Blog Tour and Giveaway: Strong Medicine: J.K. Hogan

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Strong Medicine
J.K. Hogan
Release Date: May 11, 2016
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Buy Amazon | Wilde City Press
Genre/Tags: Psychological, Dark, M/M Romance

Two men who meet in a psychiatric institution couldn’t possibly find happiness together—could they? 

The world seemed to be telling disgraced former child star and singer Cameron Fox that he would never be happy again. A drunken car accident gets him sentenced to a work-release at Riverbend Behavioral Health Facility.

Reclusive, traumatized writer Jonah Radley has an entire graveyard of skeletons in his closet. Jonah regularly hospitalizes himself for psychotic episodes caused by a horrific childhood trauma, his biggest secret—one he refuses to speak about in therapy. 

Jonah and Cameron form a bond inside the hospital, forged in mutual pain and hope for a better life. Once they leave the hospital, they must decide if they are brave enough to explore the intricacies of living with mental illness—and find a new normal together.

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Publisher: Wilde City Press
Cover Artist: J.K. Hogan (KHD Graphics)

A Short Interview with J.K. Hogan

1. If you could trade places with one of your characters, who would it be and why?
Gosh… my characters have had it rough. I don’t wish their struggles on anyone. But on the surface, I guess I’d say Nic from I Survived Seattle. I mean, the guy captains his own yacht so, yeah. That’d be cool.

2. If you could sequester yourself for a week somewhere and just focus on your writing, where would you go and what would the environment be like?
The first thoughts that came to mind were one of those tricked out treehouses, somewhere in the mountains, or on a boat in the middle of the ocean. Of course, I have kids, so this would never actually happen. But honestly, anywhere with lots of quiet and privacy would be helpful.

3. What's the one thing, you can't live without?
Books (so, my kindle)

4. What internet site do you surf to the most?
If we don’t count Facebook, it’s probably a toss-up between Pinterest and IMDb.

5. If you had your own talk show, who would your first three author guests be and why?
Hmm… Stephen King, because he’s got boatloads of experience and is arguably one of the most successful fiction writers. J.R. Ward, because she was my gateway drug to m/m. To add an actual m/m author to the mix, Josh Lanyon. Great books, lots of experience, with a splash of genre drama. It would be good TV.

6. When you got your very first manuscript acceptance letter, what was your initial reaction and who was the first person you told?
I got my first contract by winning a romance writing contest. It came after many, many rejections, so I was kind of stunned. Also, I got the email at about 3 am. Still, I woke my husband up. He barely comprehended, but he was excited too.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy Strong Medicine!

Strong Medicine is a riveting read about the effects on two people’s lives that were essentially taken away from them at some point in their childhood and them finding an appropriate impetus for taking back control. This is my first exposure to J.K. Hogan’s work, and I enjoyed the journey.

Cameron Fox is a 27-year-old former child TV star turned lead singer of his family’s popular teen-targeted band, Firefox, until they kick him out after getting into a car accident caused by him drinking and driving. Fortunately, the injuries to both him and those in the car he hits are minor, but it’s still a DUI. His sentence: one year in a work-release program at Riverbend Behavioral Health Facility. Jonah Ridley is a 23-year-old successful author who still suffers from the effects of a serious childhood trauma. The effects cause the need for him to commit himself frequently and voluntarily to Riverbend, because he fears being left free would result in his hurting himself or others. The bond the two men form when they meet in the hospital is instantaneous and strong, as is their mutual attraction, but just sharing a common pain can never be enough to be more than just friends.

The majority of the novel deals with the mental issues the two men have. Without giving away too much of the story, Jonah’s stem from being kidnapped and witnessing terrible things as a young child and are definitely the worse of the two. They cause him to hallucinate and experience dissociative episodes, though his symptoms are not constant. They manifest themselves in a cyclic fashion, twice a year for several weeks, almost like clockwork, and then he’s fine for a while. But this makes it feel even more like he’s out of control of his life. He compensates by being a recluse. Cameron’s life has always been planned for him, even as an adult in the band. His father managed all the important aspects of his life, including setting him up for public dates with women (despite the fact that Cameron is gay.) As one might expect, he acts out as a result of this and suffers from depression from feeling like he’s living a lie.

Cameron is essentially an employee of the hospital because of his sentence, but he is also required to attend counseling. The employee thing poses a problem for his and Jonah’s friendship when it becomes apparent that they are attracted to each other, and this forbidden aspect turns the story into a long, slow burn and does cause a bit of drama in the book.

And this is a long book, but it doesn’t feel long or intentionally drawn out. The writing is quite beautiful, and the author isn’t afraid to use some $5 words (I like a book that makes me consult a dictionary a few times.) I will say, though, that if you aren’t at all interested in reading about mental illness or hospitals, this book probably isn’t for you, even though there are none of the ugly things you think of that often appear in books, movies, and TV shows set in insane asylums.

Jonah and Cameron make a good pairing. Even though their situations are vastly different (except perhaps their daddy issues, but that’s all I’ll say about it to prevent spoiling), they share a common goal. And they both realize they have to make the decision to help themselves before they can help each other, let alone be together. It’s a beautiful process once it starts, and once they’re together, it’s clear they were meant to be.

In addition to the main characters, the book also contains a bevy of secondary characters that add a lot of richness to the story. In my opinion, this fact also helped prevent the problem of forgetting whose perspective was being used while reading the book, because during the first two-thirds of the story, Jonah and Cameron interacted with each other alone relatively infrequently, thereby allowing the author to establish the two identities solidly before they were both out of the institution and could be together all the time.

Overall, because of the subject matter of Strong Medicine, it is not an easy or light read. While it isn’t a “mind-fuck” book, it does deal with mental illness in a serious and realistic fashion, so if this is a trigger for you, be forewarned. Fortunately, there isn’t anything truly ugly here, except perhaps for what happened to Jonah as a child, but when it comes time to relate the details, the author handles it in a smooth and elegant way. This style of book also means it’s not often gushy or over-the-top romantic. That being said, they do get their happily-ever-after, and how they get there is quite satisfying. This is a good read for when you have the time and energy for something that a little grittier than your average contemporary romance. I really liked it, and I look forward to reading more from this author.

The author generously provided me a complimentary copy of Strong Medicine in exchange for this fair and honest review.
Jonah was feeling particularly lucid that day. He hadn’t seen any dead relatives, nothing had burned, and he actually felt like he was inside his own body, for once. He knew it wouldn’t last. It was a constant feeling of dancing on the edge of the cliff, just waiting for the one misstep that would send him plummeting into the void again.
He sat in the rocking chair, the one that had become known as ‘Jonah’s chair,’ and watched Harry the groundskeeper shovel snow off the patio next to the picture window. The scoliotic old man bent to sprinkle handfuls of rock salt over the pavers before moving on farther into the courtyard.
As usual, Jonah lost himself in the warmth of the blanket of sunlight, so much so that he was startled when he sensed a presence behind him. It was just a change in the air, a shift of the molecules, and then a new scent—sharp and heady, a mixture of cedar smoke and Old Spice. Jonah had smelled it before, yesterday. He didn’t need to see to know that the sparkly new probie was standing behind him.
And just like that, just picturing the man in his mind with his weird, shaggy blond hair, dark blue eyes, and boyish features, Jonah remembered. He’d been much younger then, the boy on the TV that his mother had sat him in front of when she couldn’t deal with his damning silence anymore. That boy, his sweet face, and even sweeter voice, had saved Jonah more times than he could count, just kept him hanging on for one more day.
Staring unblinking out the window, Jonah breathed deep of that fragrance and addressed the spectral memory of Kyle Chase. “I know you,” he whispered.
The air stilled as the movement behind him ceased, as if the other man had turned to stone.
“I loved you once.”
Footsteps. Soft, padding, staccato beats of leather against linoleum, until Jonah was face to face with his boyhood crush. Well, more like face to chest, since Jonah was seated and Kyle was looming over him. He wasn’t Kyle, of course, not really. Though Jonah strained, digging through layers of memory, he couldn’t extract the boy—man’s real name.
“Excuse me?” Not-Kyle asked, bushy eyebrows raised toward his hairline.
Jonah tried for a rueful smile, and he could practically hear his skin cracking with the effort. “Sorry, probie. It’s well known around here that I don’t make any sense. What I meant was ‘I used to watch your show.’”
“Oh. I, uh… really?”
Jonah half coughed, half grunted, because it was as close as he ever got to a laugh. “That surprises you?”
“Yes—No! I just sometimes forget that the people who used to watch my show are all grown-up now. Most of the time, I still feel like a kid, so it kind of catches me off guard.” He ran a hand through that mop of messy hair—bleached blond like he was still playing a Cali surfer boy on TV—then squatted down so that he was on Jonah’s level.
“I think you’d be the first one to call me a grown-up. I’ve been called a lot of things, but never that. Besides, I’m not as old as I look.”
“Yeah? How old?”
“Oh. Wow.”
“Yeah, I know. That’s what hard living and insanity will do to you,” Jonah explained without a hint of malice.
“Oh, no. I’m sorry, that came out wrong… You don’t look bad. It’s the opposite, really. You look… yeah, anyway, you’re right, you do just look older than twenty-three. Not in a bad way.”
“Easy there. It’s really okay. I’m pretty hard to insult. Most of the things you could think of to say about me would be true anyway.” Jonah wiped his sweaty palms on his sweatpants and reached on out to him. “Jonah Radley.”
“Cameron Fox.” Cameron took his hand, shook it, lingered just a second longer than was proper.
“I have to admit, I was wrangling for an introduction because I couldn’t remember your real name. I figure you probably wouldn’t want me calling you Kyle.”
Cameron’s laugh was soft, cozy, like a splash of honey in some warm Earl Grey. “No, I guess not. It’s nice to meet you, Jonah Radley. Radley, that’s an unusual name.”
“Indeed it is. Not as unusual as you’d think, but yes… I did have to deal with the well-read students in school calling me ‘Boo’ all the time. But this is rural Appalachia, so it wasn’t always a problem if you get my drift.”
Jonah could see it took Cameron a moment to get the reference, but when he did, he chuckled again. “So what made you decide to join the wonderful world of psychiatric care?” Jonah asked.
Something flashed in Cameron’s eyes, a cloud, a moment of indecision, before he answered. “I got arrested.”
“Ah, you’re one of Rohan’s boys.” Jonah kept his voice neutral, careful not to seem like he was judging, because people in glass houses and all that… “A probie in every sense of the word.”
Cameron lowered his head, studied the ugly, weathered linoleum. “Unfortunately.”
“Hey, we all have pasts. At least you have a future.”
That blond head snapped up, and Cameron gaped at him. “So do you, Jonah.”
Jonah shook his head sadly, then caught sight of a pair of dark, yawning eye sockets peering through the window. One of the dead girls, of course, just when he was starting to feel human again.
He didn’t make eye contact when he spoke to Cameron. “You should go now,” he whispered.
“Go!” Jonah shouted it, his voice tinged with desperation. He never cared before, but he didn’t want this man to see him disappear, to see him float. His eyes welled up, something that hadn’t ever happened at Riverbend before, and he felt ashamed. “Please.”
“Probie!” Rohan’s rich tenor rang out across the buzzing air, slicing the tension between them. Cameron tensed, and his feet seemed to obey Rohan before the rest of him caught up. He cast one more sad, sidelong look at Jonah before he was led away.
Once he was alone, Jonah began to shake. Shivering violently though he was burning up inside, Jonah felt tears sear flaming rivulets down his cheeks. He dug the heels of his hands into his eye sockets until they ached, and eventually the tears stopped. Then there was nothing left but smoke.

6427555J.K. Hogan

J.K. Hogan has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, beginning with writing cast lists and storylines for her toys growing up. When she finally decided to put pen to paper, magic happened. She is greatly inspired by all kinds of music and often creates a “soundtrack” for her stories as she writes them. J.K. is hoping to one day have a little something for everyone, so she’s branched out from m/f paranormal romance and added m/m contemporary romance. Who knows what’s next? J.K. resides in North Carolina, where she was born and raised. A true southern girl at heart, she lives in the country with her husband and two sons, a cat, and two champion agility dogs. If she isn’t on the agility field, J.K. can often be found chasing waterfalls in the mountains with her husband, or down in front at a blues concert. In addition to writing, she enjoys training and competing in dog sports, spending time with her large southern family, camping, boating and, of course, reading! For more information, please visit www.jkhogan.com.

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