2017 wasn’t the best for me health-wise, but it did give me a chance to re-read some favourite titles and shorten my TBR. In queer romance this year, although I am sure I missed some gems, I particularly enjoyed reading novels that stood out because of their excellence in writing, unique plot angles, or both.
These are the titles I considered to have both, in no particular order.
Spectred Isle by K.J. Charles
This is the first book in a new series based around the natural magic of the English Green Man myth, a combination of legend and author that could only ever be enjoyable. I am fascinated by pagan myths and English ones are all very close to the magic of nature and balance in the world.
The plot is set in the same world as K.J. Charles’ wonderful The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, although the story takes place some years later in 1920’s England. The First World War is over but unbeknownst to most who fought in it, there was another war going on, a paranormal one, referred to as the War Beneath. The main protagonists are Randolph Glyde, a sardonic Arcanist, and archaeologist Saul Lazenby. One character I loved from the start, the other took longer but I enjoyed the development of the characters within the plot. An unfolding romance surrounded by intrigue, paranormal nature and beautifully written.
Preacher, Prophet, Beast by Harper Fox
Harper Fox treated us to the seventh episode in her Cornish Tyack and Frayne Mysteries this year, and it may be the best yet – or is it? Things have moved on a little for our beloved heroes. Gideon, husband Lee and Tamsin – now a toddler of two – live in the large rambling house Chy Lowen, thought to mean ‘House of Joy’ in Cornish. This is very much a story of the families we create, coping with change and protecting the people and values you hold dear. I loved every word crafted by this author in Preacher, Prophet, Beast. I cried, I laughed and I worried because Harper Fox made me care so much for these characters, every single one. If you haven’t read the series, treat yourself; and if you have, indulge yourself and enjoy this latest instalment.
The Impossible Boy by Anna Martin
Stan, a young gender-fluid fashion journalist and blogger from Russia via New York and Milan, is beautiful, and …proudly wears his blond hair long, his high heels sky-high, and his make-up perfectly executed. I loved that he is so real. He isn’t the stereotypical gender-fluid character often seen in romances these days. He is just himself. He looks androgynous, likes to enhance his feminine nature, but he still has male genitalia and a flat chest – that is who he is and it is only his business. He wants a man who wants a man, but recognises, loves, enjoys and respects the female side of his nature. He has just settled into his flat in London and is enjoying finding out about his new city home. Ben is a barman and wannabe rock star playing endless rehearsals with a band whose members also happen to be his best friends. He has tattoos, piercings and black hair done in various styles including a Mohawk. He also lives with his friends in the filthiest, untidiest most undesirable house share in London.
I spent the whole of the first part of the book feeling tense, I loved Ben and Stan’s relationship and the others in the story so much, I was constantly waiting for the bigot, homophobe or rock fan who would ruin things. However, Anna Martin does not use obvious tropes or formulae, and the second half of the book whilst extremely emotional, is also well handled, believable and finishes as any romance reader would wish. Beautiful and fun whilst covering difficult topics.
A Careful Heart by Ralph Josiah Beardsley
I would have thought it unlikely that a beautiful, romantic novel could include domestic abuse, but the author of A Careful Heart has proven me wrong. Ralph Josiah Bardsley uses the story of two close friends to introduce this oft-neglected subject in queer romance, which follows Travis Gaines and Stephen Davis from childhood to their early twenties. One finds romance, and the other thinks he has but pays a high price for his ‘perfect guy’ and ‘perfect life’. The family dynamics of both characters are drawn well, giving us sufficient information to augment the story without lingering and taking the focus away from the main characters – although I have to admit a great fondness for one character’s father.
I loved the elegant use of metaphoric descriptions and narrative. The author utilises surroundings, the weather, even restaurant design and bars to convey emotion and heighten expectation. Here is the opening of a chapter entitled, Moving Out and Moving On that I think illustrates what I mean…
Another year passed, and with it went all the quotidian events that mark the cadence of time. The frigid winter finally gave way to a wet spring. Boston expelled a deep sigh of relief as the cold Arctic winds turned to warm spring breezes…
There are two conclusions but they are HEA and HFN and totally satisfying.
Abroad by Liz Jacobs
Written from a beautiful and intimate ‘own voice’ perspective, Liz Jacob’s Abroad is a delight. Accurate and nuanced writing is becoming the norm with Brain Mill Press, and Abroad continues this trend and raises the bar even higher.
Although the novel subtly changes points of view throughout, the strongest voice is that of Nick Melnikov. Nick is a bundle of social anxiety that causes him to curl in on himself. He has never fully reconciled his adult psyche to the shock of starting school in America at the age of eleven without knowing the language and the different traditions. Additionally, he suspects he is gay but refuses to be so. He is already a Russian-Jewish émigré and feels socially isolated – being Russian just does not allow him to be gay too! He fears his family will not accept it, and they are his lifeline, the only constant and foundation he can be sure of in his life.
This wonderful book takes Nick and the other amazingly detailed characters through the joys and pain of getting to know strangers, and yourself whilst growing up far from home. The narrative is funny, sad, beautifully written and such a satisfying read. I have already bought Abroad Book 2 and I cannot wait to get reacquainted with Nick, Dex and Izzy.
Aqua Follies by Liv Rancourt
Liv Rancourt captures the 1950s’ post-war exuberance, conformity, music and homophobia in this gloriously evocative narrative entitled Aqua Follies. A beautifully told tale that stands as a warning to those who yearn for the way things used to be. It seems in our more enlightened times some have forgotten just how bad things could be in the memorable past.
The attitudes, music, emotions and culture are all spot on and I was transported to America in 1955. Russell is a decent young man who tries to please everyone but himself, while the other protagonist, Skip, is too cynical for his age. However, his musical talents, his honesty about who he is, save him. There are two happy endings really, but one is more of a- ‘as happy as the times will let us be’.
I loved this story and admire the author’s ability to maintain the authenticity and feel of the era throughout.
Eternity in an Hour by Matthew Merendo
I think this novel is best described as a road trip plot within a fantasy novel. The brilliance of the world building and descriptions raises it from a good read to a brilliant one. In Paru, Tristys was called ‘diverted’ because he is attracted to men. He was bullied, abused and had his family home burned down before being taken as a sex slave. His past is referred to but not narrated in detail.
When Tristys returns to Paru after a shipwreck, the magic within him changes everything. Magic can be dangerous as well as a wonderful to possess, and certain ceremonies or rites of passage must be undertaken to eventually have control over the magic you ‘fingerprint’ with. In order to master the magic, Tristys must travel to the Altar of the particular magic within him.
Tristys travels with Rami, who found him on the beach, and Rami’s friends and girlfriend, Calyssa eventually join them. This is where the adventure really starts. The group is varied in nature, personality, magical connections and sexuality, but in some way, they are all bonded to Tristys and Rami. This road trip is full of beautiful descriptions of these islands, adventures, the romance of the exotic and the heartache of those in their early twenties.