The Starving Years by Jordan Castillo Price
This is a dystopian story set in the near past (1960) in New York. A new type of genetically engineered food, Manna, has ended starvation by providing basic nutrition to people all over the world. But something has gone wrong, leading to riots in Manhattan and implicating the company that makes the food. A handful of people who were attending the company’s job fair join forces to stay alive and to try to figure out what is going on. This is an m/m/m romance, which I don’t usually read, but Price makes it work for me. The three protagonists are all different from each other, all interesting, the polyamorous relationship makes sense in terms of their personalities and desires, and the sex scenes further the relationships nicely. As usual, the setting is excellently portrayed and the supporting characters are as well drawn as the leads. As a student of collective violence, I found the riot scenes gripping and authentic. The book began as a serialized novel whose course was determined by reader voting. I think this makes the storyline a little choppier, but it was fun to read about the way Price responded to the reader choices. I’m definitely picking up her latest (unrelated) serialized-novel-turned-book, Magic Mansion. Grade: B+. Recommended.
Moving In Rhythm by Dev Bentham
This is a debut contemporary m/m novel that has received quite a few favorable reviews. I wish it had worked better for me. The main protagonist is a math professor with acute social anxiety; his condition is bad enough that he teaches online courses rather than being in the classroom. It also means that he is unable to sustain any long-term relationship and settles for quickie sex that makes him feel bad; his closest and most rewarding relationship is with his dog. When he goes to stay with his pregnant sister-in-law while his brother is deployed overseas, he meets a dance instructor to whom he is instantly attracted. It’s a leisurely story, as much about the narrator’s journey as about the romance. The dance instructor is unbelievably patient and sensitive and pretty much perfect, and we never really get to see what they are attracted to in each other. Given the level of social anxiety described, I found it hard to believe that falling in love and coming out of the closet was enough to make it manageable. The writing is quite competent, but the mood shifts (from melancholy to sunny to erotic, explicit sex) are sometimes quite jarring. Grade: C
Harm Reduction by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane
This is a short story, almost a vignette. It alternates between 2012 and 1992 Manhattan. In the present day, Julio tries to keep his foster son on the straight and narrow. In the past, he negotiates a relationship with a troubled youth named Linley, trying to reach out to him, keep his own attraction in check, and convince Linley that Julio’s rejection of Linley’s advances isn’t a rejection of Linley. Linley disappears, and Julio is unable to find him or forget him. The sense of time and place in this short story is amazingly authentic, and the writing is very good. I badly wanted the story to be longer, because I didn’t want to let these characters go. No stereotypes, no trope abuse, just a moving, compelling slice of life. The ending gives me hope that just maybe, there will be more to come. Go read it and come back and tell me what you think, because it’s FREE. Grade: A-. Recommended.
The Rebuilding Year by Kaje Harper
This m/m romance covers a year in the life of two initially straight men who meet and find they are kindred spirits, go Gay4U, start a relationship, fall in love, co-parent the children of one of them, and end up in an HEA. It’s smoothly written and the scenes with the teenage children are well done. The rest was much less effective. Both the men start out unhappy and/or frustrated in their lives, and to believe that they would quickly and unproblematically fall in lust and then love required a huge suspension of disbelief on my part. The ex-wife is mostly evil, until near the end, and there is an evil new husband who seems to exist primarily to make the ex-wife look better. There is also a suspense storyline that comes and goes until the end, when it sails completely over the believability horizon. This was an exercise in frustration for me, because the writing and the family-drama part of the plot kept me reading but I kept having “oh no you didn’t” moments about almost everything else. After two books and similar reactions to both, I’m pretty sure this author is not for me. Grade: C.
First You Fall by Scott Sherman
This is a gay mystery with a romantic subplot, but it is in no way a genre m/m romance. For one thing, our narrator is a gay prostitute and the reader is shown that he is quite happy in his job. For another, the romantic storyline is up and down, with no HEA in sight (this is the first of a series, so I’m assuming the romantic arc spans the novels). But the author’s voice is a lot of fun, it is impossible to dislike Kevin Conner, and his relationship with his mother is the gay version of many a white male New York writer’s story. Yes, she’s a stereotype, but she’s also a lot more than that. Sherman does an excellent job with her, and he briefly but skilfully captures the mood of a long-married couple in late middle age. The tone is light but not superficial, the mystery is interesting, although it takes a few too many turns toward the end, and the supporting characters are deftly drawn. I grew a little tired of the voice toward the end of the novel, so I’ll probably take a break before the next installment. But I’ll definitely read it. Grade: B-.