Cheers, friends, and welcome to our Best of 2018 reviewer picks!!! We’re beginning the countdown to the end of the year with Jovan’s fave reads, so enjoy and be sure to enter the Giveaway!
The Consumption of Magic by TJ Klune (narrated by Michael Lesley) – I rarely share M/M books with straight friends, but I happened to be listening to Consumption of Magic while helping a friend prepare for a party (because you don’t stop listening to this book for stupid prep work), and she laughed out loud without knowing the plot and asked how many actors worked on this book. When I told her it was all one guy, I had to prove it.
If you have not bought this series, you are denying yourself a treat. If you have not yet bought this book on audio, why? There are not enough good words here to express the greatness of this voice performance. It deserves awards, it deserves accolades, and it should be heard by every fan of audiobooks. There are maybe a handful of voice actors capable of this level of expertise. Michael Lesley’s voice with TJ Klune’s words are a thing of beauty and wonder.
Be Fairy Game by Meghan Maslow – Be Fairy Game is an aptly named and excellent second journey into the whirlwind of trouble, shenanigans and complications that seem to follow Twig Starfig and Quinn Broomsparkle. The story takes place three months after the events of By Fairy Means or Foul, as Twig and Quinn are hired to search for a fabled artifact of enormous power. Of course, retrieving the artifact turns into one dangerous complication after another, and soon Twig and Quinn are in the midst of a murder investigation, threats on their lives, and, even more troublesome, having to deal with the political machinations of Twig’s father.
One of the elements I enjoyed most about the story was Twig and Quinn’s continuing struggle with the power dynamics of their relationship and their pasts. As a former indentured servant, Quinn is still coming to terms with the emotional fallout from his years in slavery, while also trying to balance his joy of not only finally being in control of himself but being in control of so much power—power from his magic and power from his control over a dragon.
Jack of Thorns by Amelia Faulkner (narrated by Joel Leslie) – I thoroughly enjoyed this blend of contemporary romance and paranormal fantasy. I’ve read a lot of paranormal/supernatural fiction and haven’t come across one recently that allows the everyday aspects of life—friendship, pain, doubt and all the other highs and lows of living—to take precedence over the paranormal elements in the story, part of the reason I enjoyed it so much. The main focus is on the struggles and personal demons each man faces rather than relying on all the “fantastical” elements that can be introduced with the use of magical/god-like gifts.
Laurence is an addict who struggles daily with feelings of inadequacy, self-disgust and despair over his inability to focus his gifts. Quentin is a complicated lost soul who is unaware of his own gift, a gift that seems intertwined with past trauma that he uses unintentionally and without remembering whenever he feels threatened. Through their relationship, each man, for different reasons, gets to experience their first real taste of friendship, affection and closeness, from someone other than their mothers, and draws strength and a better sense of self-worth from their bond.
Asylum by Robert Winter – Asylum is a beautifully written story that manages to craft the narrative around a “hot button issue” without losing the integrity of the characters and their journey. Hernán is a kind, intelligent man whose life in El Salvador is destroyed when he is targeted as a gay man and almost killed by a powerful gang. Fearing for his life, he seeks safety in America with family.
Colin, though unassuming and unsure of himself, has a core of strength and a protective “warrior” inside, and is furious when he witnesses someone attempt to prey on Hernán’s undocumented status. Colin is passionate about immigration reform, and through his work at a nonprofit that provides immigration services, has access to resources that can help Hernán. However, Hernán is wary and mistrustful because his journey to America and his time there has taught him that people with power over him take what they want, no matter what. Moreover, from childhood his grandmother told him that being gay was shameful and disgusting, a belief reinforced by the mistreatment and targeting of LGBT people in his community.
Before You Break by KC Wells and Parker Williams (narrated by Joel Leslie) – Before You Break caught my eye with its premise of Wayne, a dominant gay man deciding that the best way to help his best friend, Ellis, from his downward spiral is to “take him in hand” by contracting with Ellis in a BDSM relationship as his submissive, even though Ellis is not familiar with the lifestyle. Ellis willingly lets Wayne guide, protect and basically submits to Wayne’s judgement during their partnership in the Special Ops unit of the police force and as friends; thus, when after a year of increasingly erratic, temperamental and team-endangering behavior threatens Ellis’s career, Wayne decides that if Ellis refuses to take care of himself, then he should step in and help him before it’s too late.
Given that Ellis is completely unfamiliar with BDSM and sees submission as not being treated as a “real man”, Wayne’s offer is definitely not eagerly accepted, but as his world begins imploding and he learns more about what Wayne wants to do to help, Ellis very reluctantly agrees. Beyond Ellis’s initial views on BDSM, accepting Wayne as his Dom and letting Wayne help him is almost derailed at every attempt because the root of Ellis problems and deteriorating state lies in his abysmal family relationship that he tries to hide from Wayne.
On Davis Row by N.R. Walker (narrated by Joel Leslie) – On Davis Row is a wonderful story of optimism, courage and love, while also serving as an illustration of the unfortunate way in which people create “clear pictures” of a person based solely on inner perceptions clouded by stereotypes or their bad choices, and how people assume to know who someone is, only to be grossly and sometimes tragically inaccurate.
I love a book with not just well fleshed out characters, but a fleshed-out sense of their environment and life. Instead of just dropping the MCs into their circumstances and lightly filling in pieces to get to the “good stuff”, Walker takes her time, letting the reader explore Noah’s and CJ’s lives, while they do so as well. Giving the characters more room to breathe helps build and develop their personalities and offers a better understanding of what drives the MCs and the inevitable ways in which the they will affect one another. While I may not have agreed with some of Noah’s and CJ’s more consequential choices, and for all his Pollyanna ways, Noah is not immune to reducing CJ to his past mistakes instead of trusting in who CJ is, being given the opportunity to truly get to know the MCs kept me from detaching from the story, as sometimes happens when their actions seem done for drama or don’t have enough backstory to make sense.
Any Given Lifetime by Leta Blake – In Any Given Lifetime, Leta Blake’s excellent writing style, deft hand at creating compelling characters, and an interesting premise all combine seamlessly to tell an engaging, complex and beautiful story that features several different tales of love, and is a breath of fresh air. Neil is an acerbic, no-nonsense man who has very little patience for people, and even less for social niceties. As a successful, brilliant research scientist, he is arrogant, demanding and honest to a fault, but loyal to the few people who forge a personal connection with him. For all his abrasiveness, Joshua finds himself hopelessly attracted to Neil, and for all his scientific knowledge, Neil is overwhelmed and unprepared for the depth and intensity of his love for Joshua. When Joshua met Neil as a college student, he was struggling with his sexual identity and afraid of disappointing his parents and losing their love. So, although he loved Neil, in the nine months they were together before Neil’s death, he couldn’t bring himself to fully commit to or be honest about their relationship, but Neil was willing to wait forever for Joshua—a sentiment that was apparently so powerful death couldn’t stop him from fulfilling that promise.
Wheels Up by Annabeth Albert (narrated by Greg Boudreaux) – I’m generally not a huge fan of military fraternization/forbidden love stories because most never find that balance between believable conflict/angst and hot military m/m action that most fans come to the material for. Usually it’s just “my career is SUPER important, so we can’t be together” followed by ridiculous chance-taking for hot sex and a HEA scenario so contrived it should have a Disney princess stamp of approval. Not so with Wheels Up, an emotionally engaging story about two men caught between the careers they have worked so hard for and the real and personal connection they never thought they would find.
For me, Wes and Dustin’s difficulty in staying away from one another wasn’t the usual irritating rollercoaster of angst and drama, because it wasn’t based in the “your just soooo sexy I can’t stay away” lust that generally seems to motivate the characters, but in the friendship and connection they established during their online relationship. By the time they meet in person, they have spent as much time watching movies together and learning about each other as they have in sexcapades. Additionally, the times they caved and spoke over the phone or spent time together was usually prompted by the need for emotional support and missing the camaraderie and bond they shared as opposed to missing sex.
The Master Will Appear by L.A. Witt (narrated by Michael Ferraiuolo) – The Master Will Appear is a prime example of LA Witt’s skill at writing well-developed and engaging characters in a contemporary BDSM romance. When forty-five-year-old Mikhail “Misha” Budnikov sees twenty-six-year-old Ryan O’Connor fencing, he thinks he knows everything he needs to about the type of person Ryan is. To Misha, Ryan is the worst kind of fencer: an overly confident, aggressor with no real skill, just brute force. After watching his cocksure display, Misha decides to show Ryan what real fencing looks like and bring him down a peg or two. After being soundly trounced, Ryan’s cockiness melts away, and Misha is intrigued enough to say yes when a humbled Ryan asks for lessons. Although willing to admit to his deficiencies, Ryan needs to prove to himself (and his father) that he can be a great fencer, which makes him impatient with Misha’s focus on the basics. Ryan’s frustration and stubbornness annoys Misha, causing them to lock horns at every lesson. However, underneath the annoyance is a simmering awareness that grows as the weeks go by and, eventually, ends with Ryan on his knees in the locker room.
The Stark Divide by J. Scott Coatsworth – The Stark Divide is a well-written and well-paced opener for the sci-fi trilogy The Liminal Sky. With its ensemble cast of characters and succinct yet fluid style, it tackles many complex issues such as forgiveness and redemption, climate change, religion, politics, classism, technological advancement, etc., in a subtle way that fits in the narrative and manages to tell an interesting tale.
What I liked most is how it incorporated the ship-mind into the story, not just as an advanced AI that brings up the question of what is the soul, consciousness, and all the entangling metaphysical and philosophical questions AI brings, but the reader gets to see what the world-mind, named Lex, does. How her consciousness grows, how she sees the world, and what that means for the world Lex creates. Moreover, because the book follows various people and uses some of them to connect all three parts, it can explore a range of topics such as forgiveness, human nature, the divide between human technological achievement and creationism, how far is too far, and whether human beings are forever doomed to self-destruction. I really enjoyed this inclusive, fast-paced read and can’t wait to see what happens next.
Devil Take Me by Various Authors – Devil Take Me is a wonderful anthology, featuring very well-written novellas that, while all based on the premise of doing a demon/devil a favor to get what you want, illustrates the range and creativity of the authors.
Infernal Affairs by Jordan L. Hawk
Collared by TA Moore
Counterfeit Viscount by Ginn Hale
11:59 by C.S. Poe
Wonderland City by Rhys Ford
Dark Favors by Jordan Castillo Price