turns to face him. Milo’s face is a little drawn.

“So, I think I might be gay,” Milo blurts. “I mean, I know. I know I am.”

There’s a full minute of silence in the car while Andrew tries to work the words out. Static screeches in his ears, fleetingly numbing his reaction. Focus. He has a few seconds to control his face, to tamp down that sprout of irrational hope seeding despite the chaos, and be ultimately supportive.

“Um.” Andrew licks his lips and tries to pull himself together. That seedling wants to grow into something bigger, and he can’t let it. He looks at Milo’s face, which has morphed into something more vulnerable and worried. Hope is a hollow bell in his chest, ringing loud and dissonant; he wants to vibrate out of his skin with the inappropriateness of his own reactions. This is about Milo, not him. “You aren’t worried that I’m mad or something, are you?” he manages to say.

“I don’t know. Um, your face is doing… a thing,” Milo replies.

Reflexively Andrew puts his hands to his cheeks. His fingers are cold. Okay, so he definitely doesn’t have his face under control. “No, I… wasn’t expecting it, that’s all.” Andrew’s brain, sometimes faster than his mouth, is careening backward. “Maybe I should have had a clue.”

“Oh?”

“Well, for starters, you kissed me back.”

~*~

What it Takes is currently available for pre-order and will be out Jan. 14th.

Enter to win a copy of What it Takes in the Goodreads giveaway!

Hush Giveaway!

Free books are awesome right? I am so pleased to share a free book giveaway for my debut novel, Hush.

Hush is an erotic m/m romance that chronicles the relationship between Wren, a man with the gift to compel other people’s feelings and desires, and Cam, a naive college freshman. Under Wren’s tutelage, Cam begins to understand his sexuality and gain confidence in himself. Over time, what started as a game between them intensifies and becomes more complex than Wren expected, forcing him to examine his own fears and choices.

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If you’re in the US and want to get your hands on one of five print copies of Hushenter the Goodreads giveaway. The winners will be announced on May 26.

For a giveaway of three multi-format ebooks of Hush, available both in the US and internationally, click on my Rafflecopter giveaway instead. There are over 40 days left in that one!

Hush will be released by Interlude Press on May 19th. It is available for pre-order with an excellent deal right now — for the price of the print book, you get the ebook free!

Origins, Part 1

I am belatedly going to announce and squeal over the fact that my first original novel went up for presale this Tuesday. It’s a great deal: if you purchase now, you’ll get the ebook bundle and the print copy for the price of the print copy alone!

Hush is a story about two young men: Wren is one of “the gifted”—a college sophomore with the power to compel others’ feelings and desires. He uses his power as a game of sexual consent until Cameron, a naïve freshman, enters his life. As Cameron begins to understand his sexuality and gain confidence under Wren’s tutelage, Wren grows to recognize new and unexpected things about himself.

Hush is a sexy book. It’s unapologetically sexy: it was a lot of fun for me to explore ideas of consent and sex as a way to demonstrate character development, ideas of submission, consent, growth, trust and love.

This book started as a seedling, a tiny plot bunny that came from the song Dark Horse, by Katy Perry. I was driving my kids somewhere and it came on the radio. Listening to the lyrics I was struck by the way the song balances the idea of magic and the ability to compel, but also that the other person must make a conscious choice to submit to that magic. It’s a sensual song, no doubt. After hearing it a few times, I couldn’t help thinking writing a short story that would expand on the idea.

But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to really delve into the idea of consent. What would it look like for a person to agree to complete submission that was compelled from them: how to balance that magic with the idea of autonomy?

Because my brain likes to really complicate things, I started to imagine the people who would be involved in the story, and from there, Hush was born. Once I really started to get to know both Wren and Cam, it became clear that there was so much more to them than interactions shaped around their sexual encounters. They both go through remarkable changes and experiences here, and there’s a lot more to their stories past the end of the book.

One of my favourite things to explore between them was the ways in which submission can shape dynamics between to people, and how powerful true submission is: the trust and the knowledge of limits and the gift you are giving back to a person. Submission can be individually motivated for pleasure, but also something shared, something that can speak with more resonance than words. Writing their increased intimacy and the pleasure they could each bring out and give one another was a great character building exercise and experience. Writing an alternate world where people have special abilities was a completely new and challenging experience for me. Stretching out of my comfort zone as a writer has always been a frustrating but ultimately wonderful adventure.

At it’s heart, Hush is a love story, and a story about growth, coming of age, and joy. But happy endings aren’t always smooth and easy journeys, and writing these boys going through them was a great experience.

Behind the scenes were many adventures: the naming of this story has it’s own hilarious back story. Creating this world and the idea of gifted people. The revelations about the characters lives that took me surprise in the actual process of writing it (pantsing squirrel alert). All of these are stories I can’t wait to share with you in the coming months.