male/male romance

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…)


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.


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!


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.


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 Marian series. Borrowing Blue and Taming Teddy were swiftly followed by Jumping Jude. Each book is completely different, but each features one of the Marian 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 Marian, 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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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

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)


Book launch & review: The Secret of Obedience

Happy book birthday to my friend, Liv Rancourt, whose m/m novella The Secret of Obedience launches today. I was lucky enough to read an ARC and it’s wonderful…

My review:

obedienceThis exquisite little novella packs a solid punch of sass and feels. I love the frank narrative voice of Ronnie, “gay country boy” and ex-footballer, who acknowledges his naivety but goes the hell after what he wants. And that’s the sassy, eyeliner-and-lipgloss-wearing Sang — elusive, effervescent, Ronnie’s own “freaky, funky beauty”, who gives his “sugar cookie” a run for his money.

The language in this novella is wonderful. Liv has totally nailed her descriptions with witty images and clever details that are just spot on. And the banter between all the characters is saucy and honest and very real. The naughty scenes are hot and written at just the right level, and there’s no mistaking the depth and growth of feeling Ronnie and Sang have for each other across only 40 pages. Normally I find this length too short for strong character/emotional development, but not here.

There’s also a couple of well-drawn supporting characters, and a nod to the Washington state Referendum 74 to approve or reject the February 2012 bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

Overall the novella is a really neat little package with depth and diversity and satisfying levels of emotional intensity. The “secret” aspect of the title isn’t all that difficult to pick, but this is not a mystery story, so who cares. It’s about love and acceptance and fighting for what you want — and quirky fashion.

I love this one rather a lot. Highly recommended for m/m (in fact all romance) fans!

Official blurb:

Ronnie Durand is a country boy who transfers to the University of Washington after two years at Central. He’ll have to give up playing football, though finishing his education at a major university in Seattle — and being out and proud without having to look over his shoulder — makes the sacrifice worthwhile.

But finding friends at a huge school is tough, especially when the hottest guy Ronnie meets makes him doubt his own sanity.

Sang’s been on his own a long time. He’s only a couple steps away from living on the street, and he’s got dreams so big they don’t leave space for a steady boyfriend. Then he meets Ronnie, who just might be strong enough to break through his barriers… as long as Sang lets him in on one big secret.

Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Book review: Red Dirt Heart sequence by N.R. Walker

aww-badge-2015-200x300Once again celebrating Australian Women Writers, today’s review is focused on the Red Dirt Heart sequence from N.R. Walker. It comprises four m/m romance novels set on a massive cattle station in the Northern Territory (north-east of Alice Springs), and deals primarily with themes of ‘being gay in outback Australia’ and family.

I love this series, warts and all. It’s a marvellous depiction of what life on a cattle station might be like — the heat, the dust, the animals, the isolation. There’s plenty of horseriding, cattle droving, bore-fixing, akubras (hats) and RM Williams riding boots. And lots and lots of love — of various kinds.

Charlie Sutton is the 25 yo owner of Sutton Station, having inherited on the death of his father a few years earlier. He loves his station and excels at running it, but he doesn’t realise how lonely he is until Travis rocks up from Texas for a four-week stint of work experience.

The first three books are all told in Charlie’s engaging and very distinct voice, as he tries to find love and hold himself and everyone around him together. He’s an over-thinker and a worrier when it comes to relationships, and tends to bottle things up and convince himself the worst is going to happen. Travis, who is even-tempered, positive, and communicative, balances him out beautifully.

Red Dirt Heart (the first book) takes place over the four weeks of Travis’s original placement. Charlie knows right away he’s in trouble, and he has no idea how to handle it. But love for these two happens swiftly (once Charlie gets his act together) and powerfully. There are plenty of issues to work through, but the actions of both men speak volumes. It will come as no surprise to know that at the end Travis stays on in Australia.

Red Dirt Heart 2 picks up the crew at Sutton Station about six months later. There’s Charlie and Travis of course, but also Charlie’s substitute parents George (his foreman) and Ma (cook and general mother figure), and his various station hands. There’s also a pet baby kangaroo called Matilda. In this installment, Charlie still needs to deal with his inner angsting, much of which is derived from the fear of people outside the station finding out he’s gay. And then there’s the Australian immigration officials threatening to deport Travis for overstaying his temporary working visa… Overall it’s a worthy followup to the first, with Charlie learning how to verbalise his feelings and growing to accept himself.

In Red Dirt Heart 3, Charlie has to deal with a host of new issues — including a loved one’s illness, a family bombshell and an attention-demanding baby wombat… Not to mention he is running for the board of the beef farmers association, and trying to finish his degree by correspondence. And then Travis needs to go home to Texas for his own personal reasons, and Charlie isn’t sure how to do any of that without him. This installment once again puts Charlie and Travis through the ringer, and they emerge stronger than ever.

Despite all Charlie’s hapless attempts to tear him and Travis apart through these three books, they are the real forever deal, and I just want to hug them. Travis, always the steadying influence, tempers Charlie’s strong emotions, and his quiet unconditional support gives Charlie extra confidence to shine.

When it comes to Red Dirt Heart 4, I have mixed feelings. It’s told from Travis’s perspective, and although I adore Travis, this book just lacks narrative drive. It’s more a series of anecdotes with some dramatic moments, but ultimately there is no overall story arc. It’s interesting to see Charlie through Travis’s eyes, but it comes at a time when their relationship is solid as a rock. There’s little conflict between them, and thus ultimately no drama. Nor does Travis have any agency. He just floats along with his world revolving around Charlie.

BUT after reading (and hopefully loving) the first three, you kinda still have to read this one, because it does take them further in terms of their commitment to each other, and Travis takes Charlie home to meet his parents in Texas. You can’t just miss this. And then there’s the rather lengthy epilogue, which sketches in their life afterwards for years and years… And you can’t miss that either. After three books, my investment in Charlie and Travis was sufficient to pull me through the fourth.

I also mentioned family is a strong theme across all books. Travis is close to his large family, and has to deal with being far away. Charlie, on the other hand, starts off with serious issues surrounding his relationship with his dead father, which Travis helps him work through. Later, he is confronted with other family members hitherto absent, and finds happiness in forging new relationships. The books also explore the differences between blood relatives and the ‘family’ at Sutton Station.

There’s so much more I could mention: Charlie’s wonderful relationship with his horse Shelby, the antics of Nugget the baby wombat, banter on Australian v American colloquialisms, nights in a swag under the Australian night sky… but I guess I’d better stop.

Finally, I need to point out that these books (which are self-published) could have done with a good edit and proof-read. There are careless timing issues on occasion, which pulled me out on occasion. And there are numerous words either extraneous or missing. The prose is rather rough around the edges, but that’s Charlie’s voice and I can buy that. But an experienced nip and tuck would not have gone astray.

Nonetheless, I do love the emotion and heart infused in these books. And they feel really Australian — even if it’s not a part of Australia I’m very familiar with. But they make me want to go and visit our red centre again. And I’ve never been to a cattle station.

Here’s the link to Red Dirt Heart on Amazon or check out the books on the author’s website here.

Review of Captive Prince and Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat

aww-badge-2015-200x300Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat leapt to the top of my to-be-read pile the instant I heard about it last weekend, because it ticks three of my current preferred boxes: It’s a secondary world fantasy, written by an Australian woman (meaning I can review it for the Australian Women Writers challenge), and it’s centred on a male/male relationship (yep, I’m still on that train). I’ve rarely one-clicked so fast.

The story behind it is pretty awesome too. The author originally published the book/s in serial format on her blog, garnered a worldwide following, and was then picked up by Penguin for a fantasy trilogy. The first two books — Captive Prince and Prince’s Gambit — were published in March 2014, while the third — Kings Rising — comes out in February 2016. (Waiting, waiting, waiting…)

I’m talking about both Captive Prince and Prince’s Gambit in this review, because in my opinion it’s one continuous story. It seems pretty obvious the publishers have taken one 600p novel and split it at a fairly major turning point — meaning this is a two-book commitment. Do not finish the first book without having the second no more than a click away. You have been warned.

Captive Prince is based on a fairly familiar premise: Prince Damen is betrayed by his half-brother and gifted as a pleasure slave to a rival nation’s crown prince, Laurent. Damen is a noble-hearted and charismatic young man, a legendary warrior at just 25, accustomed to having his own bed-slaves. (He’s probably a bit too perfect, really.) The story is told entirely from his point of view, and focuses initially on him trying to deal with his situation, conceal his true identity, and escape back to his homeland.

Thwarting him in this is Laurent, the 20-year old crown prince, whose throne is occupied by his uncle as Regent. Seen through Damen’s eyes, Laurent is beautiful, coldly controlled, wildly intelligent. His hatred of Damen’s people is palpable, and he treats Damen maliciously. But very gradually the two start to develop mutual respect (of sorts) and trust (of sorts) as it becomes clear they need to work together to survive the machiavellian plotting in the Regent’s court.

Laurent is a fascinatingly complex character, made all the more mysterious by the fact we don’t get inside his head. By the end of the second book, Damen understands him better than just about anyone, but Laurent’s cold control, vicious anger, and his ability to scheme and plan ahead still repeatedly astonishes Damen.

Not that Damen is an open book himself. Even though it’s told from a tight 3rd person point of view, Damen still manages to keep his cards close to his chest — in fact, that aspect of the writing is wonderful. Pacat keeps the internal angst to a minimum, but still the reader has a pretty clear idea of Damen’s true emotions and motivations. And also when he’s lying to himself.

This is not a “Stockholm Syndrome” story. It really isn’t. A huge part of the novels is the relationship between Damen and Laurent, but I wouldn’t call it a ‘romance’. These are two men on opposite sides of a very real conflict and that takes precedence for much of the time. By the end of the first book they haven’t even developed a friendship, and there is little intimacy between them until late in the second book.

But, yes, they ultimately do fall for each other. Having said that, their relationship is very far from resolved by the end of Prince’s Gambit. (Waiting, waiting, waiting…)

The secondary world of the Captive Prince books is a fairly familiar one. There are kings and princes and armies and castles and mountains and fields and brothels and courtiers and pleasure slaves… One aspect that is a little different, however, is the attitude to same-sex pairings. In the cultures of both men it’s widely accepted and Damen thinks nothing of swinging both ways (although claims to prefer women).

In Laurent’s culture, on the other hand, same-sex coupling is more common than hetero relationships — among the nobility at least — the reason being that children born out of wedlock are taboo. I actually couldn’t figure out at what point it became socially acceptable for men and women to sleep together.

I should also mention that one or two of the “performance” slave sex scenes were non-consensual (or had the appearance of it least) and this could be triggery for some people. On the whole, though, there is not really a lot of sex in these books, despite the society’s fixation on it.

Even though it’s a bit of a cookie-cutter world, the story is still intriguing and the characters fabulously drawn. Captive Prince (first book) is set almost solely in the court of Laurent and the Regent. It’s very much setting the scene for various relationships — including between Laurent and his uncle — and involves a fair bit of politicking among the court. But I have to say it doesn’t hold on its own as a novel. It was easy to read and fairly fast-paced, but absolutely nothing resolves.

Prince’s Gambit picks up exactly where Captive Prince left off — and here the story opens up and out and gets so much better. Not only is the story no longer confined to the palace, as Laurent heads off with a small force to man the border, but there is a greater array of characters and simply more going on. Laurent and Damen’s extremely complex relationship is finally allowed to develop as well (and I don’t necessarily mean in a romantic way), and it’s beautifully done.

The overarching story in Prince’s Gambit has Damen helping Laurent thwart a sinister plot and attempt to prevent war between their two nations, after which Damen intends to simply leave and return home. Both Laurent’s and Damen’s characters unfold in interesting ways, and there are plenty of plot twists and turns leading up to some dramatic military action — and the scene where Damen and Laurent are finally intimate is heart-stopping.

But each still has kept secrets from the other and things are about to unravel badly at the close of Prince’s Gambit, which ends on something of a cliffhanger. (Waiting, waiting, waiting…)

I don’t actually have much to quibble about with these books. At the moment, a lot of Laurent’s actions and hangups are still unexplained, but I hope the third book will provide insights into these. I also think it’s difficult to consider Captive Prince in isolation; it lays critical foundations and is a great read, but really does need the second part to be satisfying.

On the whole, these books as a pair get the big thumbs up from me. I felt emotionally invested in both characters and am desperate to read Kings Rising. There is still a huge amount of story to unfold as both princes reclaim their birthrights — and of course figure out their relationship with each other. Which isn’t going to be easy, given their respective identities and responsibilities. This may well turn out to be one of the great fantasy love stories…

I really like the combination of ‘grand fantasy epic’, with nations and kings and political machinations and battles, and the intensely personal. I will almost certainly read them again before the third is out next year, because the character relationships are so finely nuanced. I love that. My recommendation would be to buy them now (so you don’t forget), but wait until the third is out before you read them!

Side note: Last year I read the Song of the Fallen (Counterpoint and Crescendo — by Rachel Haimowitz), which is based on a very similar premise — although unfolds very differently. I enjoyed these a lot as well and I talked a little about them in my ‘What I read in November‘ post from last year.

What I read in December

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

hauntedThis 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:

knighterrantKnight 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

wolfhallImagine 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

training seasonFollowing 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.