2014, and the joy of books
This was a year of ups and downs, of personal and family challenges, of professional successes and failures in both writing and real life.
I published some stories I’m proud of. The Family We Make includes my favorite secondary character so far, in big brother Sam. Laser Visions was my first published SciFi and a fun chance to write for a challenging prompt. Being asked to contribute to the Another Place in Time anthology alongside some of my own favorite writers was a wonderful ego boost.
Some of the stories I’d meant to get to didn’t quite happen. The sequel to The Rebuilding Year, titled Life, Some Assembly Required is in editing for submission, almost ready to send but moving slower than I planned. The sequel to Full Circle is barely started, and although I haven’t given up all hope of making Second Act available before the New Year hits, I’m clearly down to the wire. But 2015 is another year, and the words keep coming.
I read some great books this year. My 4.5 to 5-star reads from the past year include:
A Case of Possession, A Flight of Magpies and Feast of Stephen by K.J.Charles – I loved the first book in this paranormal historical series last year, and the sequels kept the same high standards. Wonderful characters, great snarky dialogue, heat and plot and excellent supporting characters add up to all I could want in a series.
Think of England also by K.J. Charles – a historical without the paranormal elements, but just as good if not better. Curtis is bluff, conventional and almost slow. Daniel Da Silva is slippery and clever and mocking. And yet as they come together, it’s electric and unforgettable. I’m eagerly awaiting a sequel to this, even if it is scheduled for 2016! In the meantime, I’ve added a new favorite author to my auto-buy list.
The Butterfly King by Edmond Manning is the third installment in his “Lost and Founds” series, and perhaps the best yet, as the stunning 4.80 average rating on Goodreads attests. This series has to be experienced, a roller-coaster of emotion and imagination that has several books yet to go and yet delivers an amazing read in each installment. About love, loss and growth, about understanding and trust, these books are not yet HEA, but will pull you in and make you feel every bump in the road of Vin Vanbly, master manipulator and Lost King.
Shaking the Sugar Tree by Nick Wilgus – a refreshing mix of the crazy, the honest, the wildly inappropriate and the deep sweetness of love, and less a romance than a book about the love of a father for his child. This book broke the mold, and for all the surface humor, had some of the most heart-twisting pain at its depths. I’m hoping for a sequel here too.
Fearless, a bittersweet YA story by Chris O’Guinn is as painful and engaging as his previous book, Exiled to Iowa; Send Help and Couture was light and funny. A well-written, emotional YA coming of age story, with just a bit of romance.
The second and third books in Michael Metzger’s Vivaldi in the Dark series also released, completing a YA to NA series with a wonderfully-drawn depiction of love and clinical depression and the resulting challenges faced by two young men.
Mark Cooper Versus America by Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock was another standout. The story offeres great characters in Mark, the brash Aussie freshman, and Deacon, the serious American student. There is a sweet romance, a bit of kink, a culture clash, and an examination of the flaws of the fraternity system as a culture of wealth and privilege. And somehow, it’s all written in a way beautifully judged to have humor, emotion, and insight, without melodrama. A definite reread.
Don’t Let Go took Harper Fox’s Tyack and Frayne paranormal mysteries into the 5-star range for me; Gideon Frayne, the village police officer, and Lee Tyack, psychic and performer, encounter stresses and challenges as they share a home and a life. I loved these guys more with each installment, and Fox is an auto-buy author for me.
My Heartache Cowboy and My Cowboy Homecoming by Z.A. Maxfield added to what has become perhaps my favorite Western M/M series. There is delicious hurt-comfort, and each book took a turn or two that were not the path most travelled, and which elevated the story beyond the mundane tropes of the genre.
Joanna Chambers’ historical Enlightenment series wound up with the third book, Enlightened – this whole series hit a sweet spot for me, slow moving with a lot of social commentary and color, and sexual and romantic tension all the way through to the happy ending.
Stories Beneath Our Skin by Veronica Sloane had a slow, plausible feel. There were emotional moments, and pasts with pain in them, but no over-angsty or over-sugary relationships. The end wraps nicely, but not too cleanly, and life goes on. There are some great secondary characters and interactions, and the intersection of tattoos and poetry.
Recovery by Con Riley was more a book about love, in all its forms, than a pure romance. Although Jamie does meet his (wonderful) man in Daniel, the story has a lot of hurt-comfort front and center, even in their relationship. The family relationships, with deep, fractured and stressed love layered over pain, were wonderful to watch. The alcoholism, and the way it lies in wait, trying to ambush Jamie when he hits a low point, was very well done. The themes of recovering from your past, rising above childhood deprivation, and later abuse, tug at the heart in a realistic way.
Julie Bozza’s knack for writing lovely, warm relationships that are not saccharine or simple came out in her M/M/M book A Threefold Cord. This is a slow building of love and trust, with obstacles that are real, never too big or angsty, but fitting for the story. It’s a smooth ride, with three great main characters and a sweet ending.
This was the year I read Marshall Thornton’s Boystown mysteries, with their evocative depiction of the end of an era. From the first book, with Nick as a sex-loving PI in the pre-AIDS 1980’s, to the sixth where the virus is upon the gay community of Chicago, these books breathe the era they are set in. The cases serve more as a very good framework for the progression of Nick as a man, through sex and love, gain and loss, and for the exposition of a time and place that would change, drastically, in a very short span of time.
Assimilation, Love and Other Human Oddities continues the Lyn Gala saga of Ondry, an alien with a deep protective love for his human and a steel-trap mind for profit. Imaginative, exciting, and unique, this is a series for all lovers of SciFi with gay characters. More than any other, this author has made me believe in a cross-species relationship that truly has a core of love and desire, with an alien who is not just a human with body paint and resculpted ears.
I’m amazed to realize these are not all of my Year’s Best. It’s good to look back, and be reminded that for all its challenges, this was a year with some wonderful reading in it. Books have been my joy and my solace again this year. I’m grateful to all the writers who gave me so many excellent hours between the pages of their stories.
I’m also grateful to all the readers who took the time to pick up my own books, especially those who commented and reviewed, who engaged my work at any level, whether they liked it or critiqued it. One of the best things I know is to have other people use their valuable time to become involved with my guys. I love seeing the men who once lived only in my head matter to other people. A few reviews stand out. I had the pleasure of seeing “Yours was my first ever M/M, and now I’m hooked” and “I now think everyone should have the right to marry the person they love, even if they are both men, because they love each other just like we do.” I had messages from readers for whom my own stories provided the comfort that I got from the books I listed above. I love this genre.
Best wishes to all of you for a peaceful, interesting and prosperous 2015. May you find good reading, meaningful work, and people to care for. And may we all help to make the world a better place.
I don’t make resolutions, but I’ll leave you with a list of goals, borrowed from the lovely lady who stepped up to help with my YA LGBT Books Group in the coming year, Mel. Thank you Mel!
(And yeah, there’s no “F” – it’s still a great list. Find reasons to smile. Happy New Year.)