I hope my favourite books of 2016 show that queer novels don’t just mean contemporary m/m romance. My list includes historical, humour, paranormal, alpha males, older main characters; characters of colour, European, American; bisexual, gay, trans and genderqueer characters. No matter who is involved, love is love and everyone deserves romance.
Bitter Legacy by Dal Maclean
I chose Bitter Legacy as one of my books of the year for several reasons, the first being that this is a début novel by a new author. I know that a first book has to really shine to achieve recognition on any level, and shine it did, so much so that it was recommended by Harper Fox and Josh Lanyon! So, I took a chance on Bitter Legacy. Not only was I pleasantly surprised, but I just may have found another author to follow.
This is a superbly plotted crime novel where the romance is cleverly integrated rather than an obvious add-on. The romance and crime story have equal importance and are written with equal intensity. I could hardly put this book down; I was hooked by the murder mystery and totally absorbed by the romance.
An excellent debut and a wonderful, cosy winter’s night read.
A Gentleman’s Position by KJ Charles
Everything I enjoy in a historical romance can be found in K.J. Charles’ A Gentleman’s Position, the third novel in her Society of Gentlemen series. Accurate, confident and luscious, the writing brings Lord Richard Vane and his valet, David ‘Foxy’ Cyprian, to glorious life. I awarded a richly deserved ‘A’ for this novel, only one notch down from the rating AAR gave A Seditious Affair, the superlative second novel in this marvellous series.
The Soldier’s Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian
Another début and another recommendation. The Soldier’s Scoundrel is the historical romance debut for Cat Sebastian, recommended to me by Caz here at AAR, and very good it is too.
This is a really well balanced tale about the second son of an Earl and a ne’er do well. The relationship between these protagonists takes centre stage, but the author weaves an intriguing blackmail investigation in and around the romance. This sub-plot also allows the author to subtly bring in the inadequacies and inequalities of the day regarding the law and justice.
The romance is funny, tender and sexy. I am not a great fan of historical romances, with the exception of the marvellous KJ Charles; however, I just might be looking out for the sequel to The Soldier’s Scoundrel, when it comes out next year.
Pansies by Alexis Hall
The main themes of Pansies are love, forgiveness, and accepting yourself, regardless of what those around you expect. It is also about having the strength to admit you were wrong, and then giving back the power to forgive, or not, to the wronged party.
I love both of the main characters – Alfie is the most loveable ex-bully you will ever meet and his love for Fen develops into a truly adorable example of that emotion. Fen is very special, but all that beauty, wisdom and grief needs an Alfie – indeed I think we all need an Alfie. I wasn’t sure how the author would manage an HEA, but he did and it was just right.
All in all, Pansies is a splendid novel full of heart, and a dash of Alexis Hall’s brand of humour and whimsy.
Priddy’s Tale by Harper Fox
What doesn’t kill you sometimes makes you wish it had…
Whenever I feel the need to escape, I know reading a novel by Harper Fox will totally transport me into her fictional worlds. This definitely applies to the mermaid (or should that be merman?) fantasy I recommend here.
Priddy and his best friend Kit hope to escape their impoverished seaside home by going to university. Sadly, on the night of their success, a celebration goes wrong and Priddy is left with brain damage that ends his dreams and separates him from his childhood friend.
Kit arranges for him to live and help in the town’s lighthouse… then Priddy rescues ‘Merouac’ from drowning, or does he? If Priddy rescues ‘Merouac’ the favour is most definitely returned.
Whether it be moors, cities or, as in the case of Priddy’s Tale, a Cornish seaside town, I always end up wanting to remain immersed and cossetted in Harper Fox’s lovely prose and heartfelt stories.
Vespers by Irene Preston & Liv Rancourt
I love vampire stories, but it had been some time since I read a good one. Vespers changed that. It’s a good vampire story and an engaging romance.
Thaddeus is a brooding vampire with all the prerequisites for paranormal thrills. Reminiscent of Angel in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel TV series’, he is fighting his own ‘monstrous’ urges for – he believes – the sake of his soul.
Sarasija Mishra (Sara) travels three thousand miles across the States to Louisiana for a job he knows nothing about because he wants to help his family with a debt. Sara is a lovely, slightly guileless young man and his bantering relationship with Thaddeus and Ms. Alves is splendid. He also does not believe any of his own urges are monstrous.
The romance, between Sara and Thaddeus, involves some very sexy scenes and lashings of unresolved sexual tension. The obstacles, apart from their being in mortal danger through most of the book, are emotional and mental ones. I loved the action and the romance and can’t wait for the next book in the series.
Documenting Light by E.E. Ottoman
This is a sweet, gentle romance and in my opinion an important book.
For those of us who have gone before.
Your stories will not be forgotten.
This is a lovely story of how the non-binary protagonists find what they need from love and life, in each other. They meet through an investigation into the people in an old photograph Grayson finds and brings to Wyatt at the historical society.
Their investigation illustrates to the reader the reality of being erased from history and abused in life. There are some beautiful insightful passages that also hint at the treatment of queer history, women’s history and the history of people of colour and marginalised backgrounds. It is fascinating to read the about the enormity of history juxtaposed against the intimate, small story of two people falling in love. I found it very powerful and I highly recommend Documenting Light.
Patchwork Paradise by Indra Vaughn
Patchwork Paradise is an emotional novel that really feels like a story of two halves. Oliver and Samuel have been together since they were sixteen, each other’s ‘one and only’, and very much in love. Now twenty-seven, they live in a large dream house in Antwerp, have good jobs and are looking forward to their dream wedding in a few weeks’ time. They have a close circle of friends too – Cleo and Imran, who are an on/off couple, and Thomas. Every Saturday the friends go to a bar, called the Nine Barrels, and drink and dance the night away.
One Saturday the world changes for all of them. The rest of the novel is about recovery and finding love after tragedy. The recovery is long and I was close to tears a lot reading this. It is beautifully written, and when it is time for Oliver to face the thought of meeting men, the author avoids the ‘cute internet dating stories’ – I have read this approach so many times and it jars, belittling the great love that has been lost.
This is in no way a maudlin or depressing story, and although at times it’s very sad the HEA is so touching and just right.
Blow Down ( Plumber’s Mate #4) by J.L. Merrow
Blow Down is another delightful, witty episode in the lives of Tom Paretski, the slightly psychic plumber, and his new fiancé, P.I. Phil Morrison.
Death is what happens while you’re making other plans.
I loved this murder mystery and devoured its character driven plot with glee. J.L. Merrow’s observations on the quirks of English life and local inhabitants are spot on, although obviously sometimes exaggerated for comic effect. This time, the novel concentrates on Tom and Phil acclimatising to the idea of marriage and commitment – at different rates.
Their thoughts and lives are interrupted when an acquaintance of Tom’s sister Cherry (and favourite of the Bishop) Amelia Fenchurch-Major, asks Tom for his psychic assistance in finding a valuable necklace…
The result is murder, mystery, intrigue, humour and quirky adoration. I love Blow Down and have read it twice more since I reviewed it.
His Fateful Heap of Days (More Heat than the Sun #8) by John Wiltshire
His Fateful Heap of Days is the eighth – and possibly last – book in John Wiltshire’s amazing More Heat than the Sun series. It is not a standalone novel.
I think the best way to start is with the poem the author uses at the beginning –
There is a destiny that makes us brothers:
None goes his way alone:
All that we send into the lives of others
Comes back into our own.
I care not what his temples or his creeds,
One thing holds firm and fast
That into his fateful heap of days and deeds
The soul of man is cast.
This series is probably my (not so) secret addiction. I usually avoid gay Alpha male stories, as I find they can be strangely homophobic and yes, despite being written by a gay man there are probably things here I should be – politically speaking – disapproving of.
However, this whole series is beautifully written, amazingly well plotted, full of great three dimensional characters, and a dog called Radulf – how could I resist?
His Fateful Heap of Days is one of the most traditionally romantic of the eight, but, I had better talk about the two main characters.
Nikolas and Ben are the two alpha males in question. Ben is younger than Nik by a decade, gorgeous, slightly gullible but down to earth He is an ex-SAS soldier, and now a film star. He met and fell hard for Nik about ten years before when he applied for a job, and their story has not been an easy one. Nikolas is incredibly rich, well connected and a complex personality, his life before Ben was very complex too; in fact, he is not even ‘Nikolas’ – but explaining that would be a series spoiler too far.
Nik’s inner demons often threaten their relationship, as much as events endanger their lives. Yet his internal dialogues, coloured by these demons, are part of my fascination with this character.
This novel and series I recommend wholeheartedly, and I spend a lot of time wishing I didn’t have so many new books to read, so I could lose myself in the eight novels that comprise More Heat than the Sun all over again.