Pre-release Tour and Review: Growing Strong: B.L. Dayhoff

growingstrong1400Growing Strong
BL Dayhoff
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Release Date: 5/11/16
Genre/Tags: Contemporary, M/M Romance, New Adult

A chance—and embarrassing—encounter brings Hunter and Chase together, but it’s patience and kindness that keep them there. Through a slow-blossoming friendship and a series of misunderstandings, Hunter finds himself fighting an attraction he thinks isn’t returned. But with the help of his roommate, Tony, he may just be able to make the leap and confess his feelings.

But love isn’t Hunter’s only concern. With his sister’s upcoming nuptials, he also must learn to face a family that hasn’t quite disowned him for his sexuality. With Chase by his side, it’s going to take strength for Hunter to stand up for himself and to hold on to what really matters.

Growing Strong is my first exposure to author B.L. Dayhoff, and it’s her second short M/M novel. This is an easy, quick, and endearing read featuring a socially awkward and inexperienced main character developing a friendship and then intimate relationship with someone who is almost completely opposite. For as much as I enjoyed this novel, it really should have been an easy 4-star or better rating, but the ending just left me hanging.

Hunter is an aspiring writer who knows he’s gay, but hasn’t acted on his impulses—yep, the big V. Well, not until the start of the book, when his roommate, Tony, drags him out to a bar. Hunter meets someone there, has a drink, and the next thing he knows, he’s sitting on a curb next to his own vomit with a sore ass (can anyone say roofie?) In this embarrassing situation is where Chase finds him and takes him to his place to sleep it off. They slowly become friends and each is attracted to the other, but largely because of Hunter’s awkwardness and inexperience with dating, he believes the attraction isn’t mutual. Both have some serious family issues: Chase has been completely cut off financially for his choice of college major, but he has largely accepted this fate, while Hunter is almost completely shut out by his for coming out, and he just doesn’t know what to do because of it.

Outside of the angst generated by Hunter’s family issues—and trust me, between Hunter’s soon-to-be-married sister and his mother competing to see which will win the title of [insert C-word here]-iest Relative of the Year, there’s plenty of truly cringe-worthy behavior to be disgusted at—the story focuses on the cute and endearing slow development of friendship and love between Hunter and Chase. The book is entirely written from Hunter’s perspective, in the close-third person, so because of his social ineptitude, the story is often humorous, but it is also so sweet you just want to grab these two and pull them in for a group hug-n-kiss. As far as sex is concerned, the vast majority of it is off-page, but there is enough sexual tension to get the point across.

The only real problem I have with the story is that it just suddenly ends, without fully realizing the resolution to the familial issues related in the book. The guys are definitely left in a happy place, but I wanted to know more than just that. Chase’s issues are of secondary importance to the story, but—without giving away spoilers—when the time comes for Hunter to stand up for himself in front of his family, we never really get to find out what its result is. Perhaps it’s the author’s intent that the ramifications are not what’s important but rather the fact that Hunter’s character grew through his interactions with Chase enabled him to step up at all. That might make this a good read for a high-school English class (well, except for the sex part… I’m sure PTAs in much or rural America would be aghast at the thought) to discuss the ideas of coming-of-age, but another ten or twenty thousand words to flesh out the ramifications of the climactic scene’s consequences would have been greatly welcome to me.

Growing Strong is certainly worth reading, especially if you’re looking for a cozy, sweet, and mostly angst-free quickie read. Just be prepared either to wonder if there are some pages missing at the end or to engage yourself into thinking about (or writing it out even) how the story would continue to its natural conclusion, because the author didn’t quite get us there.

I was provided a complimentary copy of Growing Strong in exchange for this fair and honest review.
Hunter tripped over Tony’s briefcase in his rush to get to the door, cursed, and somehow remained upright. He stumbled a few more steps, caught himself on the kitchen counter, and stopped. Huffing once, he continued, with slightly more competence, the final few feet to the front door. When he opened it, Chase was there with a stack of DVDs in hand. “Hey.”
“Hey, c’mon in. You find the place okay?”
“Yeah, it was really easy and—oh, hi.”
“Chase this is—Tony! Put some pants on!”
Tony grinned from his boxer-clad position on the couch. “You didn’t tell me you were having a guest.”
He most certainly had. “Well I do, so, pants!”
“Careful, I might take that as an order.” Tony winked, then wagged his butt all the way back to his room.
“Sorry about him. I think his mother dropped him a few times as a child.”
Chase chuckled. “Don’t worry about it. We all have a few in our lives.”
“Tell me about it. So what movies did you bring?” He sat on the couch, tucking himself against one armrest, and was pointedly not disappointed when Chase sat on the opposite side—making himself as far away as possible.
“Um, well, La Belle et la Bête, because it’s so standard, The Bitter Sweet Tears of Petra von KantThe Four Hundred BlowsRun Lola RunRashomon—which is dry but classic—and A Love to Hide.”
“Well,” Hunter chuckled. “I think I’ve heard of one or two of them. How about Lola? Unless there’s one you wanted to watch?”
“No, I just brought a variety so if you get bored, we can switch.” He opened the case, popped the DVD out, and handed it to Hunter, who got up and slid it in the DVD player.
He tracked down the remote, and when he turned around he found Tony sitting in his spot.
Glaring at Tony was equivalent to yelling at the rain, so he dimmed the lights, took the spot between them, and hit play. Lacking an armrest, he folded his arms across his chest and glanced at Tony. What did he think he was doing? Why was he crashing in when Tony had been egging him all week about how Hunter had a second date? Was he trying to make sure nothing happened? Or was he forcing Hunter to sit closer?
He shifted his gaze to Chase, who was watching the previews. With a sigh, Hunter sagged into the couch and skipped the disc ahead so he could stare at the opening credits.
But he couldn’t focus. He wished life was full of do-overs like movies. He had the running down. Or maybe just the running without ever getting anywhere. He woke up in the same bed every morning. Went to the same job. Knew the same people.
Leaning forward, he picked up the remote and paused it.
“Everything okay?” Chase asked.
Tony elbowed him in the side and said, “Dude?”
“I just realized we don’t have popcorn. Do you want popcorn? I want popcorn.” He stood and shuffled into the kitchen.
“Sure, I could eat some popcorn.” Chase followed behind. “Plain?”
“Um.” He pulled the box off the shelf. “Movie theater. So extra buttery, I guess. That good?”
“Yeah.” Chase smiled.
Hunter opened a bag, shoved it in the microwave, entered the time, and started it.
“I was worried that you hated the movie already.”
“No! I mean, it’s fine; it just started. I don’t like to judge things immediately.”
“Good. I know it’s a weird one, but sometimes I swear we only get the weird ones.”
“Ah, well,” Hunter said in his worst European accent, “you crazy Americans love that shit.”
Chase chuckled and leaned back on the counter as the smell of hot butter filled the air, joined by the pop-pop-popping of their snack. “It’s true. America sometimes feels like the redheaded stepchild of the world.”
“Well, least we’re not Canada.”
“Hey, my grandparents were Canadian!”
“Oh, uh… I…”
Chase laughed. “I’m kidding. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.” He tilted his head to the side and flashed a grin. Cute.
Hunter diverted himself by pulling a bowl down and removing the hot popcorn. The comforting aroma rushed out when he opened the bag and poured the popcorn into the bowl.
Chase snuck around him to steal a piece, popping it into his mouth with a satisfied crunch. “First piece is always the best.”
“Right…” He was distracted by the smudge of oil on Chase’s lip and the pink tongue that darted out to clean it up. Averting his eyes to the bowl in his hands, he headed back toward the living room. “So, shall we?”
“Yep!” Chase followed him, plopping down in his previous spot on the now-empty couch.
Hunter hesitated, then sat beside him with just enough room to nestle the bowl between them. He hit play.
Chase glanced down the hall toward the bedrooms. “Should we wait for Tony?”
“No, I don’t think he likes foreign flicks. It’s fine.”
They settled into the movie, taking turns gobbling up popcorn as the scene unfolded again and again. Hunter couldn’t concentrate. Their hands kept bumping, knuckles grazing and skin brushing, each awkwardly pulling away. Was Chase doing it on purpose? Was it subtle flirting? Hunter couldn’t tell. He knew he wasn’t doing it on purpose—not that he minded—but what if Chase was?
Eventually he just grabbed a large handful and ate from that, leaving Chase what was left. It didn’t matter. Things could just progress naturally. If Chase was interested, he’d say something. He’d have to have seen how incompetent Hunter was. God, he was incompetent. Not that he necessarily wanted to date Chase. Friends first, that was a good idea. So that way they’d have something to base a relationship on. Not that he thought Chase was interested in a relationship. If he was gay—and Hunter was pretty sure he was—it didn’t mean he’d automatically be interested in Hunter.
Hunter was a dork, socially screwy, and God, they’d met when he’d been fucked in an alley, drugged, and was throwing up. Yeah, there was no way in hell Chase was interested in him. He wiped his hand on the leg of his jeans and stared pointedly at the screen. Friends was good. He needed more friends. Tony would argue he needed friends period, but that wasn’t true.

He winced at a loud noise in the movie and sank down into the couch, shifting away inch by inch until he was leaning against the opposite armrest. To distract himself from the man on the other end of the couch, he tried to focus on the movie. When that didn’t work, he pondered if his character Erik would like this kind of movie. He didn’t seem like the type. Too busy with work and school to waste time watching movies when he could be studying or hanging with friends. Half closing his eyes, Hunter composed in his head.
Author PicBL Dayhoff Twitter Blog Goodreads

BL Dayhoff is working on coming out of her shell. She's always had an interest in writing, but only recently has done it for more than just her own personal amusement. She loves to fill her time with too many things, and her initials really are "BL" but unfortunately do not stand for Boys Love. Although maybe her parents knew something about the future...

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