This is Not a Horror Movie by Sara Dobie Bauer

Emory Jones loves two things: horror movies and Connor Nichols.
For the past four years, Emory, Connor, and their families have vacationed side by side on Longboat Key, Florida. Eighteen-year-old Emory has pined for his neighbor from behind the covers of Stephen King books, but college boy Connor has never noticed him. Probably because Emory looks like Jack Skellington with good hair.
Emory anticipates another predictable summer of sunburn and disappointment. Instead, he ends up with a mystery on his hands when a beloved beach bum goes missing, and Connor volunteers to help with the search. Turns out it’s not just scary movie cops who are worthless, so the boys start an investigation of their own—leading them straight to an abandoned beach resort.
Despite the danger, Emory and Connor grow closer, but as Emory’s gay dreams start coming true, so do the horror movie tropes he so loves. Even though he knows that sex equals death in slasher flicks, Emory can’t keep his hands off the guy of his teenage dreams.
This is Not a Horror Movie is a 78,000-word new adult gay rom-com… with a monster.

There was so much to love about This is Not a Horror Movie. It was a grand mix of a sweet young romance, laced with humor and a touch of B-Movie campiness.

Emory was adorable. He was a little geeky and totally clueless about his growth-spurt turning into someone both girls and guys were staring at for reasons he didn’t quite understand. He had admired Connor from somewhat of a distance for years. His family knew all about his attraction to their yearly vacation neighbor, but since Connor was way out of his league, most likely straight and too reminiscent of the jocks at his school – Emory kept his feelings to himself. This was destined to be a summer of change though.

Both Emory and Connor were the kind of teenage boys that were refreshing to read about. They were far from perfect, but they were good, thoughtful, caring kids. The kind of kids who walked an older woman’s dog, or went in search of a homeless Vet – and put themselves on the line when they could have just turned away.

I also loved the family connections in This is Not a Horror Movie. They had their moments, like all families do, but both Connor and Emory’s families were super supportive. I also adored the twin connection between Liz and Emory.

Basically, This is Not a Horror Movie is the perfect vacation read, especially if you’re headed to the beach. 😉

Dead Sea (Story Ballads #2) by Mia Kerick

Kyle is a swaggering bully; Lenny strives to be invisible.
Kyle has been left alone in the world; Lenny is the world’s biggest loner.
When Kyle saves Lenny from drowning, their lives will never be the same.
After a brutal encounter with school bullies, Lenny swims out into the ocean, determined to let the current whisk him away. Next thing he knows the meanest kid in town is pulling him from the waves, promising to be his Dead Sea, and to never let him sink.
All Kyle wants is to get out of beach cleanup, is that too much to ask? So he goes for a swim, only to come upon the most epic “nobody” in the senior class drowning in a riptide. Lenny’s haunted gaze grips him, and Kyle makes the impulsive decision to save his life or die trying. And through this ordeal, Kyle and Lenny are transformed.
Kyle’s heroic act sets him on the straight and narrow, and he opens his heart to the young man he dragged from the ocean. Lenny changes too but is still unable to reveal the truth of his pain. While drowning in a sea of secrets, the reformed bully and wary victim fall in love. But staying afloat in the Dead Sea is not as simple as it seems.
Trigger warning: one character attempts unsuccessfully to die by suicide as is noted in the blurb, further discussion of death by suicide.

Gah, this author. This author has a way of taking totally broken characters and piecing them back together…very, very slowly. It’s excruciating. It’s painful. And then, it’s beautiful – but it takes a while to get there. *sigh*

One of the reasons why I loved this book so much was Kyle. Not that I didn’t adore and totally sympathize with Lenny, but… He saw saving Lennie as a turning point in his life – which it was, but there was so much more to Kyle than he let others see. There was a lot more to Kyle than he saw in himself. Kyle really had no “safe” space since the only person who really cared deserted him. No one deserved the cards that Kyle was dealt at such a young age.

Lenny had secrets, but he had one place where he felt safe being himself. Then it was all taken away in one night and the reality that his secret would be revealed shattered him. I despise bullies and the ones that Lenny was dealing with in Dead Sea were brutal. The fact that Lenny had no one to go to, no one to support him or take up for him was heartbreaking. At times it was hard to read, but that was mostly because the “mom” in me wanted to reach out to him.

The imagery in Dead Sea was amazing and began with Kyle’s promise to Lenny to be his “Dead Sea.” It was the first indication for me that Kyle was so much more than the bully he portrayed. I also loved the supporting characters, which included Kyle’s inner dialogue with his grandfather.

The best kind of stories for me are those that center around characters who save each other – even when it isn’t immediately obvious that they both need saving. Dead Sea was definitely one of those stories.

This is the second book in Mia Kerick’s Story Ballads series. I’m not quite sure how I missed Torn, but that will be rectified shortly. Stay tuned! 😉

Rough & Tumble (University of Atlanta) by Shae Connor

My name’s Grant Clark, and I have managed to screw up my entire life. In triplicate. 
Number one: I fell in love with my best friend. 
Number two: I thought he was straight.
Number three: Because of number two, I didn’t make a move on number one. Until it was too late.
Or is it?
When I accidentally interrupt him with another guy—and he turns out to be the worst—well, I think it’s time I finally make a move.
Don’t you?

I’ve gotta admit, this one took me a while to get into, but eventually, both Grant and Darryn grew on me. Eventually…

I found myself sympathizing more with Grant than with Darryn, even though Darryn was the definite victim in this story. I think that’s mainly because the story was told strictly from Grant’s POV. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t get aggravated with Grant more than once. He made some mistakes and could have handled things better at times, but he owned up to it.

The supporting characters in Rough & Tumble were great. From friends to family, the support was evident. There was humor, danger, tough issues handled with care and a sweet romance to offset the not so sweet moments. I’ve also got to say that the parents were refreshingly adorably supportive.

This is my first read by Shae Connor and I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last. Even though it took me a while to get into, it was well worth the read.

Deep Cut (Permanently Black and Blue #1) by C.R. Scott

Shaun’s an outsider. He has a dark past and an even darker habit of cutting himself and burying his emotions under his skin. The only thing he’s got going for him is his guitar and a head full of lyrics.
When Jesse moves to town, bringing big bright smiles and warm blue eyes into Shaun’s dark life, he insists they become friends.
But that’s going to be a problem for Shaun. He’s never had a real friend before. Oh, and he’s also finding himself hopelessly attracted to Jesse’s undeniable charm, which is definitely not going to work out.
Being gay isn’t brutal and Shaun has an image to uphold if he’s ever got a shot at becoming the death metal God he knows he’s destined to become.

My initial reaction when I finished Deep Cut was “All I gotta say is that I’m glad I found out that Deep Cut is part of a series before I finished the book.” I can’t really call the ending of Deep Cut a cliff hanger, but there was definitely more story that needed to be told. A LOT more.

Deep Cut was not an easy book to read by any stretch of the imagination. Shaun and Jesse needed each other on a level that even they didn’t fully understand. Jesse didn’t have it easy, but he was a responsible kid. He wasn’t perfect, but he was loved and he was growing up a lot faster than he should have needed to. He needed a break and he needed a chance to be just a little bit irresponsible. Shaun gave him that needed distraction, but he also gave him someone to care about and protect that wasn’t a responsibility – it was something he wanted to do.

Shaun was totally broken and had little or no respect for himself, which made it hard for him to respect anyone else. He was just biding time until he could escape, only you can’t escape your past and that past was haunting Shaun all the time. Jesse is a life line that he didn’t expect and didn’t want, but he was also hard to resist. He made Shaun want to try a little harder and at the same time he made him feel things he didn’t want to feel. Jesse had never met anyone like Shaun before and in the beginning he was a challenge and a curiosity. I had to admire Jesse for not listening to the rumors and standing up for Shaun when it would have been easier to just try to fit in with the “cool” kids.

Like I said, Deep Cut wasn’t an easy book to read, but sometimes those are the ones that need to be read. Books that make you squirm, books that make you hope that you could be someone to make a difference in someone else’s life, books that make you think and feel… those are the ones that stick with you.

The Scarecrow & George C by Mia Kerick

High school senior Van Liss is barely human. He thinks of himself as a scarecrow—ragged and unnerving, stuck, and destined to spend his life cold and alone. If he ever had feelings, they were stomped out long ago by his selfish mother and her lecherous boyfriend. All he’s been left with is bitter contempt, to which he clings.
With a rough exterior long used to keep the world at bay, Van spooks George Curaco, the handsome new frycook at the diner where he works. But George C senses there is more to the untouchable Van and refuses to stop staring, fascinated by his eccentricity. When Van learns that George C is even more cold, alone, and frightened than himself, Van welcomes him to his empty home. And ends up finding his heart.
Their road to trust is rocky and, at times, even dangerous. And looming evil threatens to keep them apart forever.
Fair warning: You may want to strap in. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

My initial response when I finished The Scarecrow & George C? This author is getting really good at breaking my heart…

These boys were definitely meant to be with each other. They were both so broken, although George hid it well. Van kept himself closed off, but he couldn’t help himself from being drawn to George. I loved watching him open up and become “real”.

I loved George, but it was hard for me to not get mad at him – yet when everyone else gave up on him, Van didn’t. Oh Van was crushed and my heart broke for him (more than once) but once he got himself together, he realized that some things were worth fighting for.

There were so many layers to The Scarecrow & George C. Heartbreak, trust, forgiveness, love, true friendship and most of all, there was hope. There was also a strong sense of family – not by blood, but the found kind of family. Sometimes those form the strongest and most dependable bonds. Watching these characters grow and learn to trust (and not just each other) was amazing.

I’ve read enough books by this author now to understand that their books aren’t exactly easy to read from an emotional standpoint, but they are totally worth every tear that’s shed. ❤