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I hope everyone enjoys this stop on the Book Blitz as much as the blog has reading the books. Paxton and Jessa are just…wow! They’ll possibly be your next favorite book couple. Despite all the shit they go through and all the drama, somehow you’ll still find yourself wanting what they have. Their story delivered way more than I was expecting. If you are in the mood for an intense love story, than theirs is one you definitely need to check out. Haven Francis has gotten inside their heads and it’s all very well written.
Part of Me is about how they get together; Inside of You is how they untimely stay together. It’s a bit of a ride, so find a quiet, cozy spot, a glass of wine, sit back and get immersed in their story. Plus check out our interview with Haven Francis after the book reviews...
Due to explicit sexual content, these books are intended for mature readers.
Book Review: Part of Me by Haven Francis
Part of Me starts out a year prior to the main time frame of the book. Paxton Alvarado has arrived in rural River Bluff,
Minnesota where he’s been exiled by his socialite mother. At a field party the first night he meets free-spirited and stubborn Jessa Fairfield, shares one explosive kiss with her, and then blows her off out of fear of getting too attached.
Jessa’s character was first introduced in Love is Relative (her friend Emily’s story) and Paxton was introduced in the follow up, Love is Absolute. The events from the opening scene of Part of Me coincide with Love is Absolute but it is not necessary to read in order to follow Jess and Pax’s story. (But feel free to check them out!)
We pick up a year later and Jessa is in
Chicago for college where she’s unhappy with her boyfriend, Dylan, and dissatisfied with what she sees as her fake college life that isn’t true to her personality. A phone call to Pax, now back in Venice, California with his dad, puts Jessa in contact with his old friend Violet and smack in the middle of Pax’s old Chicago life…and his old bed in Violet’s spare bedroom.
Violet and Jessa are kindred spirits and they hit it off well. Jessa soon discovers that there is a lot more to Pax than she realized. His former
Chicago friends who are now apart of Jessa’s circle remember a fast, loose, angry, and moody Pax (Chicago Paxton), while she has only known a laid-back and relaxed Pax (Minnesota Paxton). Not to mention there’s his Venice lifestyle of surfing, skating, tattoos, and weed with his father’s side of the family. (Can we say California Paxton?)
Pax is all those things rolled into one and he’s also adorable. As a character, he’s impossible not to like and root for. And what you are quickly rooting for is for him and Jessa to get together. They have irresistible chemistry and attraction, and their sexual tension is off the charts.
"'You need to get schooled. There are three things I have in abundance—a big dick, the skills to use it, and a value sized box of XL condoms.'" —Paxton
Of course it’s not that easy though. These are and twenty year old kids who think they have life and love all figured out and then realize what they think is all wrong.
Pax can’t handle his former buddies hitting on Jessa so it isn’t long before he’s back in
Chicago, the town he’s sworn never to return to, in a “Jessa take-over” plot. Pax knows what they have between them is something special. They just haven’t acted on it. Till now.
“We weren't going to have each other, but we were living off the energy that blew up when we were together.” —Paxton
What they do have already is a solid, dependable friendship and Jessa, who has sworn off all future committed relationships and only wants a friends with benefits relationship with men, isn’t even sure she wants to risk ruining their friendship by adding the benefits. Jessa is only interested in the physical, not the emotional from a guy, even though she’s intrigued to know more about Pax’s past and understand the boy who makes her feel the most secure when she’s cuddled in his arms. She has walls that she’s built up and her mixed signals are confusing the hell out of Pax.
“She’s feisty as hell and argumentative about the little shit, but when it comes down to the things that should make her bawl like a baby or scream like a lunatic or burst with happiness…she doesn't do those things. So I don’t know how she’s feeling about us.”
Pax knows what he wants—the girl cuddled up next to him, but he still wants to keep his past a secret. Jessa isn’t quite as self aware. She wants laid; she just doesn’t realize how much it’s Pax that she needs to do the job.
Can Pax get the girl without revealing his troubled past? Can Jessa let go of her fears and insecurities about relationships before she loses the most important one that’s right in front of her? Can Jess and Pax trust the advice of their friends? Can they both avoid the thing they most fear—getting hurt?
I’ll admit to being on the edge of my seat over ‘will they or won’t they’ hook up with each other before giving in to someone else as well as whether Pax would go back to California or get caught in Chicago. Sometimes I had to groan and smile at the same time over their plans for each other, just knowing they were probably making matters worse. But that fits their ages so it’s not a flaw by any means.
There is humor. There is heartache. There is drama. There are some hot and sexy encounters as well as adorable moments—Pax’s little scene in the diner to get Jessa over her anxiety with the word date was priceless. Told via Pax and Jess’s alternating point of view, the story delivers a HFN ending (no cliffhanger) while setting the stage for the second book, Inside of You.
Part of Me Excerpt
Part of Me Excerpt
“Ready to call it a night, beso?”
“Yeah. It’s been a long day – having you around is tiring,” I tell him, flicking him on his arm before heading to my… our… room.
“As far as I can tell it’s you who is fucking up the entire vibe of the city. Things were pretty mellow last time I was here.”
“Funny,” I tell him, heading to the dresser and pulling out my shorts and tank top.
I turn to Paxton who is stripping out of his jeans- his hoodie and t-shirt are already on the floor. I can’t stop myself from running my eyes over his body as he stands before me. He really is beautiful in the coarsest of ways. I really wish his friends hadn’t put me on lockdown these past few weeks because a beautiful man like Paxton, standing before me in the flesh, is making my insides pound. Jesus, I need to get off ASAP. I look away from Paxton and peel off my dress and bra before pulling on my tank top. I turn back to him as I step into my shorts. He’s lounging in the bed, his arms propped above his head, the tats on the underside of his forearms displayed. I’m very aware that Paxton is watching me dress – something that he has seen before, but his heavy-lidded eyes have me working quick to get myself covered up.
“Pax, are we really sharing that tiny bed?”
“Yeah, beso, we are. Get your ass in here, I want to go to sleep.”
I let out a long breath and then go to him, sliding under the covers, acutely aware of the extra body that is now with me. I’m prepared for him to sling his arm around me but he doesn’t. We just lay next to each other in silence. I’m tired but I can’t sleep, not with him in this bed with me. So close, but in every form of the word, so far away.
“What happened with you and Elijah tonight?” he asks in his deep, quiet voice.
“You know… same shit as usual. You realize that your friends have been all over any guy that even looks my way?” I ask, curious how much of this long process was dictated by him.
He lets out a low laugh. “F*cking with your game, huh?”
“Yeah, they were. I finally find a guy that’s not terrified by the mere mention of your name and… surprise, surprise - the ultimate ladies’ man is nothing but a commitmentaholic underneath his bad boy skin. You would think I would be every man’s dream- all I want is a little release, a little fun. But can I find it? No, Pax, I cannot. I haven’t gotten any action since Dylan and the only kind of action I’ve gotten from him in the last few months is the husband kind. What the hell is wrong with me?” I know I’m spewing, but with anyone but Pax, Emily and Natalie, talking about my unconventional preferences comes off the wrong way. I need a verbal release. I need so many kinds of releases it’s not even funny.
“So he pulled out a ring and you bolted?”
“Yes, he got down on one knee and everything,” I say, snidely. “No. But he pulled the commitment talk out of his ass. I blame you,” I tell Paxton ‘cause I’m pretty sure it was his fault. “You stroll into town, move into my bed, flaunt your good looks in his face and my potential partner in sex pulls out the lockdown.”
Paxton laughs quietly before turning his back to me and making it known he’s calling it a night. “Keep trying, Jess. Your perfect man will come along eventually.”
“There is no perfect man,” I say, hunkering down into bed. “You are about the closest thing that I will ever have to my perfect man.”
“I’ve never gotten you off,” he mutters.
“Exactly, you’re the only guy in my life that I’ve been close to who has never gotten me off and therefore we haven’t ruined what we have. Sometimes I think about that night when I first met you. You were such a prick, but I’m glad. If we would have eventually had sex we wouldn’t have become friends. I wouldn’t have you in my life. It’s scary to think about,” I whisper. Paxton is so quiet, I wonder if he’s sleeping. “I don’t ever want to lose you.”
I wait a minute for him to respond, but it’s clear he’s dozed off. I close my eyes and try to do the same but I can’t. Now that Paxton’s here I just want to be with him. I want to stay up late and talk like we used to. I want to fall asleep on his chest like I used to. I turn and wrap my arms around his naked stomach, fitting my cheek against his warm back. I take in a big breath, letting Paxton’s familiar scent and his warm body comfort me.
Book Review: Inside of You by Haven Francis
Inside of You finds Jessa and Pax three months later and everything is going well for them. Pax is back to playing in Polly and writing new material. Jessa is studying design in college. They are in a good place with each other and those around them.
“We were never us until we had each other.” –Jessa
But their moments of zen don’t last long when Pax’s former
This time around their relationship feels even more intense, at times all consuming. There is something so powerful about what they have and it makes the story very gripping.
“I think anything’s possible when I’m inside of you. Yeah, I think part of me, part of my soul, just fled my body and went straight into yours.” –Paxton
Issues that were a part of their relationship in the first book (Pax’s reluctance to discuss the past, Jessa’s insecurities, both of their fears of the other leaving) crop back up again and are compounded by the events that play out.
Sometimes you just want to shake the sense into both of them. They both make mistakes or more accurately don’t handle the situation in the best way. Yet, Haven Francis does an amazing job of depicting both sides of their issues. You understand why Jessa is so distraught over what she has seen and yet you want her to move past it at the same time. And Pax clearly makes some bad choices and indulges in some self-destructive behavior, and yet when he steps up to the plate, he’s easy to forgive in the readers’ eyes.
Despite his week-long downward spiral, Pax is willing to go the distance—literally— so Jessa can breathe. By the later part of the book it is Jessa’s turn to do some self-examination and some soul searching if she’s ever to have a healthy relationship with Paxton. In the process, some background on Jessa’s past is revealed.
But Inside of You is about putting the past behind you, living in the present, and finding yourself. It’s about learning the big things and little things about each other, loving in a way that supports each other while at the same time allowing the other person to find out who they are; giving each other space without ever leaving; and going through the bad together and coming out in a better place.
This sequel is more angsty than the first book, and largely the humor/banter that we saw in Part of Me is absent this time around. Jessa and Pax both go to much darker places in their lives and in their minds. As individuals, they are both broken and so much deserving of healing. As a couple, they are passionate and leave you with a bit of a book hang-over as you ponder the depths of their connection. Yet their journey towards the end takes them back to the good places they once were but with new self-awareness and new understandings of love and devotion.
Q1. You have a background in art and English literature and you’ve mentioned works like Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s The Yellow Wallpaper as heavily influencing you. As a former English major myself, I’d second the notion that they are both profound works and ‘must reads’ for any feminist lit study (my old concentration by the way). So rolling with the topic of women’s roles in fiction, let’s talk a little bit about Jessa. She’s a strong female character who in Part of Me is actually taking on what is typically viewed as the guy’s MO, wanting just a physical relationship with no emotions. In fact, for a good deal of the book, the roles are reversed and it’s Paxton who’s wanting the whole relationship, emotional package and all. What was your inspiration for Jessa and how has your literature background influenced her character?
A. That’s such a great, thoughtful question and I wish I had an equally great answer, but when I initially wrote Jessa into Love Is Relative (my first published book) and established her independent personality and her views on love, it was done without a great deal of thought. She was essentially Emily’s Violet so at that time I wasn't overly involved with the decisions Jessa was making because I was was writing through Emily's eyes.
My husband likes to tell people I’m the most independent woman he has ever met (this is not a compliment, by the way). I don't necessarily see myself that way, but he might be right because writing Jessa was extremely easy for me. I relate to her personality more than any other character I have ever written. By the time I wrote Part of Me, she had been taking up so much room in my head and I understood her so well that I never really had a moment where I had to sit back and really consider who she was because I just knew. I can say though, that if she hadn't been so fiercely independent and unwilling to succumb to a man, Part of Me would have never been written because she was my inspiration.
Q2. What other works have influenced your writings? What are you currently reading?
A. There are so many authors in so many different genres who I love and admire so it’s hard to name specific influences. There is definitely a certain style of writing that affects me more than others. As you mentioned in the above question, reading The Bell Jar and The Yellow Wallpaper was life changing for me. Before that I had read books that had made me cry and made my heart hurt but I had never read anything that worked itself into me and drenched me in a feeling that I couldn't shake. I wasn't depressed, but Sylvia Plath made me feel like I was. I wasn't crazy, but Charlotte Perkins Gillman made me question that fact. It was alarming in some ways but it opened my eyes and my mind up to the possibility of words. I did major in English literature and for years I ate up all the great classics and had my love affair with the Beats and I experienced something new, and often great, with everything I read but ultimately what makes a lasting impression on me, and therefore my writing, are books that unlock something inside of me that I cannot easily forget and for reasons I don’t always understand. Off the top of my head I would add Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone and Toni Morrison’s Beloved to that list. Recently, The Night Gwen Stacy Died and It’s Kind of a Funny Story affected me greatly. Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe I just have a fascination with mentally ill or depressed characters?
As far as novels that inspired me to write and publish my own books… there are two. A few years ago I was in a reading slump. When I would go to the library my method for choosing books was to look for an orange spine which meant a book was probably published by Penguin and I generally like books published by Penguin. But even that super reliable method was not working out for me so one night I picked up a book a friend had given me. The one I had no interest in reading because I didn't do Sci-Fi or Horror or whatever genre a book about vampires fit into. Once I picked that book up I literally couldn't put it down which was something I hadn't experienced in a long time. Turns out that, really, it was a book about desperate, forbidden love and I was more than happy to take a break from reality and loose myself in the Twilight series. What made the greatest impact on me though, was an interview I read where Stephanie Myers talked about her experience writing that book. She said three things that stuck with me – she talked about how the series started with a dream she had about a girl in a meadow and a man with skin that sparkled (I’m working from my memory here, so my facts might be off) which literally sent chills through me because I had a computer full of “scenes” that I wrote down for no reason other than I wanted to remember the people I dreamt about and capture the way they felt about each other. She also said she wasn't necessarily a good “writer” but she was a pretty good story teller which was a freeing concept for me because as an English literature major who once had a professional writing career, I thought, if I were to write a book, it would have to be some great award winning masterpiece, which was not what I wrote. For the first time I considered doing something with all of those pieces of love stories sitting in my computer. She also talked about writing those books with a baby on her lap which I totally related to- she was a busy mom with little kids at home, just like me, and yet, she managed to write the Twilight series.
A few years later I downloaded a free book on my Nook, I believe it was The Coincidence of Callie and Kayden by Jessica Sorensen, but around that time I discovered two things – the New Adult romance genre and authors self-publishing their books, so I was reading a lot of both of these things in a very short amount of time. At that point in my life I had written my first book (which I have yet to publish) and had started researching the process of finding an agent which sounded so depressing and overwhelming that I never did anything beyond research it. This is silly to say because it was probably less than two years ago, but I had no idea you could self-publish a book. I also had no idea that the books I was writing had a specific genre they belonged to. Both of those things were totally life changing for me.
Right now I’m reading The Mourning Hours by Paula Treick DeBoard. My girlfriends and I have a “book club” which is really just a lame excuse to get out of the house for a few hours and have a few drinks, but it’s what we’re reading this month!
Q3. Paxton is definitely book boyfriend material. What was he like to write as a character and do you have a favorite scene with him?
A. Writing Paxton was a fun challenge – I’ve never had trouble writing from a male POV but some of the scenes when he was at home in
Venice were a struggle. I wanted to make that life authentic which meant I had to try to figure out how to speak like Latino “homeboy”. I’m a white girl living in Minnesota… just saying.
Paxton is probably my favorite character from all of my books, published and unpublished, and I totally fell in love with him so I have a lot of favorite Paxton scenes. But if I had to choose, in Part of Me I would say it was the series of scenes in chapter 17. When he was face to face with Dylan he showed me exactly why he was the dominant male. When he and Jessa went to the diner it was the first time he confronted her about their relationship and I liked how he dealt with her and that we got to see his playful side. And then he brought her home and those two scenes, for me, exposed how tender and sensitive he was and made him completely vulnerable. In Inside of You it was the epilogue. Paxton constantly surprised me with all of the facets of his personality and also how deeply he respected, loved and cared for Jessa and I think there is a little bit of all of that in the epilogue.
Q4. Pax and Jess are both such deep and intense well developed characters, and you did a great job of showing their good sides and bad. What do you feel are their best and worst qualities?
A. Thank you for saying that. My stories are character driven, I don’t know how to write any other way, so it’s obviously important to me that they are well developed and believable, so I appreciate that comment!
I’m just going to make a disclaimer and say that I am so immersed in my character’s heads that it’s hard to see them from an outside perspective so there is a possibility I might get this question wrong!
In my opinion, Paxton has a lot of great qualities. Overall, I would say that the juxtaposition of his hard exterior and his damaged but caring and sensitive core is the basis of all of his good qualities. He follows his heart. He’s forgiving and understanding. He’s passionate. He can appreciate what he has and see his past for what it is. He’s able to live in the moment. He’s multitalented! Probably his biggest strength, and sometimes his biggest weakness, is that he is completely devoted to the people he cares about the most which would obviously be Jessa, but also his dad. As far as his bad qualities go, for sure he avoided his past and a lot of his problems. He has the ability to separate his worlds and therefore shuts people out. He’s impulsive, has an addictive personality and tunnel vision. He swears… A
I don’t know if I can separate Jessa’s good qualities from her bad ones. She’s a survivor but her method of survival is to shut down her emotions. She is independent and self-reliant which also means she doesn’t think she needs anyone. She is confident and believes she knows who she is and what she wants, yet one of her worst qualities is her insecurity. Her other worst quality is her inability to trust. At the core of Jessa is her desire to be loved yet she is blind to this fact so, for me, her willingness to reconsider who she is and open herself up to change is her best quality. That’s not to say that the long process she went through to try to get there wasn’t frustrating (the girl is stubborn) but, for Paxton, she tried.
Q5. What’s next on the writing front? Any plans for another set of books on characters we’ve already met? Any chance to see Paxton and Jessa say 5 or 10 years down the road?
A. When you finish a book and your character's story is complete, I’m pretty sure you are supposed to feel happiness and relief but I didn't feel that way with Paxton and Jessa. I wasn't ready to let them go and my mind still wanders to them quite often and I think about their lives and what they are doing. But, no, there are no plans to write another Paxton and Jessa book or any kind of companion novel with minor characters from this series. Sometimes I wish I would have written a prequel about their life together in River Bluff. The prologue in Part of Me was a pain in my ass because I wrote at least four different options - there were so many scenes from that year that I wanted to share. I’m still not positive I chose the right one!
As far as what I am working on, I have three complete novels that I wrote before I ever published my first book that I keep saying I’m going to go back to and edit and clean up and publish but, for me, the editing process is painful because what I really want to be doing is writing about the characters that are developing in my head. Currently, there are three very complicated and intriguing people living there whose lives involve a lot more social and psychological issues than I’m used to writing. I’ve written a couple chapters of that book, which doesn't necessarily mean I’m going to finish it, but I’m dying to sit down and see what these characters are going to do and I have a feeling it’s what I’ll end up publishing next.
Thank you so much Haven!
In college my love of both of these things grew when I met a quiet, totally hot, artist who would eventually become my husband and I read, “The Bell Jar”, by Sylvia Plath. If, after reading this statement, you are anticipating semibiographical stories of depression from me, you will be greatly disappointed, but that book really did change my life. I promptly became a double major, adding English literature to my fine arts degree. After graduation I took a great job restoring art, but I eventually found my way into the world of professional writing where I was able to travel the world forecasting trends in the home furnishing industry.
When my first child was born my focus took a drastic turn and I happily gave up my career to be home with her. All of my creative outlets were put on the back burner for several years and then one day... I started writing again. It was exhilarating to write my first book that I hope to publish one day if I can ever whittle it down to an acceptable length. That book was the first of many. Some are unedited, some are far too long, some are only half finished, one is lost completely, four are available on Amazon!