Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

K.A. Mitchell

What Sarah was Reading in September

What Sarah was Reading in September

Like Jane, I’ve been reading a lot of ARCs for November and December, and wow, you’re all in for some real treats.

Riptide Publishing opens its door on October 30. It’s already open for pre-orders and sending out review copies. Almost all of the initial offerings so far listed are under 30K words. And honestly, $2.99 for 10K words seems utterly ridiculous to me. $4.99 for under 30K words$10 for 100K words? I mean, 100K words is a great story, but $10? Really?! While the stories are great and the idea behind the new press is admirable, with price points like that, I can’t see it getting very far.

Rachel Haimowitz’s Master Class is a fabulous (short) look at the beginning of a very intense BDSM relationship. It does an amazing job at getting at the psychology of both of the dominant/sadist and the masochist/submissive. I loved it. It was super-hot. It was super-intense and really heavy BDSM, but very well done. Review on release. Apparently I talked about this one last month. I’ve skimmed it since then too which is why it’s on this month’s list too. That’s how good it is.

 

Peter Hansen’s First Watch: Tentacles. This book comes highly recommended, but it’s got tentacles and I haven’t actually managed to get past the first scene with tentacles. I’ll let you know if I ever do. Just…tentacles!

Aleksandr Voinov Dark Soul Vol.1 is about the mob. And I love Voinov’s writing, but I really really REALLY have a problem with heroes who are part of a crime organization and have no intention of getting out of it. So…I’m having a hard time with this one too. No tentacles, just criminals.

Of the three Riptide books I’ve flipped through or read so far, the writing is exceptional, but the subject matter is very dark, very different. That could be a good thing and could gain the press a reputation very quickly. But I still think readers are going to balk at those price points.

I also received the Carina Press m/m holiday shorts. And OMG guys, these stories are amazing. Perfect novellas that tell wonderful heartwarming stories. More extended reviews on release for all of them.

K.A. Mitchell’s Christmas Proposition: Small town guy trying to keep his family Christmas tree farm afloat gets back together with former lover who owns a natural gas company. Told from only small-town guy’s perspective, but you see the vulnerability of both characters. And groveling on BOTH sides. :) Wonderful, as always.

Harper Fox’s Winter Knights is a ghost story about Gavin, a man whose Catholic lover Piers breaks up with him because Pier refuses to come out to his family and Gavin had issued an ultimatum. Gavin then meets some ghosts who save his life and help him find his way back into a better relationship with Piers. What I LOVED about this story was how Gavin and Piers’ relationship was actually bad for both of them and they both learn how to improve it in order to find their way back to each other. For how short the book is, it’s brilliantly constructed and I loved the characters.

Josh Lanyon’s Lone Star was like a What If? story: What if a ballet dancer and a Texas Ranger fall in love? Except they fell in love before they were a ballet dancer and a Texas Ranger and get back together right when both their careers are taking off and that’s the barrier between them. It’s a cute story but I didn’t 100% believe that their careers wouldn’t pull them apart again.

Ava March’s My True Love Gave To Me is the historical of the bunch. It starts the story when the two men are 19, very much in love, but one of them’s too scared to pursue the relationship and runs away to America, away from his own feelings and his lover. Four years later, he’s back, determined to win his lover back. Much MUCH groveling ensues and there’s an utterly black moment when all hope is lost. I love stories in which one character has to admit how much wrong he’d done and the other character seriously has to just…forgive him.

These four stories from Carina were unbelievably good. They’ve done a brilliant job gathering these amazing writers together for these novellas.

L.A. Witt’s The Distance Between Us and The Closer You Get are two books that follow a couple through a threesome in the first book and then the third of the threesome in the second. TDBU is about a couple who have broken up but are stuck living with each other because they can’t offload the house they bought together. They bring in a roommate and both end up sleeping with the roommate, then sleeping all three together. This allows the couple to work through their issues so that they can get back together. TCYG (releasing in November) tells the story of the roommate, a self-described slut, who goes out with the friend of one of his lover’s daughters. His blind date is a virgin and they slowly figure out how to fit together, with the help of the characters from the first book. I adore Witt’s writing — love love love it. And these books are just about characters falling in love, getting past their own emotional barriers, and finding their way to each other better than ever before. Wonderful. I’ll review both when TCYG releases.

Distance Between Us: Goodreads | Amazon  | nook

The Closer You Get: Goodreads | Amazonnook

Kari Gregg’s I, Omega was so full of WTF that I honestly don’t know if I can bring myself to read it again to review it. Three months ago, Gabriel had been bitten by a werewolf who fucked him and he’s been on the run ever since. Even though he wants desperately to be with this werewolf, he’s terrified of him too. The werewolf finds him, fucks him, and kidnaps him, taking him back to the pack’s house. He forces Gabriel into a heavily D/s relationship, collaring him and tattooing him without Gabriel’s permission, waiting for Gabriel to give his final surrender, but he never TELLS Gabriel anything. And he won’t let anyone else tell Gabriel anything. So a lot of the conflict in the book comes from Gabriel’s fear and mistakes because of his utter ignorance. It made me NUTS! It’s the total and direct opposite of Safe, Sane,and Consensual. And the sex wasn’t even that hot.

Goodreads | Amazonnook

I read S.A. Reid’s Something Different twice through, the second time right after the first time. It was a self-pubbed book sent to DA for review. I *loved* it. Review here.

Goodreads | Amazon | nook

I’m flipping through a few other books, not actually settling down to read anything because (1). I have a book I really need to review, and (2). I’ve got craploads of grading to do. I’m skimming through an ARC of Sarah Wendell’s EIKAL until I can get my hands on a paper copy. I’m having a lot of fun with it (and feel extremely honored to be quoted twice, so can’t really comment on it further with too much impartiality — see how easily I can be bought?). J.L. Merrow’s Wight Mischief – I adore Merrow’s voice. I’m about 10 pages in and love it so far, of course. Cara McKenna’s Curio – another story about a prostitute. This is the only m/f romance on this whole post. Looking forward to it. Lynn Lorenz’s Bayou’s End – I enjoyed the first story in this series, but I’ve read the introduction to this one and was seriously unimpressed with the writing, so I’ll probably skip through the rest of it and see if there’s anything worth reading.

So, anyone else reading any good m/m that I’ve missed? Any prostitute/sex worker stories that I’ve missed?

PRIDE WEEK: Contemporary Recommendations from Sunita

PRIDE WEEK: Contemporary Recommendations from Sunita

If you’re interested in reading one of the three books I discuss below, post in the comments with your own favorite LGBT contemporary romance (or why you’re interested in reading one of these, if you don’t yet have a favorite), and you’ll be entered to win. Giveaway ends at 4AM EST on Sunday.

When Dear Author decided to take note of Pride Week with posts about essential books in the LGBT romance genre, I knew I wanted to write about contemporaries. Not only are they my favorite subgenre in gay romance, they range across a variety of topics, settings, characterizations and levels of sexual explicitness. I have read mysteries, workplace novels, sports romances, small-town settings, the list goes on and on. But, as we have discussed earlier this week and at many other times, all this variety is partitioned away from mainstream romance, analogous to the way romance is partitioned from other fiction, wholly because of the sexual orientations of the protagonists.

When I read an m/m romance that really resonates with me and that I think is of high quality, I play a mental game: if this book weren’t centrally about a romance between two men and didn’t contain sex scenes between those men (and didn’t have a happy ending), how would it be characterized? In other words, if we didn’t segregate romance generally and m/m romance specifically, and we were talking about this book, where would we locate it? The three books I’m talk about here, I would argue, are very much like books outside the romance genre, and indeed, they would be excellent choices for a “romance conversion kit.” To me they demonstrate that the best books in our genre are of really high quality and the walls that surround it are both unnecessary and artificial.

Fair Game by Josh LanyonMy first book is Fair Game, by Josh Lanyon. This is one of the first dozen or so m/m books I read, the second book I reviewed at Dear Author, and one of my Top 10 reads of 2010. I was immediately taken with the concise, understated writing style. It felt almost effortless to read. This book has remained a favorite, dozens and dozens of novels later. I’m a sucker for grown-up characters, and Elliot and Tucker are both in their thirties, comfortable with their sexuality and their lives. They are estranged, but they still have feelings for each other. When a college student disappears on the campus where Eliot teaches, Tucker shows up in his official capacity and they’re thrown together again. The mystery and the romance unfold in tandem, and the book is exemplary in balancing these two threads.

The campus setting and the academic characterizations are pitch-perfect. The book opens with Elliot teaching his history class and thinking about his students the way they appear on the class roster: Mrachek, Leslie and Sandusky, John. Lanyon had me at that last-name-first detail. And it took me two-thirds of the book before I realized that Eliot was a pretty unreliable narrator. He is so charming and witty that I didn’t twig to the fact that Tucker was actually the more sympathetic character.

The only thing that differentiates Fair Game from well-regarded, mainstream mysteries is that the romance is m/m rather than m/f. It’s a serial killer plot, there are plenty of red herrings, and it’s difficult to figure out whodunit (although when you go back the clues are all there). It needed a slightly longer word count to tie up all the loose ends, but this novel easily holds its own with any medium-gritty mystery of similar length. The romance is really satisfying and the sex scenes, while subtle, are integral to advancing both the plot and the romantic relationship. One of my favorite mystery series is the Charles Paris series by Simon Brett, and Fair Game reminds me of Brett’s books in terms of its wit, humor, and quality of writing.

Regularly Scheduled Life, by K.A. MitchellMy second book is Regularly Scheduled Life, by K.A. Mitchell, which Joan/Sarah reviewed here at Dear Author. This is a straight (well, not straight) contemporary which employs a storyline we see regularly in literary fiction, what I term the “before and after” novel. The author introduces characters who are leading contented, somewhat predictable lives, and then something exogenous to their relationship occurs that upends those lives and introduces change and uncertainty. In this case, Sean and Kyle have been together six years and are still crazy about each other. When Sean is injured in a school shooting, there’s no question for either man that their relationship is strong enough to withstand the shock. But even though they both still love each other, the aftermath of the shooting and the different ways in which each reacts to the changes that ensue slowly drive them apart. There’s no bad guy in this (okay, there’s Sean’s PR guy, Brandt, I hated him with a passion); instead, the ways in which Sean and Kyle are unable to resolve their conflicts feels organic and painfully familiar, and while there is ultimately a happy ending, it takes them a lot of work to get there.

Unlike Fair Game, Regularly Scheduled Life has a ton of torrid sex scenes (and a few emotionally uncomfortable ones). But these scenes are crucial to understanding Sean, Kyle, and their relationship. Sex is an incredibly important part of their life together, it’s one of the key ways in which they communicate, and it reflects their good times and not-so-good times. You can’t remove those scenes and still have the same book. This aspect makes my mental exercise a bit more difficult to pull off, because there aren’t many literary or mainstream works of fiction where the sex is as frequent or as explicit (never mind the same-sex issue). But if we didn’t segregate by heat level (which is a whole different conversation), this book would sit squarely next to novels like Before and After, by Rosellen Brown (which was made into a film starring Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson).

Tigers and Devils, by Sean KennedyMy third book is Tigers and Devils, by Sean Kennedy. I found this book in a list of recommended sports-themed m/m romances. I love sports, and this is set in the exotic (to me) world of Australian Rules Football. Simon Murray is the director of a small, well-regarded film festival and a football fanatic. Declan Tyler is a star football player on Simon’s favorite team. Much to Simon and his friends’ surprise, the gorgeous and popular Declan falls in love with Simon (who of course falls in love right back). In the course of the book, Declan comes out of the closet with all the ramifications you can imagine. The course of their relationship does not run smoothly, but there is a happy ending and a lot of fun scenes involving football (both players and fans).

I’ve described Tigers and Devils to other readers as Nick Hornby meets Shaun of the Dead, not because there are zombies (that’s a different Sean Kennedy book!), but because the novel combines Hornby’s keen insights about men with an understanding of the importance of friendship and community. Both Simon and Declan are embedded in strong networks of friends and family, and part of the pleasure of the book is watching how they relate to each other’s networks. It feels very authentic, unlike so many romances in which the protagonists are isolated from others.

This book is the most uneven of the three in terms of technical proficiency; it drags a bit in the middle, and it would have been much stronger had it been about 25 percent shorter. But the first half of the novel is just amazing, as good as anything you’ll read in romance or mainstream fiction, and it is well worth persevering to the end. When I first read it, I couldn’t stop saying to myself (both internally and out loud), “I can’t believe how good this is.” Kennedy’s voice in this book is the kind that authors dream of having and readers dream of finding; it swept me into the story and made me fall in love with everything about it. There are no tricks or manipulations, despite the potentially sensational nature of the plot, just people you care about and are sorry to let go when the book ends.

There are many other good contemporary novels within gay romance, but these are special to me because together they represent the range and quality that readers can find in the genre today. They’re imaginative, well written, rewarding reads, and they can hold their own with any fiction out there. When I compare them to mainstream fiction, I do not intend to suggest that they are somehow different from other romance novels and more like non-romance fiction. Instead, I’m thinking of what Gloria Steinem said when she turned 50 and someone tried to compliment her by suggesting she looked younger than her age. Her response: “This is what 50 looks like.” These books are what good romance looks like.