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Favorite books of 2018

December 29, 2018

One good thing about the end of each year is the excuse to look back over all the new books I’ve read and see how many have become favorites. I’d like to salute 10 books that were special finds this year, worth rereading and savoring. I can’t fit in all of my 5-star reads, let alone all the 4+ good ones, but these are some of the books I’d love to see find a bigger audience. (I’ve included AZ links for simplicity, with apologies to those who shop elsewhere.)

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I want to start with a trio from one of my very favorite authors.
Matthew J. Metzger writes a wide range of books, from YA to powerful BDSM, some with transgender characters (own voices.) I want to particularly mention three that feature trans guys and pregnancy. While there’s a plethora of MPreg stories with paranormal or magical or SciFi versions of male pregnancy (ranging from intriguing and imaginative to ridiculous), we have not had many books featuring the highly relevant topic of actual trans guy pregnancies. These books help begin to fill that gap. If you’re already a fan, I recommend reading in the order of pregnancy. If the author is not familiar, the third book – Erik the Pink – is probably the easiest introduction to Metzger’s snarky, sweet, irritable, loving, complicated guys.

Married Ones * Mike and Stephen have been together for nine years, married for four. They’re spending an unseasonably hot UK summer going to a spate of weddings, from the stiff, mannered affair of Stephen’s twin sister amid his very disapproving family, to the warm, casual one of Mike’s mother’s second marriage. As they move through the iterations of love and romance for people around them, they’re waiting on an event they hope will change their lives.

This is the subtle beginning of the road, where a man you come to realize is trans is taking that chance to give them a child they both want, if it works out. These guys bicker and insult each other, and claim the other is only good for sex, or as a foot warmer on cold nights. Both teachers, they each deride the other’s specialty, and tastes in leisure activities. But under the banter there is no doubt this relationship is rock solid. And the almost-unacknowledged hope lingers under it all.
*AZ: https://www.amazon.com/Married-Ones-Matthew-J-Metzger-ebook/dp/B07FCJ4DKV/
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Bump * Here we have David, a gay trans veterinarian who becomes pregnant after sex with his loving partner although, unlike in the other two stories, David did not take this step on purpose. He always vaguely wanted children, and they’ve begun discussing adoption, but he isn’t at a point in his life where a pregnancy comes as anything but a very unwanted surprise.

And yet… they’d already been hoping to fit children into their life. Both of them love kids. Ryan, David’s partner, may be in a wheelchair with health issues, but he’s a strong capable guy and would be a great father. This is the story of a man desperately torn between two vital needs – the child he always wanted, shared with his loving partner, and his gender identity that is severely stressed by all the aspects of pregnancy.
*AZ: https://www.amazon.com/Bump-Matthew-J-Metzger-ebook/dp/B07JNX9XJW/
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Erik the Pink * In this book we meet Erik, a big, solid, sweet workingman whose trans boyfriend just gave him their longed for baby daughter. For Erik, brought up in care homes where nothing and no one was ever his to keep, this man and this child are the family he so desperately wanted, and thought he’d never find.

For his boyfriend Andreas, the baby is a cherished and beloved addition to his life. But nine months of pregnancy have rubbed his nose in every aspect of his assigned-at-birth gender that’s hard to handle, from constant mis-gendering to feminization of his own body. The fact that Erik is pan, and is attracted to Andreas no matter how he presents, adds a little difficulty even as Erik does his very best to be totally supportive. Andreas is recovering from the birth not just physically, but in grappling with new dimensions to his dysphoria.
*AZ: https://www.amazon.com/Erik-Pink-Matthew-J-Metzger-ebook/dp/B07DK7MFG1/
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I’m hoping to see more trans pregnancy books in the future, but I am delighted to have this trio from Metzger, where three couples show us different iterations of how this situation might work out, with the good, the bad, and the complicated, for couples like these.
**

* Day of Wrath by Anna Butler is the last book in the 5-book “Taking Shield” series. This is more SciFi with gay characters than a romance, although two men are the main characters and their relationship does thread through and eventually anchor the series. But there is a lot of action, adventure and suspense, as Shield Captain Bennet and hotshot pilot Flynn deal with implacable aliens, military rivalries, families and relationships, spies and secrets, and a long grinding war that isn’t going well.

The 5 books are one arc, with endings that are not even quite HFNs. This last books delivers a gut punch of changes and surprises, including some deaths. It’s a wildly unexpected ride, and although it leaves our two guys with a solid HFN at last, it’s not a series for the romance-lover whose focus is the warm and hopeful relationship progression. Highly recommended for SciFi and gay character fans though. (This book has the highest Goodreads rating of any I read this year. Gyrfalcon is book 1.)
*AZ: https://www.amazon.com/Day-Wrath-Taking-Shield-Book-ebook/dp/B07D22Z484/
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* War Paint by Sarah Black * This new novella was a very welcome return by one of my favorite authors. Ben is an Israeli artist, commissioned to do a building mural in Atlanta. Eli is a wounded veteran, trying to put together a life in which he is no longer a warrior. Dave is a small dog.

These three come together through a misunderstanding, as Eli sees Ben with his wild hair and beard, sitting on a bench with his little dog, staring at a blank wall. Eli assumes Ben’s homeless. That moment of compassion becomes a glimpse into the soul of a lost young man. The writing is done in short sections of alternating POV, between Ben with his age and experience and eye for form and color, and Eli with his hurts and uncertainty, compassion and kindness, and his grasping for a way to redefine himself. The story forms like a painting, sections layered on each other, moving not forward in plot as much as deeper and wider, until the couple in love that will be BenAndEli is revealed. Lovely work.
(If you prefer longer and a bit more conventional, and haven’t read The General and the Horse Lord by Sarah, try that one.)
*AZ: https://www.amazon.com/War-Paint-States-Love-Book-ebook/dp/B07D5MB54T/
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* Desserted: A m/m romance… by P. R. Fancier is a book that really deserves a bigger readership than it’s had. With only 12 ratings on Goodreads, this somehow flew under everyone’s radar. It begins a bit slowly, with a chapter of secondary characters, but in the second chapter we meet Hank and Drew, two young men who are on the verge of success with their culinary endeavors, and in competition for a major award.

Hank’s restaurant is doing very well, although his two partners bicker constantly. He doesn’t really expect or need the award, although he’d like to have his father see him win it. Drew’s baby is a food-photography and recipe magazine. It’s excellent, but struggling for funding in this era where making a go of a print publication is difficult. The award would mean a lot to his fundraising efforts. Losing would also be one more reason for his wealthy father to make his life miserable. When Hank’s beloved father turns up dead, and Drew’s conniving father was among the last to see him alive, both their lives start to overturn. And the way they have always, always focused on each other when in the same space begins to look like something other than hate.
*AZ: https://www.amazon.com/Desserted-romance-P-R-Fancier-ebook/dp/B078JYH7W7/
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* Nobody’s Butterfly by Claire Davis and Al Stewart * These two authors have a knack for giving me unusual characters – the guys who are damaged, lost, neuroatypical, down on their luck, and pushed into uncomfortable roles. And yet they manage a tone that has light touch, a matter-of-factness to it, a determination and warmth, that wrings the heart but is not manufactured angst. They make these men multifaceted, rounded, fascinating, heart-breaking, and ultimately uplifting. With this YA book they have done it again.

Johnny is 16 and in a care home. We don’t ever get all the details of why his past life fell apart, but what happened has left him without family, bruised at heart, and so lost that he hasn’t spoken aloud since he arrived two years before. Enter Finn, a boy his age who first arrived very ill in a wheelchair. Now healthier, Finn pushes into every part of Johnny’s life, teasing him, supporting him, calling himself Johnny’s wizard. He’s funny and skinny and crazy and hoards food, and sees things that may or may not be there. But he also hears the words Johnny can’t manage to say, and wants to be around him. Finn is a gift to a very isolated boy who desperately needs someone on his side, someone who sees the ordinary in him more than the extraordinary.
*AZ: https://www.amazon.com/Nobodys-Butterfly-Claire-Davis-ebook/dp/B077QG4PSC/
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* The Wine and Song novella series by Eleanor Kos has 5 installments, with this collection holding the first three. David is a guy in his late thirties who needs his sex with an edge of danger and pain, humiliation and submission. When he was younger, he sought that in BDSM clubs and in bars and alleyways, knowing that he was risking his safety, unable to find satisfaction in tamer ways. One evening, walking home from a costume party, he’s grabbed from behind by a young man who holds a knife to his neck and demands his money. He isn’t carrying any, and as the would-be mugger gets frustrated, David finds himself turned on by the encounter, and offering his services instead. The mugger sends him on his way, but a week later David finds himself heading through the same park and gets jumped by the same guy and that encounter goes much more in the direction of his fantasies.

The unlikely start to this relationship is made to seem plausible by David’s needs, his ennui, his taste for reckless danger with his sex, and his underlying desperation that he can never get exactly what he craves. Jasper/Jazz turns out to be a broke 21-year-old musician, living rough, desperate for just enough cash to land a piano playing job, and far from a hardened criminal. As they dance around the edges of each other’s lives for a while, they find that Jazz’s natural bent toward domination fits David’s need to subjugate himself to someone else. Despite the improbable beginning, and the softening of David’s needs to more D/s than SM, I really enjoyed these guys and their developing relationship.
*AZ: https://www.amazon.com/Wine-Song-Books-1-3-ebook/dp/B07L66TXDL/
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* Coach’s Challenge by V.L. Locey * Victor Kalinski remains my favorite character from both the previous Point Shot trilogy and this series. He’s a man very much shaped by an abusive childhood, with a lot of issues about opening himself up to people and expecting abandonment. He hides it all deep under a very abrasive personality, and a tendency to attack first and drive people away with his uncontrolled mouthing off. He has matured and mellowed a lot in this book, compared to the days when he was dropped from the NHL to the minors at the beginning of Point Shot. But he still has a long way to go.

Dan Arou, now his husband for over a year, has been the biggest part of Victor’s progress, providing unconditional love and a steady heart (and smoking-hot sex). I love that Victor goes to therapy – seeing him interact (abrasively and with resistance) with his therapist is part of the fun of this book. Victor has a two-year-old son now, and he’s determined to be the kind of father he never had. (I also love that he has a good relationship with the boy’s mother.) But his newfound maturity is severely tested by the arrival of both a past lover of Dan’s who joins the team, and by a ghost out of his own past who opens up new wounds. Hockey romance with great characters – I would start with the Point Shot books, for the best arc.
*AZ: https://www.amazon.com/Coachs-Challenge-Cayuga-Cougars-Book-ebook/dp/B078WZ43X1/
*AZ Point Shot Trilogy (just .99 right now) – https://www.amazon.com/Point-Shot-Trilogy-Box-Set-ebook/dp/B06XC8BG6W/
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* Box 1663 by Alex Sorel is another surprising hidden gem, for lovers of M/M historical fiction. Nick is an American soldier during WWII, assigned to photograph a classified science project taking place near Los Alamos. On his way there, he’s asked to keep an eye on a newly arriving British chemist named Ian Pennington. He finds Pennington a cold fish, aloof and unfriendly, although easy on the eyes. But as they spend time in the locked-gate world of “Project Y” they both begin to learn more about each other, and undeniable attraction is sparked.

It’s a difficult time and place for two gay men to even think about getting together. Still, as the implications of the work that is being done begin to pile up, Nick and Ian find themselves turning to each other more and more, and not just for friendship. Eventually something has to change. This is a very slow burn, with a spy plot, and a lot of period detail. A long book, but it read so smoothly it didn’t feel long. The ending is a satisfying and solid HFN. If I see another by this author (who had a period of illness), I’m grabbing it.
*AZ: https://www.amazon.com/Box-1663-Alex-Sorel-ebook/dp/B06XCBLQZJ/
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***

There were many other excellent reads out this year, several by well known favorite authors (like Amy Lane, NR Walker, and Eli Easton.) Although they were also 5 star reread books, I decided to focus on the less popular ones, in the hope of introducing readers to some hidden gems. I do try to review all the books I really enjoy on Goodreads, although sometimes I get a bit behind. So if you’re curious what stories I’ve been enjoying, you can check out my reviews there.

I want to wish all my readers a 2019 full of excellent stories. And I love hearing about your unexpected finds and favorites, so do please comment if you have recommendations. Happy reading, everyone.

– Kaje Harper
December 2018

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 30, 2018 4:26 am

    Thank you so much for the Vic love. Wishing you a most joyous and fruitful 2019!

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