Monday, September 23, 2019

Of Autumn Leaves and New Beginnings by Nell Iris Release Blitz

Sometimes love finds you even when you’re not looking for it.

At 47, Oren Walker isn’t looking for love. When he knocks on Pete Higgins’ door, all he wants is to thank him for helping his mom after she broke her femur. He never expected that one look at the man would make his knees weak and heart flutter.

Pete is happy, albeit a bit lonely, after divorcing his wife of twenty years and isn’t looking to replace her. But when Oren shows up, all grateful and handsome and in that fancy suit, the longing for the deep connection of a relationship flares up inside him.

As the leaves turn yellow, Oren and Pete spend a lot of time in honest conversations. Their attraction grows. Will the two men recognize the promise of new beginnings, and take the chance to find the happiness they both deserve?

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It's been nearly three weeks since Mom's accident – and the leaves are more yellow than green but the heat still refuses to let go – when my phone rings just as I'm on my way back to my office after a long, infuriating meeting. I don't recognize the number but accept the call. "Oren Walker."

"Oren. Hi. It's Pete. Pete Higgins. Your mom's next-door neighbor."

"Oh, hey!" I would be lying if I said I haven't thought about him these last few weeks. In the shower, before bed, while having my morning coffee. He's hot enough to set fire to my pants, but that's only part of the appeal. Mom hasn't stopped talking about him since her accident; about how gentle he was when he helped her. How considerate and thoughtful and nice he was when she was hurt and scared, and in the days that have followed.

Of course, I noticed all his good sides myself, those few minutes we spent together, and he hasn't been far from my thoughts whenever I've had a free moment.

"I'm sorry to disturb you at work," Pete says.

"No problem. I just got out of a meeting with some very upset people and could use a friendly voice right now." I close my office door behind me and throw myself onto my chair. "What can I do for you, Pete?"

"Nothing urgent. I just needed to tell you something."

"Shoot." I lean back and close my eyes, rubbing my temples with my thumb and index finger, trying to fend off the threatening headache.

"I just wanted to let you know that I interfered with your mom earlier. She was on her way to the grocery store. On foot, with her crutches, and I managed to catch her when she hobbled past my house."

I groan. "Oh my God, her stubbornness is unprecedented."

"Yeah, I hear you, man. I had to sweet talk her forever before I managed to convince her to go back home. The thing that persuaded her was when I lied and told her I was on my way to the store myself so I could pick up whatever it was she needed."

"I don't understand. I bought everything on her list the day before yesterday."

"Nuh-uh. You forgot the chocolate chips. She couldn't bake cookies for the church bake sale on Sunday. It was a class one disaster and I'm surprised she didn't call 911."

I groan again. "I can't believe her," I grumble. "I've told her, again and again, to call me whenever she needs anything. I bring my phone everywhere. To bed. To meetings. To the fucking bathroom when I take a shit, so I won't miss her call."

My rant is interrupted by a boisterous laughter.

"Gaah, I'm sorry. That was way more information than you needed." My face heats and I slap myself on the forehead. Good job, Oren. Way to seem like a crazed lunatic in front of the nice man!

"Nah, it's fine."

"No, I'm sorry. That was highly inappropriate. Mom would be so ashamed of me. It's no excuse, but I've had a long day."

"I figured."

I rub my temples harder. "I just don't understand why she won't call me."

"Listen. She's fiercely proud of you and all the hard work you've done to get where you are. She told me she doesn't want to be a bother."

"She's not."

"I know that. I told her. But she insists that you are busy and stressed and don't need more on your plate right now," he says.

"But she's my mom."

"Yeah. But take it from me, as a parent. When you've spent the biggest part of your life loving and protecting your kids, you can't just turn it off. It's instinct. We want to be the strong, invincible protector we've always been and it's hard to accept that the situation might be reversed."

"Oh." That makes a lot of sense; I've never thought about it like that. "Thanks. That was a lot more helpful than you probably realize."

He laughs. "Yay! Who woulda thought? Me doling out parenting advice!"

"You're better than you give yourself credit for."

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

Yet again, Nell Iris provides another beautiful snippet into the lives of her characters. I’ve yet to read one of the author’s books that I didn’t enjoy and perhaps it’s because I’m closer in age to Oren than I am of many of her characters, but Of Autumn Leaves and New Beginnings spoke to me on a more personal level. No, I don’t live the life that Oren does, but I could relate to his feeling of loneliness, of wanting more out of life than work, of wanting that connection with someone.

One of the things that impresses me about Iris’ writing is how she creates the perfect scene or two that reveals so much about who the narrating character is. By perfect I don’t mean that it’s a drool-worthy or envy-inducing scene, but rather a scene that allows us to learn so much more about the character than you might expect to in a novella. In Oren’s case, by making a point to thank his mother’s neighbor for his coming to her rescue after a bone-shattering fall, we meet a man who clearly cares for his mother, was frustrated that he was out of the country on yet another business trip when she needed him, and is thankful (instead of resentful) that Pete stepped in to help her out. But for me, what really won me over to Oren’s character is likely to annoy other readers – his reaction to Pete. No, I’m not talking about his lusty admiration of Pete’s physique, but rather his young-at-heart, blush of first (puppy) love, butterflies in the stomach giddiness that he felt. His internal embarrassment and self-chastisement made Oren REAL for me. It’s an important reminder that despite society’s best effort to convince us that if we haven’t fallen in love, married, and started having kids by our mid-twenties that all is lost, really isn’t true. Don’t worry though, this isn’t an insta-love story, it’s more of an instant connection that develops into something more over time, even if we don’t get to see all of the development due to the novella’s length. While the story is told from Oren’s point of view, we do get a good feel for the kind of man Pete is based on his relationships with his ex-wife and with Oren’s mom. Again, with a few carefully crafted scenes, Iris made me feel as though I knew Pete and could easily understand why Oren was drawn to him so quickly. And the epilogue was so sweet.

Of Autumn Leaves and New Beginnings reminds me why Nell Iris is one of my favorite novella authors and why I’m always excited to dive into her work, no matter the genre. Iris weaves her tales in such a way that I’m fully satisfied with the story I’ve read, yet wanting more because I’ve enjoyed her characters and want to spend more time with them – and I find that to be a beautiful balance, especially for a novella. And that’s exactly how I felt when I reached the end of Oren and Pete’s story, satisfied yet wanting more.

This is a short, sweet story about the connection that flares between two middle aged men. It’s a gentle, slice of life romance and an easy, relaxing read.

Pete is a single dad to grown children and Oren is his elderly neighbour’s son. Together, they fumble through their initial attraction into a quiet and fulfilling relationship. It’s a short story, so there isn’t much space for character development or complicated plot twists, but Pete and Oren are both immensely likeable. The relationship that builds between them feels real and comfortable. Pete’s ex-wife and his children are also very likeable, and the story is well written and engaging.

NELL IRIS is a romantic at heart who believes everyone deserves a happy ending. She’s a bona fide bookworm (learned to read long before she started school), wouldn’t dream of going anywhere without something to read (not even the ladies’ room), loves music (and singing along but, let’s face it, she’s no Celine Dion), and is a real Star Trek nerd (“Make it so”). She loves words, poetry, wine, and Sudoku, and absolutely adores elephants!

Nell believes passionately in equality for all regardless of race, gender, or sexuality, and wants to make the world a better, less hateful, place.

Nell is a forty-something bisexual Swedish woman, married to the love of her life, and a proud mama of a grown daughter. She left the Scandinavian cold and darkness for warmer and sunnier Malaysia a few years ago, and now spends her days writing, surfing the Internet, enjoying the heat, and eating good food. One day she decided to chase her lifelong dream of being a writer, sat down in front of her laptop, and wrote a story about two men falling in love.

Nell Iris writes gay romance, prefers sweet over angst, and wants to write diverse and different characters.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Of Autumn Leaves and New Beginnings by Nell Iris to read and review for this tour.

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