Friday, 28 April 2017

Starting From Scratch (Housemates #5) by Jay Northcote

Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK  

Cover: Garrett Leigh 

Length: 57,000 words

The Housemates Series is a collection of standalone stories set around a student house in Britain. Each book focuses on new characters, with themes of self-discovery and sexual awakening.

Helping Hand (Book #1) Amazon US | Amazon UK

Like A Lover (Book #2) Amazon US | Amazon UK
Practice Makes Perfect (Book #3) Amazon US | Amazon UK
Watching and Wanting (Book #4) Amazon US | Amazon UK


Starting over isn’t easy, but Ben is ready to live his life as the man he was always meant to be.

Ben is transgender and back at university after hormone treatment and chest surgery. His new housemates have no idea about his history and Ben would prefer to keep it that way. He’s starting from scratch and his life is finally on track, except in the romance department. The idea of dating guys as a guy is exhilarating but terrifying, because if Ben wants a boyfriend he’ll have to disclose his secret.

Sid is drawn to Ben from the moment they meet. He normally gets what he wants—in the short term at least. Ben’s guarded at first, and Sid’s not used to guys rejecting his advances. He eventually charms his way through Ben’s defences and helps Ben on his journey of sexual awakening.

It doesn’t matter to Sid that Ben is trans. He’s attracted to the whole person, and isn’t worried about what is—or isn’t—in Ben’s pants. They’re good together, and both of them are falling hard and fast, but Ben’s insecurities keep getting in the way. If Sid can convince Ben he's committed, will Ben finally be able to put his heart on the line?

Although this book is part of the Housemates series, it has new main characters, a satisfying happy ending, and can be read as a standalone.

April 17 - Hearts on Fire Reviews, Mikku-Chan, Oh My Shelves
April 19 - V's Reads, Dirty Books Obsession, Millsy Loves Books
April 21 - Au Boudior Ecarlate, Lustful Literature, Joyfully Jay, Making It Happen, Urban Smoothie Read, M/M Book Addicts
April 26 - Dog-Eared Daydreams, Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words, Molly Lolly, MM Good Book Reviews
April 28 - Sarandipity, The Way She Reads, Open Skye Book Reviews
May 1 - Wicked Faerie's Tales & Reviews, Kiki's Kinky Picks
May 8 - Bella's Blog, Bayou Book Junkie, PNR Book Lover Reviews, Abbey's 1-Click Book Blog, Wicked Reads, BFD Book Blog


I’m not entirely sure what to say about this book except that I loved it. In many ways it is a perfect fit and a close match to the earlier titles in the Housemates series. As with the previous stories we get to meet and know two endearing young men who give in to their attraction to each other and set the first steps on what promises to be a happy future together.

But this book has probably a bit more depth to it than the previous instalments did. The issue Ben is dealing with is somewhat more complicated and certainly less common than those the young men in the earlier books had to face. That doesn’t mean that those other characters didn’t have the right to feel as they did, or experience the angst they encountered, but Ben’s trans status means he is more ‘other’ than most people in his life.

It was impossible not to feel and fall for Ben. He’s such an endearing combination of angst, perseverance, insecurity, and sheer courage he took my breath away. Being able to see the world through Ben’s eyes meant that for a little while I was almost able to understand what it must be like to feel like yourself for the first time in your life while being anxious about the implications of having reached that stage.

“He wasn’t some blushing virgin. He was twenty-five, for fuck’s sake. But he felt like a virgin in all the way that counted. Everything about this was new.”

His Internalised transphobia broke my heart, and yet it made so much sense. For most of the book I felt like applauding Ben and cheering him on, because all too often, being honest about who we are is often the scariest thing we’ll ever have to do.

Sid was adorable, the sort of person the world needs more off. He likes Ben and couldn’t care less what or who he used to be and how his body is put together. All he knows and is interested in, is that he’s attracted to Ben, that Ben feels the same, and that the more time they spend together, the better they seem to fit. I loved the care Sid took with Ben; that he took the time to learn about trans-men, that he paid attention to Ben’s feelings and reactions and immediately got that what he’d always considered innocent jokes in the past could in fact be unintentionally hurtful for someone who happened to be listening.

And I have to say that in a genre where prejudice, discrimination, and rejection are all too often the main plot devices, it was refreshing to read a story in which acceptance was the norm.

In the end I walked away from this book with two thoughts I couldn’t shake. The first one was how little I know, in this case about anything transgender related (although I’m sure there are a whole host of other subjects I’m equally ignorant about). My second thought hit me harder than the first one. This book made me realise that for all of our differences, we are mostly the same. While I will never know what it is like to be trapped in the wrong body, I’m all too familiar with dysmorphia, I too know the fear of not knowing what people might think if only they knew… And this:

“Thinking about it was so much worse than the reality, which was freeing and felt right.”

The combination of these two thoughts brought me to one conclusion; all it takes to be sympathetic and accepting is the willingness to learn and to concentrate on our similarities rather than our differences.

Thank you Jay. This is something I have of course known all my life, but it never hurts to be reminded every now and again.

And now I’m somewhat afraid that I make this story sound angsty and heavy, which would be doing the book a horrible disservice. The brilliance of this book lies in the fact that it could get those messages I describe above across without ever turning heavy. I was learning without ever feeling as if I was being taught. This story is as charming, occasionally funny and ultimately touching—not to mention sexy—as the four books that preceded it. And that’s some achievement on Jay Northcote’s part. He could easily have turned this book into a personal crusade, and I wouldn’t have blamed him. The fact that he instead delivered a captivating and ultimately uplifting read leaves me in awe of the author.

Finally, I can’t help feeling that the scene has been set for Housemates #6. I could be wrong of course, but I for one wouldn’t be surprised, or disappointed, if we get to read Johnny and Ryan’s story in the not too distant future.

Free Book Alert
Like a Lover (Housemates #2) is free to download at Amazon this weekend (April 28-30). 
Although it is part of the Housemates series, this story can be read as a standalone.
Amazon link: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Related Reviews: Helping Hand | Like a Lover | Practice Makes Perfect

Author Bio

Jay lives just outside Bristol in the West of England. He comes from a family of writers, but always used to believe that the gene for fiction writing had passed him by. He spent years only ever writing emails, articles, or website content.

One day, Jay decided to try and write a short story—just to see if he could—and found it rather addictive. He hasn’t stopped writing since.

Jay writes contemporary romance about men who fall in love with other men. He has five books published by Dreamspinner Press, and also self-publishes under the imprint Jaybird Press. Many of his books are now available as audiobooks.

Jay is transgender and was formerly known as she/her.

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