Review: A Ballad of Confetti, Cake and Catastrophies by Helen Juliet

Nicholas Herald had one job to do for his big sister’s wedding. ONE. So of course, he forgets all about promising to book the harpist he knows for the elegant reception. With only a week to go, and his options running out fast, he resorts to asking a busker he finds performing on the city streets to step in and help save the day.

As it turns out though, this guy Fynn is pretty amazing with his guitar, and he has the most beautiful eyes – not that Nicholas is looking. But it becomes quickly apparent that finding a musician is the least of Nicholas’s problems. Between last minute cancellations, wayward family members, and a cat with a serious vendetta against happiness, he knows he’ll be lucky if they all make it to the big day intact.

He just doesn’t have time to fall in love, let alone with a boy However, like almost everything else in the week to come, he may not exactly have a choice…

A stand alone, New Adult romance with a happy ending.



D’awwwwww, this is really a sweet novel about first love, self-discovery and family. There’s a lot of story here with a good handful of arcs flowing through and it’s impressive how well the author balances all those nuances , giving them all their due while still staying focused on Nicholas.

And oh Nicholas, I really did like him so much. The book is described as NA, but it does land on the ‘beginner’ side of the NA spectrum. Nicholas is young but he’s mostly inexperienced. He’s just sweet and kinda dorky with a big empathetic heart. Which is what I found very charming about Nicholas, he doesn’t have a lot of awareness when it comes to himself, but he does notice subtleties in others. His interactions with other characters were always heartwarming. His openness and support of his future sibling in law was especially poignant.

So Nicholas cocked up the one thing he was supposed to do for his sister’s wedding. One job Nicholas. One job. He feels terrible that he forgot to book the harpist who was a sister of a friend, etc. etc. He can’t let his cousin, the maid of honor/planner/overachiever pain-in-the-ass find out or the wrath of maid-of-honorzilla will come down on his head. Bring on the meet cute! During his panic he notices a dreamy busker near the coffee shop where he has set up camp and it seems that his problems were solved. And they were and then some.

Fynn, the dreamy busker and he hit it off in a quietly flirty way. At this point, Nicholas is figuring his sexuality out and what better inspiration than a hot musician? The overall story is low angst and what is there is mostly in Nicholas’s head. There are times I wanted to throttle him and his self-doubt (in a naggy encouraging way of course), but it did read real for a young man finding his way. I mean, I can only speak on that a bit from having been a young person many moons ago, but in actuality, who am I to know what goes through a man’s head when he’s learning about his own sexuality? In that respect, this is definitely low angst and his struggles are more than legit.

Nicholas is also very romantic and some of his flowery speech and needy little bits spoke to that. The book is set during the planning of a wedding for crying out loud, it literally demands for situations to be romanticized. Nicholas and Fynn find excuses to spend more time together, grow closer and Fynn is a perfect match for Nicholas and his inexperience. He’s patient and supportive throughout, he finds Nicholas’s innocence adorable and while they were a somewhat unlikely couple, I didn’t doubt Flynn’s feelings for Nicholas.

My issues were few and one was purely me being selfish. For reals, what are the odds your first love, your first kiss, your first . . . everything are that perfect with that amazing of a person.

Realistic? Hardly.

But I like to think it’s a thing that can happen and good on Nicholas for it happening to him. Lucky bastard. It is a bit sugary overall but like I said, that’s keeping with the romantic theme, and if you’re in the mood for the sweet sauce, this is perfect book to satisfy your craving. It’s lengthy, but reads quickly. As I said in the beginning, there are a lot of arcs and sure, some of them could have been pared down but they l wouldn’t want any of them removed. They all added depth to this story that is more than just a coming of age romance. I loved all the family and the other romances going on, it‘s an all-encompassing charming love fest heavy on the sweet, low on the angst and next time I’m in the mood to get my NA/YA on, I’ll look for a Helen Juliet story.



**a copy of this story was provided for an honest review**

Tag Team Review: You Never Know by Mary Calmes

Hagen Wylie has it all figured out. He’s going to live in his hometown, be everybody’s friend, explore new relationships, and rebuild his life after the horrors of war. No muss, no fuss is the plan. He’s well on his way—until he finds out his first love has come home too. Hagen says it’s no big deal, but a chance encounter with Mitch Thayer’s two cute sons puts him directly in the path of the only guy he’s never gotten out of his head.

Mitch returned for three reasons: to raise his sons where he grew up, to move his furniture business and encourage it to thrive, and to win Hagen back. Years away made it perfectly clear the young man he loved in high school is the only one for him. The problem? He left town and they have not talked since.

If Hagen’s going to trust him again, Mitch needs to show him how he’s grown up and isn’t going to let go. They could have a new chance at love… but Hagen is insistent he’s not reviving a relationship with Mitch. Then again, you never know.



We're baaaaaack!  Did you miss us?  In this episode, we chat about second chances, first loves, heartbreak and personal growth.  And treehouses! So, without further ado...



Red:
Would you like to FINALLY read the Calmes with me this weekend if you haven't done so already??? 

JL:  Yassssss!!!!!!  I haven't read it yet. It's been taunting me though.

Red:  It's been taunting me too but I am ready to get my Calmes on! 
JL:  I'll start in about an hour or so. Gotta go walking first. Greg Tremblay is good for my health. I've extended

Red: How far are you into the book? I'm at 13%...

This is going to hurt a bit isn't it? When they see each other again? I loved the bits we got of them as teens but Mitch better have a good reason for doing what he did to Hagen. And I am getting a kick out if everyone freaking out that Mitch is back in in town. Mary writes such fun side characters. 

JL:  Uh... I haven't started yet? *cringes*

I'm trying to knock out this beta read first. I'm at 95% so I will be done in the next 10 or so minutes.
*fourteen minutes later…*
Ok, I'm done. I'm diving into the Calmes now. Wheeee!

Red:  I'm just starting Ch 3. You'll catch up to me quick.
Red's Review:


It’s no secret I am a Calmes addict. I cannot get enough of the author's work and honestly get ridiculously excited when I see her come out with new books. She is my most read author on Goodreads and there is a reason for that. I adore the romances she writes and I will never tire of them. Ever.



When I saw this book pop up with just a title on Goodreads I wanted it and wondered if it had anything to do with another book from the author, but then the blurb showed up. Nope, it didn’t have anything to do with What A Day Makes, but the blurb hit me square in the feels as second chance romance is my jam! My shelf for second chance romance is a song by Johhny Mathis and Chances Are really does fit this wonderful yet frustratingly beautiful romance of Hagen and Mitch.



Goodness! From the beginning, I wanted to just go run with Hagen as the landscape of Benson, Oregon drew me in and had me feet longing to get dirty on some trails before hitting the pavement and fueling with caffeine. I fell hard for the small town Hagen lives in and grew up in fast and then I started to meet those who live there and was mentally packing my bags wondering why it wasn’t possible to live in the pages of a book.


We meet Hagen on his run, going about his morning ritual when he gets stopped by his friend Gail to ask if he’s okay. That question turns up a lot in the first chapter as everyone who knows and cares about Hagen, as well as those new to town but have heard about his romantic history, know Mitch Thayer moving back to town is a big deal. Regardless of how many times Hagen tries to shrug it off as not being a big deal it so is and I am so happy that we get bits of the boys in high school.



JL:  LOL, look at all the old biddies standing around in the middle of the street gossiping. I love small towns. :) OMG, he lives in a treehouse???? I swear, Mary must have some kind of psychic connection to us. Either that or she secretly works for the CIA and has access to our conversations.

Red:  I was waiting for you to get to the tree house! The Calmes is in our brain I tell ya! 

JL:  I really want a tree house even more now.

Red:  Same. I want the one Hagen built with those windows!!! 

I am off to grocery shop now but I just wanna read. I'm kinda scared to get to the part when they see each other again. Hagen has worked hard to get to where he is and open himself up to living again. But at the same time, I need answers from Mitch. 

Didn't you love the tiny bit we got of them in high school? Gah! They were the romance everyone wanted to succeed. I LOVE that Mary did that.

JL:  Yes, it was so good to get a glimpse of them in high school. 



Hagen Wylie and Mitch Thayer met one day when a 15-year-old Mitch moves to Benson, walks into Hagen’s homeroom, makes eye contact, takes the seat next to Hagen and proclaims them to become good friends. Friends wasn’t the only thing they’d become because these two became the first for one another in every way that two young boys who were openly out with their sexuality could be some 17 years ago. The teen romance was epically known throughout town and Mitch and Hagen had their lives planned, their futures planned exceptionally until it all fell apart. The falling apart completely broke my heart and I had no clue how Mitch was ever going to make up for it.


Now while we know Mitch is back in town, we don’t get him right away and instead we get Hagen and his kinda-relationship with one Ashford Lennox who is an up and coming actor and one who Hagen was oblivious too. But Mary Calmes starts off this introduction to Ash in a way that makes you really like him, I mean like him to the point you almost don’t want Mitch to be on the page with Hagen because Ash seems to be adorable and likable but when true love is on the line, there is no holding back fate when the parties that be are in the same place at the right time.



JL:  Just met Ash. I kinda like him.

I'm kinda scared of meeting Mitch too. Seeing what all Hagen has gone through and how he's overcome everything and created a life for himself I kinda don't want to see that messed up. 

Red:  Oh I like Ash and love how they met and what he gives Hagen without realizing it. 

I am dying to see Hagen's reaction to Mitch's kids... Ugh. Mary's gonna make this hurt so good.

At the restaurant in Brookings, a greasy dive I loved, he leaned across the table, elbows down, chin resting in his hands, and told me I was driving him crazy.
“Then why deal with the hassle?”
He shook his head. “I have no idea.”
“I suspect that you like my dick.”

Red:  Ha! I love Hagen! Wasn't expecting him to be all toppy for some reason though from the beginning. 



Wow. So, the way Hagen and Mitch see one another again for the first time was incredibly dramatic but it works so well for them. The small conversation they have just about did me in with Mitch getting too familiar too quick but we only get Hagen’s POV in this, so I at least know it was doing a number on him as it was doing on me. It’s hard not to fall for and submit to one of Mary’s Alpha men and oh boy does Mitch fit the bill.

And yet, I have a bone or 5,000 to pick with Mitch. The ONLY thing that bugged me about this book was that he didn’t grovel enough for what he did to Hagen when they were young. I know he’s said he’s sorry and that he was young and took Hagen for granted. I get that but I wanted more of the why than a simple glossed over reason and him saying he’s grown up and won’t ever do it again. I do strongly believe in second chances and I am so happy Mitch grew a pair and finally decided to come home and get his boy but I wanted him on his knees so bad which I am SURE the author would have provided had it been necessary, but it wasn’t. Because while this was a romance it was also about Hagen and his healing from heartbreak, from what happened in the military and him finding his safe space, permanently. He’s always loved Mitch but Mitch hurt him, betrayed his trust and left poor Hagen without a sliver of closure so what’s a guy to do?


I adored Hagen and how he has taken care of himself the best he could, given his circumstances. He has dealt with blows that would literally bury some people but he keeps going and does it with an amazing outlook on life. Sure, he hasn’t forgot what Mitch meant to him and how they felt but when you are left how he was, out of sight out of mind is always the best road to take. But reading about he and Mitch as teens simply tore my heart out because they were amazing even that young and who can find love like that in high school? I know it happens, I have friends who started dating at 16 and 25 years later are still together but the passion, the true love that Mitch and Hagen shared is not one that can go away and it should always be given another chance.



JL:
That was the part that nagged at me, the part I kept coming back to, that we both had keys. I was one of many and had thought, as I was sure countless men before me had, that a simple piece of metal meant more than it did.

Poor Hagen, just when he started thinking it could be more than a booty call with Ash too.

The last thing in my life that was broken was finally showing signs of life. When I first came home, hollowed out from war, the very idea that I could be capable of having a relationship even though I was in my own space, my querencia, was beyond all imagining. But now, after many years and now seeing how things were not with Ash, I saw myself open to the possibility of life, of sharing a life with someone. Things were finally starting to change for me and I found myself ready, and even more importantly, willing to try.

Love this character growth here. Good for you, Hagen!

PS: I had to look up the meaning of querencia. Very apt.

Red:  I'm still out but YES!!! I highlighted both those with similar notes about character development and about Ash and what Ash does but what it ends up giving to Hagen. And the querencia… Did she say he was Hispanic? 

JL:  No, I don't think he is.  Maybe he picked it up from someone when he was in the Marines or got it from his boss, who is Hispanic?

You know who Hagen kinda reminds me of?  Weber.
Ash may be a pretentious shit but I still like him. He and Hagen seem to have a lot of chemistry.  It's going to be a hard sell for Mitch at this point. I like seeing Ash with Hagen.

Red:  At 23% where are you?

JL:  I'm at 26%

Red:  Oh and I forgot how it hurt for Hagen to realize he could hurt Ash. Goodness but I really like Hagen. 
Well that's one way for him to see Mitch again... SPOILER. Fuck. Leave it to Mary to make it dramatic and full of fucking feelings. But how amazing was Ash for Hagen then? I don't wanna see him hurt. 
LOL I love Mitch’s kids! 


JL:  Gasp! My heart is in my throat right now!

When I was a kid I saw something like this. I have the hardest time with these scenes. <----SPOILING THE SPOILS OF THE DRAMATIC SCENE BUT JL IS OKAY.

Red:  Oh no! I am so sorry! Are you okay? 

JL:  Yeah, I'm fine. That was heart wrenching but the aftermath was just beautiful. So many feels that it made me cry. Why can't Ash be the one for Hagen??? 

Mary needs to give Ash his own book. I need to see his happily ever after too.

Red:  I know! He's amazing and needs someone amazing just for him because even if I like him, Hagen belongs to Mitch. 

I'm stopping at Ch 5 until bedtime. I'm doing a yoga challenge and have to go to the studio tonight. Why do I do these things to myself? 
 
Now while I was mad at Mitch, I loved his kids! OMG were they amazing and Mitch’s sister as well. I like it when couples know one another’s family and these two are so entwined they can figure out where dishes go in a new house simply because they grew up IN each other’s houses. The business with Gordo was adorable and then once again, Mitch pissed me off. Grrr. They say there is a fine line between love and hate and while I didn’t hate Mitch, I am not sure I loved him. I loved him through Hagen’s eyes for the boy he was and the man/father he now is but…



JL:
“I’m ready for dinner now,” I told him. 
He nodded, smiling at me in complete understanding.

Fuck! Mary's about to knock me on my ass with Mitch now, isn't she? Just when Hagen is ready to take things to the next level with Ash.

Red:  The brief exchange between them hurt and Mitch says a couple things that had me swooning. How am I supposed to concentrate on yoga for an hour when I just want to read???? 

JL:  Tell me about it!  I'm going to go walking when I reach chapter 5 but I wanna keep reading this instead. It's a good thing I'm listening to A Day Makes while I'm walking so at least I still have some Mary with me.

These kids are freaking adorable! 

I nodded, exhaling as I lifted my eyes, fairly certain this would be my one and only time to see him up close because my plan was to never be in another room with him. Please God, never again. I could not have anything to do with him. It would break me a second time.

Gah!

“You’re leaving?”
“Your dad’s here now,” I reminded him. “You be good.”

Brandon opened his mouth, but I pivoted and left, was halfway down the hall before I realized that in my haste to run, I was still holding on to Ryder’s hand. He had gone along without question and now stood smiling up at me, indulgently, waiting for whatever brilliant move was next. 

“Shitballs,”I grumbled under my breath, taking a knee.

 “I think that’s double money in the swear jar, “he informed me, grimacing.

LOL!

Red:
She's killing me with the feels. When Mitch says he misses Hagen's face??? *swoon* 

The kids are hilarious! He's my daddy not yours! LOL 



This really is a romance of one’s self. If you can’t love yourself, if you can’t forgive yourself you’ll be nothing to the person you love. It’s a sticky situation for sure but Hagen’s self-love led to his self-forgiveness of what he couldn’t control which leads him back to Mitch and his safe place. 



JL:  Mary Calmes is an evil, evil woman. STOP MAKING ME FEEL THINGS FOR ASH, MARY!  GOD!

Red:  Oh no!!! Where are you now? I'm getting dinner done and can't read yet

JL:  I'm at 39%

***AND THEY PAUSED FOR STATION IDENTIFICATION***

Red:  I am at 75% and swamped at work when all I want to do is READ! Why does Mary Calmes do this to me? Oh and she is finally my most read author on GR! 

JL:  I'm swamped at work too so I'll have to wait until I get home to read.

Red:  I suck. I took lunch early and finished. Le Sigh

JL:  Don't feel bad. I'm at 64% due to sneak reading.

Red:  We are so cut from the same cloth! 

JL:  I've gotten to that point where I keep putting it down so I can savor it then pick it back up again 5 minutes later because I wanna read it 

Red:  That was me today! I got to 75% or Ch 10 and was like, I don't want it to end BUT I have to know. 

I've been writing bits of my review and keep going back and forth on things but then I realize how brilliant Mary is with her story telling. I still wanna punch Mitch though. Just once really hard. 


Mitch is Hagen’s lobster, they are meant to be together even though their romance took a detour into one NFL player having his head so far up his ass he forgot he was into men. But… that detour gave him his kids so yeah. You know. My husband and I went to school together from middle school through high school. Though our school was small, we ran in different circles even though I had the biggest crush on him and he had no idea I existed. The other day, we were going through old high school yearbooks and doing the “what if” game about how we could have dated in school blah blah blah but had that happened, we wouldn’t have what we do now. We wouldn’t be who we are now and sometimes, love needs to take a detour no matter how bad it hurts to truly find where it belongs. 



JL:  YESSSSS!  He’s so arrogant. I miss Ash. I mean, I can totally see the difference in how Hagen is with Mitch than he is with Ash. There's so much passion between them.  But, I like Ash. I don't want to see him get hurt.

I'm torn about this book and it's making me sad. Mitch just doesn't seem sorry enough, at least so far. I still love it because it's Mary and she's like crack but... It's not the same as my love for A Day Makes or Change of Heart or even the MoT series.  

“The fact of the matter is that you’ve always been afraid that I’ll go off and leave you.”

“Not afraid,” I corrected him, because fear had never been the issue. “But it is the reason I never took us seriously, yes,” I admitted. “But it’s not the leaving, right? You get that. It’s the knowledge that you would.”

Aha! Lightbulb moment here.

Red:  He is arrogant but he is also right on a lot of levels. I keep loving Mitch and hating him for what he did to Hagen and lord you haven't read another part of that yet. I love his alphaness but I want him TO FUCKING BEG Hagen to forgive him. Yes, I know he's finally manned up and moved his life back to Benson to create a life with Hagen and I love his dedication but he broke Hagen. 

And if Mitch never did what he did, he wouldn't have his kids and boy does Hagen love the hell out of them! 

And then I see what this story is for Hagen, this is his own romance of his self, of his safe space on how healing himself comes with Mitch being by his side. It's a shitty way to do it but sometimes you can only be so strong alone but stronger with someone having your back. They were young, Mitch did shitty things but at the same time, Hagen didn't fight either. Kinda reminds me of Jake and Adrien and how Jake was an asshole but Adrien was a doormat too so he was just as guilty for their relationship failings. 

You know what I mean? 

I adore Ash but he pisses me off again though I would love someone to finally own him with a strong hold and not make him so Ash like anymore. LOL 


JL:  True, very true. I'm seeing more and more as I read that Hagen had some growing up to do. He has some serious abandonment issues, between his parents dying and Mitch leaving and he needs stability in his life. He's not going to get that with Ash, I see that now. That relationship would be doomed to fail, kinda like Jory and Aaron were.

Mitch, I think can provide the stability that Hagen needs. Just by being there for Hagen allows him the opportunity to get the rest of the help he needs. He needs an anchor in his life, someone to hold fast and keep him safe while he works out his other issues. Someone to be there as a safety net, to catch him when he falls. Ash can't give that to him. Ash is adventure and fun but Mitch is a stronghold.

Damn. I get it now. Mary is brilliant.

Red:  Isn't she? 

Hagen needs what Mitch provides and that's knowing Hagen like no one else can or ever will. The history they share allows Mitch to call Hagen on his shit and Hagen to own up to it. With Ash, he fucks around with his answers and puts more questions onto Ash. He's not entirely honest with his relationship with Ash until Mitch shows up and then he knows what he wants. 

Hagen has major issues but only with a home and that home being Mitch and the boys does he feel really making himself better to be worth it. He could go on as he is living a half-life but now he has a purpose. 

Yup, we are so on the same page with this. I only realized things after I finished and started writing my review. This isn't superficial at all, the romance has depth that is written between the lines but if you blink, you'll miss it  

JL:  Exactly! Mitch makes Hagen want to better himself.


JL:  Aaahhhh! He SPOILERED him AND MORE SPOILERING!

Red: He's his lobster! I knew when SPOILS FOR YOU WANTING THE SPOILER! He loves his Hagen.
You Never Know truly is a second chance romance with a well-rounded cast of characters that make you want to crawl inside the book and just have a chat with them. I love that Mitch and Hagen figure it all out and how they do it. I love that Mitch goes all in when he wants his boy back and that Hagen in true Calmes fashion submits whole heartedly to his man. I have to say, I want Ash to get a book badly. That boy needs a strong hand by an alpha man who can show him what it means to be treasured and not for his looks or money.  



JL's Review

Ok, so Red sent me her review and it was so good and so detailed that I couldn't think of anything else that needed to be said.  I told Red that I was gonna just say "ditto" to her review.

Well, this is me saying it.

Ditto.

The only thing I can even think to add to this is that I need Ash's book something fierce.  I'm getting down on my knees.  I've got my big puppy dog eyes on.  I've got my hands clasped together in a plea. So, here goes...

MARY CALMES WILL YOU PLEASE, PRETTY PLEASE, EXTRA SPECIAL PLEASE WITH SUGAR AND WHIPPED CREAM AND BUTTERSCOTCH AND A CHERRY ON TOP WRITE ASH'S BOOK FOR ME?  PLLLLEEEEEAAAASSSSSSSEEEEE????????? 


Red:  ditto 
 

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34953898-you-never-know

https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/you-never-know-by-mary-calmes-8692-b