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Michael Rodriguez and Nunzio Medici have been friends for two decades. From escaping their dysfunctional families in the working-class neighborhood of South Jamaica, Queens to teaching in one of the city’s most queer friendly schools in Brooklyn, the two men have shared everything. Or so they thought until a sweltering night of dancing leads to an unexpected encounter that forever changes their friendship.
Now, casual touches and lingering looks are packed with sexual tension, and Michael can’t forget the feel of his best friend’s hands on him. Once problems rear up at work and home, Michael finds himself seeking constant escape in the effortless intimacy and mind-blowing sex he has with Nunzio. But things don’t stay easy for long.
When Michael’s world begins to crumble in a sea of tragedy and complications, he knows he has to make a choice: find solace in a path of self-destruction or accept the love of the man who has been by his side for twenty years.
Gaby: What a wonderful book, Kristie! Thoughts?
Kristie: My thoughts… For me, the most important parts of this book were the reality of Michael’s situation, the feelings he had, the conflicts he felt.
Gaby: Yes, this is Michael’s story. I think Michael is one of the most flawed, yet beautiful characters I’ve read in a very long time. I always appreciate when writers give me a person I can relate to in some level. Or a person that I can find in the people I love. That was Michael for me. There was much of his life in mine.
Kristie: Yes, I’m not saying I had the same childhood, but I had things so similar in my parents and the way they behaved. The way my little brother behaved, and still does. And being Latina, living it… well, you know what that’s like.
Gaby: There were parts I read and I thought I said this to my mom and dad years ago. Almost the exact wording Michael used. I felt so related to him, and I wanted to protect him so bad…
Kristie: Also important to me was the culture representation and how close to home it was.
Gaby: Agreed. As a Latin woman, cultural representation is one of the most important things for me when it comes to books that include Latin characters. I want those characters to be genuine, and realistic. I think Santino nailed it here. The awesome cover? That’s Juan Forgia, a gorgeous Argentinian model. I like that Santino went for the real thing in his cover. I know original photography is not cheap, though, and that’s why not many authors do it. But when possible, it’s definitely a risk worth taking.
Kristie: Covers typically don’t impact me much, but I do have some books I’ve skipped because they have terrible covers. I don’t look for beauty in a cover, but representation. I think Michael is represented very well on the cover. It isn’t a bad thing either that Juan is exceptionally beautiful.
Gaby: He is!.. You know what else I loved? The extremely well shaped and strong secondary characters. They added so much to the story and while the book is told in first person-Michael’s POV, I think that having them around helped me get a clearer picture of how Michael was, and why he was like he was. That’s just how well written this is, all the things you needed to see to understand were in Michael’s thoughts or seen through his eyes.
Kristie: The relationships between Michael and Nunzio, Michael and Raymond, Michael and David, Michael and his father, aunt, uncle. All of them have varying levels of passion and chemistry that separate them from each other, but also connect the reader to one Michael. A complicated, loving, loyal man who you can’t help but love.
Gaby: Yes. I think he’s the kind of man that feels like he has to carry the world upon his shoulders. I relate to that, too. That need to help those you love even if they drive you crazy, because they are yours. Your family. Your friends. It was super important to me to see that. I think it gave Michael a very special depth.
His family relations: uncle, aunt, his cousin. They reminded me so much of my own family dynamics. I can’t explain it, like, they run hot and cold… Or more like, in the middle of trying to understand each other something gets lost, but the intention is there, so it’s painful when you see it doesn’t always work out.
Kristie: Michael’s uncle… he is so close to home, too. He’s that uncle that “cares” about you, but out of some weird sense of duty. A lot of that can be generational, but it’s still very prevalent in latin culture. Family members that are there for you because they feel this obligation because you’re family. It’s so sad… and then there is Michael’s aunt. She really does care, she just doesn’t have the information she needs to be able to help. She’s not close to Michael so she doesn’t know him.
Gaby: And his relationship with his dad was heartbreaking. Yet another relationship in that book I could relate to. My dad has his issues, and sometimes we clash. We have a strange, complicated relationship where he is but isn’t. It’s hard. There were some thoughts of Michael that I’ve had and it was pretty much an eye opener to me.
Kristie: He’s part typical dead beat dad, filled with excuses about how he’s going to treat you this way because that’s how he was brought up. Well, there is nothing more irritating than someone who does not want to change for the better.
Gaby: Uh-huh.. I… Relate…
Kristie: My father was the same way. His dad hit him, so he hit us. His dad called him names, we got called names. He’s not good enough, we’re not good enough. But you know, the cycle can be broken. If there is one thing I know, it’s that because I’ve seen it.
Gaby: It’s all in wanting it, in wanting the best for you and those you love.
Kristie: Conscious decisions… Seeking help if you need it. Because you want to be different, be a better person. Michael’s father didn’t want to change.
Gaby: No, and how things turned out in the end with them was so sad to read. It’s incredible when you think about it, how much pain could’ve been spared if only Michael’s dad had seeked help. The more I read the more I was glad that Michael had Nunzio in his life. Michael’s and Nunzio’s relationship was hot, pure fire. But I think the very core of it was the understanding they had of each other.
Kristie: Len and I talked yesterday and she said one word about their chemistry… Incendiary. And that is so much truth that I can’t even think of another word. It’s perfect, yeah?
Gaby: Incendiary is perfect. I’m a huge fan of friends to lovers stories, and I think that Michael’s and Nunzio’s relationship is different from most books I’ve read with this trope. The way their relationship developed said a lot. There is a level of trust that goes beyond words, and there is an unconditional love and acceptance that comes out in small details. Like how they take care of each other with little things, not words. Or how they stand by the other sometimes; just there, next to each other, in silence, because words are not necessary, because being there is more than enough. I think Nunzio is… He is… Gosh, he’s perfect. He’s loyal, and sweet in a way, but he also takes no bullshit from anyone. The fact that he has loved Michael for so long and was just there, waiting for a chance to make it happen broke my heart. And then put it back together, because it was worth it.
Kristie: I felt all of Nunzio’s emotions. Felt them through Santino’s writing, especially during those times when Michael was just not getting it. And you’re right. Nunzio is perfect.
Gaby: Absolutely. Nunzio was Michael’s rock, and Michael knows this. All. The. Time. It’s amazing how clear it reads. Like when you go through the pages, you get to know the minds of both.
Kristie: Yes, and it’s fantastic because despite being from Michael’s POV, I think we are more connected to Nunzio because of the way he’s shown on the page.
Gaby: Yes! And we don’t see a flawless person. We see a guy with ups and downs. A guy who’s suffered and been through a lot. That’s what’s so amazing. These two kept each other sane for 20 years. They were soulmates. Once that Michael realized it, once he saw what he needed to do, it was ALL worth it. Which leads me to the amazing portrayal of addictions and rehab in this book
Kristie: I appreciated the time spent on not just realizing the alcoholism, but dealing with it in a very real way. Some of my favorite parts of the book were when Michael is in rehab. Those talks in group therapy when he was pretty much put on the spot were fabulous. There were little moments when the group would discuss things and Michael found himself not just sharing and learning, but in a sort of teaching roll, only to realize that what he was saying was poignant to his own situation. So saying it out loud to a group of people with similar issues as his, it made it all more real to him. I think that’s part of the reason for group therapy. So people who are your peers in a sense, can validate your feelings, you can validate theirs, and healing can take place. It felt so authentic, scarily so.
Gaby: I agree. The whole path that Michael went through so he could get to rehab was so difficult, but he really thought it had it all under control, until he realized that he couldn’t trust his mind as much as he used to. Group therapy was a key for him. Like you say, that of being able to relate to others and see that you are not the only one. That you are all fighting the same battle. It must be reassuring, and calming.
Well, I think we should wrap this up because it’s way too long now. How would you describe in a few words this experience?
Kristie: The feelings in the book are so raw and bare. It really is gritty and real. This is one of the most truthful books. Truthful in that it does not hold any punches. There aren’t any easy happy endings. Nothing in life is that easy. Certainly not addiction, death, relationships. If it was easy, I don’t know that any of us would know what true happiness is.
Gaby: I guess that for me, despite the constant heartbreak in the book and the tears I shed, this was probably one of the most beautiful books I’ve read. I say beautiful in the sense that it’s an honest book. It puts everything there for you to read, and get immerse in it. It makes you FEEL what Michael is feeling. The author doesn’t hold back. It’s a different kind of book. A different kind of romance. It’s two best friends that grew up together and somewhere along the way fell for each other. It’s romantic in a simple, this-has-always-been-us kind of way. Like finding home.
*** Note: This post will be updated once Amazon.com has a direct link for book purchasing. While that happens you can go and pre-order at Dreamspinner’s webpage. Link above.