Author: Leta Blake
Title: Pictures of You
Series Title and Number ‘90s Coming of Age, #1
Publisher: Leta Blake Books
Release Date: 9/19/2016
Genre: Gay New Adult, Coming of Age, with Romantic themes
Tags: new adult, coming of age, 1990s,
Heat Level 3.5 or 4
Length: 100,000 words
Purchase Links Amazon
Reviewed by Erin
Growing up gay isn’t easy. Growing up gay in Knoxville, Tennessee is even harder.
Eighteen-year-old Peter Mandel, a private school senior—class of 1990—is passionate about photography. Peter doesn’t have many friends preferring to shoot pictures from behind the scenes to keep his homosexuality secret.
Enter Adam Algedi, a charming, worldly new guy who doesn't do labels, but does want to do Peter. Hardly able to believe gorgeous Adam would want geeky, skinny him of all people, Peter's swept away on a journey of first love and sexual discovery. But as their mutual web of lies spins tighter and tighter, can Peter find the confidence he needs to make the right choices?
Join Peter, in the first of a four-part coming of age series, on his search to love and be loved, and, most of all, how to grow into a gay man worthy of his own respect.
So, as I'm sure happens to all of you, there are certain authors that you know going into their book you can expect certain things. Whether it's a specific type of character, or a setting, or even a theme, you just know when you pick up the book you'll find it. With Leta Blake you know you're going to get stellar writing, complex, layered characters, along with lots of angst and turmoil along the way. In her new book, Pictures of You, Leta doesn't fail to live up to this expectation. In fact, she far exceeds it. By the end of this book I was an emotional wreck, but in the best kind of way.
Pictures of You is the start of a journey for Peter Mandel. One that, according to Leta, will take four books to travel. Remember this people, and heed her caveat. You will need to keep this thought in mind as you follow along with Peter. The setting of this book is the early 90's in Knoxville, Tennessee. Another point that you will need to continually take into account as attitudes about homosexuality and the world in general play a big role in the thoughts and actions of the characters. Peter is gay, though not out, and has been bullied, so much so his parents decide to send him to the exclusive Kingsley prep school. At a student orientation before his senior year begins, he meets the very charismatic and intriguing Adam Algedi. From the very first point of contact there is a spark between these two. Peter is a little nerdy, a bit on the small, waifish side, wears glasses and is kind of a loner. He doesn't really know how to act around the devilishly attractive Adam, who is new to town and living with his twin sister and their older brother while their parents are stationed in Jordan. Almost immediately Peter is sucked into Adam's orbit and thus begins Peter's path toward heartbreak.
This book, y'all. Man. From the other reviews out there and from the blurb itself I'm sure you can infer there is lots going on in this book. The excitement and pure joy of a new relationship. The terror of being gay in a time when it wasn't safe to be so. Being a teenager and having your hormones running rampant to the point you feel like you'll die if you can't kiss or touch your boyfriend. The confusion over being someone you're not sure your parents will accept. All of it. Leta has captured all these conflicts and more so realistically that I cringed, and nodded, and sympathized almost non-stop. The world was a crazy, confusing place back in 1991. I remember. I remember the war half-way across the world, the attitudes and reactions. The music and the culture. But what really got me, of course, was the relationship between Peter and Adam.
As a coming of age book, you know Pictures of You isn't going to be a smooth ride. After all, being a teenager isn't an easy gig in the best cases but when you're gay, it definitely has more than its share of burdens. When Peter and Adam first get together, you'll find yourself rooting for Peter. Here's this geeky kid who's suddenly got not only a boyfriend, and a popular one at that, but a group of friends where he's accepted. He's got his photography and he seems to be coming out of his shell. That's all well and good except for the fact that Adam won't tell anyone they're together. And then he gets a girlfriend just to show he's not gay. I'll tell you guys right now, here might be where you say, “Oh, yeah, this book won't be for me”. And then when Adam and Leslie have sex, and Peter knows this, you might be like, “yeah, cheating, that's a hard limit and I can't go there”. I beg you not to do that. Seriously, I'm begging. Because if you do, I can promise that you're missing not only a fantastic book, but the point of this whole story. This is Peter's journey. It's his first real relationship, his first love, his first sexual experience, and his first heartbreak. The choices Adam and Peter make, as well as some of the other characters in this book, all play a part in how Peter slowly begins to know himself. There are mistakes a plenty. There are times where you'll want to throw your Kindle or iPad or phone. There will be many times you'll cry for Peter's pain. You'll "blame" Adam. It's easy enough to do, though blame is definitely not the right word. Peter is willing to do whatever it takes to keep Adam, even smile while his boyfriend tells him he's in love with his girlfriend. Adam is manipulative and selfish and totally guilty of wanting his cake and eating it, too. No doubt about it, but he's also a confused boy who's bisexual, in love with two people, and doesn't want to choose between them. I think concerning Peter it might be more obsessed with rather than true love, but there is no question Adam has deep feelings for Peter. I liked Adam, even when he was being a total asshole. I empathized and my heart truly broke for him many times. His conflict is palpable, and his fear of his father finding out he's gay (or bi as he keeps reminding Peter) is realistic. Doesn't mean I didn't grit my teeth at him for the way he treats Peter, but damn, he really got to me.
And Peter? Gah this kid. He's emotional and impulsive and sweet and endearing. But he's also got a manipulative streak in him, one he's not too shy to use when it comes to Adam. Of course he pulls at our heartstrings, he's the narrator, so it's only his thoughts and feelings we get to know. There is no doubt he's confused and hurt by Adam's actions. Who wouldn't be? But his growth from the beginning of the book to the end is truly special. He's a fabulous character. Stronger than he thinks he is, even when he doesn't like himself very much. I found his introspection very touching and emotional.
There are some really fabulous secondary characters in this book that added a lot of depth and different perspectives. Sarah, Adam’s twin sister, Dr. Landry, Peter’s dad, Mike, and Robert/Renee. Each person added value to the story and you can tell that each of them will have an effect on Peter’s life/journey. There are others like Daniel that I’m hoping will have an even bigger role the farther along we go.
Pictures of You is a special book. It’s not a romance, not yet at least, but it is full of love and life and pain and joy. I won’t say this book will leave you all warm and fuzzy, but it will make an impression and stay with you long after you’re finished. I have thoughts on how I hope the next book goes, but I’m anxiously waiting to see where Leta takes Peter! Don’t miss this one people. You want on this ride. Don’t wait until it’s complete, be here to savor the journey. I think it’s going to be so worth it!
Hello Ms. Leta! I’m super excited to ask you a bunch of, hopefully, interesting questions. I want to talk about you and your new book Pictures of You. So, let’s begin shall we?
Thank you for having me on your blog! I’m excited to share with you about my upcoming Coming of Age series, beginning with Pictures of You.
Your new book is a coming of age book which is so exciting. Peter Mandel is a high school senior, graduating class of 1990. I graduated in 1997 so I am a few years younger than him lol. I’ll start out by asking you, why did you choose the 90’s?
The 90’s came along with the inspiration. I started this series fourteen years ago, so at the time, the early 90s were only ten years in the past. I was preparing to attend my ten-year high school reunion and remembering my friends from back then. I remembered a particular friend of mine, Mark, who had come out during his senior year. It’d been a big thing at the time and he’d also revealed to his best friend of many years, a boy named Aaron, that he was in love with him. Alas, Aaron didn’t take it well at all, and Mark ended up losing his best friend.
Contemplating all of that again, I thought, what would it have looked like in 1990-1992 had it gone differently for Mark? What if Aaron had loved Mark back? Would they have been able to be together free and clear?
And that was where my inspiration began.
Peter is also a senior in a Private school. What’s your thoughts of private school vs Public school in relation to not just the 90’s but being gay in the 90’s?
I attended both a public high school and a private high school in the 1990s and I’d say that being gay at either one was definitely hard as hell. At my public high school, there was only one boy who was out, a kid named Jesse, and he tried to bring his boyfriend to senior prom—very advanced for Knoxville, TN in 1990!—but the teachers wouldn’t let them in and football players had threatened to get them in the parking lot if they stayed.
At my private school, no one came out until Mark in his senior year, though several other guys we suspected of being gay did come out in college. I’d like to say that Mark’s coming out went well, but like I said, he lost his best friend. His female pals seemed 100% supportive (and I was actually the first person he ever came out to, and obviously I was supportive of him, too). The school? It was clearly for him just keeping his mouth shut.
I’d say, I guess, from the outside of the situation looking in, it felt marginally safer at the private school because most of these folks had gone to school together since kindergarten or fifth grade. There wasn’t the same anonymity that could happen at the larger public schools, allowing homophobic people to generalize their hate onto a person they didn’t know intimately. At the same time, I hate to speak for Mark and the other gay young men who went through it, or claim they had it ‘easier’. It was still unbearable for them, I’m sure.
I know nothing about Tennessee where this takes place. Why did you choose this state?
I’m from Knoxville, TN. It’s my home. This is, in some ways, my most personal book because I’ve put in memories and circumstances from my own life. A lot of the characters are amalgams of people I’ve known. For example, there is a drag queen character who was inspired by two men I worked with in college—both black, both gay, but only one was a drag queen. (And any time I refer to a real person for inspiration, the characters always shift and change over time, becoming someone else entirely.) The places the characters go in the book are places I’ve been, even though I changed the names of many establishments. This series reflects my experience of the city in 1990-1992.
Pictures of You is also part one of four parts. Can you explain to us a little bit about how these will be released? Monthly, yearly? And why do it in parts?
I’ll answer the last question first—why do it in parts? Each part is 100,000 words long. That’s around 348 print pages. Releasing it as a 400,000 word book seemed untenable to both readers and to myself. So, in the end, I chose to divide it up at each juncture where the main character, Peter, is ready to step into a new phase of his life. A growth-opportunity, so to speak.
The second book, You Are Not Me, will definitely be released in November, 2016. I hope to release the third book, You Make It Real, in February 2017, and the last book (title pending!) in April 2017.
Now you. What was the 90’s like for Leta Blake?
Ha! I was a late-teen and young adult. I was pretty excited about life, but definitely clueless in a lot of ways. My life was a hell of a lot less dramatic than Peter’s, but I was trying to decide between two guys: the guy who became my husband or the fellow who inspired the character of Adam—Peter’s love interest in the first book. For the record? I made the right choice.
School is a tough time. Some kids leave it and it’s a wonderful memory and others cringe when you say High School! What was the most valuable lesson you learned in High School?
The most valuable lesson I learned was to stay true to myself. I switched schools halfway through my high school career. Like Peter, I went from public to private, and it made a huge difference in my life. I had a teacher (and, yes, the character of Dr. Landry is based on him) who helped me see that I was worthy and encouraged me to write.
Adam Algedi is like the opposite of Peter. And people say a strong love, a huge support, and someone who shakes the fear out of you can change your whole life. Is that what Adam is for Peter?
Adam is a lot of things for Peter. He’s his first love, his first cheerleader, and also the first person to break his heart. Adam is a really conflicted character, very layered and human. Since we only see him through Peter’s eyes, though, there is also a mystery wrapped around him, and that can blind people to Adam’s vulnerabilities. He makes some terrible choices, but he is a dumb kid without even the words to describe his experience of love and life. He literally can’t talk about what he wants because the concepts had never been introduced to him. He’s a mess.
And last question about this exciting book. What made you go for a coming of age when your other books mainly focus on the Contemporary Romance of the older peoples? Lol.
Ah, yes, well, as you’ve guessed by now, it was actually the other way around. Pictures of You was actually the first book I ever wrote. So, I started with Coming of Age and transitioned to Romance. I guess another question might be, what the hell took you so long to finish this book, Leta? And the answer is that the first draft was a disaster. I re-wrote it. The second draft was good, but made it clear it was going to be a four book story-arc. That scared me—investing all that time into a series that people might not want to read? So I moved on. Then Peter would drag me back. Then I’d move on again. And Peter would drag me back. And I’d move on, dang it. And Peter would say NOPE.
So this is his year. He’s getting his story told.
Here we go, Peter. I hope it’s good for you, babe.
Thank you, Leta, so very much for your time!
Thank you so much for having me! I really appreciate it!
Author of the bestselling book Smoky Mountain Dreams and the fan favorite Training Season, Leta Blake's educational and professional background is in psychology and finance, respectively. However, her passion has always been for writing. She enjoys crafting romance stories and exploring the psyches of made up people. At home in the Southern U.S., Leta works hard at achieving balance between her day job, her writing, and her family.
You can find out more about her by following her online:
On the web: http://letablake.wordpress.com/
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/letablake
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/LetaBlake
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