Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Absolute Beginners by SJ Hooks

Today I'm happy to present Absolute Beginners to you guys. This is a fantastic, sexy debut from SJ Hooks, a Danish author whom I had the pleasure of interviewing - look for that below the break!

Published by Full Fathom Five, Absolute Beginners tells the story of Professor Stephen Worthington, a very proper and old-fashioned academic who teaches English Literature, and his smart, unruly, completely unsuitable student, Julia Wilde. 

Stick around for the full blurb, the interview and my review!

The Book:

Professor Stephen Worthington's life makes perfect sense. 

He teaches classes on Tuesdays and Fridays. He has dinners with his parents on the weekend. He goes to the gym with his comically crass stepbrother, Matt, a few days each week. And every night, he heads home at a reasonable hour, alone.

There’s only one thorn in Stephen’s perfectly organized side: Ms. Julia Wilde. Never has Stephen dealt with a more unruly student. She’s rude, provocative, infuriating—and she dresses in a way that is completely unbecoming for a lady. Stephen can’t wait for the semester to be over, and then he’ll never have to see her again.

That is, until Stephen finds himself out of the classroom and in Julia's apartment. Suddenly, the student/teacher roles are reversed, and the professor receives a much-needed lesson between the sheets. Stephen thought his life made sense, but after his tryst with Julia, he finds himself changed in more ways than one. Maybe he’s coming down with something.

Or maybe, something a little out of the ordinary is exactly what this stuffy professor needs to really live.

*This novel contains mature content*

Absolute Beginners is available now from retailers!

Interview with SJ Hooks:

First, congratulations on the release of Absolute Beginners! And thank you for taking time to chat with me about the book.

Thank you so much. It’s my pleasure!

I'd love to hear a bit about the journey from fanfiction to full fledged novel. Can you describe what that was like? Were you looking to publish the story as a novel?

Amazing, hectic, chaotic, surreal.

I started writing the fanfiction version five years ago, uploading new chapters a few times a month. The support I received from my readers was really what motivated me to keep writing. For an aspiring author, the fanfiction community is a wonderful place to get your feet wet—so to speak— to discover yourself as a writer and test out different things. I can honestly say that I never would have been able to do this without the encouragement of my fandom.

I didn’t write with the intent to publish. I did it because I enjoyed it, and while I had dreamed of someday becoming a published author, I never truly believed it would actually happen. I’m not a native speaker and I don’t even live in an English speaking country, so I wouldn’t know where to have begun looking for a publisher. Thankfully, they found me.  

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to work with such a talented team of women, led by my editor Samantha Streger, who read my fanfiction online and saw potential in it. The editing process was tasking, but ultimately a very good experience for me. I never took the time to make a proper outline when I wrote the story as fanfiction and that’s definitely something I’m going to incorporate in my writing process from now on.

Your bio indicates that you have two children and you're completing an MA at the same time - how do you stay sane, let alone find time to write?  

I honestly don’t know. A colleague of mine recently asked me how I manage to balance my part time job as an English teacher, my children, my thesis and my writing, and I didn’t know what to tell her. I think it’s all about cutting out the less important parts. For instance, I don’t watch much TV anymore and because of my kids, I’m home most nights so I don’t have what you’d call a thriving social life. I’m pretty good at multi-tasking and making sure that all areas of my life are attended to, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been sacrifices along the way. My children are my number one priority. Taking care of them and making sure they’re getting the absolute best therapy for their special needs has taken up a lot of time and I’ve had to fight a lot for them, as any mother would do. I’m completing my thesis within the next couple of months, and looking forward to crossing that off my list so I’ll have a bit more time to myself. I’m woefully behind on The Walking Dead. They haven’t killed off Darryl, right?
One of the things I enjoyed most was the juxtaposition of the English literature classes with the lessons happening outside of class. Did you find inspiration for that from your own studies?  Which did you find more challenging to write - the lit classes or Stephen's extracurricular activities with Julia? 

That’s wonderful to hear. Yes, I definitely used my own literature classes at University as inspiration for those lessons. The love scenes were somewhat easier to write, mostly because Stephen’s character spoke so loudly and clearly in my mind. I could see the scenes unfolding through his eyes as I wrote them, so it didn’t take much effort to get them down on paper. 

Let's talk about the decision to write the book entirely from Stephen's perspective. I found this to be quite unique - often we're given the woman's perspective or the characters swap chapters. Why did you decide to stick with Stephen's point of view? 

I’ve always felt like this was mostly his story. I had a very clear picture of him in my mind when I started writing and it felt natural to stay with him throughout most of the story. I can disclose that the sequel will have one Julia chapter, so there’s your teaser, I guess. 

What do you love most about the book? 

That’s a hard question. I think what I enjoyed the most about writing it was the humor and sweetness of the story. There isn’t a lot of drawn out angst and drama. Stephen’s character was interesting to explore, especially because he’s different from a lot of other Romance protagonists, who are confident and experienced, and not all men are like that in real life so I felt like his type is somewhat underrepresented in the genre. Being sensitive, romantic, and a bit nerdy can definitely be sexy, too.

When can we look forward to Absolute Lovers

It’s coming out on June 24th. I’ll actually be in the US, hanging out with my fandom friends at the annual Twific Meetup, so we’ll definitely have a celebration over there! 

Visit SJ Hooks on the web at her website!

My Review:

I read Absolute Beginners on a bit of a whim, hoping that it would be a short, pleasant diversion on an afternoon when I felt my energy level dropping. Great decision! This book has so much going for it, including a 'can't miss it' cover designed by Jada D'Lee, that I couldn't stop reading. I had to get up to make dinner at one point, and I brought my laptop into the kitchen so I could read while chopping veggies and stirring pans of food. Fortunately I did not cut myself! Unfortunately, I did reach the end of the book!

So, Absolute Beginners is told entirely from Professor Stephen Worthington's perspective. It's an intriguing choice given that so much contemporary romance and erotica is told either from the heroine's point of view or trading between the two. It was a change that I really enjoyed. Stephen's old-fashioned and gentlemanly and unsure about how to interact with women. He's insecure and inexperienced and, alongside the relationship between Stephen and Julia, the book is really about his journey from this place of anxiety and uncertainty to one of confidence and awareness. There's something incredibly charming about Stephen as he so earnestly goes about his life. 

In addition to some seriously sexy times, the book has some great messages about women owning their sexuality. The importance of communication is underlined several times, and I think is a message worth repeating. I also liked that this book doesn't lock the characters into a single expression of sexuality - there's some exploration and shifting of roles, and I thought this was pretty realistic.

There are shades of The Rosie Project by Graeme Simpson here, with Stephen not quite as awkward as Don. Early in the book, I became a bit annoyed with the repetition of Stephen's social shortcomings. From clothing to pop culture, hairstyles and confidence speaking with women, Stephen's living in the past, in a bubble, in a cave in the woods and got his head in his books. It's a message that's repeated frequently and I'd had enough of it by the time the story had moved on to Stephen slowly making changes in his life. It was the niggling issue that I had in an otherwise rather fun read.   

Bottom line:

Absolute Beginners is a fun, quirky sexy story about man who learns not to judge people by what they wear, while learning that people judge him for what he wears. And it actually works!  

5 stars
For fans of contemporary romance

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