Yet again, I read a fair few books in December. In fact, I’ve become somewhat addicted to nose-in-kindle and am at the point where I get a little agitated if I try to take a break.
Seriously. I wasn’t joking in my last post when I said I’d spent every day since Christmas on the sofa with a book. Some days/evenings I tried to stop upon completion of the latest novel, but then the next moment I was downloading a new book on to my kindle. (That Amazon one-click ordering is dangerous!)
So, yes, the December tally is looking hefty.
However, I do intend to follow up this post with my 2014 top 10, so I will TRY to keep this brief… but somehow that doesn’t always work. [No. It didn’t work… oops]
(NOTE: In keeping with the theme for 2014, all books in December seem to be m/m love stories in various sub-genres, including science fiction, supernatural and crime. So if you’re not into queer, you might as well stop reading now. But there are some good ones!)
The Haunted Heart: Winter – Josh Lanyon
This is a short novel (almost a novella) about Flynn, who’s still badly grieving over the sudden death of his lover and soulmate a year ago. He’s sorting through a bunch of old antiques in an old house he’s inherited, when he sees something in the mirror… Yep, this is part ghost story, part mystery and part love story — although to be honest it’s more about friendship and healing than romantic love. Flynn is reluctantly befriended by Kirk, a playwright and military veteran with some form of PTSD, who is tenanted in the downstairs half of the house.
I mostly loved this book. I’m always partial to paranormal elements and stories that involve researching origins and history and travelling to said locations. Flynn is really really messed up and even though Kirk is a bit messed up too, he is kind and strong and supportive. My only real disappointment was with where it ended up… which wasn’t quite where I wanted it to. But it’s supposed to be part of a series, so I am really really hanging out for the next installment.
I actually wrote an Amazon review for this one:
I really really enjoyed this book, but it didn’t quite end in the place I wanted it to and I’m left waiting for sequels, which I do hope are on the way. Loved the character of Kirk in particular as the reluctant saviour of poor Flynn, who really is in a bad emotional state. I loved the supernatural elements as well, and the ensuing quest to solve the mystery. It’s a beautiful story of healing and the human spirit. Would probably give 4.5 — would have given it 5 with an ending that made me smile, rather than anxious… But it’s fabulous for all that.
A Flight of Magpies – KJ Charles (A Charm of Magpies)
This is the third in a historical-supernatural-mystery-m/m trilogy set in London in the early 20thC, following the adventures and relationship between reluctant peer Lucian (Lord Crane) and Stephen, a powerful ‘practitioner’ (wielder of magic). I mentioned the first two in this very fun and unique series back in October. In this third book there’s a new problem to solve involving magic paintings, an old foe bent on revenge and the various repercussions of a blood-and-sex-bond shared by Crane and Stephen.
The best thing about this series is the interesting take on supernatural London, especially the Chinese influences. Crane and Stephen are still not my favourite couple ever, but with every book they get better. I’ve been trying to put my finger on what my issue is (because these are very popular books) and I think maybe it’s the less intimate writing style that doesn’t let me close enough to the characters. I need to be more inside their heads and hearts…
Knight Errant, His Faithful Squire & Even the Score – KD Sarge
These three science fiction (space opera) books follow the adventures and relationship of Taro and Rafe, two wildly unique and engaging characters created by KD Sarge. All three books are completely different from each other, so I’ll go through each separately:
Knight Errant is easily my favourite of the three. I loved this book a lot. It’s narrated in the unique voice of Taro, young and energetic, mouthy, martial artist, former pickpocket, would-be pilot, gambler, quick to jump into a fight. He’s spent the past year trying to be good to please his elder sister and guardian Eve, the no-nonsense and kick-ass captain of a freighter ship (Pendragon’s Dream – the Dream for short), which has included hiding the fact he’s gay. When joy-boy Rafe comes onboard, Taro thinks he’s pretty useless… but when the two are stranded together on a largely uninhabited planet, he comes to revise his opinion.
Taro and Rafe are very different from each other, but their relationship is so sweet. Taro does everything fiercely — including loving and protecting and fighting to keep Rafe. He’s an intense bundle of strong emotion, a little firecracker. Rafe’s sweet and amiable disposition is like a soothing balm for Taro, keeping him from exploding too often. The story takes Taro, Rafe and the entire crew of the Dream through a number of different locations, building up to a finale that squeezed my heart. Taro just feels things so hard.
Even though it’s definitely a m/m love story, there are no sex scenes in this book (although the boys have a lot of sex). The science fiction elements are a backdrop only, providing an interesting setting without having too much impact on events. It’s all about the characters, which I found very engaging. The supporting cast is pretty well fleshed out too.
His Faithful Squire is set a couple of years later, when Taro (now 18) and Rafe leave the Dream and Eve’s guardianship and strike out on their own. It’s narrated in a completely different style and voice by the charming (and besotted) Rafe, and the overall theme is about Rafe and Taro finding more equality in their relationship on a number of different levels. Rafe in particular deals with issues of identity and self-worth, as he struggles to break out of his habitual submissive role and understand his intrinsic value beyond the bedroom. They drift through several different spaceship-based jobs on this voyage of discovery, and at times the book lacks narrative drive; but it’s great to continue their story and get Rafe’s perspective. Because they’re so young, there are plenty of relationship issues to deal with, even though they are very committed to each other.
Even the Score has only recently been published, some years after the first two, and returns to Taro as narrator. It’s once again set another couple of years later, when Taro and Rafe have settled on a wild and rugged planet. Rafe has opened a successful restaurant, while Taro has had a few different jobs and is currently a wilderness safety instructor. This involves him leading a survival training expedition into the dangerous back of beyond… and Rafe goes along for a bit of a break so they can spend some time together. Everything starts going pear-shaped when Taro’s students start dying and the expedition becomes a true battle for survival.
As far as stories go, Even the Score is mostly a thriller, although the plot was a bit linear for me and I don’t think the resolution was watertight enough. But it was an enjoyable enough read for fans of Taro and Rafe, whose relationship continues to develop and grow throughout this novel as well. I don’t think Taro’s voice was quite as engaging in this one, though — even allowing for the greater maturity of 20-year old Taro compared with 16-year old Taro. I would have liked to see greater consistency in the use of language (particularly swear words)… but that’s being very picky!
Out & Wolf Hall – Harper Fox
Imagine my excitement when I discovered not one, but two new novellas released by my favourite author of the year, Harper Fox. Out is a Christmas release about Cosmo, chief housekeeper in a posh Edinburgh hotel, who suffers from severe agoraphobia after a trauma, and hasn’t left the hotel in exactly a year.
When ‘accountant’ Ren turns up searching for his missing friend, the two connect and… gee, this story is so sweet. I’ve felt some of Ms Fox’s more recent releases have been a bit underdone, but this one feels like she is back! There’s a mystery to solve, poor Cosmo’s agoraphobia to heal, Christmas to celebrate. And all wrapped up in Ms Fox’s lyrical prose and deep characterisation. Loved it. (This one has no naughty bits either, so if you’re not into that sort of thing, but want to read a gorgeous love story, this is one for you.)
Wolf Hall came out at Halloween, and is a paranormal featuring David, who stumbles onto the moors after an incident and finds himself rescued and given refuge by a mysterious young man called Lowrie. The two open themselves to each other during the long, dark, spooky night, when all is not as it seems. I enjoyed Wolf Hall, although not nearly as much as Out. Whereas Out worked at its short length, I felt Wolf Hall didn’t take things far enough.
Smoky Mountain Dreams – Leta Blake
I downloaded this on a whim to commence my post-Christmas reading hibernation. It’s quite long for a love story at over 400 pages, but didn’t feel that length at all. It’s about Christopher, a country music singer whose tilt at Nashville failed a few years ago, leaving him as a backup artist at the Smoky Mountain Dreams theme park. Local bespoke jewellery artist Jesse is Christopher’s biggest (secret) fan — and is thus delighted when Christopher commissions him to make a locket for his grandmother.
What I loved about this novel was the natural and realistic way in which their relationship develops, from dating and getting to know each other, sharing details of their lives, falling slowly and irrevocably in love. The main complication is that Jesse has two kids and a wife Marcy (his best friend through school, who he dearly loved) in a vegetative state on life support. All the supporting cast is well fleshed out — Marcy’s loving and supportive family, Jesse’s troubled kids, his confidant sister, Christopher’s various family members (some bigoted, others loving) and friends. Jesse has to get past his guilt and sense of obligation towards Marcy, while Christopher has to deal with both his low self-esteem and his bigoted Christian fundamentalist mother and stepfather.
The story is told from alternating viewpoints, with great emotional intensity and honesty, the relationship always building as Christopher and Jesse gradually come to depend more and more on each other. Christopher’s music is used beautifully in some heart-stopping scenes, and another thread throughout the whole book is the desperate mission of Jesse’s 12-year old daughter to fold 2000 paper cranes before Christmas so that she might make two wishes.
Smoky Mountain Dreams is beautifully constructed and impossible to put down. I’ll definitely be re-reading this one, and fairly soon.
Training Season – Leta Blake
Following Smoky Mountain Dreams, I picked up Training Season. This is another great book, and focuses on Matty Markus, Olympic Figure Skater, who takes on a high-paying ranch house-sitting gig in Montana, while coming back from injury and Olympic failure. He’s highly driven and training hard so that when six months are up he’s ready to take up with a high-profile coach for his next tilt at the Olympics.
The challenge is that he’s also fallen in love with neighbouring rancher, Rob. They both know Matty will be gone, that he owes it to himself and his family who have sacrificed so much to pursue his dream. But gee, it’s going to be hard on both Matty and Rob to part.
The highlight of this book is the character of Matty. I didn’t think I’d like a book about a figure skater, but he’s just so engaging. He first opens the door to Rob (who’s brought firewood) wearing a yellow sequinned vest, mink coat, and a fully made-up face with eyeshadow and sparkling lip gloss. And that’s Matty — brazenly gay, effervescent, charming, health-conscious. It’s also an interesting insight into just what elite athletes give up for their sport, and also celebrates the achievements of all those athletes who make it to the Olympics without necessarily winning a medal.
About the only thing I didn’t like so much was some BDSM aspects… and one scene in particular. But for all that, it’s worth the read.
The River Leith – Leta Blake
It’s three out of three with Leta Blake. The River Leith follows amateur boxer Leith, who wakes up from a coma after a fight with the past three years of his memory missing. This means he’s also forgotten his devastated lover, Zach, who’s introduced merely as his ‘best friend’.
Leith’s frustration at losing his memories (most likely permanently), his confusion at his almost instant response and attraction to Zach (when he doesn’t actually identify as gay), and his dilemma regarding what to do with the rest of his life are dealt with really well. The difficulties of Zach’s situation, facing the possible loss of the love of his life, are also gut-wrenching. The story of how they overcome certain challenges and deal with the need to start again from scratch is just sweet.
OK. That was not keeping it short. Sorry. If you’ve made it through the above 2000 words — thank you!
This was the last monthly reading post I’ll be doing, and in 2015 I’ll write reviews only when I feel like it and as I feel like it. It’s nice to have a record of everything I read in the year, but the length of this post is just ridiculous!
I will write a post soon highlighting my top 10 for the year, though. I’ll have so much fun going through all the monthly posts to see which ones stood out.