books

Reading highlights from 2016 – part 3

So the final reading tally for the year is 242 novels and novellas, of which 204 were new (clearly I got some reading done in the last week or so, some of them ‘holiday stories’).

I was going to write a single post about my favourites from the year, but I had too much to say it turns out, so it became three posts. This final post covers September to December. (Read part 1 (January to April) and part 2 (May to August) if you dare…)

September

weightoftheworldI spent much of September (and in fact August) re-reading Alexa Land‘s massive First & Forever series (13 books and counting…) in preparation for reading the latest ones I hadn’t yet read (10.5, 11 & 12). Of these new ones, I was pretty blown away by Who I used to be (12), which dealt with themes of heroin addiction and HIV positive status. Both the main characters are introduced in earlier novels, and although it was an intense book to read in parts, it was also incredibly uplifting and accented with many wonderful and familiar characters. This series deals with all manner of issues — some serious as in this novel, some much less so — and it’s like sitting down with a bunch of old friends every time. (The 13th book in the series just came out and is sitting on my kindle…)

The other memorable book for September was Weight of the world, by Devon McCormack and Riley Hart. Riley Hart is one of my favourite m/m authors, so it was pretty much a given that I’d read this. It’s written alternating first person POV (I think, from memory) and is about a guy (Zack) who was talked off the ledge (literally) by another guy (Rob)… who ended up jumping himself half an hour later. Shocked and trying to understand what happened, Zack seeks out Rob’s brother Tommy and the two become, er, friendly. It’s a fairly simply but deep story about dealing with grief and healing and love.

October

overexposedI read quite a few good ones in October… The first I want to mention is The Game Changer by Kay Simone. It’s about a ‘straight’ quarterback who gets injured and has to undergo physical therapy — and the relationship that ensues with his physical therapist. It’s a fairly simple story, but it deals with the issues of intolerance when it comes to sports stars and I really liked the way it was written.

I also really liked Overexposed, the fourth book in Megan Erickson‘s ‘In focus’ series. I’ve liked all the books in this series a lot — this one was set mostly on the Appalachian Trail and made me want to walk at least some of it.

Model Citizen by Lisa Kasey features an interesting main character who is both a male ‘femme’ supermodel and unlicensed private investigator, a bit out of his depth trying to run his brother’s PI business after his brother is killed. It’s both mystery and interesting character drama, with a love story developing with his brother’s friend who helps with the PI business.

Three’s Company by N.R. Walker is about two guys who are running a hotel and invite a male guest, Wilson (who’s just out of a relationship), into their bed for fun… and things get a bit more serious than anticipated. Wilson is a chef, and naturally there’s ample opportunity in a hotel for him to step in and make himself indispensable.

Finally, It was always you is an anthology featuring novellas from several of my favourite authors along the theme of ‘best friends to lovers’. I don’t read a lot of anthologies, but I really really liked this one!

November

daringfateThe fourth book (this time a novella) in Riley Hart‘s Crossroads series was Jumpstart. I love this whole series, especially Crossroads (one of my top 5 for last year). I’ll automatically buy anything Riley Hart (and her alter ego Nyrae Dawn) writes.

I also really enjoyed Megan Erickson‘s m/m paranormal, Daring Fate. This was set in a post-apocalyptic world in which humans have completely died out, leaving only werewolves (human/wolf), weres (which have three forms: human, wolf and scary beast thing), and zombie weres. I thought the world setup was great, with the weres and werewolves living in pack-based compounds, each headed by an alpha, trying to avoid getting killed by zombie weres. The story itself is your classic ‘fated mates’ trope you find in shifter romances (which I don’t mind), and I liked the way it was handled.

Finally for November, there was Heidi Cullinan‘s fourth book in the ‘Minnesota Christmas’ series, Santa Baby (although it’s a stupid title). I found this book really interesting, because it takes the couple from the second book (Sleigh ride) and adds a third man to their relationship. But it isn’t an equal menage m/m/m relationship. Basically the new addition (Dale) is polyamorous, which seems to mean for him that he prefers to be with men who are already in a relationship. He falls in love with Gabriel… who learns that he seems to be polyamorous too. It takes a bit for Gabriel (who is a fairly conservative librarian) to come to terms with this, but surprisingly his partner (husband?) Arthur is remarkably accepting of this new development. And this may be because Arthur (a dom) recognises that Dale is a sub, so they end up in their own non-romantic D/s relationship. Confused yet? Well, it may not be your cup of tea, but I found the character dynamics really interesting.

December

sevensummernightsMy favourite book in December was Seven Summer Nights by Harper Fox. I love love loved this book, which was definitely one of my favourites for the year. Set post WWII, it’s a complex weave of archeological and mythological mystery, the after-effects of war and post-traumatic stress, and a passionate love story between Rufus, an archaeologist, and Archie, a most unconventional vicar. It’s multi-layered and wonderful and I reviewed it in full here.

I was also thrilled to discover Lucy Lennox, who published the first three novels in her Made Marion series. Borrowing Blue and Taming Teddy were swiftly followed by Jumping Jude. Each book is completely different, but each features one of the Marion brothers.

Borrowing Blue mostly takes place over a week at a vineyard where Blue’s sister is getting married, with Blue falling in love with the brother of the groom, who happens to be the owner of the vineyard. Taming Teddy takes place over several months, with Blue’s brother Jamie, a wildlife expert in Alaska, being pursued by wildlife photographer Teddy for a photographic feature. Jumping Jude takes place concurrently with both these books, and is about the relationship between Jude Marion, a country music superstar, and his bodyguard, Derek. These books are sweet and simple love stories, but there’s something about them that elevates them above much of the genre fodder.

Finally, I have just finished The Aftermath by Kay Simone. This was sitting on my kindle for at least half the year, because it’s loooong (>600 pages) and I was admittedly avoiding the time commitment. But I’m glad I finally read it. The central premise is the relationship between a high school senior (Daniel) and his young English teacher (Will). Some of the conflict is derived from fear of discovery, but just as much is the result of Will’s baggage. It’s written from a third-person omniscient perspective, but gets well into the heads of both main characters. I loved all the literary discussions — the novel references many great works in some detail as part of English classes and also general discussions between the two men — and the almost literary narrative style. I do think it’s too long, but overall I found it beautiful.


And that wraps up the annual highlights! From all the novels I’ve mentioned in the last three posts, I thought I’d make a top ten (in the order I read them):

  1. Adrien English mysteries (series of five) – Josh Lanyon
  2. Out of Focus – L.A. Witt
  3. Kings Rising – C.S. Pacat
  4. Broken – Nicola Haken
  5. The Society of Gentlemen (series of three) – K.J. Charles
  6. Absolution – Sloane Kennedy
  7. In the middle of somewhere/Out of nowhere – Roan Parrish
  8. Priddy’s Tale – Harper Fox
  9. Between Ghosts – Garrett Leigh
  10. Seven Summer Nights – Harper Fox

I’m still a huge fan of Harper Fox, Josh Lanyon, L.A. Witt, Megan Erickson, Santino Hassell, Alexa Land, Riley Hart, Heidi Cullinan… and was pleased to discover Sloane Kennedy, Garrett Leigh, Kay Simone and most recently Lucy Lennox (among many others).

And now it’s 2017 and I have kindle full of more books… I wish you all a glorious year of reading.

The other two 2016 highlights posts: January to April | May to August

Reading highlights from 2016 – part 2

Climbing out of my post-Christmas stupor (and read-a-thon), it’s time for the second installment of my annual reading highlights. You can read January-April highlights in the previous post. This post will cover May-August. Once again, all the highlights are from the m/m romance genre.

May

inthemiddleofsomewhereThis month is noteworthy for the discovery of Roan Parrish, whose books In the middle of somewhere and then Out of nowhere are wonderful. The first is about Daniel, a guy who takes a college teaching position in a small Northern Michigan town, where he meets the reclusive Rex, a local furniture maker. In addition to being a gorgeous love story, it’s about Daniel’s struggles to connect with his auto-mechanic father and brothers (who live in Philadelphia), and reconcile their differences. Told first-person present-tense (which I love), this story is not high action drama, but instead deep and soulful and character-complex. It’s a beautiful book.

Out of nowhere is about Daniel’s brother Colin, portrayed as excessively homophobic and vicious towards Daniel in the first book, but who is in fact dealing with his secret developing relationship with social worker, Raphael. (That was probably a bit of a spoiler for In the middle of somewhere, but it can’t be helped — sorry!) This book runs in parallel for much of In the middle of somewhere — and I loved seeing some of the same events from the opposing viewpoint. Set in Philadelphia, much of it around a youth LGBT centre, Out of nowhere a very different book from the first. Colin’s journey is more angst-ridden, and his transformation more profound than Daniel’s. This is also a fabulous book, but I think as a pair these two make more than the sum of their parts.

iftheseascatchfireAnother fabulous book for May was If the seas catch fire by L.A. Witt. (Yep, she’s definitely one of my favourite authors.) This one is high action and high angst, involving the forbidden romance between two hitmen. It’s set in an Italian Mafia-ruled American town in which Dom’s is one of the ‘ruling’ families. Meanwhile, Sergei is a lone wolf assassin with his own quest for vengeance. The two cross paths, fall in love, and although it’s not exactly a Romeo & Juliet scenario, there are plenty of conflicting agendas. Dom is actually a gentle and decent man trapped by circumstances, while Sergei is the victim of past wrongs in need of redemption. The road to these two finding a way to be together involves plenty of assassinations (some of them heartbreaking), plenty of danger (I was shaking in my boots), the highest of high stakes and OMG it is soooo good.

But wait, there’s more! Another memorable read for the month of May included Saving Samuel by Nicole Colville. This is m/m/m about Daniel (a firefighter), Samuel (who Daniel rescues from a burning building), and Milo (a cop who’s in a casual relationship with Daniel… and who is also investigating the case of the burning building). Samuel has a mysterious and tormented past that sees him in need of protection, and who better than a hunky fireman and police officer, who find their difficult relationship just needed the addition of a third to make it work?

June

giventakenMore L.A. Witt in June, this time a paranormal menage trilogy involving werewolves and vampires… The Tooth & Claw trilogy comprises The given and the taken, The healing and the dying, and The united and the divided. The premise of these books sounds so unlikely, and the covers are not so great, but despite all this I decided to trust in LAW and I ended up loving the whole series.

It’s set in a alternative NW America (both USA and Canada), in which werewolves are accepted in human society and hold a fair amount of power, but vampires are hunted and reviled. These books involve road trips and car chases and plenty of werewolves with guns. There are also betrayals and hidden sanctuaries and a vampire turned into part werewolf and a werewolf turned into part vampire… and it’s just so crazy it’s awesome. Not to mention an interesting m/m/m relationship.

My other favourite book in June was Strong Signal (Cyberlove – book 1) by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell. This was about two gamers — one who is a reclusive gaming genius with a live feed on one of the gaming channels, and one who is deployed in the Middle East. They fall for each other online, but the second half of the book is what happens when they meet in person. It’s fabulous.

July

priddyIn July I absolutely fell in love with Priddy’s Tale, a gorgeous new novella by Harper Fox. I loved this so much I immediately read it again and wrote a full review. It’s a fantastical tale about a lost young guy who lives in a Cornish lighthouse and falls in love with a charismatic merman. Set in the wild and exciting south-western tip of Cornwall, Priddy’s Tale filled with magical and impossible things, and infused with beautiful language and an abundance of ocean-themed imagery. I would recommend this book to anybody and everybody. Utterly beautiful and one of my highlights of the year.

I discovered the English author Garrett Leigh in July. The first I read was Misfits, which I loved. It’s another m/m/m, this time involving a chef and his restaurateur lover/business partner, who have an open relationship that leads to the addition of a guy who turns out to be the missing link in their relationship and partnership.

betweenghostsEven better, though, was Between Ghosts, which is set among a British SAS unit in Iraq during 2006. Connor is a journalist embedded with the SAS unit, who is seeking closure and answers related to his brother, killed in Mosul three years earlier.

Nat is the commander of the unit, and their love story takes place amid the drama and blood and terror of war. I loved the vivid setting — it gives amazing insight into the conditions faced by the British troops. And there’s plenty of danger and intrigue as the SAS unit seek out certain sensitive information and attend to their duties. I loved this book so much.

August

It was a quieter month of reading in August, but one of my favourite books for the month was yet another by L.A. WittRunning with Scissors. This one is set around a popular rock band. I also enjoyed the first three books in Santino Hassell‘s Five Boroughs seriesSutphin Boulevard (which was a re-read), Sunset Park and First and First.


So many great books — I just want to re-read them all right now! I’ll publish the final installment of 2016 reading highlights in the new year.

(Read January to April)

Reading highlights from 2016 – part 1

Gosh. How many books have I read this year? (So far 235 books and novellas, of which 198 were new and 37 were re-reads… and still counting.) My inner bookworm continues to devour and my finger continues to madly one-click. In fact, there’s been more one-clicking, because someone introduced me to bookbub.

Bookbub is a website that sends me emails with daily e-book deals in my selected genres (and authors), with direct links to Amazon. There’s many a $1 (or free) book sitting on my kindle, just waiting for me to get around to reading it… I do realise this still adds up in $ terms, but I just tell myself I’m supporting the authors. And if I don’t like a particular book, I don’t have to finish it.

I’m no longer trying to kid myself that I’m reading much of anything other than m/m (or m/m/m). I could probably count the non-m/m books read this year on one hand. (Actually, I did branch out and try some f/f this year, but so far that hasn’t captivated me much.)

But one of the fabulous things about m/m is that it spans all genres — fantasy, science fiction, mystery, crime/thrillers, historical, deep angst-ridden drama… even comedy, although that’s not my thing. So I bounce around from genre to genre, depending on my mood.

This year, there have been some fabulous new releases from favourite authors, and I’ve discovered some new authors as well. Over three posts, I’m going to summarise my favourites month by month, with some wrapping up at the end. This post covers January to April.

January

fatal-shadowsThe absolute highlight of January — and maybe the year — was Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English series (Fatal shadows, A dangerous thing, The hell you say, Death of a pirate king, The dark tide). I do not have the words to say how amazing, fabulous, wonderful this series is, in terms of the love story arc across five books. Each book is an individual mystery, but it is not until the end of the final book that the relationship between Adrien and Jake resolves — and it’s breathtaking. I was numb the afternoon I finished The dark tide, and poured out my feelings onto the page in a post I never did publish. I was so raw. Nothing I wrote encapsulated what I felt. Even now, 11 months later, my heart still rushes as I remember the ending. Aaaaand, there’s a sixth Adrien & Jake novella due out in mid-January. I will be feverishly re-reading these books and slipping straight into that one. My heart rushes just thinking about it.

coldfusionJanuary was also the month Cold Fusion by Harper Fox came out. This book has wonderfully complex, flawed characters who transcend themselves by the end, Harper Fox’s beautiful poetic language. And, as always with Harper Fox’s books, the fabulous sense of place — in this case the northern wilds of Scotland. Love it. (See my full review here.)

And I also loved Out of Focus by L.A. Witt. This one is m/m/m and deals with a couple of guys who have been together for a decade, and who like to bring submissives into the bedroom from time to time… and they find an adorable guy they decide to keep. It’s not heavy BDSM, and deals more with the relationship side of things. I’ve come to adore m/m/m books where I can believe in all the sides of the relationship. LAW has started a series where she writes the prequels for couples who feature in her menage stories, and I would love to read how Dante and Angel first got together.

February

kingsrisingThe highlight for February was the much-anticipated Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat, third book in the Captive Prince fantasy trilogy. I was so worried this wouldn’t live up to the anticipation, because I adored the first two in this series — which I re-read prior to launching into the third. Aside from a few wobbles at the start and the end, Kings Rising was awesome and I love love love this fantasy trilogy so much. Like with the Adrien English series, I had a major book hangover once I finished. To quote myself: “Damen and Laurent. Oh. My. Fucking. God.” I reviewed Captive Prince/Prince’s Gambit here and Kings Rising here.

Other great reads for February were Shifting Gears by Riley Hart (the sequel to Crossroads, one of my top 5 for last year, and still one of my all-time favourites), Lonely Hearts by Heidi Cullinan (book 3 in the Love Lessons series), and Tough Love also by Heidi Cullinan (book 3 in the fabulous Special Delivery series).

March

brokenIn March, the best book I read was Broken by Nicola Haken. This is an example of deep angst-ridden drama/romance, and deals with triggery themes of self-harm, depression and suicide. It’s incredibly intense and well-written. I felt pretty wrung-out at the end, but the wonderful thing about this genre is that the books usually end with hope and healing and the power of love. I will definitely be reading this one again.

I also read Us by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy, which is the sequel to Him. Him was probably one of my favourite reads last year (new adult, ice hockey players). Us didn’t reach the same heights, but I enjoyed it.

April

More brilliance in April! This time from K.J. Charles and her Society of Gentlemen series (The ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh (novella), A fashionable indulgence, A seditious affair, A gentleman’s position). These are English historicals, and not the usual kind. There is a whole host of upheaval going on, with a dash of political activism and class conflict and of course the terrors of discovery. Oh my, this series is brilliant. It’s exquisitely researched and crafted from both a plotting and writing perspective. And each book is completely different. A must for fans of historicals.

absolutionAnother of my April favourites was Absolution by Sloane Kennedy. This was my first encounter with this author, who is a veritable machine when it comes to her publishing frequency. I’ve since read most of her books — Absolution is the first in her Protectors series, another of note is her Barretti Security series — but Absolution is probably my favourite. It’s m/m/m and deals with Jonas (an artist with a traumatic past), who is the target of hitman Mace (don’t hate him; there’s a reason), and Cole (an ex-Navy SEAL whose sister Jonas once knew). The fates of all three men intersect around a thriller-style plot, and… aw, they are so sweet together. This one works for me, because Kennedy takes the time to build the three sides of the relationship and I believed in them.

I also enjoyed Imperfect Harmony by Jay Northcote, not least because it’s set around a community choir, which reminded me of my own singing experiences of the past few years. She’s another new author for me this year, and I’ve enjoyed several of her books.


Stay tuned for Part 2: May – August reading highlights between Christmas and New Year. I’m glad I started writing this early!

If you’re interested, read my Reading Highlights from 2015 post as well.

Seven Summer Nights – Book Review

seven-summer-nightsSeven Summer Nights is another wonderful novel from Harper Fox — a complex weave of archeological and mythological mystery, the after-effects of war and post-traumatic stress, and a passionate love story.

This book filled me with wonder and fear and horror and joy as we follow the story of Rufus Denby, a celebrated archaeologist and WW2 veteran, whose PTSD and amnesia are giving him nightmares and violent blackouts, leaving his career — and his life, really — in tatters.

The first two-thirds of the novel, which is set in the summer following World War Two, are told in third-person from Rufus’s point of view (Part 1 – Into the Labyrinth). He’s broken and desperate, barely holding on, when he travels to the tiny Sussex town of Droyton Parva to take a look at its ancient church. There he meets the Reverend Archie Thorne, a most unconventional vicar who loves motorbikes and cars, and housing people who have nowhere else to go. Archie is far from the crusty religious specimen Rufus expected to encounter, and the two strike up a friendship based on Rufus’s ability to fix Archie’s Norton motorbike and Rufus’s work at the church.

Rufus’s discovery of an ancient and important artefact in the church, along with his interpretation of some of the murals, set off a chain of mystical events and archeological discovery that are simply thrilling. (Several of Harper Fox’s works involve archaeological and/or mystical themes, and they are among my favourites. For example: The Salisbury Key, the Tyack and Frayne series, even In Search of Saints.) As with all Harper Fox’s work, the setting of Droyton Parva (and its various inhabitants) is fabulously well-drawn and forms the heart of the story itself.

Woven through and around this is another plotline revolving around Rufus’s wartime experiences and a memory he has suppressed involving his deceased brother-in-law. The effect this has on Rufus’s mental health, and the pressure brought to bear on him to undergo shock therapy to retrieve the memory, plays out beautifully through part 1 until Rufus finally cracks. I particularly loved the labyrinthine theme woven through both these plotlines, which binds them together tightly.

And then, of course, there’s the beautiful, slow-burn romance between Rufus and Archie. (Although, since it happens in just ‘seven summer nights’, I guess it’s not that slow.) Rufus is about as openly gay as you could get in the 1940s — which is to say, not at all, but he has lived with a man in the past, and a few trusted people know his orientation. He starts falling for the adorable Archie almost right away, but they are hindered by general bigotry and fear of arrest if such proclivities are discovered. Needless to say, they find each other eventually and Archie’s care and compassion for poor, broken Rufus is heart-meltingly beautiful. Here, I loved the recurring use of one of W.H. Auden’s poems, quoted between Rufus and Archie.

Which brings me to Part 2 – Into the sun, comprising the final third of the novel. Having written such a masterful, tightly woven piece to the end of part 1, I can imagine the author tearing out her hair trying to figure out how the end should play out. And so we switch to Archie’s point of view, first as he charges to Rufus’s rescue, and then as the church mysteries play out.

If I’m honest, part 2 didn’t resonate with me to the extent part 1 did. It’s action-packed, dramatic and eventful… and everything is wrapped up in a satisfying conclusion. And I absolutely love the fact this labyrinthine tale curls around on itself at the very end. However, part 2 somehow lacks some of the magic of part 1. Despite being mostly in Archie’s point of view, I didn’t feel as though I got enough new depth of insight into his character — although he does prove endearingly resourceful and determined and loyal. I think, after experiencing Rufus’s painful journey in part 1, I wanted to be in his perspective as the big events played out and resolved. Rather than the tightly woven tale of part 1, part 2 events played out in more linear fashion… I think maybe the amnesia plotline got a bit too complicated for the story.

But these are minor quibbles, really. Seven Summer Nights is still a fabulous book, even if part 2 doesn’t quite stand up to the marvellousness of part 1. It’s rich in theme and history and language and complexity and character.

It has a large supporting cast of characters, all well-drawn with a part to play. And, unlike many male/male love stories, a huge number of the supporting cast are resourceful and independent women. In fact, this is another theme explored in the novel — the effect of WW2 on the role of women in Britain. Yes, there is a huge amount of stuff going on this book!

I could keep going on about all the wonderful layers in Seven Summer Nights, but it’s probably better if you just go read it. Highly recommended.

Buy at Amazon | Smashwords

Priddy’s Tale: book review

priddyPriddy’s Tale is another gorgeous love story from Harper Fox. It’s a fantastical tale about a lost young guy who lives in a Cornish lighthouse and falls in love with a merman.

I love this story so much. It’s told in a fairy tale style — which isn’t usually my thing, because I prefer a closer relationship with the characters. But Harper Fox managed to weave her magical words around me until I felt every bit of Jem Priddy’s confusion and uncertainty about his life’s direction, his yearning for Merou (the mysterious guy he ‘rescues’ from the waters), his growing conviction that his future lies somewhere else entirely.

Priddy is adorable — blond curls and blue eyes, just out of high school, and recovering from an almost fatal experience with a party drug that has left him prone to wild dreamings. His best friend Kit has gone to college without him, leaving Priddy caretaking a fully automated lighthouse for the winter. After he calls in the rescue chopper for a boat about to be wrecked on a stormy night (and where was Flynn Summers, where?), Priddy dives in to help the man swimming beside the boat, and changes his own life forever.

The beautiful man in the water is Merou, who doesn’t of course need rescuing at all, until Priddy touches him and he’s transformed… The magic of this story doesn’t lie in the mystery, though, and it’s pretty damn obvious from the start (to the reader at least) that Merou is one of the mer people.

Merou is charismatic and charming, an ancient traveller of the oceans and time. To Priddy, he’s like a prince — worldly, confident, fascinating, even if at first he seems a bit of a nutcase. (Or possibly a hallucination.) And Merou clearly desires Priddy, calling him such sweet names as ‘daisy-brained sweetheart’ (my favourite) and ‘king of the mountain’, based on the Welsh derivation of his name, ap-Ridih.

I’m trying not to re-tell the story here, but it’s hard, because it’s such a sweet gender-flip of traditional mermaid stories. Merou romances Priddy without artifice, and Priddy is swept away (at times quite literally) by his man of the sea. There’s a glorious sexy scene down at the bottom of the ocean, where we learn a little about the physiology of mermen, and Priddy learns what it would take to be with Merou forever.

There are some tense moments, mainly surrounding the introduction of a genetic scientist who wants to capture one of the mer for research purposes. But the resolution of this — and the afterward, written by a fictitious academic who also presents a foreward — is just perfect. I finished reading this long novella (short novel?) with my heart full and a smile on my face.

It’s the way this relatively simple tale is told that makes it so wonderful. It’s filled with magical and impossible things — like horses and apples from the sea, and a stranger who mysteriously knows about Priddy’s penchant for pastries — and infused with beautiful language and an abundance of ocean-themed imagery.

Like all the author’s work, Priddy’s Tale is also evocative of place — in this instance the wild and exciting south-western tip of Cornwall, where several of her books have been based. Inspired by the old Cornish folk tales, Priddy’s Tale is Harper Fox at her lyrical and beautiful best.

Here’s the Amazon link. You won’t be disappointed. I’m reading it again… and maybe re-reading some of her others as well. I just can’t get enough Harper Fox books in my life!

Three romances featuring characters with autism

It turns out that April is World Autism Awareness Month (and World Autism Awareness Day was on 2 April) and it so happens that I’ve recently read some wonderful novels featuring main characters with autism.

I know there are many important autobiographies and memoirs written by people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but I have always gravitated to fiction rather than non-fiction. If you’re like me, then I can HEARTily recommend the following m/m romance novels in which people on the autism spectrum find love and happiness.

(This is one of the things I treasure about the m/m romance genre; it tells the stories of such a diverse range of characters. Not only characters of various sexual orientations, but also characters who have conditions such as ASD and PTSD, illnesses such as depression and clinical anxiety, or who suffer from substance abuse.)

So in honour of World Autism Awareness Month, here are three novels I greatly enjoyed featuring characters with autism.

Carry the Ocean by Heidi Cullinan

carrytheoceanYet another plug for this beautiful, insightful and important book, which saw me murmuring aloud ‘This is amazing’ from pretty much the first page.

A true celebration of humanity, Carry the Ocean brings us the stories of two young men who are wide of the mean. Emmet has autism, Jeremey severe depression and anxiety. Through friendship and love and acceptance of each other, they find independence and happiness.

The world needs a book like this. A book that tells the stories of young people (any people) with autism, depression and anxiety, a book that makes us understand the obstacles they face and yet shows us how they can build friendships, fall in love, have relationships, find independence. A book that demonstrates their humanity. The fact these two boys are gay is secondary to the broader issues they each face, but brings its own challenges.

This book has changed the way I view the world, made me more tolerant, made me more understanding. It’s now squarely on my list of all time favourite books ever. I reviewed it at length here.

The publisher (Samhain) is closing down, so please please please if you’re remotely interested, please check it out right now. Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Cold Fusion by Harper Fox

Although I posted a review of this book on Amazon and Goodreads back in January, I never did post it here to the blog, so here goes:

coldfusionI jumped up and down and put my life on hold when this arrived on my kindle. Harper Fox is one of my favourite authors, and Cold Fusion doesn’t disappoint (me, anyway). Like many of her books (the best ones) it’s narrated first person with expression and imagery and depth of emotion that take my breath away.

Kier Mallory (Mal) is flawed and broken and headstrong and passionate. At times he made me furious, at times he made me weep, at times I just wanted to hug him. He is at the lowest point in his relatively young life when he meets Vivian Calder, makes a bunch of mistakes, but ultimately comes to care deeply for the awkward young particle physicist with Asperger’s. Viv is just adorable — hot, brilliant, loyal, struggling to make sense of his emotions, trying not to get killed, battling other health issues.

There’s a lot going on in this book, and it definitely put me through the wringer. It’s part thriller, part snow-bound mountain idyll, part medical drama. But even if I did wonder at times whether the book knew which genre it was going for, in the end I felt it all worked because at the very heart is the gorgeous love story between Mallory and Viv. I noticed but didn’t ultimately mind the changes in pace or a few plot contrivances and conveniences. I just wanted a happy ending (and at times I couldn’t see how I was going to get one…).

Overall, I loved the intensity of Cold Fusion, the wonderfully complex, flawed characters who transcend themselves by the end, Harper Fox’s beautiful poetic language. And, as always with Harper Fox’s books, the fabulous sense of place — in this case the northern wilds of Scotland.

This one is also published by Samhain, so be quick. Goodreads | Amazon

Light from the dark by Mercy Celeste

lightdarkMicah, a former US Marshal whose life is in tatters, takes on the job as bodyguard and head of security for reclusive ‘rich kid’, Christopher, who can’t leave his country mansion and fears there’s a plot to kill him.

What follows is part thriller (as they dodge intruders and danger), part mystery (as they try to unravel Christopher’s traumatic past, which has left him without the ability to speak and prone to strange ‘episodes’) and part romance between Micah and Chris. On top of all this, Chris is autistic, a factor which contributed to his PTSD. (Yeah, the premise is maybe far-fetched, but go with it…)

It’s been a while since I read this, so I can’t write a detailed review. But it’s exciting and passionate and heart-wrenching too. Ultimately, I love the relationship that builds between Micah and Chris, which has all the feels. Amazon

(Disclaimer: I am not in the position to judge the accuracy of the portrayals of autism in any of these books. Carry the Ocean in particular feels authentic to me, but how would I know? My feeling is that even having main characters with autism serves to raise our awareness and understanding of the condition. I do believe authors owe it to their readers to research carefully, but I remain at their mercy.)

These are three novels I happen to have read. I am sure there are many more wonderful novels out there featuring characters with autism. If you have a particular favourite, please share in the comments! (I’m not fussy as to genre, although gravitate towards fantasy and m/m romance at present.)

My thoughts on Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat

kingsrisingTo start with, I want to say the Captive Prince trilogy is now probably one of my top five fantasy series ever — just for sheer emotional power. After finishing Kings Rising (the third book, just released) last night, I feel wrung-out and satiated all at once. I’m in a post-novel fug (it’s over, I don’t want it to be over!) and I can’t put my mind to much except… this.

So I need to purge and decompress, but it’s hard to know where to start. I’m simultaneously buzzed and mopey. Aching. Restless. And more than half of me just wants to go back to the beginning and read them all again.

Damen and Laurent. Oh. My. Fucking. God.

Settle. Breathe. Write your damn review.

Kings Rising is the third book in the Captive Prince trilogy by C.S. Pacat, a Melbourne author. I reviewed the first two in the series last year — and I’m really thankful I didn’t come to them earlier and suffer the very long wait.

The basic premise of the series is this:

Instead of inheriting a kingdom when his father dies, Damen is betrayed by his half-brother and gifted as a pleasure slave to a rival nation’s crown prince, Laurent. Meanwhile, Laurent is also being manipulated out of his throne by his uncle who is regent but wants to be king. The princes start off hating each other, then over the first two books gradually build mutual respect and a deep emotional connection, based on their recognition they need each other to survive all the political and military plotting, and ultimately regain their birthrights.

Each book picks up exactly where the previous left off. Which means Kings Rising picks up just after Damen and Laurent have finally spent the night together, and Damen’s true identity as Prince Damianos, who killed Laurent’s elder brother (and hero) six years ago on the battlefield has just come to light.

(I honestly do not know why reviewers keep calling this slave m/m erotica. There is only one sex scene between them in two whole books. It’s a love story, not erotica. Is it just because it’s love between men they have to call it erotica? Gah!)

In Kings Rising, the relationship between Damen and Laurent is back on rocky ground, but they do form a political alliance and endeavour to defeat both the Regent and Damen’s bastard half-brother. There’s a cast of new supporting characters too, all of which are robust enough and play their roles.

But it’s Damen and Laurent we’re interested in; and their love will not be denied. It can overcome Laurent’s knowledge of Damen’s identity and the fact he flogged Damen nearly to death in the first book. It can even overcome the fact they’re destined to be kings of two different nations.

Each recognises he needs the other to temper strong emotions; Laurent’s intelligence and political nous complements Damen’s insightful military strategy and skill on the battlefield. Together they make a stronger whole. And because their love is so hard-won, so against all the odds, it is all the more powerful.

The challenge of meeting expectation

I confess I was, while excited, also a little apprehensive to read Kings Rising. I’ve been burnt by third books many times before, especially from debut authors. And I so desperately wanted this book to reach the heights of the preceding two — the tension, the twisting, the stakes, the deep emotional impact. I also desperately wanted the writing (from Damen’s point of view) to reflect the same elegant, sparse, yet deeply emotional style.

And as it turns out, Kings Rising is not a perfect book. The opening few chapters are a bit shaky, bumpy, especially as the author throws in the first ever chapter from Laurent’s point of view — which at this stage I did NOT want. After seeing him and knowing him through Damen’s eyes, I didn’t want to suddenly get inside his head. Not that much was revealed about him anyway. It was just a random and annoying deviation. (I am trying to forget this chapter even existed.)

But once the first few chapters were out of the way, it settled down into something reminiscent of the first two books. Damen is once again the viewpoint character, struggling to second-guess Laurent’s fierce strategising and plots within plots, trying to make the hard political decisions and temper his own headstrong nature, yearning for Laurent who has retreated emotionally.

Restrained yet emotional writing

Pacat’s writing is wonderful. It manages to convey deep emotional connection and love and fear, while being fiercely restrained. So often it’s what’s not said or thought that conveys the depth of their feelings — the reader is never in any doubt of either character’s love, even though neither once says the actual words. Their individual acts — of vulnerability or sacrifice — say all that is needed.

So on an emotional level, from the perspective of the love story, I got what I needed and wanted out of Kings Rising. Damen, charismatic and honourable and loyal, wins the heart of Laurent, whose true character is gradually revealed over the three books as he opens up to Damen and lets him inside. From cold to warm-hearted, self-serving to self-sacrificing, resentful to forgiving; but always so intelligent with the ability to be extremely ruthless when needed. He’s a truly marvellous creation and I fell for him so hard.

It even appears they will get a happy ever after… No two kings deserve it more. (Apparently there’s an epilogue coming as an addendum, for which I cannot wait.)

However, I do have to agree with many other reviewers that the last 20% of the book does fall away in terms of plausibility of plot. After 2.8 books of intricate political maneuvering, the ultimate confrontation is all resolved a bit too easily, and relies too much on luck with not enough twisting. Also, Damen is played far far far too easily — first by the Regent and then by his brother. It made me mad with him, especially as the Regent’s manipulation put Laurent in a very bad situation and any reader with half a brain was expecting the reveal leading to it.

Having said that, I did like the way the final confrontation played out based on the past actions of a cast of supporting characters from all three books — from the Regent’s poor murdered bed slave, to the thuggish guard who tried to kill both Damen and Laurent on various occasions, to the unexpected contributions of their companions. This tied up a bunch of loose ends rather neatly, and gave me the feeling the author knew what was going on the whole time.

Traditional fantasy — princes with swords

I should note also this is not fantasy for those who seek innovative worldbuilding or gender equality. On the whole, it’s a traditional male-dominated (perhaps more than normal) fantasy world, but it feels solid enough. For this series it doesn’t matter. It’s about princes with swords. C.S Pacat has admitted in interviews that it started as something she wanted to read and she listed a whole bunch of fantasy tropes to include. And there they are. Familiar doesn’t in this case mean bad.

Despite its flaws, I still love Kings Rising and think it’s a fitting conclusion to a series that’s already close to my heart. After all, for me it’s all about the characters and the emotional resonance, and I can’t fault any of that.

I’m not the first to say this, but I’m a little envious of people who still get to enjoy this for the first time. The first two do stack up well on second reading, though — I inhaled them a few days prior to Kings Rising, wanting to make sure I was fully immersed in the world and characters before I took the final journey. I’m pretty sure I’ll be re-reading this series periodically for years to come.

I’m pretty sure I’ll be thinking about Damen and Laurent a lot too.


AWW2016This is my first review for the 2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge. I’ve committed to reading six books and reviewing four, although I’ll endeavour to read and review more.

The year of getting stuff done

Today has been an exercise in self control. A novel for which I’ve been waiting waiting waiting has been released — Kings Rising, the conclusion to CS Pacat’s Captive Prince fantasy trilogy is now available. In fact, it is already sitting on my kindle.

But I promised myself that February (i.e. this week) marked the start of “The year of getting stuff done”. It’s a year when I’m going to get off my a$$ and take control of my life. Things to do… places to see… health to prioritise… And all that.

And I need to take control, because for the past year I’ve been… distracted.

It’s not that 2015 was a bad year. It was a pretty great year, actually. I kicked a lot of goals — plenty of singing, plenty of writing, regular D&D with friends. Not to mention the trip of a lifetime to Mongolia!

But I’m also very aware that there are parts of my life I’ve let slide. I haven’t achieved nearly as much I’d have liked to, and I need that to change. I need to be less distracted. Or maybe the word is consumed.

The issue? It is, I’m afraid, too much reading. Overall, I’m delighted I’ve kicked my TV habit in favour of books, but I have to acknowledge I’ve taken this reading thing a bit too far.

For example:

Reading all night and right through the next day. OK, I only did that once, but I saw 7am from the wrong side several times. When I hear the birds start singing and light breach the cracks in the holland blind… yikes.

Finishing a book at 3:30am and heading straight to Amazon to one-click the next book in the series.

Not wanting to socialise… if my friends only knew how many times I dragged myself to a social engagement when all I wanted to do was stay home with my kindle.

Blowing off entire half days (when I’m supposed to be working) in order to read. This working from home gig requires discipline!

I’m serious.

Yep.

I’ve been completely consumed by reading reading reading. It’s been read/eat/read/work/read/write… Every spare moment of every day has been spent on the couch. When not immersed in a book, I’ve been at best only half present, thinking about when I get to switch on my kindle again. It’s like I’ve been submerged in a poppy haze.

Plus I’ve kidded myself into thinking I can exist on around 4 hours sleep a night. Unfortunately, I’m a slow reader. And the more emotionally engaged I get with a book, the slower I go. I like to immerse myself and savour. So I end up reading for a lot of hours. I reckon at some stages of last year (and this past month) I’ve been averaging 8 hours of reading a day. Do the math.

So step one is recognising I have a problem, right? This reading thing has become a habit I need to break. Like too much chocolate.

Imagine how much more I’ll achieve if I simply halve my reading time? Sleep, for one thing. More regular and intensive exercise. Maybe I’ll get on top of the housework. Or my jungle of a garden.

And then there are of course my creative goals. Although I have pressed on with my novel in the past year, imagine how much more I’d have done if I channelled some of those reading hours into writing?

And wouldn’t it be nice if I could sit down and actually write all the blog posts I have buzzing around my head? (So much more to share about Mongolia…)

All this is why I have resisted closeting myself with Kings Rising today. Why I am spending this evening with my laptop instead of my kindle. It’s about kicking my habit.

Already I feel less foggy. It’s only day 3 and I’m going OK. I’m not feeling too twitchy. Not that I’m giving reading up all together. I’ve simply set myself some limits.

It’s going to be a good year. Better sleeping habits and exercise are high on the agenda — I want to be fitter and more highly energised. Improved brain activity. All the good stuff.

I’m striving for greater productivity all round. No more making do with the bare minimum. It’s time to take back control and create, rather than consume.

That’s the end of my confession. I did enjoy last year. A lot. But I’m going to enjoy this one even more.

Reading highlights from 2015

Well. Another year of obsessive reading. In fact MORE obsessive reading than the previous year. Did I say I was going to ease back?

In the past year, I read 128 new novels/novellas, again mainly in the m/m romance genre. This is more than twice as many books as 2014.

It was a year when I madly one-clicked based on Amazon algorithms and recommendations, a year when my obsession with certain series saw me blowing off work on more than one occasion, a year when I probably didn’t get enough sleep. On one particular Saturday night I didn’t actually sleep at all.

Although I didn’t blog monthly about books as I did in 2014, I did keep a record of everything I read and re-read, which is enabling me to write this round-up of another year in reading…

Five favourite reads of 2015

carrytheoceanCarry the Ocean by Heidi Cullinan — This book saw me murmuring aloud ‘This is amazing’ from pretty much the first page. A true celebration of humanity, Carry the Ocean brings us the stories of two young men who are wide of the mean. One has autism, the other severe depression and anxiety. Through friendship and love and acceptance of each other, they find independence and happiness. This is such a beautiful and insightful and important book. I reviewed it at length last month.

floodWaiting for the Flood by Alexis Hall — This is a gorgeous gentle m/m romance (novella), which I loved for many reasons, not least the literary prose and the fact that one of the main characters is an environmental engineer. It takes place over one day as flood waters rise in an Oxford street, while people run around laying sandbags. It covers topics like game theory and book restoration and just feels so real. I always planned to review it properly, but didn’t get around to it. Sorry.

crossroadsCrossroads by Riley Hart — Two straight men move into houses next door to each other, become mates and fall in love. Sounds far-fetched, right? But oh my it works. I love the way their relationship unfolds — it feels so very natural, and the challenges they face as they come to terms with their own self-identities and the reactions of their respective families. I just want to keep re-reading it! (And I absolutely love the cover for this one.)

captive princeCaptive Prince/Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat — A prince is betrayed and sold as a slave to the prince of a neighbouring and hostile nation. These character-driven fantasy books encompass international politics, court conspiracies, reluctant alliances, army maneuvering — all wrapped up in the complex and slowly developing relationship between the two princes. In my view, these need to be read and considered together. I love the characterisation and am hanging out for book 3, which is due out in February. (Thank all the gods.) I reviewed these at length for the Australian Women Writers Challenge in September.

The best man by L.A. Witt — I’m not sure exactly why, but this is another book I just want to keep re-reading. Jon’s ex-boyfriend has gone straight and wants Jon to be the best man at his wedding. Naturally he’s having trouble dealing with this — and moving past the relationship. He meets bartender Liam for his first post-relationship hook-up, but then they keep hooking up and end up dating. Except Liam’s noxious ex isn’t quite out of the picture and creates havoc… I guess I just like Jon and Liam together.

Favourite authors of 2015

Harper Fox — In 2014, it was all about Harper Fox, whose books I still love. Thank heavens she published a few more in 2015, including Last Line 2 (a slice of supernatural and espionage), Guardians of the Haunted Moor (Tyack and Frayne mystery #5), and Marty and the Pilot. (I re-read several others too!)

Josh Lanyon — After reading a few Lanyon books in 2014, I started working through his backlist in 2015. I read a total of nine, with my favourites being Strange Fortune (fantasy quest) and Winter Kill (serial killers in Oregon). Josh Lanyon’s crime novels in particular are really good.

Alexis Hall — In addition to Waiting for the flood, I read and loved For Real (world weary sub meets eager young dom) and the acclaimed Glitterland. I’m a huge fan of Alexis Hall’s literary writing, although I haven’t read the acclaimed Prosperity series yet.

Mercy Celeste — I first stumbled upon the fabulous Light from the Dark (autistic reclusive genius who can’t talk gets bodyguard), which prompted me to read Behind Iron Lace, Out of the Blues and Let it go (among others). One of my favourite indie author discoveries for the year. Her books are fairly angst-ridden, especially Let it go.

Heidi Cullinan — Another great discovery. I read 11 Cullinan novels, including the afore-mentioned, wonderful Carry the Ocean. Other highlights were Nowhere Ranch and the ‘Special Delivery’ series. It should be mentioned that Carry the Ocean is on a different plane to the others, which are still great, albeit rather kinky!

Riley Hart — Another of my big finds for the year. In addition to Crossroads, I enjoyed the Blackcreek series (especially #1 Collide) and the ‘Broken Pieces’ series (tasteful m/m/m and some kink).

N.R. Walker — An Australian author! I reviewed Walker’s ‘Red Dirt Heart’ series for the AWW Challenge, plus read the first two of her ‘Cronin’s Key’ (urban fantasy) series as well.

L.A. Witt — In addition to The best man, I read and enjoyed several others (six in total), including Conduct Unbecoming (forbidden love between officer and enlisted marine on Okinawa) Changing Plans (Hawaii!) and What he left behind (more tasteful m/m/m).

Alexa Land — Land’s ‘Firsts and Forever’ series (10 books and counting) is wonderfully fun and just kept sucking me in, one after the other. Her paranormal series (Tinder Chronicles and Feral) is not bad either.

K.J. Charles — This hugely popular m/m author is inexplicably a bit hit and miss for me. But I’m loving her Regency m/m series ‘The Society of Gentleman’.

Keira Andrews — Right at the end of the year I picked up Semper Fi (post WW2 historical about former army comrades in love) and Kick at the darkness (more or less a zombie apocalypse romp plus werewolf that sounds ridiculous, but was loads of fun).

Other books I loved in 2015 (not covered in author list)

  • Karen Joy Fowler — We are all completely beside ourselves (critically acclaimed novel about family, animal wellfare, ethics & psychology)
  • Juliet Mariller — Dreamer’s Pool (straight fantasy, reviewed for AWW)
  • Liv Rancourt — The secret of obedience (see my review)
  • Megan Erickson — Trust the Focus and Focus on me (boys on road trips with plenty of angst)
  • Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy — Him (boys and hockey!)
  • Leta Blake and Indra Vaughn — Vespertine (celibate priest reunites with recovering drug addict rock star… heart-wrenching)
  • Santino Hassell – Sutphin Boulevard (deals with alcoholism… gut-wrenching)
  • Elin Gregory — On a lee shore (historical romp with pirates!)
  • Amy Lane – Clear Water (environmental scientists at work!)
  • R.G. Alexander — Curious (best friends to lovers with a bit of kink)

Tempted to try m/m?

If you’re a little bit intrigued by my recent reading adventures and wondering where to start on your m/m journey, here are my recommendations:

  • Everyone should read Carry the Ocean (Heidi Cullinan) just because it’s amazing. It’s much bigger than the love story.
  • If exquisiteness of writing and a more literary style is your thing, try either Waiting for the flood or Glitterland by Alexis Hall.
  • If you love lyricism, place and imagery, try Scrap Metal by Harper Fox. Or the popular Tyack and Frayne (supernatural/crime) series, commencing with Once upon a haunted moor.
  • If you like mainstream crime/mystery with a side of romance, and not very explicit sex scenes, try Josh Lanyon’s Winter Kill or Stranger on the shore.
  • If you love romance series with hilarity, a fair bit of depth and a large cast of characters, try Alexa Land’s Firsts and Forever series, starting with Way off plan.
  • If you like historical romance, try Think of England or A fashionable indulgence by K.J. Charles. Or Joanna Chambers’ Enlightenment series, starting with Provoked.

Other good books to start with would be

  • Crossroads (Riley Hart)
  • Smoky Mountain Dreams (Leta Blake) — it’s long at over 400p, but so worth it. One of my favourites from 2014.

All right, time to stop… Thus ends my overview of 2015 reading. My mission for 2016 will be to read a bit more diversely, especially in the fantasy genre. I also spent far too much time reading in 2015 and I really do need to pull myself back. (Oh, the irony!)

I intend to sign up for the Australian Women Writers challenge again too. Although I only posted three reviews last year, they covered seven books, so I’m going consider that as meeting my quota of four books reviewed. I’m also pretty sure I already know what the first two AWW reviews for 2016 are going to be!

Book review: Carry the Ocean by Heidi Cullinan

carrytheoceanAbout a month ago, everyone I spoke to on a particular Saturday copped an earful about the book I was at that time reading — Carry the Ocean, by Heidi Cullinan. I was about half way through, and teeming with emotion about it. I found myself reading with tears in my eyes and the words ‘this is so amazing’ caught in my throat.

A few times, I think I even told my cat how incredible the book is.

On listening to me rave about it, those who know me well would ask, “Is this another of those books you’ve been reading?” (referring to male/male romances). At which I point I would have to admit the book was about a male/male relationship, BUT… Even if that’s not your thing, I think it’s a book everyone needs to read, because it feels so important.

Carry the Ocean is a new adult ‘coming of age’ story about two special young men. Emmett, 19, is a highly intelligent computer science/maths student, passionate about trains and numbers, and has autism spectrum disorder. He narrates half the story and tells us frankly about his autism and the ‘octopus in his head’ and how he has to remember what facial expressions mean, because he can’t read them. He explains why he rocks and hums and flaps his hands, why he finds it incredibly difficult to look people in the eyes, and… well, everything he can think of about the way he sees the world. Emmett gives us an insight into the condition that is ASD, while making sure we understand everyone on the spectrum is different. He embraces his ‘superpowers’ and accepts his differences from those ‘on the mean’.

Emmett also has a major desperate crush on Jeremey, the boy over the back fence, who he hasn’t even met yet. Jeremey, 18, has severe depressive disorder and clinical anxiety. He narrates the other half the story (in alternating chapters), providing insight into his mental illnesses, which are initially untreated because his parents are gits with their heads in the sand. In his own words, he’s a mess. He can’t go into a retail store any larger than a small cooperative without a panic attack. He’s so depressed and anxious that he can barely function half the time. The way he describes his mental state at his darkest times is sobering and devastating and gut-wrenching.

One of my favourite scenes comes near the start, when Emmett gathers the courage to introduce himself to Jeremey. He’s told us all about Jeremey in the opening chapter, about how he’s rehearsed what he’s going to say when they meet, how important the moment is to him. Then we get their actual meeting from Jeremey’s point of view, and we come to understand how Emmett comes across to those not in his head. I literally wept while reading that scene (and while writing about it now, a month later), because of its awkwardness, because of Emmett’s caring for Jeremey when he freaks out, because of Jeremey’s willingness to overcome his freak out and see Emmett for the person he is. (Need. Tissues. Now.)

I could go on and on about this book. The growth of friendship and trust and love between the two is beautiful. Emmett in particular is so strong, so insightful, so caring — all wrapped up with his autism. His autism is an enormous part of who is he is, but it doesn’t for one minute define him. Jeremey, in fact, has a much greater struggle to deal with life, largely because he doesn’t have the family support, but also because his mental illnesses have gone untreated for so long.

Emmett really is Jeremey’s saviour, but they both wholeheartedly accept each other for who they are. If one of them is incapable of speech for whatever reason, they text each other, sitting side by side. Or use sign language. This happens quite a lot.

The world needs a book like this. A book that tells the stories of young people (any people) with autism, depression and anxiety, a book that makes us understand the obstacles they face and yet shows us how they can build friendships, fall in love, have relationships, find independence. A book that demonstrates their humanity. The fact these two boys are gay is secondary to the broader issues they each face, but brings its own challenges.

I know Carry the Ocean is only fiction, but I am so thrilled Emmett and Jeremey found each other.

This book has changed the way I view the world, made me more tolerant, made me more understanding. The next one in the series is to be a het romance for Emmett and Jeremey’s friend David, who is a wheelchair-bound paraplegic. Kudos to Heidi Cullinan for writing love stories about these minority groups with flare, grace and compassion.

I am now a book evangelist for Carry the Ocean. Go grab it right now!

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository (paperback)