Title: Upside Down
Author: N.R. Walker
Publisher: Blue Heart Press
Release Date: March 21st 2019
Genre(s): Contemporary Romance
Page Count: 180 pages
Reviewed by: Kristin F., Ana, Belen
Jordan O’Neill isn’t a fan of labels, considering he has a few. Gay, geek, a librarian, socially awkward, a nervous rambler, an introvert, an outsider. The last thing he needs is one more. But he when he realizes adding the label ‘asexual’ might explain a lot, it turns his world upside down.
Hennessy Lang moved to Surry Hills after splitting with his boyfriend. His being asexual had seen the end of a lot of his romances, but he’s determined to stay true to himself. Leaving his North Shore support group behind, he starts his own in Surry Hills, where he meets first-time-attendee Jordan.
A little bewildered and scared, but completely adorable, Hennessy is struck by this guy who’s trying to find where he belongs. Maybe Hennessy can convince Jordan that his world hasn’t been turned upside down at all, but maybe it’s now—for the first time in his life—the right way up.
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I had no choice but to get on the bus. I swiped my Opal card and didn’t want to scan the faces. I truly didn’t, but of course I did. There he was, sitting halfway up, headphones on. And of course I had to walk past him, and just as I made my way through the crowd, he looked up. Then he did a double take, and he smiled. Then he nodded and pointed to his own head. “Headphones Guy. I get it now.”
I nodded. There were no spare seats near him, so I stood there like a loser. It took me forever to get my brain to work, and Hennessy pulled his headphones down to rest around his neck. “Um, yeah. Hi. I’d always wondered what music you listened to. I would guess it’s some ultra-cool indie band that no one has ever heard of or some underground jazz-fusion mix that won’t hit mainstream for another five years. But then I saw you listening to something that made you upset last Thursday, or maybe it was something completely unrelated to your eclectic music taste. I don’t know, that’s not really my business and that’s not why I’m bringing it up. I just, well, I saw you upset and then the next day you saw me upset, so I guess we’re even—”
He stood up, our fronts almost touching, and the bus jerked and we brushed against each other and I thought I might die. He was a fraction taller than me and I could get lost in those eyes and that smile should be a federal offence. “My stop,” he said, nodding toward the door. Other people were now lining up to get off the bus, and I was holding them up. He was still impossibly close to me. “And it’s not music I listen to. It’s audiobooks.”
“Audiobooks?” I whispered, like he just announced his undying love for me. My heart, my heart was about to explode. I was sure I had cartoon hearts in my eyes.
“Flowers for Algernon,” he whispered. “It’s what I was listening to.”
“Daniel Keyes,” I breathed, looking right into his eyes, our faces an inch apart. “That book… Ow, my heart.”
He let out a quiet gasp. “You know it?”
“I cried like a baby.”
“Me too. Every time.” He grinned, our gaze broken by the rush of people trying to get off the bus, and Hennessy turned and stepped off, leaving a void in his place. I fell into his now-vacant seat, pretty sure by the way my head spun that I hadn’t breathed since I got on. And he stood there on the footpath with his head down, and he pulled his headphones back on and popped his coat collar up around his neck to protect him from the wind, looking seven different realms of handsome. And I thought for sure I’d blown it—again, with the incoherent babbling. But as the bus pulled away, he looked right up at me and smiled, all shy-like and timid, and I breathed the only thing worth saying. “Motherfucker.”
The old lady I was sitting next to gaped at me. I shrugged, not even the slightest bit sorry. Okay, well maybe just a little sorry. But he smiled at me. Hennessy goddamned smiled right at me, like I was the reason for his happiness.
“Flowers for Algernon,” I said to the lady who was now scowling at me. She didn’t understand the enormity of this revelation, but I knew who would. I pulled out my phone, hit Merry’s number, and didn’t even give her time to say hello, though I did try and keep my voice down. “It’s not music he listens to in his headphones. It’s audiobooks. He reads books, and not just any books, Merry, but classics. Well, modern-day classics and holy fucking shit could he be any more perfect?”
“New phone, who dis?”
“I’m not even kidding right now,” I replied. I ignored the daggers Mother Teresa was giving me because of my colourful language. “His grandfather didn’t die, and he wasn’t heartbroken by some incomparable Adonis that I’d have to track down and kick in the shins. He was crying because of the book. Guess which audiobook he was listening to that puts him the stratosphere of cool? Guess!”
“The Social War by Simon Mohler Landis.”
I stopped like I’d teleported to an alternative universe, blinked, then sputtered. “What the actual fuck, Merry. Who hurt you?”
She laughed. “I don’t know which book he was listening to, but I can only assume you spoke to him?”
“I made him smile. In a good way. And you haven’t guessed the book. You’ll never guess but, oh my God, Merry. He just became a twelve on the scale of one to ten on perfection.”
“This will be over a whole lot quicker if you just tell me.”
I grinned, even just thinking about it. “Flowers for Algernon.”
There was a long beat of silence. “Oh.”
“I know, right?”
“That explains the tears.”
I sighed happily. “It does. It tells me so much about him. Plus, I spoke to him. Like actual words, in somewhat semi-coherent sentences. Unlike The Social War by Mohler Landis. Jesus Christ, Merry. We need to talk about the credibility of your bibliophilism.”
She laughed again. “So can we stop calling him Headphones Guy now he has a name?”
N.R. Walker’s Bio
N.R. Walker is an Australian author, who loves her genre of gay romance. She loves writing and spends far too much time doing it, but wouldn’t have it any other way.
She is many things; a mother, a wife, a sister, a writer. She has pretty, pretty boys who live in her head, who don’t let her sleep at night unless she gives them life with words.
She likes it when they do dirty, dirty things…but likes it even more when they fall in love.
She used to think having people in her head talking to her was weird, until one day she happened across other writers who told her it was normal.
She’s been writing ever since…