Poster Boy by Anne Tenino

Grade: A
Hotness Level: Inferno
Kink Level: No Kink
Genre: Contemporary, m/m
Series: Theta Alpha Gamma #5
Published: 4/21/14
Reviewed by Anne
355 ebook pages

Jock (yes, that’s his name) has recently transferred to Calapooya (college) after being horrifically outed as gay and kicked off the hockey team.  His big brother, Tank is a member of the Theta Alpha Gamma (TAG) fraternity and Jock becomes a member, too.  He’s still feeling a lot of anger and shame about how things went down at his previous college, and he’s also feeling a little lost about being openly gay.  However, he’s looking forward to getting the hang of this hooking up thing now that he’s not trying to hide anything.  That’s easier in theory than it is in practice, and he’s still not had that first encounter he’s looking for.  So, seeing Toby, who is known for sleeping around, and ridiculously attractive to Jock seems like a situation meant to be.

For his part, Toby is surrounded by happily committed couples and is starting to think maybe it’s time for him to look for something more permanent.  Jock pushes all the right buttons for him and he’s hoping to actually get to know the guy before having sex.  However, when one thing leads to another, he’s happy to proceed straight to sex with Jock.  This leaves his feelings pretty bruised, though,  when Jock thanks him for a great experience and walks out the door looking for other guys to hook up with.  Toby understands, but was hoping for more.  The two of them manage to avoid each other pretty well until circumstances push them together on a semester abroad in France, where Toby is basically an RA and Jock is one of the TAG students he’s supervising.

I loved this book and I didn’t want to put it down!  It’s really funny, but the issues Jock is facing are real and given the weight they deserve.  Once I was done and thought about it, I realized there were things that should have bothered me, but really didn’t. The biggest issue is that Jock is young – young enough to need a fake ID at a bar – and Toby is not.  Toby is a grad student working on his masters thesis.  Jock is also just barely out of the closet and Toby has been out for years.  It didn’t bother me while I was reading it, though.  Other than his new sexual freedom, Jock comes off as pretty mature.  I also felt like the ending really addressed this age difference and resolved any issues I might have had.

Besides the humor, my favorite part of the book was how Jock and Toby actually talk to each other.  Their road isn’t smooth, but they acknowledge hurting each other when it happens and they work to fix things together.  That was a joy to read.  Their relationship is sweet and hot, and the background of the hilariously immature TAG brothers kept me smiling and rolling my eyes through the whole book.  Seriously, it’s hard to explain how funny this story is!  Beer terrorists.  Testicle poems.  Toby feeling like a babysitter for a bunch of fratbros.  A very unexpected May/December romance.  (Actually, that was more sweet than funny.)  I highly recommend this book, and it’s going on my Best of 2014 list!

I can’t wait for the next book in the series, and I’m hoping it will be about Turbo, one of the TAG brothers they are all sure is straight, but seemed a little confused to me.  Here’s hoping for more TAG fun soon.  In the mean time I’m checking out Anne Tenino’s backlist!

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park
Grade: A
Hotness Level: Ember
Kink Level: No Kink
Genre: Contemporary, YA
Published: 2/26/13
Reviewed by Anne
Sometime last year I heard a lot of buzz about this book.  I jotted down the title and decided I should read it one day.  Then when I was burnt out from my 3rd re-listen to the In Death series by J.D. Robb, I thought I’d listen to Eleanor & Park instead of reading it.  I remembered that it was about high schoolers.  I downloaded my copy and started listening.  And I listened and l listened and I listened.  It was so good, but it was also heartwrenching.  
I’d stumbled into a trigger of mine and I had a hard time putting it down.  I kept inventing chores to do so I could continue to listen.  That night when I went to bed only half way through the story, I felt like I was abandoning Eleanor and her siblings!  It haunted me!  I managed to finish it the next day, and it’s still haunting me.  In a good way, but disturbing, too.
Sixteen year old Eleanor has just moved back in with her family after a year away.  They’re in a new house and a new school district, so besides her family, she knows no one.  And after a year away, even her family feels like strangers.  
Park first sees Eleanor on the bus.  She’s clearly going to be a target to be bullied, with her bright red bushy hair and weird clothes.  When she can’t find a seat on the bus he surprises himself by reluctantly making room for her in his, all while hoping it won’t draw the bullies’ attentions to him.  
The way their relationship unfolds is sweet and so true!  This is the best description of first love I’ve ever read!  Rainbow Rowell just nails it.  Along with their relationship, we also hear about Park trying to live up to his father’s expectations and dealing with his own issues as a half-Asian kid.  And we hear about Eleanor’s horrible step-father who abuses her mother and looms over the whole house like an awful shadow, infecting everything they do.  And then there’s the abject poverty Eleanor’s family lives in.  It’s just painful to read about.  But the sweetness and hope that comes when Eleanor and Park are together is so wonderful, it balances out some of the bad.
Eleanor and Park were great characters.  They weren’t perfect and they both made mistakes that strained their relationship.  They came across as very real and three dimensional.  They grow and change as the story progresses.  Even the bullies in the story are multi-dimensional.  
The story takes place in the eighties, and it’s quite a contrast to the anti-bullying climate we see in schools today.  Eleanor bullied at school and there are times that the teachers not only don’t help, but make Eleanor’s life even harder.  I’ve rarely been so rage-filled toward a character as I was toward Eleanor’s gym teacher!
This book made me wish I was back in high school or in a traditional book club and could analyze it to death.  I hated that in high school, but now I want to know what people think.  Did they see this big twist coming?  Why did this character act in this way.  Was this just a perception in his head, or was it a real thing?  WHY did Eleanor make that choice?  What was up with Eleanor’s mom?  How much did Park understand?
I loved this story, and it’s really stuck with me.  I highly recommend it, with the caveat that it’s emotionally wrenching!  Honestly,  I avoid a books like this because the kids in the story just break my heart.  i wouldn’t have read this one if I’d known about the abuse in it. I’ll for sure read Rowell again, though! 

Her Kind of Trouble by Sarah Mayberry

Grade: A
Hotness Level: Blaze
Kink Level: No Kink
Genre: Contemporary
Published: 4/1/14 
Reviewed by Anne
210 pages

What if the two right people met, but it was the wrong time?  Vivian and Seth meet at their siblings’ wedding.  The attraction is instant.  Neither is looking for commitment, and that works out just fine for them.  A quickie in a limo at the wedding turns into a happy memory for both of them as Seth keeps trying to make it big with his rock band and Vivian moves to the US to work on her career as a designer.

Ten years later Vivian moves back to Australia and suddenly she and Seth are seeing each other all the time.  The attraction is still there, and the timing is still awful.  Seth has grown up a lot.  He gave up on the rock star dream and settled down and bought a bar.  But he still managed to knock up his twenty-something girlfriend before they split up. So now he’s looking at fatherhood with a girl who seems more interested in shopping than the baby due in weeks.   Vivian, who is known in her family as the flighty one, has also grown up and settled down.  She’s co-owner of a new photography/stylist business.  But they keep getting thrown together.  And even though the timing couldn’t be worse and their families don’t really approve, they’re starting to find they don’t just have horny pants for each other, but they actually like each other, too!

This book is going on my best of the year list!  I think Vivian is one of my all time favorite heroines.  She knows who she is and she’s fine with herself, flaws and all.  She likes sex and she’s not ashamed that she does.  But she’s mature enough that her life is not all one night stands and she understands that there are repercussions when you decide to sleep with someone.  She will not put up with slut shaming and doesn’t hesitate to call Seth out on it when he starts down that path.

Vivian’s acceptance of herself and her imperfections helps her appreciate the same in Seth.  And if Seth is a little late to see all that is wonderful about Vivian, we’ll give him a pass because his life is a pretty big mess during most of the story.  It’s an awful time to start a relationship.  It’s messy and probably not smart, but it’s their story, and that’s how Mayberry writes it.  So awesome!

There were a couple small things about the book that bothered me.  I would have been happier with a HFN ending instead of the all out HEA.   It’s also not as hot as some of the books I enjoy, but with the strong plot and characters, I didn’t miss the extra couple sex scenes at all.  And the scenes that were in the book were great!

I’ll just say it right here.  I think Sarah Mayberry is one of the most under appreciated romance authors out there right now.  In my book she’s right up there with Jill Shalvis, Jaci Burton, Shannon Stacey, Ruthie Knox, and Cara Mckenna.  I’d even say she writes stronger storylines than any of these authors.  If you haven’t tried her yet, go pick up one of her stories and try her now!