The Next Call by Sue Brown

Title : The Next Call                 Word Count : 44,470

Genre : Contemporary Gay Romance

Blurb : Mark Grayson volunteers for an LGBT helpline, the same one that helped him through his teenage years. One day he takes a call from “Ricky,” a suicidal man being forced into a marriage he doesn’t want. For weeks Mark talks to Ricky and provides support, but he’s frustrated by the lack of information Ricky provides and the decisions he’s making. In the meantime, Mark starts a relationship with another volunteer. Then tragedy strikes and Mark takes time away from the helpline, but when he comes back, Ricky is waiting. Mark realizes Ricky is stronger than before and their relationship changes, but Mark isn’t sure what their future holds if their relationship is destined to be at the end of the phone.

My Review :  Death is something that I don’t think you can ever really prepare for, whether it’s your own or the loss of a loved one. Actually,  it is quite unnatural to be prepared for death. There is an innate instinct in all of us to fight to the last breath or to hold on close to the ones we love in crisis. At the LGBTQ hotline where Mark answers the phones, he is faced with talking people down off the ledge figuratively or real on a daily basis. Mark is always the friendly voice of reason that reaches out to these young men to save their lives in some way. His boyfriend Ian works at the hotline as well as being a busy  nurse at the hospital. After one too many complaints about headaches, Mark urges Ian to get it checked out. Before he can even follow through  on the advice from Mark, Ian drops dead at work from a brain aneurysm. Mark is grief stricken and devastated for the broken promise of their new found love.

 His pseudo family and friends at the hotline help him in his time of grief. He takes some time off to process the change in his life. Eventually,  he gets back into the swing of things but he withdraws within himself.  One of the men that he talks to through the hotline is Ricky. Ricky is very hesitant to share any information about himself.  All Mark knows is that Ricky is leading a double life, he has a wife and he is famous but he can’t risk his career by coming out. Ricky only  wants to talk to Mark, he just wants that one person with whom he can totally be himself. Mark and Ricky become really close and they form a friendship that causes Mark to break protocol and give Ricky his personal phone number. They talk a couple of times per week and these talks really rejuvenates both of them.  It is a getaway from the quagmire that is Ricky’s life and it renews Mark’s spirit so that he can see that there is light beyond death. These talks soon turn into sexy time for both of them. They give into their needs and burn up the lines with steamy phone sex. Hot,  hot , hot.

Mark is conflicted with the three men in his life and in his head: his  boyfriend past, present  and future . He is constantly bogged down after having conversations with his cheating ex Tam. He is stuck in the present with thoughts of what could have been a beautiful relationship with his dead lover Ian. Most importantly, Mark is realizing how attached he has become to Ricky, someone who is becoming so important to him, someone who he’s never met, someone who has no plans to leave his wife and live as a gay man.He wonders if he could have a relationship with someone who is as deep in the closet as Ricky, could this be his future?

Ricky finally gets tired of his situation and decides to give it all up, to just have a chance at a normal life. He really wants to explore and see what it would be like to have a relationship with Mark for whom he’s developed strong  feelings.  Ricky’s anonymity explodes when Mark starts putting the pieces together and realize he has been talking to Dicky Lomax a famous football player all along. Mark stands by him throughout it all and he’s there to catch him when he falls and his social life comes tumbling down around his ears. I give this my ratings of 3 – it was ok, give it a try.   

The Price of Falling by Melanie Tushmore

Title :  The Price of Falling          Word Count : 81,000

Genre : Contemporary Gay Romance

Blurb : Mike Miller thought he was an average high school student. Your all-American, football playing, middle class kid. He didn’t mind being normal and fitting in, until new student Jason Reilly showed up. What was it about Jason that was so magnetic? Surely he shouldn’t be feeling things for another guy?

As Mike slowly starts to ignore everything else in his world, he finds not everything about Jason is what it seems. When he discovers Jason will do anything for cold hard cash, he enters in an agreement that could leave him broke for life.

A tentative story of discovery following the lives of two unlikely lovers.

My Review : What starts out as an indecent proposal  slowly turns into more. When Jock  Mike Miller  first meets the new kid in his class Jason, he is enthralled by his  beauty. There is just some nameless emotion that draws him closer. Mike builds up his courage when he notices a trend of Jason getting into different cars with older men. He propositions Jason , a blowjob for money. Jason accepts, even though it seems as if he wants nothing more to do with the Jock outside of their transactions. Mike falls deeper under Jason’s spells the more time they spend together. Mike always has to gauge Jason’s mood, he seems to come with a lot of baggage and he’s perpetually angry. 

Jason is very manipulative and Mike becomes a slave to his needs. Jason holds him by his short hairs and uses his  body as a weapon against him.Their relationship is very one-sided and Jason gives very little, while Mike uses up most of his college fund for his sexual escapades. Their affair seems so cold and pathetic at times and Mike just allows Jason to take advantage of him.

Things came to a head when  Mike gets tired of being a doormat. He questions Jason about their relationship,  demanding that Jason define it.As usual Jason is very nonchalant and this angers Mike to the point where he gets physical, knocking the juice Jason was holding out of his hand. When Mike saw the fear in Jason’s eyes he felt lower than dirt, knowing that he had crossed over into an unforgivable  territory. Mike does his best to try patching things between them. They are in the middle of having make-up sex when Mike’s dad unexpectedly comes home and catches them in the act.  Mike’s conservative father turns into a bigot right in front of his eyes, calling him all types of unsavoury names. Mike’s dad basically  banished him from their home , pulling him out of school and sending him off to live with one of his business partners. 

 Mike is ostracized from his family and friends, all but his sister Alicia who loves him unconditionally. Mike is incredibly  lonely and shell-shocked. Blake becomes a pseudo-father for him and it is with his encouragement and love that Mike regains some of his self-esteem and grow into the man he was meant to be. Mike supresses a major part of himself and even starts dating women in the hopes of gaining his father’s acceptance. When he finally sees his father for the first time, in over two years since he’s been banished,  Mike comes to the realization that his father still sees him as a disappointment and is not willing to overlook his sexuality. Mike becomes truly angry and decides to not try gaining his father’s acceptance and love anymore.

It is really sad to see how one decision can ricochet and cause so many wasted lives. It always boggles my mind to see how some parents can be so intolerable to their own flesh and blood’s sexual preferences. Their self serving attitude has such a diliterious effect on all their lives and causes so much much pain and suffering to all involved. 

It takes Mike four years to finally get out of his slump and admit to himself that he is gay.  He plays around with a few guys and feels reborned and exhilarated for having these experiences. It seems , he is finally living again when  he is reminded how short life can be. Mike gets a call saying that his father has had a massive stroke. His family is turned upside down when it seems as if his dad might not recover successfully. In her grief, Mike’s sister who has stood by him through thick and thin admits to something horrible she did when he got sent away. Alicia has hidden letters that she had gotten from Jason to pass on to Mike saying how sorry he was. Jason went as far as giving her most of the college fund which Mike had given him as payment for sexual favors. 

Mike is furious and he searches hard to see if he can put the pieces of his life back together.  When he finds Jason,  he is devastated at his condition.  Jason has become a heroin addict who is in pretty bad shape. Mike tries to salvage things  by placing Jason in a facility,  to see if he can  recover the Jason he once knew. Just as he thinks he will be able to revisit his life and reclaim what was once lost, Jason runs away from the rehab facility. Mike is at his wits end, but he keeps doing all he can nonetheless. When Jason is found  Mike goes to him and begs him to come home with him to New York . After a lot of back and forth , Jason relents.

All is definitely not smooth sailing for their tentative relationship.  Being a recovering addict, Jason is often moody, sullen and extremely rude. Jason is like a recalcitrant child at the best of times. The dynamics in the house with Jason , Mike and Mike’s sister is definitely tense. Mike is caught in between the two people he loves the most and theydefinitely make it clear that they hate each other. Alicia decides that three is a crowd and moves out for the betterment of their relationship.

 I am a firm believer in the fact that we don’t choose who we love and the heart wants what the heart wants,  no matter how devastating that love might be for us at times. The heart’s resiliency can be very potent and allows us to carry on through anything. It bounces back from all unforgivable occurences over time. They say that time heals all wounds and that is definitely true in this case. Mike and Jason eventually gets to a point where they have a healthy relationship with the normal ups and downs of everyday life. This is truly a coming of age story and it spans quite a few years. It is a journey in young love that eventually culminates in an everlasting love that withstands all the pitfalls of life. I give this my ratings of 4 –  because of the perseverance and resiliency of a love that had many obstacles thrown in its path.