Book Review: Lock & West

Writing this is interesting. I LOVE Lock & West by Alexander C. Eberhart. It’s beautiful and powerful, a really great book. Except when reading it, I had very little thoughts. I always have comments whether I love a book or not but it’s especially weird not to have a bunch of opinions about a book I really enjoyed. So we’ll see how this goes.

(Whenever I type Lock’s name, I want to write ‘Locke’ instead. We could say I’m intellectual and thinking of English philosopher John Locke… nah, I’m actually thinking about John Locke the character from Lost.)

Also, I have Kindle Unlimited so I typically borrow books, but I’m going to buy Lock & West. Because it’s fantastic!

Quick Summary: Two guys with different personalities from different backgrounds meet each other and form a connection while facing difficult years at home. Though as they grow closer, they learn home might not be a place. It’s a person. (which is the tagline and used very well in the novel!)

The Story

Lock is put into an awkward position. Lots of things are awkward for him. He’s the nervous type and prone to anxiety. Social interaction isn’t his strong suit, and he lives more in his head than the real word. Very relatable. But life is even more awkward as a new student at high school. He moved from Seattle to Atlanta.

-Quote about Lock

One of the new people he meets is West, who he agrees to tutor in math. They initially get along well enough, and West really likes Lock’s younger brother. They might even be crushing on each other. Though Lock isn’t out or even at the point where he admits his sexuality to himself.

West is an outgoing, funny theater kid who even convinces Lock to attend a party with him. Which is when things get interesting because those crazy kids get drunk and hook up. And that’s only the beginning of the drama.

-Quote about West

Between sorting out their feelings for each other, and Lock figuring out his sexuality, each guy also has their share of personal struggles. Lock’s mom is an alcoholic, his father is dead, and there are many secrets in his family history he doesn’t yet know. West has issues with his weight and his sister’s douchey fiancé.

I’m trying not to be too specific about all this, but there’s a lot of twists and obstacles that crop up. Right when you get used to the story, something changes and new complications and layers are added, which is done in the best ways and is a joy to read.

The Relationship

-Romance

There are moments when the personal issues blend with what’s happening between the guys and other parts where their stories verge off. Sometimes their feelings make things complicated while other times being together provides the only moment of peace in their otherwise hectic lives. They aren’t immediately a couple, and the relationship builds as the novel continues. Like everything else, it’s very emotional and well done and I enjoyed the hell out of these two separately and as a couple.

Only small issue is there are a few parts where their journeys were too separate. And while each storyline is captivating, I still wanted them to come back together for a few scenes. However, this is less something that actually bugged me and more a critique because I always try to find at least one downside to a novel so that I don’t sound like a paid infomercial or something.

Writing Style

Lock writes notes to himself with advice for being a human being while West makes lists. Each are in different handwriting and show up at the start of every chapter, so we see them a lot. This fun little detail makes the book more personalized.

A note from Lock
A list from West

Many chapters are bite-size, though never too brief. From my rambling nature to the way I try to fit as many words into a sentence as possible, these short and sweet chapters are a radical concept for me. However, I really enjoy them. It keeps the novel moving and each section stops at just the right point so you wanna keep reading.

From the Novel

Okay, the way the author describes anything? Amazing. Love how ordinary sentences are packed with so much meaning. You’re just reading the page, chugging along, and then boom, feelings. Several lines sneak up on your with their loveliness. Beautiful writing, just gorgeous from start to finish.

Tags & Warnings (Spoilers!) :

developing relationships, friends to lovers, theater, family, mental health issues, biracial character, mixed raced relationship, eating disorder, abuse, illness, rape, suicide.

I’m going to end with a funny quote from Lock & West:

-(obvi) a funny quote I’m ending with

Putting on a show, in different ways

While their significant others pretend to date each other, two friends try to hang out and not think about the bearding shenanigans happening elsewhere. This is an extended scene from One Little Lie.

~

Ryan

Another weekend without the boo meant I was spending time with my bestie instead. We were at my house on Saturday night, sitting at the kitchen table. We had our books open, but we hadn’t gotten around to doing much studying yet. We could have done something more fun like watch a movie or something but that left too many opportunities for either of us to stop paying attention and worry about… other things.

In a silent, unspoken agreement, we weren’t mentioning our significant others and what they were currently doing while we sat at the kitchen table and pretended everything was fine.

“Haven’t decided who I want to be in Alice in Wonderland,” Alicia told me and I made an effort to tune back into the conversation. The good thing about our silent agreement: we didn’t have to talk about it. That meant she didn’t have to know how badly I was failing at not thinking about what we weren’t supposed to be thinking about.

Just, how was their latest sham date going? What was Luke wearing, were her parents totally scary, when would it be over? No, I had to get a grip…  What was so great about a stupid fair anyway? If I put on a wig, could I pass as a girl and then could Luke and I date without worry?

Anyway, Alicia! Theater. Was there a better, more exciting topic? Of course not. We had started making props for Alice before rehearsals started because we needed to do something in set design class and there were a lot of props to make. Mushrooms, trees, flowers, signs, and more. For a play everyone thought of as ‘the one that’s a great big acid trip,’ it was surprisingly involved.

Luke probably hadn’t seen the new movies. We should watch them. He would hate them. No, Alicia was talking about her part in Alice. Wait, I didn’t know a ton about theater, but I got how auditions worked. “Doesn’t the director pick out your part for you?”

She held her chin up in the air. “I can make sure they’re inspired to go in the right direction.”

“Aren’t you obviously the Red Queen?” She had the hair already. And who wouldn’t want to be the person who sentenced others to death? Off with their head! Who wanted to be a superhero when royalty had better powers?

Alicia shrugged. “I was a queen before in Midsummer.”

“So what? The fairy queen and a fairytale queen are…” Okay, they sounded pretty similar. “Totes different,” I finished lamely.

She shrugged. “I don’t think I have the correct vibe anyway.”

“You know someone who does.” If Lydia started shouting ‘off with their head,’ the world would be in grave danger. She had a lot of gravitas; people might be compelled to listen to her.

“Yeah,” Alicia sighed happily. “Lydia’s so great.”

Technically, Alicia brought up one of the people we weren’t mentioning first. I only alluded to her. That meant it was only fair that I got to talk about Luke a little. Before I could, Alicia continued. “I thought about being Alice but I don’t know. I’m not a tiny blonde ingenue.”

She was a curvy, gorgeous badass and maybe I should channel some inner stereotypical gay best friend persona and tell her she was fierce and could slay and throw in some yasses for good measure. I went with, “You’re an actress. You can be anything. Isn’t that the point?”

Alicia considered that for a moment before shaking it off. “There’s other people trying out that fit better. Cara Lewis is into drama now.” We both frowned. “She was an extra in one play and she thinks she knows everything. Plus, she looks at the rest of us like we’re totally beneath her the whole time.”

I meant to keep reassuring her that she was awesome and could do anything she set her mind to and whatever else Barney and Elmo and our childhood puppet mentors taught us, but instead I said, “Cara Lewis hit on Luke the other day.”

Alicia looked down at the book in front of her. “You know what? We should probably study.”

“Did you hear the piece of gossip I just gave you free of charge?” I was tempted to feel her forehead and see if she had a fever. Did I already tell her about it?

She smiled wryly. “The charge is you freaking out for the rest of the night about what it means.”

“No, Luke doesn’t like her like that,” I said sensibly. Nope, I couldn’t drop it that easily. “But she did it right in front of me.”

Alicia rolled her eyes.

With supreme will, I said, “We can talk about other things.”

She looked at me kindly. “I really don’t think it’s a big deal.”

“Yeah, totally, of course.” I knew that! I just still wanted to slap Cara a little bit.

“You’re agreeing too much,” Alicia informed me.

I grinned. “You’re absolutely right.”

“Smartass.” She laughed, then realized something. “Hey, didn’t have we have an unspoken agreement to not mention Lydia or Luke?”

I literally covered my mouth with a hand while I said, Technically, you brought them up first, so you’re the party at fault here, because I knew that was the wrong to say and I couldn’t stop myself, but I could stop her from hearing it. She just watched me evenly while I acted weird; that’s why we were besties.

Luke and Lydia were pretending to be a happy couple right now and that’s why we weren’t mentioning them. But the conversation I had with my father came back to me. Totally casually, I shared a random, no big deal thought with Alicia. “Hey, my dad said that I talk about Luke too much. That’s crazy, right?”

She didn’t immediately agree and start discussing whether my father needed to be committed into a mental institution or not. She didn’t look at me directly or say anything.

“What the hell, Alicia? Seriously?” She was a traitor and we weren’t besties anymore.

At least she looked apologetic while saying, “He does sort of have a point.”

“Don’t tell me that.” I buried my head in my hands and made a pathetic noise.

“Okay, I won’t tell you.” She paused, then murmured, “But he does.”

Nope, I wasn’t that person. I couldn’t be that person who was relationship crazy. I was too interesting! Had my focus really shifted so completely from myself to Luke? I didn’t even want to think about it… which probably meant it was true.

“I get it,” Alicia consoled. “Honestly, Lydia is pretty much always on my mind too. Are we pathetic?”

Yes, completely. I had so many great qualities… humility not being one of them. How could Luke have taken over my life? Aside from him being soooo cute and sweet and sexy and— Dammit, I was doing it again.

I tried to put on a brave face. “It’s our first relationships,” I reasoned with Alicia. “We’re allowed to get a little carried away.”

“You really think so?”

“Let’s tell ourselves that,” I said firmly.

“Did you ever think you’d actually get to date in high school?” Alicia asked me.

“Hell no.” I didn’t even have to consider the question.

“Maybe that’s why. I mean, you got this opportunity, it makes sense to make the most of it.”

My life had never been flat out miserable but perhaps it was a little lonely. I had one parent, few friends, and no love interests at all. I did the best I could, I laughed at everything, was quick with he jokes and got impeccable grades so I’d be able to leave this town behind. I’d been content. But not exactly happy.

Until Luke came along and didn’t just make me happy but freaking ecstatic.

Of course I took the opportunity to be ecstatic. I deserved to feel like that for once in my life. I just got a little carried away. That was one of the few faults I had.

Alicia drew me from my thoughts.  “Maybe we should go do something,” she suggested. Yeah, I wasn’t really in the mood to study anymore. “Wanna go hang out as besties?”

We could go to the diner and eat our feelings away. “French fries?” I suggested. “Oh, or pie? Ohhh, French fries and pie?”

She nodded. “And no discussing our love lives.”

“Didn’t we already try that?” It didn’t matter who I was talking to, Dad or Alicia or someone else, my thoughts always drifted back to Luke.

“That was an unspoken agreement,” She reasoned. “This is spoken.” Would that be enough? She thought about it and added, “There could be penalties.”

“If we mention our significant others, we can kick each other.” I couldn’t kick myself, there was no way I had that coordination, but kicking Alicia would have to do.

“Food and violence,” she mused, then nodded. “What a great combo.”

We went to the diner and ordered a bunch of junk food.

I didn’t really do things by halves. I threw myself into things, of course it would be like that with a relationship. Luke was going to be a big part of my life. But he wasn’t my whole life. And I needed nights like this every so often to remember that.

My supportive best friend powers kicked in once we had snacks. I told Alicia. “If you want to be Alice, you should go for Alice.”

“I might not get the part,” she answered back. I’m afraid I won’t get it, I translated.

“Like I said, that’s not up to you. But you can try. And if you don’t get it, you’ll be an amazing Queen but at least you gave it a shot. There’s nothing more you can do.” See, I was such a wise, excellent at giving advice person. I deserved lots of attention from myself and anyone would be lucky to have me. I would be lucky to have me.

Alicia made a thoughtful noise. “Hey, at the risk of being kicked, you should take your own advice.” I sent her a puzzled look and she elaborated. “Isn’t that part of the reason you’re talking to everyone else about Luke so much? You aren’t talking to him.”

Huh. So, if I took my own advice, I just needed to tell him my concerns. That was all I could do and maybe we would get somewhere.

“You’re right,” I told her. “Or no, I’m right. Obviously.” I couldn’t solve things on my own. At least I could give it a shot and tell him what was wrong. I needed to do that but was a little worried about it. I confided in Alicia. “I just want to go back to that happy little bubble we were in not that long ago.”

She acknowledged that with a nod but said, “Maybe there’s something even better waiting for you after this rough patch.”

Hmmm. There was only one way to find out.

Music!

Matt Maeson makes some pretty good music. While I might like Cringe better because I listened to it an absurd number of times on repeat more than once, I also enjoy (the song) Hallucinogenics.

Side note, my initial attempt to spell ‘hallucinogenics’ was barely recognizable.

It’s an impressive song, but I admit I’m a little disappointed because I thought there was a lyric where he expressed interest in finding a man who is strong, tall, and Christian. The lyric is actually ‘go find yourself a man who’s strong and tall and Christian.’

Sexuality is not a school subject

Luke wonders about his sexuality. Ryan wonder about Luke. Here’s a small deleted bit from One Little Lie.

Ryan

Luke’s favorite subjects in school were lunch and baseball, which weren’t even real subjects. Maybe Spanish was his most liked actual class… but that was because he could fall asleep during lessons. My favorite was science. It was a shame neither of us liked math; I wasn’t familiar with a formula to figure him out. He could be surprisingly thoughtful and empathetic sometimes and had no problem discussing something if I got upset.

Then there were other times when he closed off. He thought about labels a lot. I could tell, but I didn’t know what to do about it. He talked to me about lots of things, but I worried some barrier had gone up that I couldn’t see regarding this and I didn’t know how to break it down. There was an equation going on in his head and he was trying to figure it out on his own and that was stupid because he wasn’t good at math. Okay, math wasn’t my favorite subject either, but maybe I could help if he just told me about the problem.

Sex sells?

When I’m writing, there’s always background music. Usually instrumental or classical, though occasionally something with words. I don’t pay much attention to it, but when a song called ‘Dance Naked Under Palmtrees’ came on, I took notice. Probably because it says ‘dance naked under palmtrees’ over and over.

So here’s a friendly reminder to dance naked under palmtrees. If you want to.

Characters

Here’s a brief introduction to the main characters in Black Cats and Bad Luck.

Mason Lewis is a 23-year-old carpenter from Colorado. He has a tendency to keep people at arm’s length, partly because he had a difficult time with his Dad’s death as a teen. It’s also hard to get close to anyone due to his strange dreams of a potential soulmate.

Fun fact, his last name is Lewis for Lewis Carrol, who is mentioned and quoted a few times in the book.

I used a picture of Aaron Taylor-Johnson for Mason here. Other actors I imagine are age-fitting versions of Tom Hardy, Jason Momoa, and Ryan Hurst (Opie from Sons of Anarchy, except with less crazy hair and tattoos.)

Horatio is a magical being who used to live in feline form as a witch’s familiar. He’s a lot of fun because he’s the ‘fish out of water’ kind of character who is exploring the modern world for the first time. He’s sure of his connection to Mason, but less sure of things like movies, baseball, and ice cream.

For  him, I picture younger versions of Ian Somerhalder, Cillian Murphy, or Reid Scott. I also keep changing my mind on whether Ben Feldman (from Superstore) would work.

Interesting gay romances

Here are some of the books that caught my eye from giveaways this month. They’re all free. Should I say more? I’m not going to! I can be brief occasionally.

Sometimes you have to fight for the thing you want the most, even if that means risking it all-even your own life.
The short story shows how the two men of Dark Flame fell for each other even though it took a while for Michael’s head to catch up with his heart

Stuck at a medical conference, Carter is forced to pretend that his relationship with Rafe is more than what it is, but maybe everything he’s hoped for.
Between a war, and a dangerous diplomatic mission, love can quickly become an unachievable goal.
Grim and Sinister Delights is a dark romance series based on classic fairy tales and stories.

Two lonely souls meet in this gay teen romance.

Giveaways!

I signed up for many giveaways in March. Not entirely on purpose, but this is the first month where I could join fantasy and paranormal romance groups, so I got a little carried away. The bright side is there are many free books available.

quicksand, a black hole,magnets, and other stuff that pulls you in

Luke has a boyfriend and a fake girlfriend in One Little Lie. Which is sort of crazy, but what’s really crazy is thinking Luke is bisexual. That’s really insane and laughable. Except no one is laughing. Anyway, in this extended scene, Luke and Lydia are coming back from a fake date where they went to the fair with her family.

~

We were basically babysitters for Lydia’s younger siblings at the fair while her parents checked out all the religious singers that performed there, but the fair was the best place to be a babysitter because we got to ride all the rides we wanted and play the games and no one could judge us cause it was for the kids. Plus, her siblings were way better behaved than Lily and her friends.

The deep-fried Twinkie was glorious and kinda gross and after having the deep-fried Oreos too, l was okay with never eating anything else unnaturally fried for at least another year. All in all, it was a good day. I had some of the prizes the kids won in my car, so Lydia rode with me and I dropped her and the winnings off at their house. We stood near the edge of the driveway and she gave me a chaste kiss on the cheek while her parents looked on. They went in the house, but she lingered outside with me.

I thought I didn’t have to think about this stuff anymore now that I had a girl on my arm. Okay, maybe I didn’t want to think about it. It was like quicksand, a black hole, or magnets: something that pulls you in. I start thinking about it and then it’s hard to stop and I only end up with a headache and no answers. What was the point of putting myself through all that if I never seemed to get anywhere?

I leaned against my car next to her. Was I bi? “That would mean I liked guys and girls.”

She nodded. “You do.”

“I like Ryan and girls,” I pointed out.

“You want your boyfriend and also to be straight?” She raised one eyebrow.

“Is that not possible?” I asked without much hope.

“I guess it is,” she conceded. Hey, alright, that was—but then she kept talking. “But have you considered the possibility that’s not what this is?”

I sighed, gesturing for her to move over and she and I sat on my car.

All the homes on this block were small and quaint and some of the properties had their porchlights on, but it was after dark and the street was pretty dead. There was never anything to do in town after ten or so, but there was a breeze in the air and just sitting outside was kinda nice.

“You should talk to Zach,” I told her. I mostly got where she was coming from, but my parents weren’t religious like hers. My parents went to church, but faith was only one part of who they were.

“Um. I mean. I guess.” She frowned.

I’d had some bad ideas in my time, but this wasn’t one of them. “It’s just a suggestion. He might know more about the religious aspect than me,” I defended myself.

“It’s not a bad idea.” She gestured vaguely. “I just can’t actually picture how that would go.”

Yeah. They had stuff in common, and would probably have a lot to say, but I couldn’t imagine either of them biting the bullet and having an awkward talk about feelings. They’d both just stare at each other having a too-cool-to-care contest.

“Our parents aren’t the same religion anyway,” she said after moment.

“Does it matter? You’re as Muslim as he is and he’s as Christian as you are.”

She didn’t respond to that as she thought about something and I let her work out whatever it was.

Zach was third generation and his parents were devout privately. They believed in balancing their life here with their ethnicity and religion, that it was all parts of a whole instead of one over the other. They didn’t forget their faith but wanted to fit in here. They were doing a good job in that regard; their son was very acclimated.

“I’ve seen his parents before,” she said eventually. “At their store.”

“Oh, I didn’t know you shopped there. I could maybe get you a discount.” Oh, I wasn’t really supposed to tell anyone my family got a discount. As my parents liked to say, they were crowdfunding raising three boys between them, Zach’s parents, and Joey’s. When we were both 10, Zach started coming with us on summer trips to a lake house in the Ozarks. My grandparents owned it and our extended family shared it. After that, his parents said we might as well get the family discount.

“I used to go into their store when I was like 13,” Lydia told me. “It was my way of rebelling back then.”

“Your parents don’t want you shopping there?” Maybe they were Kroger people.

“Um. Muslims, you know?”

I shrugged. I didn’t really. Some people had a thing about it. Hey, why couldn’t sexuality be like that? The Ahmads occasionally dealt with assholes but didn’t like receiving sympathy for it and wanted to be treated normally. And I knew how to do that; I’d known Zach as long as I could remember. They were normal to me. It wasn’t like we pretended everything was fine, they just wanted to focus on other things. Why couldn’t people just treat me normally?

“They seem nice though,” Lydia said of Zach’s parents.

I laughed. It always shocked me when his parents welcomed me into the store before they realized it was me. Don’t get me wrong, they were totally nice. But I was like a member of the family, so I’d never pick my Monopoly piece first at their house. And Lydia’s parents were like a whole other level beyond his parents or mine. Like under their politeness and hospitality, there was just more politeness and hospitality.