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Great reading from 2017

December 30, 2017

The time has come to look back on this year’s reading and pick out a dozen favorites – never an easy task. I’m going to skip over a few excellent books that everyone seems to know about, to focus on perhaps less-read choices. These are books that I read in 2017, but some were released prior to this year.



His Quiet Agent by Ada Maria Soto – this was my choice for book of the year – Arthur works as an analyst for an intelligence Agency, and he’s so quiet and unremarkable that his own superiors sometimes forget who he is. After another lateral move, he’s determined to try to stand out, so he goes about making friends in the cafeteria, in that excruciating process of “Is this seat taken?” Along the way, he ends up sitting with the silent guy from the next cubicle. A guy who eats only apple slices for lunch, despite his thinness. A guy who absorbs huge, weighty books as fast as he can turn the pages. A guy who seems supremely uninterested in Arthur, except, except… An asexual guy and a possibly demisexual one meet in a lovely, quiet, understated story about complicated people. The end is sweet and warm and yet leaves a lot of mystery. You have the feeling these guys will be discovering each other for decades to come, and yet the most essential parts have been said. I finished this, read it again, and bought every backlist book by this author that I could find.

Arrows Through Archer by Nash Summers – This story had a wonderful mix of angst and realistic age-gap romance that moved at a slow, believable pace. Archer is a young man who is trapped in his grief for his parents, three years after their sudden death. Part of that trap is that he never had the chance to come out to them. He’s never come out to his best friend Danny, either. When he needs a place to stay, Danny brings him home to his father Mallory’s remote cabin. Slowly, gradually, what is at first an older man helping a younger in deep need, becomes something more. Archer is an old soul, and Mallory a man who sees the person inside the body of his son’s friend. But crossing a seventeen year gap, and the barrier of Danny’s relationships with them both, isn’t easy.

Seven Summer Nights by Harper Fox – This is a lovely magic-tinged post-WWII historical fantasy. Rufus Denby returned from active service with a significant case of shell-shock. Now, at the end of his mental, emotional, and financial rope, he travels to investigate the ancient church in the sleepy village of Droyton Parva. There he comes into the orbit of the Reverend Archie Thorne, a generous young vicar whose own service overseas gives him some insight into Rufus’s troubles. Together, they face trouble of both mundane and magical kinds, sharing an adventure to a warm conclusion.

The Family Eternal by James Buchanan – Deputy Joe is one of my favorite characters in M/M – a cop, a Mormon, and a Dom. A quiet, laconic guy, Joe works hard to fit all the parts of who he is together, while staying true to his own integrity and personal faith. In Kabe Varghese, he has a partner who both complements and challenges him. This fifth book in the series is both a procedural mystery and a character-oriented look at two guys figuring out their relationship through changing circumstances. If you haven’t met Joe, start with book 1 – Hard Fall.

Dear Mona Lisa by Claire Davis & Al Stewart – A sweet novella about a shy older man who is in love, but has a hard time coming out to those who matter most. Components of synesthesia, of art, and of family stress make this a quirky, warm, emotional little story.

Sex in C Major by Matthew J. Metzger – This was a challenge and an eye-opener. **trigger warnings for dub-con, suicidal ideation, Master-slave relationship, open menage, etc*** The BDSM is central and intense, the pain and the growth, the intensity of the challenges and risks Stefan faces – as a trans guy whose fantasies include pain and non-con sex – kept me glued to the page. Metzger brings to life characters who are outside my expectations, writing with a clarity and understanding that made me both care and empathize with them. If this author writes it, I’ll read it.

The Doctor’s Discretion by E.E. Ottoman – a well done historical with genderqueer characters, gay doctors, and the threat in that era of being committed to an insane asylum just for being who you were. More straightforward than deeply angsty, this nonetheless delivers a thoughtful and at times exciting story in a realistic 1830’s setting.

The Bones of Our Fathers by Elin Gregory – This book is one of my favorite kinds of comfort reads – a realistic, lovely, gradually building romance about real people with flaws, in a setting with flavor, and some low-key drama. Mal is a PhD archaeologist who has moved to a small town to curate the local museum. He’s only been there a couple of months, and has just noticed a very appealing, gay-and-out construction worker, when that man turns up an exciting historical find while doing a road excavation. The book follows the ups and downs of a relationship between two intelligent men who must learn to have more empathy, while the issues of local jurisdiction, small-town customs, ego, and historical preservation play out. I appreciated all the details that made this one feel real.

Wallaçonia by David Pratt – Young Adult – Jim Wallace is a young man of 18, on the brink of adulthood, still in some ways clinging to childhood (and his imaginary safe world of Wallaconia) by his fingernails. He has a girlfriend he’s trying to convince himself he’s attracted to, and a gay neighbor, twenty years older than himself, a gregarious bookstore owner. Pat Baxter is magnet and mirror, someone who might help Jim figure out his life, but also a target for Jim’s father’s casual homophobic mockery. And there’s Nate, the memory of a boy Jim drove away with bullying in middle school because his friendship felt like it would pull Jim down instead of elevating him to straight, sterling status. Nate’s memory haunts Jim. Shouldn’t he try to make that right, before he hits real adulthood? From the initial convoluted style and breathless claustrophobia of the opening, the tone simplifies, as Jim gains clarity. We see Jim slowly, through this book, walk a path of pitfalls and mistakes on the way to finding himself. This one feels painfully real, and very well done.

Dreadnought by April Daniels – Young Adult – In a world of superheroes, Danny is witness to the last battle of Dreadnought, who falls dying nearby, and bequeaths both the mantle of super powers and a physical transformation. Danny has always known she was a girl – now she has a physically female body, but those closest to her still insist that she’s male and must be changed back. Set in an adventure of fighting villains, this story touches on transgender identity from a novel angle.

Bonfires by Amy Lane – this was my comfort-read for the year – a warm testament to resilience, and to hope, to a belief in the goodness of many ordinary people. And on top of that, this is a book with two older main characters coping with a complex life – trying to fit their needs, their families, and their responsibilities into a working, loving, functional pattern. Like so many of us. Larx is a gay man with a long-ago bitter divorce, and two daughters, one of whom is still in high school. He’s a teacher who allowed himself to be persuaded to become the local principal, because the alternatives were clearly going to damage the kids and school. Aaron is a Sheriff’s Deputy, bisexual, and a widower with a son still at home. He’s beginning to think Larx may be the guy who pulls him to explore his same-sex attraction. But a small town’s bigotry, and intrigues, school bullying and at-risk teens, make romance hard to focus on for both men. This one touched my heart, as Amy Lane’s characters are wont to do.

King Daniel by Edmond Manning – I couldn’t end without homage to the sixth and last book in The Lost and Founds series. In this one we see the world through the eyes of Daniel, a lonely and angry man damaged both physically and emotionally by an abusive childhood. As he cruises the Internet, he comes across the story of King Perry. He knows the Lost Kings crap can’t be true. It must be urban myth. But he locates a real Perry with a cello out there. Determined to track down the truth of Vin Vanbly, Daniel leaves his solitary home and begins a quest. As we follow his adventures we meet old friends in new ways, answer questions, are surprised, amused, touched, shaken and stirred. A fitting end to an amazing series. I recommend reading in order, starting with King Perry. There’s nothing else quite like The Lost and Founds.

And that’s my allotted dozen. There were at least a dozen others I could’ve included, (despite the fact that stress made me do a lot of favorite rereading this year.)

What books would you add to this list? Which stories touched, amused, or enlightened you this year? My TBR list is very long, but I still love adding to it.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 30, 2017 10:49 pm

    Loved several on your list last year so glad to see you have another list for this year. Thanks for so many interesting suggestions! There are several here I’ll be scouting out . . . starting with Soto and Summers. And how have I missed the Buchanan series? Happy New Year!

    • December 31, 2017 1:03 pm

      I hope you enjoy them. The Buchanan series was part of what led me to start actually publishing, by sending my first story to MLR Press. Reading James’s guys made me feel like there might be a home for Life Lessons, despite the various differences.

  2. January 3, 2018 5:41 am

    Wallaconia sounds intriguing

    • January 3, 2018 12:04 pm

      I enjoyed it – it felt a bit different from many other YA in tone, and there’s a kind of realism to it (even as you want to give the MC a good shake now and then.)

  3. Secilia permalink
    January 10, 2018 6:41 pm

    Thank you for a great list. I enjoy your reviews almost as much as your novels 🙂
    I’ve never read Ada Maria Soto but I fell in love with her works, including Tactical Submission, thanks to your introduction.

    I was/am intrigued by Leta Blake’s “SlowHeat” as well as your review of it on GR. The popularity of Mpreg/omegaverse in MM is interesting for me, being a Japanese reader. Mpreg became a hit in Japanese BL last year, but it had a different cultural/social context (for example, no con and under 18 are OK even in commercially published novels/comics in Japan).

    I’ve always wondered why the subgenre was so popular in the US-just by looking at the number of books in Amazon. I’d love to hear your views.

    • January 10, 2018 11:54 pm

      I’m glad you found Ada Maria Soto – I love when people enjoy my favorite reads.

      As for MPReg I think there are a couple of things in play – the main audience for these stories are straight women. For many, M/M romance provides a fantasy world in which they/we identify with the main characters to a degree – they are like us in the way that they fall in love with a man, have sexual interest in in the male body (and yet also can believably have faster, easier and less complicated sex as a man than many women do – I can believe 5 minute orgasms and coming with just frotting etc far more in a male MC than in a female romance MC.) So these protagonists are to a degree wish-fulfillment and yet they can’t experience what is perhaps the most emotional experience of many women’s lives – carrying and delivering a child. MPreg allows us to watch these characters with whom we identify as they have that ultimate emotional and physical rollercoaster experience.

      I think also that one of the things we love about M/M is emotional intensity between the main characters. Because men in modern society are conditioned to hide their emotions, and because of all the other factors in society that weigh against same-sex romances, there is an emotional intensity to M/M that surpasses much of M/F. And that’s part of what we go to the genre for – to see men so in love that they say the word to another man, that they are protective and worried and elated with their partner. And again, seeing your partner going through a pregnancy and carrying a child (especially your child) is for men an emotional peak of both anxiety and joy. So with MPreg we get to add that factor to the intensities of an M/M relationship from the other main character’s side.

      A few gay men like MPreg – it is in some cases their fantasy too – to have one of them able to carry their joint child, but without having to be a woman or trans guy. Or they may at least put good MPreg into a fantasy context where it feels possible (If you haven’t read the Sterek fanfic “Tiny Houses” by ohmyjetsabel on AO3, you might check it out as an MPreg where there is a magical base but a degree of realism as it is imposed on a gay relationship.)

      Many gay men and trans men feel that MPreg is dismissive of their realities. a feminization of men that is exploitative. (And some of it is written very much as a feminization but with hot gay sex. Especially some of the Alpha-Omega versions where a lot of the aspects of the A-O really play into social male-female stereotypes. Often the same M/F stereotypes that we see overrepresented in M/F romance.)

      Definitely it can be done better or worse, more plausibly in both a biological and psychological sense or not. Slow Heat was well done, although still had lapses of logic in the bio-history – also in that case the role of Alpha and Omega in law and religion paralleled some of the issues facing women in modern law and politics, a well-done transposition of our modern issues to the fantasy, but also a case where there is some feminization of the omega characters (controlling men by the equivalent of feminine wiles due to lack of actual legal power, for instance.)I enjoyed it but could see some readers, particularly male readers, disliking even that one.

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