Thursday, March 16, 2017

Release Tour ~ Who We Are by Nicola Haken ~ (Reviews + Giveaway)

Title: Who We Are
Author: Nicola Haken
Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance
Release Date: March 13, 2017
Since putting his life on hold ten years ago, Oliver Clayton doesn’t know who he is anymore. To his clients at the hair salon, he’s the sassy and confident stylist. To the crowds who come to watch his drag act at the club, he’s the fierce and fabulous Miss Tique. He’s popular. Talented. Out, proud, and self-assured.
He’s also a good actor. 
Sebastian Day is content with life’s easy, if not a little monotonous, routine. After several failed relationships, he likes the simplicity of being alone in his truck at his job as a heavy goods driver, spending the weekends with his teenage son, and putting the world to rights with his cat, Marv. He’s not lonely. He isn’t hiding.
At least…he doesn’t think he is until he meets the mesmerising stranger with the red hair and purple lips. 
Can Oliver and Sebastian help each other embrace who they are? Or will a cruel twist of fate end their journey before it’s even begun?

Angie at Wicked Reads ~ “Very heartwarming story, the banter between these guys is so sweet. I can’t say enough about this book to do it justice, just read it, you will love it.”
Beverly at Southern Babes Book Blog ~ “Sebastian and Oliver’s story is beautiful and heartbreaking… These two amazing men are trying to figure out who they really are and together they figure out that they can do anything.” 

Jodi at Alpha Book Club ~ “Oliver's story will make you cry and stand up and cheer for how strong of a human being he is… Loved this story and would recommend to anyone.” 

MJ at Alixzia Reading Corner ~ “I ache and bleed with this book for every page turned! Highly recommend!” 

Deanna at Two Chicks Obsessed ~ “This might be my new favorite Nicola Haken book. Broken nearly broke me, thus becoming my favorite; but this one left me far more emotional and thoughtful. I think it's taken the crown.”

Who We Are 
Copyright © Nicola Haken 2017
~ Sebastian~
I WAS JUMPING down from my cab after arriving back from my last drop of the day when my life almost ended. Okay, so maybe I was known for being a tad on the dramatic side, but when Benny - my oldest friend and biggest pain in my arse -jumped out from behind my trailer, I almost choked on my fucking heart. 
“Jesus Christ,” I muttered, breathless from the fright. “How the hell did you get in the yard?” 
I’d been a heavy goods driver for thirteen years, working here at Patterson Haulage Ltd. for three of those – long enough to know they didn’t let pedestrians wander in off the streets to play hide and seek behind the lorries. Transport was in my genes, I guess. My dad had been a trucker all his life, and he met my mum at work – she worked as a clerk in the office. I never wanted to do anything else. I walked straight into my first warehouse job fresh out of school and stayed there until I was old enough to train for my Class 1 licence and could go out on the road. I loved my job. 
“That old lady with the bright orange face let me in. Told her I needed to talk to you about Scott.”
“Scott?” Slamming the door to my cab closed, I fished my phone from the pocket of my Hi-Vis jacket and scanned the screen for missed calls. “What’s wrong with him?”
“Well, he likes Eminem, but hopefully he’ll grow out of that.”

“What?” Narrowing my eyes in confusion, I stared at Benny who looked to be admiring his thumbnail. 
“Nothing’s wrong with him. I just knew they’d let me come see your truck if I played the kid card.”
Rolling my eyes, I huffed as I turned and re-opened my cab door. Climbing the steps, I leaned inside to grab my holdall and tacho card before hopping back down. “You’ve seen a wagon before. You shouldn’t use Scott like that. There could be a real emergency one day.”
“And if there is I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be the one anyone’d call about it,” he said, his tone amused as he ran his finger along the curtain of my trailer. “This needs a wash.”
“You offering?” I asked as I locked up the cab and started walking towards the transport office. I found it highly doubtful as I turned my head to the side and eyed up his leather coat, and beige turtleneck that no doubt he’d paid upwards of a hundred pounds for. Benny worked in recruitment. In other words, companies paid him far too much money to find them suitable candidates for their businesses, money which he wasted on overpriced shit he didn’t need. “Or did you come here for another reason?” 
“I came because, as you know, it’s my birthday on Friday. The big three-four. I want y…” Pausing mid word, Benny spun on his heels. “Holy hot ginger.”
I didn’t need to turn around to know he’d spotted Rod, seeing as he was the only red-headed bloke who worked at this depot. “Christ, Benny. Keep it down. I have to work with these guys.”
“Chill out. The fact you’re mates with a gay guy won’t give away the big secret that you like cookies and ice cream.”
“It’s not a secret,” I snapped. Or maybe it was, given that I’d never told anyone I worked with that I was bisexual. My last two relationships had been with women, and ‘passing’ as straight was simply…easier. I was a copout and a liar but I was tired of explaining, defending myself. 
There are a lot of misconceptions about bisexuality and I’d encountered most of them during my twenties. Now, at thirty-four, I was kind of exhausted with it all. I wanted to fall in love and create a future with another person as much as anyone, but I’d given up on the idea a while ago. Relationships, for me, whether with a man or a woman, seemed to consist of me justifying myself, reassuring my partner, or hiding – as Benny would say – the cookies or ice cream part of my sexuality. 
I couldn’t just be me.

wasn’t good enough.
Contrary to popular belief, I didn’t want to sleep with everybody, and there weren’t twice as many fish in the sea, because most fish thought I was confused, greedy, unfaithful, trying to be trendy, or afraid to admit I was gay. The last one confused me the most. The number of people who believed bisexuality was a temporary label used to ease the transition to gaytown would never cease to amaze me. It happened, sure, but there were a hell of a lot of bisexuals claiming to be gay, or straight, for no other reason than they couldn’t face the stigma attached to it, too. 
I was simply attracted to people. I got turned on by the way someone carried themselves, by their confidence, or even shyness. I felt the same stir in my cock and pull of excitement in my chest when I saw the rugged grooves of a man’s chest as I did the silky curves of a woman’s hips. People are beautiful. I couldn’t help it. It’s just the way I was made. 
Thankfully, many people realised these days that being gay or straight wasn’t a choice. Unfortunately, some of these same people believed bisexuals were capable of making a choice, and that they should. Well, I tried that when I was a teenager. I tried to pick a side, to ‘fit’ in somewhere. 
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work out too well. 
“Just tell me what you came for,” I added to Benny, pushing open the swinging door that led to the warehouse which, in turn, led to the office. 
“Do you have Scott this weekend?”
“No. Lisa’s taking him to see Jenny’s parents in Cornwall. Why?”
“Great! You’re coming to the village for my birthday.”

Ugh. “Ah, you know it’s not really my scene.” I had my reasons for not frequenting the village, unlike Benny who spent so much time there it could be considered his second home. Besides, after a day on the road my idea of a good time was Netflix and a takeaway. 
“Yes, Mr Misery, I know having fun isn’t usually on your To Do list but it’s my birthday and you’ll hurt my feelings if you say no.”
We’d reached the office now and I handed my keys over to June through the window partition while raising a sceptical eyebrow at Benny. “Fine,” I said. “But as soon as you’re too drunk to notice whether I’m there or not I’m leaving.”
“I love you.” He turned to June who looked rather amused by my dickhead friend. “I love him, you know.”
“Knock it off, moron,” I said, ramming my shoulder into his. 
“Watch the jacket!” he shrieked as he rubbed at the tan leather that made him look like a seventies pimp. “You’re covered in dirt and smell like oil.”
“Please excuse my friend, June. They don’t usually let him out unattended.”
“Don’t mind me, lovey. I’ve seen all sorts in my time.”
I risked a glance at Benny, whose mouth had dropped ever so slightly open. For a man who wasn’t easily offended, the image was priceless. 
“You’re on the Midlands run tomorrow, lovey,” June added as she tapped on her keyboard. 
Nodding, I told her I’d see her in the morning, swung my holdall over my shoulder and started making my way to the car park, all the while trying not to laugh at Benny’s reaction. 
“Did she seriously refer to me as an all sort?” he muttered under his breath when we neared my car. I knew he wouldn’t let it go so easily. “Clearly, out of the all sorts she’s met none of them have been make-up artists.”
“Stop it,” I said, snorting as I clicked open the central locking on my matte black Ford Galaxy. “June’s lovely. A little old-fashioned, but harmless.”
“I’m sure. It just wouldn’t hurt for her to go down a shade or twelve in the foundation department is all I’m saying.”
Opening the rear door, I tossed my bag onto the back seat. “Have you finished being a bitch?”
“God, I hope not.”
Removing my thick, Hi-Vis jacket, I threw that on top of my bag, revealing my dark green uniform polo shirt, before closing the door and getting into the driver’s seat. “Is that all you wanted? You could’ve called or text.”
Benny leaned against my open door, hand on hip. “Told you, I wanted to see your big truck.” He winked at me. 
I wanted so badly to roll my eyes, or at least keep a disinterested expression, but I couldn’t help chuckle at him. 
“I was in the area, and besides, you’d have said no without my pretty face to seduce you.”

“And hey, if you want to bring a plus one your red-haired co-worker is more than welcome.”
Shooing him away from the door, I pulled it closed and brought the engine to life before rolling down the electric window. “Let me know when and where during the week,” I said, dismissing the idea of inviting Rod. He’d only been here for three months and I didn’t know the guy well, but the fact he had a wife and three kids told me Rod wouldn’t be interested in the kind of socialising Benny had in mind for him. 
“Will do,” he said, tapping the roof of my car before backing away. “Don’t forget I have expensive taste!”
Shaking my head, I bit my lip to suppress the grin that wanted to escape as I reversed out of my space. I already had his present – a bottle of Dior aftershave, same as every year. It was the only thing I knew the fussy bastard wouldn’t return in exchange for store credit. 

5 ++ Stars!!

I loved this book, but it was too perfect, things were going way too smoothly. I sat with my iPad in my hand, reading and loving it, but waiting, with the knot in my stomach continuously tightening, waiting for the other shoe to drop. For these characters that I'd fallen utterly and helplessly in love with to have their world come crashing down around their ears. Because after all, this is a Nicola Haken book, so I knew to expect angst, and boy did she give it to me in spades. She left me a sobbing, sniveling, snotty mess, with my heart broken in a million little pieces. But as I said, this is a Nicola Haken book, so I knew she'd help put it back together, and she did. She left me all grinning from ear to ear and with all the feels!!

I absolutely loved this story and these four men. No, this isn't a foursome, but Oliver's brother, Tyler, and Sebastian's son, Scott, were amazing secondary characters. They weren't just fixtures in the background, they added depth to the story. They were well developed and I'm hoping I haven't seen the last some of the secondary characters from this book. I think others need to tell their story, too. *hint hint, nudge nudge*

Now, on to the main men, Ollie and Seb!! Omfg, I have so much love inside me for them. They clicked from the moment they met and were so sweet together. I adored them both. Ollie is so special and Seb sees that. He adores him for who he is. I loved that he supported him, where a weaker man may have walked away, he faced their crisis together, with Ollie, head on and with unconditional love and humor. I loved that Ollie accepted Seb for who he was, as well, without thought or question. Their chemistry was undeniable. The sparks flew from the moment they met and the light never dulled throughout the book.

 I didn't want to put this book down, and I definitely didn't want it to end. It's filled with so much emotion. Heartbreak, fear, helplessness, but most of all, it's packed with family and love. I can't recommend this book enough and I'll be sitting on pins and needles waiting for Nicola's next masterpiece to be released!!

*Copy provided to Bayou Book Junkie for my reading pleasure, a review wasn’t a requirement.*

 5++++ Stars!!!

So, since my co-blogger Tracy read this book before me, and I’m a bit of a spoiler whore, I kind of knew what I was getting into before getting to the angsty part, but it didn’t diminish the impact it had on me. Still, I should warn you that this is not an easy book to read, but it’s so worth it and you won’t regret picking it up.

I loved Sebastian and Oliver to bits! And I completely adored them together, they were sweet, down-to-earth, strong and reliable, just perfect for one another. I adored how accepting they both were of each other, how seamlessly they managed to meld their lives together once they got past a few initial hurdles, how any angst that came was mostly from outside sources and never threatened their growing relationship. My heart broke a bit at what they all had to deal with and I was crying through most of it, but ended up with a huge smile. The love and connection between Seb and Olli transcended the pages of my kindle and their chemistry was electrifying and believable, despite how fast it happened.

I adored Tyler, Olli’s brother, even if at first I wasn’t too sure about him, and loved that he was such an integral part of the plot. I loved Scott and his mother and Olli’s best friend, Rhys, of whom I’d love to read more about in the future *hint hint nudge nudge*. I loved that the secondary characters added depth to the story and made it even better.

Nicola Haken doesn’t shy away from tackling heavy issues in a sensitive, well-researched manner and her talent at writing characters that will remain with me well past after I’ve finished reading is unparalleled.

Who We Are was amazing, a sweet, romantic, emotional, angsty rollercoaster that I simply couldn’t put down until I finished, despite having to read through my tears in some parts. Definitely one of my favorite books in the year!

*** Copy provided to Bayou Book Junkie for my reading pleasure, a review wasn’t a requirement. ***

5 Stars! 

A really good novel that showcases this author's talent. Not simply a MM romance, but a novel, done with heart, soul, compassion and a love you can believe in.

I've read several books from this author, all done with incredible feeling and from our conversations, with more than a little truth and personal experiences. Her books have heart, soul, angst and pain, but are also satisfyingly real and end up with light at the end of the tunnel. In some that light's bright and unfaltering, and in some, it's a little dim, but solid and unwavering and with undoubted hope. This tale falls a little between the two, for reasons I can't go into fully, or it'd spoil it, but it's an excellent read.

It's set in the north of England, in Manchester, so there's a lot of Northern English speech that at times threw me, despite my being English, but that didn't detract from the tale that NH wrote. It's simply the tale of two English guys who meet by chance and whose lives have been rather different, though both are working class guys. One, Sebastian/Seb has had the support of his parents and his ex-girlfriend/BFF who's now simply one of his best friends and yet family, too, and he lives a modest life sharing custody of his 15yo son, and works as a long-ish-distance trucker. The other, Oliver, is a guy who was forced to become his now-15yo brother's guardian when their mum, their sole parent, died of cancer about 11 years ago. He's loving, self-sacrificing and puts his brother above all, and works as both a drag queen, and as a hair stylist. So, no glossy, town-y, flip guys these, but real life, guys-next-door types, who've lived a real life, warts and all.

They meet by fluke and have an immediate attraction, but their relationship grows over a few months, deepens from friends to lovers to guys who are falling in love, and they incorporate their families into things, so all is starting to look really hunky dory. But, life intervenes and what they have, what they're beginning to grow together, is tested in ways I couldn't imagine my 28yo relationship being tested, let alone one that's only a few months old. But, whilst NH delivers a blow to them, she does this with warmth, with realism, with what I suspect is again a degree of personal(ish) experience, with Northern humour, and with humility and with love and hope to support them. Because of this, there's far less sex in this tale than there is in some of hers, but that is in no way a criticism; again, it ties in with the 'keeping it real' thing she's all about.

This part of the tale hurts, though it's a lighter read compared to some of her tales, as it's tough, but not intensely harrowing - which is not to say that this feeling of slight lightness detracts from the tale and the seriousness of what the guys experience. No, not at all - NH has done it without utterly heartbreaking angst, but with incredible insight and feeling, and with faith and light at the end of the tunnel. This light is likely going to be tested, but luckily as the tale progresses, it strengthens and glows because...well, there are physical (I can't say more as I'm avoiding a spoiler) and emotional issues that make it more powerful, less of a flickering flame and more a small-but-solid one.

The tale ends about 18 months down the line from where the guys met, and life, real life, is good for them. It's happy, it's bright, they're looking at a solid future together and whilst there may be a slight shadow, still, they're not allowing it to overshadow their lives and they're looking forward to the rest of their lives together. The tale ends with some amazing words and the best kind of start of a HEA - NH gave me the icing on the cake that I needed and wanted, and that her guys absolutely deserved.

I think for me, what made this tale, other than it just being a damned good read, is the acceptance I found in both guys. One accepted the other's slightly unconventional...bits, and the other accepted the entirety of who the former is, and both accepted their pasts. I can't elaborate more, sorry, or it'd spoil one of the best bits of the tale. I loved that it's about us Brits and how accepting, how 'go with the flow' we are for the most, and it's made me want to visit Manchester's gay district, though I'm pretty familiar with our London one.

This is an excellent tale and one that luckily, I will be able to re-read without too much pain. NH's tales are Keepers, no doubt about that, but this is a less painful one.

I was lucky enough to beta this tale for NH; reviewing was not a requirement.

Nicola Haken lives in Rochdale, England, with her five kids – one of whom is a grown man who many refer to as her husband. She spends her days writing about life, love, and all the beauty and angst that comes with it, and her nights binge watching Netflix or being the household slave. She’s also not very good at referring to herself in the third person, so if you’d like to get to know her your best bet would be to follow her on social media! 

Oh, and if the kids ever ask, she moonlights as the Pink Power Ranger while they’re sleeping…

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