Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: Coming Home by Alexa Land

91B9H2W3NsL._SL1500_Title ~ Coming Home (Firsts & Forever #9)

Author ~ Alexa Land

Published ~ 16th July 2015

Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance





For twenty-six-year-old rent boy Chance Matthews, surviving day-to-day in San Francisco is difficult enough. Then an ill-fated road trip to Wyoming to search for his biological father throws his life into a tailspin. When a string of catastrophes leaves him stranded and desperate, help comes from the last person he’d expect. His knight in shining armor is everything he could want and then some, but Chance is sure a man like that would never want someone like him. That’s the stuff of fairy tales, and he stopped believing in those a long time ago.
Coming Home is the ninth book in Alexa Land’s best-selling Firsts and Forever series, but each book can stand alone, so jump in anywhere. This male-male contemporary love story includes graphic sex and explicit language and is intended for adults only. Approximately 103,000 words.

Alan’s Review

Alexa Strikes Again!

I’m not sure there is a more consistently excellent author writing gay fiction today. Book after book, Ms. Land manages to combine humor, pathos, authenticity and passion in a huge (and growing) cast of characters. Each book in the “Firsts and Forever Series” provides a colorful, yet seamless introduction to the ongoing characters and settings of the series, as well as a rich, detailed backdrop for the new characters, situations and message. It’s an incredibly elegant and clever way to combine familiarity and continuity with new people, stories and themes. So, while each book serves as an ongoing chapter of her epic narrative, it also stands alone as a potent expression of the particular book’s themes and her rich panoply of engrossing, believable characters who, ultimately, are very much like us.

From a former Mafia family (the Dombrusos) to a world-famous rock star who disappeared at the height of his fame, Ms. Land manages to paint the most vivid, empathetic characters, including, and especially, the ordinary, everyday “lost boys” who get rescued from obscurity, danger, loneliness and lives of quiet despair. In Ms. Land’s world, the rich, the famous, the successful, the old, the young, the kids on the street are essentially all the same, looking for acceptance, love, self-worth, safety and family.

And this series has more than its share of families - including the Italian dynasty that started the series, an extended Irish family populated by an outsized share of cops, the scion of the Russian Mafia and a growing group of discarded and disaffected gay people who create their own families. There are artists, potential artists, rich people, destitute young people, people with no education, people with advanced college degrees, disabled vets, even a spare porn star or two, and sitting atop all of that is Nana Dombruso, the 80-year-old matriarch who has adopted what seems, at times, the entire gay population of San Francisco - with a dedication to equality that is so pure and passionate, that she is a one-woman activist organization as likely to leave you in tears, as rolling on the floor in uncontrollable laughter.

How many rich 80-year-olds do you know who carry a 45 in their purse, broadcast a cable cooking show that has become a monster hit, perhaps because of the infamous mishaps that always result in some kind of phallic symbol being wrestled around the kitchen in the most “innocent” way? How many rich 80-year-olds do you know whose hearts are as big as the city and world they inhabit? Nana Dombruso is the best of who we are, or aspire to be, without filter, without excuses for inequality, discrimination and persecution, our avatar for doing the right thing relentlessly, breaking all the rules, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

And what she and our talented author are most dedicated to is family, especially for young people. Like many of us, she is incensed by throwaway kids, abandoned by parents driven more by religious fervor than the love it’s supposed to promote, more obsessed by sin than dedicated to the safety, security and growth of their own children. Nana and Ms. Land are equally obsessed with the runaways, kids who escape abuse only to find themselves alone on the streets, without support, or a roof over their heads, forced to sell their innocence to put a meal on the table and clothes on their back.

This is where the rubber meets the road in this novel – the national tragedy in how America, its political institutions, and its shameful religious leaders abandon tens of thousands of young kids to abuse and death. Most authorities estimate the gay population of America to be somewhere between 4 - 10% of the general population. If that’s so, then why are gay kids 40% of all homeless youth?

This is what comes from supposedly good, scripture-quoting religious family values in America – young kids exploited by sick adults for their sexual pleasure, young kids dead in alleys of violence and drug overdoses, young kids killed by their own hand? This is a crime against humanity – and this is Ms. Land’s particular gift: to present their stories with the compassion and humanity that has been so sorely missing in their lives.

A lot of these kids are survivors, to be admired just for making it through another day. What Ms. Land brings them is home, love, acceptance and self-respect, the basic needs of all healthy humans, the needs their families and an uncaring society have so cruelly denied them.

She guides you through their troubles with such sympathy and authenticity, she shows them, and you, another world, a better solution, and she leavens the horror and suffering with humor, discovery, redemption and families created out of thin air, shared deprivation, common enemies, and unconditional love. Ms. Land is a genius.

Each of her books in this series deals with the different obstacles, personal, familial and professional, that gay people face in their basic desire to live, be equal, and hope for the love, respect and acceptance all human beings deserve. Coming home is all about parents, abuse and throwing away children, even grown ones, because they might be gay.

This is Chance’s story. He appeared as a critical character in a previous installment, saving Christian, the brilliant street artist, from arrest by posing as his boyfriend as the cops chase him for vandalism. Chance is a prostitute and has been for a dozen years, ever since he ran away from home at the age of 14, after outing his abuser and not being believed by anyone, including his own mother. They all accused him of lying to harm the richest, most powerful man in town – an innocent 14-year-old with no support from the adults who should have known better, should have cared about him and for him, abandoned by his family, community and the institutions charged with keeping him safe.

He runs to San Francisco and does what he has to do to stay alive, for more than a decade. And what a waste: Chance is a remarkably talented photographer, both technically excellent and an artist with a great, evocative eye. But he can’t trust, and with good reason. His only close friend is another hustler who lives across the hall from his tiny apartment; they provide each other the only comfort either boy finds in this life, though they are not lovers. They are the beginning of each other’s family, their love as real and valid as any biological family, and perhaps deeper because they love by choice, not by familial obligation.

Because of his strange meeting with Christian, running from the law, he is exposed to another world – a world of open, accepted young gay people helping each other find their way in a difficult world, providing the emotional support and sustenance they don’t find anywhere else – except, of course, for the Dombruso Clan, where Nana celebrates, out and proud, each new addition to her “gay homosexual” family, some from her own biological clan, others she found on the streets, in the trades, among neighbors and fellow-travelers.

But Chance is also his own worst enemy. He’s the only one who doesn’t believe in his talent, he finds it impossible to ask for or accept help, and he doesn’t really trust the motives of others – after all, no one has ever wanted him for whom he is, no one else has ever really “seen” him.

That is, until he volunteers to shoot Christian’s wedding to his boyfriend, Shea, a cop who adores him more than life itself. Chance figures he owes Christian because, after their escape from the law, Christian bought him his first high-end state-of-the-art 35 mm camera and all the lenses he could possibly need for it. All Chance can offer Christian, as his wedding gift to the couple, is the best photos he can take – memories to last a lifetime.

At the wedding, he keeps shooting this beautiful sad-eyed young man who turns out to be Shea’s brother, Finn, also a police officer, but the one known to be the “stable” one, the “reliable” one, the one who still lives at home with his parents, saving money to invest in a house.

I don’t want to get too deeply into the story (Ms. Land does just fine without my help), but Finn ends up hiring Chance for his sexual services, to bring this unhappy, closeted man out of the prison of his own making, and he pays Chance generously. Chance works hard to keep his heart separate from his work – if nothing else, his profession has taught him how to separate sex from feelings, his profession from his heart. It’s the only way he can deal with what he does. But, little by little, he fails. He starts to look forward more and more to his assignations with Finn. He’d broken his cardinal rule, fallen in love, and has to break it off before he can allow it to destroy him.

For some time, Chance has been planning a road trip to Wyoming to visit his mother and brother and seek out the father he’s never met. He’s not expecting much other than closure. He just needs to know who his father was. He uses the trip as an excuse to break off his relationship with Finn, and even leaves him an envelope with all the money Finn had paid him that summer for his “services”. He just couldn’t be Finn’s “whore” any more.

His road trip does not go well. He finds his baby brother (now 16) living in terrible squalor with his skittish boyfriend, a young kid on the lam from family sexual abuse, and terrified of everyone except Cole. Things go from bad to worse when Chance’s camera, clothes and money disappear when his car is stolen as he sleeps, unaware, in a fleabag motel. Destitute and without resources (even his cell phone is dying), he does what he knows, and tries to hustle truck drivers in the seedy truck stop next door. What else can he do? He finally answers one of Finn’s desperate calls just as his battery dies, begging for help, for the first time in his life. Knowing he’s too late, Finn is too far away, and not expecting immediate help from any quarter, he continues to hustle the truckers. Just when things turn as bleak as they can be, a drunken trucker threatening to rape or kill him, Finn shows up and brings down the guy with his badge, his prodigious muscles and his gun.

Chance is about to learn an invaluable lesson – how to trust, how to believe in someone, how to ask for and accept help from someone who loves you. It’s not easy for him, and it’s going to take time, but Chance’s lesson eventually gets paid forward over and over, as his newfound confidence and trust is sent out in ever-expanding circles like the ripples that emanate from a rock dropped into the still surface of a pond. It is beautiful to watch, beautiful to experience, and a redemption long-past earned.

Alexa Land is a great writer of gay fiction. She is one of the very best. Each installment, I keep thinking she’ll run out of characters, humor, inventiveness and her patented compassion and hope, and fall back on what she’s done before. But it never seems to happen, for which I’ll forever be grateful.

Each book is a unique journey through the human experience, profoundly redefining both unconditional love and family. She has the uncanny ability to highlight what’s wrong with our society, in the ways we discriminate, in our creative new approaches to hating one-another, yet leaving the reader with hope, a smile, and a tear. She is an extraordinarily talented author. Her words have moved me to the depths of my soul, yet with a lightness of touch that is most extraordinary.

Life would be less rich without Ms. Land in it. If she didn’t exist, the gay community would have to create her. With this book, she has taken the bull by the horns and applied her considerable talent and skills to the national tragedy of homeless gay youth, without preaching, humanizing the kids, and making their lives and challenges as real and empathetic as can be. I cannot recommend this book, or any of her books, highly enough. Read Coming Home, it will make your life better.

A personal note: Ms. Land’s remarkable book, Coming Home, exposes the tragedy of the tens of thousands of homeless, throwaway and runaway, gay kids who live on our streets. You can help. If you have an account, you can convert it to an AmazonSmile account, in which a percentage of all qualified purchases are donated to the charity of your choice. I’ve been a member for a while, and all my donations go to charities that support homeless gay youth.

Pay it forward, sign up for AmazonSmile. For more information, go to

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1 comment:

  1. Alan, thank you, sincerely, for this absolutely remarkable review. I can't begin to tell you how deeply touched I am by your words. This will be the review I keep tucked away for those self-doubt days, the ones I and my characters know all too well. What an incredible gift you've given me, a shield against the inevitable negativity all writers endure on occasion. Again, thank you.