Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Bear on Book's Best of 2012

In which Pooh reads a ton of M/M and tries to narrow it down to his top 10 20 25 50...

Okay, I can do this. I really can.

This was a banner year for M/M books. The quality was terrific, there were many bright new names that put out books I laughed at, cried over, sat stunned with, and just enjoy like...well, a bear with a honey jar.

I really was trying to narrow it to my top twenty, then twenty-five, but I identified about sixty worthy of mention. I could cut a little, so I finally decided on fifty.

So, without further ado (because I know you really don't want all my prattles, you want to get to the goodie inside the blow-pop), here are Tom's Favorite Fifty Books of 2012. My only criteria was that they had to be published in 2012.

My favorite book of 2012 is:

To Touch the Stars by Jeremy Pack

Product Details This book has it all - heart, a fantastic storyline, believable and engaging characters, and that something that just grabbed me by the heartstrings and wouldn't let me go.

Jeremy Pack wrote his heart out with this stunning story of two men's journey over twenty years and three continents to be together. When I turned the last page, I wanted to burn every page I have ever written, because I can't hope to write anything this beautiful.


In no particular order, numbers 2 through 10 in no particular order...

  • The Island by Lisa Henry.  A slow rise of nausea and fear for the first two thirds or so of this book kept me more engaged than almost any book of the year. The tension...*shivers*
  • Chase in Shadow by Amy Lane. A life almost, almost over too soon. I ached, and this book hit way too close to home.
  • Sub Zero by Angel Martinez. Nobody build a world like Angel Martinez. But that's the easy part; she then fills it with believable characters who make me think, feel and care.
  • I Am Fallen by Scarlet Blackwell. This book was damned near perfect. A tragedy in the making, the end blew me away.
  • Who We Are by TJ Klune. Has there ever been a sequel so anticipated? And delivered so spot on? The Kid, Otter and our very own Bear - mwah! A book for the ages. The dinner party scene? Perfection.
  • The Rare Event by PD Singer. Slow building, exquisitely told, this was my runner up for book of the year. I sat there after finishing it and had to re-read it immediately. I was afraid I missed a word, a sentence.
  • King Perry by Edmond Manning. No book surprised me more this year. Edmond and I talked and he asked me to read it. I thought, why not. I had no idea where it was going, and when I did...my heart leapt. This book filled me with hope.
  • End of the Innocence by John Goode. An important book. Vital and essential reading. Tied for runner up for best book of the year. The tragedy that is caused by hate, played out in a high school. God, it hurt to read this book but I loved every word of it.
  • Conner's Courage by SJD Peterson. The best of the Whispering Pines Ranch series, and that is no small event. This one was a surprise; it was a slow dance on a Saturday night with your favorite guy, whiskey on the rocks and the stars in an open sky, all rolled into a beautifully told story.
Numbers 11 through 25 in no particular order...
  • Jack by Adrienne Wilder. A huge surprise and a kick in the gut. A transgendered/kinda-sorta m/m story that deserves wide-spread attention. Adrienne Wilder made me forget gender while weaving a totally unexpected love story. Unconventional and worth the read.
  • Fifteen Shades of Gay (For Pay) by T. Baggins. A coming-out story that made me laugh, think, and most of all, care. This one is fantastic.
  • Velvet by Xavier Axelson. Known for his atmospheric stories, Xavier gives us a full novel in a medieval world, where being gay is deadly and angering the king more so. This was like a fairy tale for adults, and I wanted more, so much more of it. Anything by Xavier is worth reading, and this - his best.
  • (Un)Masked by Andrew Gordon and Anyta Sunday. A man whose face reflects back the person you most wish to see. A family curse. Characters that were so real they leapt off the page. Just a damned fine book.
  • Mourning Heaven by Amy Lane. A powerful story of a wasted life and love found and hearts healed. One of her best. Ever.
  • Chaser by Rick Reed. A book that makes the reader think, is attraction more than skin deep? And what if the initial attraction is for something society says is wrong...as in to a heavy man. Finally, someone explores an area long untalked about.
  • The British Devil by Greg Hogben. A quasi-memoir that had me laughing my ass off. But best of all, under the laughter is a story that makes us think about serious issues. Like loving someone from another country, how unfair our laws are, and how religion can tear apart families. 
  • Yes by Lou Sylvre. A Vasquez and James story, and one that had me in tears. The beautiful sadness of nearly losing that someone you love...horrifying, told with care and respect, and a story that I wish I could write so well.
  • Missing by Drew Braxton. Imagine your worst nightmare - you are visiting someone and your lover disappears. And you can't find him. Then, turn it sideways and squint, and you have this innovative and powerful read. I adored it.
  • Tigerland by Sean Kennedy. The long awaited sequel to Tigers and Devils, this showcases the humor and love that Sean Kennedy showed in his earlier work. What happens when Dec's ex wants him back? Simon won't stand for it, that's for damned sure!
  • Hard Candy, Soft Cream by Chloe Stowe. The unexpected follow up to Hard Wood, Soft Heart, this book took my breath away. For real. It's a hard realization to come to that you may outlive your partner, and to see it from both men's views? Stunning.
  • Oceans Apart by Laura Harner. The second in a four book series about an English detective and his Arizona counterpart who flounder around an attraction while solving crimes. This time, each has another partner...or do they? I adore Miggy.
  • A Broken Light by Diane Adams. What if you spent your whole life hunting down evil, only to have your brother infected with it? And to then find the man you love may be part of it too? This was a pleasant surprise on the familiar shifter/hunter story. Well written with strong characters.
  • Light of Day by Sue Brown. The sequel to The Night Porter, one of my favorite books last year. So bittersweet, this one gives us a happy for now that I can live with. I've read these two a half dozen times...
  • Whistle Pass by DevaK. Post WWII mystery/detective/love story. Two improbable lovers meet and deal with the realities of the time. Well written, strong storyline and characters. So damned solid.
See how darned hard this stuff is???

Okay, and the next twenty-five all could be anywhere above too. It's THAT hard to choose. So...numbers 26 through 50, in no particular order.
  • Frog by Mary Calmes. A cowboy in love, a family in need and San Francisco. Can all three merge together? Mary Calmes does this so damned well, giving us memorable men who need each other.
  • Stranger in Translation by Charles Raines. A ghost story or not? I'm not so sure, and that's what makes this unforgettable tale so good - it's totally off the wall and engaging.
  • Geoff's Teddy by Havan Fellows. A bear of a man who isn't gay - or might he be? - and the guy who falls for big ol' bears. A story made in heaven and after my own heart!
  • Shattered Glass by Dani Alexander. A fun and sexy story about a straight guy who suddenly finds having it all isn't quite so satisfying without a certain redheaded guy. Totally came from nowhere and is one of the most fun things I read this year.
  • Out in the Field by Kate McMurray. A baseball tale that just might happen. One player on the way up, and another ending his career find love. Hit all the right boxes for me - sports, romance, HEA.
  • Purly Gates by Vastine Bondurant. The unexpected love between a gangster and a mystery man on the beach. Simply told, quiet and respectful and oh-so-good. A pleasure, guilty or not.
  • A Hole in God's Pocket by KZ Snow. A gay Amish man and a not-so-sure ex-monk. KZ Snow writes like an angel, and this stunning book resonated with me for weeks afterwords. Really, one of the year's best.
  • Water Waltz by Harley B. James. A crazy tale of devils and demons and men. Easily one of the most creative books of the year.
  • The Rebuilding Year by Kaje Harper. A hunky straight ex-fireman. A hunky straight groundkeeper. One house. Tension, and self-discovery. And so beautifully told, as only Kaje Harper can, with grace and style and care.
  • It's Simple, Simon by Lee Brazil. The great re-imagining of fairy tales is hard to do, but Lee Brazil knocks this one out of the ball park. Complete, wonderfully imagined and fun. And sexy.
  • Beggars and Choosers by Mia Kerick. Two wounded young men begin a quiet dance of respect, friendship and, eventually, love. I LOVED this book.
  • Something Like Winter by Jay Bell. Telling Something Like Summer from Tim's POV was risky. And it paid off so very well. And gives us more of Tim and Benjamin. So good.
  • Love Comes Silently by Andrew Grey. A deaf man, a kid with cancer, and what do you have? One of the best imagined, quietly heartfelt books of the year. Amazing.
  • Another Dumb Jock by Jeff Erno. Twenty years later, we see the old story of jock meets nerd repeat. And it's timeless, and Jeff Erno tells it with the straightforward heart-on-his-sleeve that makes all his works so memorable.
  • Daddio by Mickie Ashling. Continuing the story of Lil and Grier and their new little family, I was spell bound by how much I cared. Third in a wonderful series.
  • An Immovable Solitude by S.A. McAuley. The story of a relationship that dissolves before our very eyes, and how it may possibly be salvaged and rebuilt. Stunning.
  • Stars and Stripes (Cut and Run) by Abigail Roux. The sixth in the series, and in my opinion, the most fun and engaging. I love Ty and Zane, and this one shows them at their best.
  • The Mountain by Ally Blue. What happens when an agoraphobiac falls for a man who lives down the mountain? Deft handling, interesting and engaging characters make this story shine.
  • Let It Go by Mercy Celeste. Two antagonistic jerks are forced by a judge to live together and cooperate. Of course it leads to love. But it's a rocky road, and Mercy Celeste drags our hearts around a bit first. Darn her.
  • Paradox by Chris Quinton. Telling the story of two men across centuries, this book grabbed me from the first page and pulled me in. I read it in one sitting and wanted more. Chris Quinton is the best at laying out impossible situations and making me care. Bravo.
  • Bonds of Earth by G N Chevalier. Set after WWI, this story of a broken man and the former massage therapist who falls for him is timeless. And told so damned well. The prose was some of the best I read all year.
  • Of Dark and Bright by Kate Sherwood. The further tales of the unlikely trio of Jeff, Evan and Dan. I fell for all three men, and still can't decide how they would work without each other. I think I am secretly in love with Jeff. No, Dan. Or maybe it's Evan. Damn!
  • Inherit the Sky by Ariel Tachna. A man with nothing going right in his life moves to New South Wales where his mother inherited a ranch. And promptly falls for the foreman. Sweeping story, beautifully told.
  • The Starving Years by Jordan Castillo Price. In a world where hunger has been eradicated, three men become privy to a secret that could take it all down. And oh, they all fall for each other. Told with a twist, fun and thoughtful as only Jordan Castillo Price can do it.
  • Country Mouse by Amy Lane and Aleksandr Voinov. Incredibly thought-provoking short about two men who discover themselves in a one-night stand that grows into more. What's so fantastic is how the characters grow and discover so much about themselves during sex. Amazing.
And that's fifty.

* Addendum * I forgot to add JP Barnaby's Aaron. Somewhere between my handwritten list and typing, I left it out. It's a crime I did - this story about a broken and abused teen's slow re-entry into living broke my heart. Not to be forgotten.

Holy Hell - I know!!! I had another ten that easily could have made the list.

And you know, that's what makes this genre go good. The depth, the talent and the diversity.

I can't wait for 2013.

Thank you all for checking in.

Tom

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Recipe Blogswap

Happy Thanksgiving!!!



I'm breaking with tradition and expanding my blog to wish everyone a happy and safe holiday. In the spirit of foodies everywhere, a few friends and I are swapping our favorite recipes and sharing some love this week.

Now don't get the wrong idea, I am still the same old grumpy-ass bear you all love to hate, but I must be weak from the fever and all I've had to deal with since I came down with the flu on Saturday. I will be back to normal soon, I promise, and all the damned John men can quit laughing at me and go back to shaking in their boots in fear. Hear that, Travis?

But while I was laying in bed, thinking about Thanksgivings past, one memory kept coming back each time. I h ad three sets of grandparents. I know, I am a very special guy. No, Mom was married and widowed at an early age, and had three daughters before she was in her early twenties, before she met and married my dad. So my three sisters' grandparents, the Floyds, automatically included me and my younger brother as part of their family.

A trip to Grandma and Grandpa Floyd's house was always fun. They lived in Pine Mountain, Georgia, which is about a hundred miles from where I grew up in Norcross. Now, to a kid, you would think it was a million miles, but ahhh, when we got there...

Grandma Floyd has a big open kitchen and we weren't allowed to hang around in there. Mainly, I think, because the sheer number of kids would have made cooking impossible. But the smells coming out of there. Heaven! She made the best strawberry cake, all from scratch. Ham. Sweet potato casserole. But the best thing ever? Her Tea Cakes. Little bundles of love that always mean home and family to me.

I miss her, and wish her and my Grandpa and all their kids, three children they adopted as babies since they couldn't have any of their own, much love this Thanksgiving. I am counting my blessings, and they are among them. And as always, I miss my own mom this year. She would have liked all of you...

Maybelle Floyd's Old Fashioned Tea Cakes

3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup butermilk
1/3 cup butter
1/2 tsp salt
Flavor with grated orange rind, orange extract or any flavor desired

Cream butter, sugar and salt together. Mix baking soda, orange extract and beaten egg with buttermilk. Add to butter mixture, alternating with flour. If dough seems too soft, add in a little more flour. Roll to desired thinness, cut, place on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 425 until golden.



Guaranteed to chase off that Winter Chill.

And to stay warm this week, and away from those Godawful Black Friday sales that are starting on Wednesday this year, order a copy of Winter Heat, make a cup of hot chocolate, and stay in. Trust Dr. Bear, it's just what you need!
 

Oh - and don't forget to visit all my friends and see what yummies they came up with this year too...


Angel Martinez - http://www.freewebs.com/angelwrites/apps/blog/show/20193870-the-thanksgiving-recipe-blog-swap-

Silvia Violet - http://silviaviolet.com/blog/2012/11/20/thanksgiving-recipe-blog-swap/

Havan Fellows - http://havanshawthaven.blogspot.com/2012/11/thanksgiving-recipe-blog-swapleftover.html

Laura Harner - http://lauraharner.com/hp_wordpress/thanksgiving-recipe-blog-swap/

Lee Brazil - http://leebrazilauthor.blogspot.com/2012/11/happy-thanksgiving.html


Happy Thanksgiving. Love to everyone.

Tom

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"End of the Innocence"

Review - "End of the Innocence" by John Goode

A Masterpiece

Very Highly Recommended

***Potential spoilers***

I'm going to break my own rules here. It's my review, and it that bothers you, I am sorry. Pass this by and go read another one.

John let me read this book a few weeks ago, and I've sat on it, trying to think of a review worthy enough. My words fail me here, so please bear with me as I struggle to find something worthy of this guy's great big heart and talent. I'm not enough here, but here it goes.

"End of the Innocence" is more than a work of YA or M/M romance or fiction. It's a statement of pure love. It's an offering of life-blood. It's a cry in the dark, a soul-shattering scream, a nightmare. And it is stunningly beautiful.

There have been three prior books in the Foster High series dealing with Brad and Kyle, two high school students in a small Texas town. The series deals with their coming out, the repercussions to them personally and to the relationships that they have with their friends, families, enemies and community.

In "End of the Innocence", we finally deal with Kelly, Brad's jock friend. As we have learned, Brad and Kelly have fooled around in the past, and Kelly is struggling to reconcile his friendship and feelings towards Brad. We also, in a parallel way, explore the boys' relationship with Jennifer, Brad's ex-girlfriend. There are also other gay men in the town we meet, and they play an important role, but the focus is on these four.

I can't go deeper into the storyline without giving too much away, but the book explores the past and current implications of coming out in Foster. How some current characters on the canvas have dealt with it (or not), and the larger issue of bullying and harassment and, in some cases, outright murder involving those not like their neighbors. It looks at the unlikely friendship formed between Kyle and Kelly and between Brad and Jennifer.

Read this at your own risk, and forgive me if I give too much away, but there is another outing. It is horrible, unexpected yet completely fated to happen. And the fallout is...devastating.

I read this book through in one sitting, the words spinning a web around me with a  subtle sense of foreboding and dread. No, no, I kept thinking, this can't be going there. And then I hit the last twenty percent of the book and alternated between tears and blank, honest horror. I've seen this, lived this, picked up the pieces after this book happened. I never wanted to relive it, and yet, here it was, laid out for me to bleed over again.

And damn it, I wouldn't have it any other way.

John - I cannot give him enough credit here. The writing is restrained and so very real. His sure hand is on every word, every sentence, and he deftly took me on a journey of pain and discovery, pulled the scab off every wound in that small town and led me around like one of Dickens' Ghosts.

Because what we are dealing with here, when it's all stripped away, is a very basic choice we all have to make when we come out or are outed. Deal, or don't. Stay, or run. Live, or die.

And sometimes people choose...no.

This is an important work for teens, for parents, for teachers, for anyone who has or deals with kids. Hell, it's important for everyone. There are lessons to be learned here - about life, choosing to live, how we treat out fellow companions on the road of life, and how we sometimes bury our heads in the sand. It's also about the cold, hard fact that even when we try out best, we can only save ourselves. It's about guilt, gang mentality, the abuse of power.

But let's not forget something in the midst of all this. It's about love. Because Brad and Kyle? They were outed, treated horribly, betrayed by those in power. And they still chose love.

Not everyone does. But they did.

So did John, thank god. I just wish I could do his beautiful story the justice it deserves. I hope he forgives me for not being enough, because I love him like a little brother and he seems to think my words mean something.

I want to be like him when I grow up. Thanks for sticking around.

Tom

"Burnished by Fire"


Review - "Burnished By Fire" by Andrew Grey

Very satisfying conclusion to a hot series

Highly Recommended

In the third, and what appears to be final, book in the Fire series, we once again spend some time with Lee Stanton and Dirk Krause, firefighters and partners. Lee is the gentle giant of the two, a self-assured mountain of a man with patience for his lover as big as his heart. Dirk has been slowly coming to terms with being out and proud, and his love for his younger partner colors all he does. 

Even when he’s being a huge jerk.

In the aftermath of a fire which the two men help fight, three people lose their lives. Even though there was nothing else that could have been done, Dirk feels responsible. The ghosts of what might have happened, what he could have done, might have been able to do…they haunt him. So much so that Lee realizes something needs to change.

The two men talk and decide a vacation is on order, and book a week-long cruise, just the two of them. Ah, romance on the high seas, the crisp ocean air, all-you-can-eat buffets all day and night. They must have died and gone to heaven.

Until they see Dirk’s homophobic father is on the cruise also.

Will Dirk allow him to control his behavior and life one more time? Is Dirk going to waste this opportunity to spend time openly loving his man? Or will Lee, and fate, intervene and change their relationship forever?

Andrew Grey has brought back two of my favorite characters and let us have a glimpse of something truly unique – a realistic exploration of a strained parental relationship that moves forward with integrity. All three books carry the thread of a “two steps forward and three steps back” sort of theme between Dirk and his dad. Having seen this in real life, it’s very true to life. Concessions are made, and understandings arrived at, but then the ugliness rears its head again and again.

What Mr. Grey does here is showcase Dirk, in all his pig-headed, stubbornly prideful idiocy, and makes us love him. Because at heart, he just wants his dad to love and accept him. And when he arrives at the adult realization that he is a grown man, responsible only for his own feelings and views, he is finally able to bust out of his own frozen emotions and meet his father man to man.

I really like that Lee supported him, loved him, made love to him, counseled him, but ultimately left Dirk to come to his own conclusions about his father. And Dirk does, with a little help from an emergency and a new person who helps his dad see things from a different vantage point.

This is a warm, comfortable read, and it’s perfect for a cold fall or winter night. Lee is strong, Dirk has mellowed, and we get a resolution that feels…right. What more can I ask for? Maybe a cup of hot chocolate?

Very highly recommended.

Tom

Friday, November 9, 2012

It's A Bear on Book's birthday and we hit a milestone!

You guys all know how I started reviewing. It's out there, and you can look. I wanted other people to see the best of this incredible genre, and I initially used Amazon as the platform, then I discovered Goodreads (for better or for worse).

A little over a year ago, I started talking to Sue Brown and she said, "You know what? You should put all the reviews you've been doing in one spot. Start your own blog." After hemming and hawing, I did. And on November 1, 2011, I posted my first entry as "A Bear on Books".

It has been...so much more than I ever expected. I didn't think it would be more than a ripple in water, because so many people do such wonderful work in reviewing and having professional sites. And here I came along, this Southern guy who thought he might have a little fun.

A year later, I have over 175 reviews to my name, 160 followers to the blog, and...20,000 page views as of last night!!!

Wow.

Thank you.

And I'm sorry I can't get to all the great books I read every week that deserve reviews. There aren't enough hours in the day. Between my work at Living Room, my attempts at writing, and personal issues with family, health and loss, I just can't do it at the pace I was this time a year ago.

I'm considering some ways to make this work better, including inviting some guest reviewers in to assist. I will keep you posted.

But...I want to celebrate the blog's birthday and the milestone 20,000 views! So a couple of friends and I have arranged a weekend giveaway.

I have copies of six great books to give away this weekend, November 9 - 11, 2012. All you have to do is leave a response here on this blog post, and it will enter you to win. Just leave a quick note to tell me something you might have enjoyed here at the blog, and what books you would like - make sure you leave me an email address. I will draw the winners Sunday night and post them.

Sound good? I hope so!

Here are the prizes:


Risking It All - Lee Brazil


 Truth Deeper Thank Logic - Lee Brazil


Geoff's Teddy - Havan Fellows




Hold Tight - Laura Harner




Ty Hard - Laura Harner


  Second Chances - T.A. Webb



Thank you all!!!

Tom



Friday, November 2, 2012

"Beggars and Choosers"

Review - "Beggars and Choosers" by Mia Kerick

Quirky, harsh and ultimately stunning

Very Highly Recommended

Brett Taylor-Bad News Brett Taylor-is back in town, and hoping to find some peace. He's tired of the logging job the kept him in the woods for the past year, away from showers and indoor plumbing, but it was far away from his mother and high school and, he hoped, his memories. Just having found a job as a busboy, the last thing he thought he'd find was a kid dumpster diving.

Cory Butana was only looking for some wood to use as a display for his science project in the dumpster, but what he found was a blond god. A quiet, simple guy who makes it his job to take care of Cory.

As the friendship deepens, both young men fight the attraction underlying their relationship. Cory is out and proud. Brett can't be anything but straight. Or can he?

Through the years, as Brett makes it his job to be Cory's silent guardian, he begins to notice the hole where his heart used to be pulsing with a new life. And where he swore to never trust anyone or let them in, Cory...well, he is Cory.

The friendship between the two will be tested in many ways as Cory finally becomes a man, and begins to force the issue. When push comes to shove, will the bonds of trust and love be enough to keep these two broken men together? Or will Brett let Cory go to save him from being with his loser self?

Ms. Kering has written a hauntingly beautiful story of broken men, new beginnings, trust and hurt. These two men come together in such an unexpected and gentle way, and I don't know who I loved more, Cory or Brett. Their wounded hearts ached for love and connection, and Ms. Kering showed us a skillful hand as she guided this story across years rather than days. Her young men were painfully real, and I was deeply moved by the slow and oh-so-tenuous love that grew.

This is a heartbreaker of a book, but so worth it. There are no easy answers here, and what we end up relying on is the solid base of the friendship that was built between Brett and Cory to sustain us when the worst happens.

I loved every word, and hated to see this lovely character play end. Life is messy, horrible and wonderful things happen, and I was so drawn into these young men's lives.

I cannot wait for what's next.

Fantastic job!

Tom

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"An Immovable Solitude"

Review - "An Immovable Solitude" by S.A. McAuley

Beautifully crafted examination of a relationship

Very Highly Recommended


The ocean, sharks and Kerry. The three things that make life worth living for Eric Hash. He's inherited his uncle's shark-diving and tour company on the coast of South Africa, and life is wonderful. Except for the small little things that come up. Like Kerry's sister and semi-twin Kelle, who can't stand him. And the distance that he's seen in Kerry's eyes the past weeks.

When Kerry takes in a gay throwaway and gives him a job and place to stay, it seems to both solidify their relationship and serve as a lightening rod for whatever it is bothering the man. When, on the very night of Kerry's birthday, when Hash is forced to face some cold hard facts about their relationship and how truly scared Kerry is about being out, all hell breaks loose.

And in the aftermath of the events of that night, Hash finds himself re-evaluating everything he knew-no, thought he knew-about his relationship, his family, his friends and his life.

What happened to force the actions taken that night? Where is Kerry? And will the two men ever find their way back together?

This book, this beautiful hymn to men, shows how we love and fear and learn. Ms. McAuley takes a relationship, shows us how it's built on faulty pilings in the water, and makes us watch it slowly and suddenly collapse like a pier in a tsunami. Then she grabs our hand and shows us how, in the rubble of grief, hurt, anger and heartbreak, two men in love can re-cast the underpinings and build something truly beautiful.

Oh, and it's not just the relationship Hash has with Kerry that undergoes this shock and awe attack, it's every single relationship in his life. He sees, through his pain and growth, how Kelle is not who he thought, and builds a bridge to her. And then Abraham and what he missed seeing with his uncle. Mela, who we see on the fringes and who is more than she appears to be. Even Charlie, and the young man who lit the bonfire of their hurts.

What Ms. McAuley does so well is show us how a man manages to put the pieces of a shattered life back together. And she knows the key isn't to make it better with a kiss. It's hard work. Time. Grieving. Anger. Fear.

But mostly? It's love, and want, and commitment. And she lovingly lets us watch Hash as he hurts and rages and slowly heals.

Amazingly simple, and yet so hard to pull off. Here, it's done in spades.

Beautifully done!

Tom

"Oceans Apart"

Review - "Oceans Apart" by Laura Harner

Cool, calm and wow

Very Highly Recommended

***Disclaimer. Laura Harner is my writing partner with our series Altered States. However, I am a reader and reviewer first, and I put aside all my personal feelings and friendships when I review. This is the second in the Separate Ways series, and I recommend you read Continental Divide prior to reading this book. If not, there are potential spoilers for that book below. Now, let's take a look...***

Two years after walking away from Lord Jamie Mainwaring, Colt "Remy" Remington has a whole new life. He returned to Arizona with Miggy, his undercover cop friend who lost himself in drugs. Now, he and Remy own a private security business, are foster parents to Toby, the young man Remy teamed with Jamie to rescue from the underground sex trade. They have a home, a business, and a family.

After reluctantly accepting a job guarding the owner of $15 million in diamonds on a gay barefoot cruise, Remy and Miggy-the very straight Miggy-pose as lovers. And run directly into Jamie and his new partner Ryan, who are also on an undercover assignment.

Add in an uncooperative client, murder, pirates, and the sudden and unexpected attraction between two friends, and Remy and Jamie are forced to confront their new relationships. Will either man admit what he lost, and what he has? Can the four men safeguard the diamonds and solve the case? Or will they become victims on the high seas?

This is the second of four books in the Separate Ways series, and Ms. Harner has taken the two heroes and shown then in a very new, and profound light. In Continental Divide, we are left hanging. Remy walks away from the stunned Jamie, and everything is left up in the air. Jamie is ready for a relationship, and Remy isn't. Miggy is an addict, and Toby is somewhere in limbo.

Now, Remy has built himself a home and an ersatz family without even realizing it. He and Miggy have slowly put themselves together comfortably with Toby as their son, and Remy and Miggy have to deal with the dawning realization that their relationship may be more complex than they first thought.

And Jamie. He has once again partnered himself with his work partner. He's built a comfortable life with Ryan, but finds himself reluctant to fully commit and say those three words every person wants to hear. Ryan is fully aware of it, and his pain is plain. Jamie comes to realize what is in his way and how he's repeating a pattern he started and duplicated with Remy.

This is a very mature, thoughtful work, and I loved how we got to see each of our men, broken and healing, examining themselves. There are no easy answers or fixes, and these guys, unlike so many we see, are willing to do the hard cold examination it takes to truly make changes.

Jamie and Miggy, especially, take very hard looks at themselves, and Ms. Harner gives us glimpses into the men they could and want to be. I already loved Remy, but by the end of this wonderful, literate book, I fell a little more in love with Jamie. And I just can't not want to take Miggy home with me. I am waiting impatiently for book three to see where his story takes him.

This is a solid, well-conceived and beautifully plotted work in what is shaping up to be one of my favorite must-read series.

Great job!

Tom

Thursday, October 11, 2012

"Jess's Journey"

"Jess's Journey" by SJD Peterson

Lovely, quiet and romantic

Very Highly Recommended



*This is the fifth in the Whispering Pines Ranch Series. While it is a stand-alone book, it's best to have read the other four so you have a sense of character. If not, read on anyway!*

Once upon a time there was a man named Jess Jenkins. Now Jess, he had a heart and a smile the size of Texas, but not much luck in love. When he tried to give his heart away the first time, he fell in love with his boyhood best friend. That bed was too small, and when his friend didn't return Jess's feelings, Jess got angry and tossed him out of his life.

Then Jess fell in love with Lorcan James. That bed was too big, since he had to share it with not only Lorcan, but Quinn, the man Lorcan really loved. And that lasted for a while, until Jess was in a terrible accident and smashed up his legs. Feeling like less than a man, he chased Lorcan out of that big empty bed, letting him go to the man he loved.

As Jess tried to recover and heal his body and heart, he had two men who looked after him. Collin, the younger brother of his childhood best friend, and Jack, his physical therapist. Both were good men, but would one of them be the man that had the bed that fit just right?

SJD Peterson has finally, finally given me Jess’s tale, and I have to tell you, it was worth the wait. This book is as sweet as Jess’s smile, and as warm and comfortable as your grandmother’s quilt on a cool fall night. While not without some angst, because Jess is a broken man on the mend, this loving, beautiful book wrapped around my heart and snuggled its way home. I was enchanted.

I wasn’t so sure, when I started, where Ms. Peterson was going to go with this. But the crafty woman took me surely along a familiar path, but under her sure hand, it was shiny and new. Jess was being courted and cared for by two worthy men. Collin, a sweetly innocent boy with a heart as big as Jess’s, and Jack, the gruff bear to Collin’s sweet young cub. Either man would have made a good match for the prickly, broken but ultimately honorable and vulnerable Jess.

Now we have two more men I want to see have their own books. Collin, who I’d take home in a minute and never let him go, and Troy, Jack’s counterpart from the hospital.

Oh, and were there any eight more romantic and touching words to build this fairy tale of a book around? “You still love me…You still want me”. Oh, hell yes I do.

Beautiful, masterfully told, and sincere. What more can a guy want?

Tom

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"Stranger in Translation"

"Stranger in Translation" by Charles Raines

Unusual, and bloody brilliant

Very Highly Recommended

In what seemed like a great move at the time, a young linguist agrees to spend six months translating a current bestseller from English to French. What better place than Marseilles, right? Romance, French men and great food and scenery. The young man settles into a perfectly adequate apartment and begins. Then promptly gets stuck.

It seems our unnamed translator hates the book, and feels contempt for the frivolous author. The city's people aggravate him. He's fighting feelings of his ambiguous sexuality, his ennui, and the terrible itchy feeling that something is missing. That his life has no meaning, and this trip is a waste.

He beings hanging out in a local cemetery, on a small bench facing the gravestone of Maurice Mansour. Soon enough, a handsome and mysterious young jogger begins to meet him there, and a slow dance of seduction begins. Along the way, our narrator has a series of encounters with various men, one-offs and meaningless. But always, the jogger nudges and occupies his attention.

Just as our young man begins to feel some hope, something solid, something worthwhile...there's a turn, a secret revealed.

And I can't tell you more without ruining the story and where it goes.

Charles Raines has captured the restless, scratchy, wrong-in-my-skin unrest that men feel as they grapple with what their place in the world will be. Gay, straight, bisexual - it doesn't matter. As Mr. Raines shows in fascinating and intimate detail is that it's the journey, not the destination, that matters. It's the self-definition and discovery that leads to acceptance and calm, not what others perceive you as.

This book is at once in-your-face and quietly fascinating. We see the young man's struggle, his restlessness as he wrestles with his own feelings of superiority and snobbery, which fade into a deeply unsettling, to him, revelation of what his place truly is in the world. And how the challenge of changing not only definition of self, but his worldview, makes him settle into himself.

I really liked that there were no easy solutions for our unnamed narrator. Life is seldom tidy and clean, and the bumpy ride feels...right.

Mr. Raines has a steady, brutally frank voice that I find intriguing and like a LOT. I can't wait to see where he goes next, because this book is brilliant.

Great job.

Tom

Monday, October 1, 2012

"Dex in Blue"

"Dex in Blue" by Amy Lane

Insightful, amazing character study

Very Highly Recommended

Just when Dex Williams finally, finally took David Worral by the hand and the heart and they crossed the line from boyhood friends to lovers, something as random as a deer jumping in front of their truck changed David’s future.

Recovering from the wreck and the loss of Dex, David changes his plans and runs to California, becoming Dex, one of the stars of Johnnie’s, a gay-for-pay porn site. Always a follower, David becomes Dex, and takes care of not only the business, but the boys who model for the site.

And one of those boys is Kane. Carlos Ramirez, really, but he’s Kane to everyone now. Forced to move out of his house, he asks Dex for a favor. To move in for a while, so his sister can get on her feet away from her abusive husband and care for her sick baby girl.

What’s a guy to do? Of course Dex lets Kane move in. The guy may be a certifiable, looney-tune, muscle-bound meathead, but he’s a friend, and at heart a sweet guy, Dex figures. But what he doesn’t figure on is that the friends with benefits arrangement could lead to something more. Something he had run from since the real Dex’s death.

Will Kane get past the walls that David built to protect himself when the real Dex died and left him alone? Can he recapture the big-hearted boy he was? Or will he lose everything? How much will he be willing to give up to have everything?

This quietly beautiful character study by Amy Lane takes a simple premise—who is a man, really—and follows it from the point one person’s life takes a sudden left turn and is lost, until he finds his way home. And along the way, I found such scenes of joy and heartache, beauty and ugliness, and pleasure and pain as make up a man’s existence. David’s life changed that one fateful day—moment—and the choices he made and the man he chose to become make for a wholly remarkable tale.

I was truly, deeply and wholeheartedly moved by not only the journey I took with David and Carlos, but by the humbling way Ms. Lane took me there. Her prose was restrained, the descriptions so soul-achingly beautiful I had to go back and re-read them so I could hold them close and savor them, like new/old friends.

David’s grief at Dex’s gravesite.

“He remembered the person who had helped him fly with the wind instead of being beaten down by it, and he cried quietly into his knees, finally knowing how big the sky could be to make a person feel as alone as a heartbeat in space.”

His wonder at how Kane could get to him, and his realization of what it took to deserve a man’s love.

“Maybe before you got someone who would fight to have you, you had to be ready to kill or die for them first.”

And silent epiphanies.

“How many perfect things did God give you in a lifetime?”

This is a different Amy Lane, but yet the same. She’s shown she can move me with devastation, fear, anger, hurt, love, grief. Now she’s shown me, reminded me, there are quiet joys in life again too.

Thank you.

Tom

Thursday, September 6, 2012

"Mourning Heaven"

Review - "Mourning Heaven" by Amy Lane


Beautiful, intense, masterfully done


Very Highly Recommended

At age ten, Peter Armbruster was brought to live with his Aunt Aileen and his cousin Michael. His mother, bless her heart, wasn’t able to provide for him and thought he’d do better there. It took him a while to blend in, especially when he was taken to church in the small town of Daisy, California. Sitting there in in the pews, he looked around and saw the stained glass and thought of the words his mother had told him about small towns and the choices he would have to make and how he chose to live his life.


Just look at those windows, he thought. This must be their favorite part of the story. The part where somebody bleeds. Nothing that had happened since that day led him to feel any different.


He did learn to fit in, to an extent, thanks to his cousin Michael. And later, Michael’s friend Bodi, the boy he would love from afar.


But then things kind of exploded and life changed, as it has a way of doing. And six years later, Michael was being shipped home from Afghanistan in a pine box, and Peter was forced to go tell Bodi. And maybe finally claim what he wanted.


How will Bodi react? Will Peter finally confess his love? And how will the town that hated them all react to the prodigal sons’ return, one in a coffin, the other with Peter?


Amy Lane, usually so gentle, took me by the throat and dragged me into this raw and angry stunner and forced me to watch and live and breathe the heady mix of grief and love and redemption. I was moved beyond words, shaken to the core, and ultimately left gentled by her sure and crafty hand.


This book is Amy Lane at her best – broken and betrayed men forced to look their pain squarely in the face, to deal with it somehow, and to confront the loss and acknowledge the new possibilities. There is no room for weakness here, because pain and loss and hurt demand more.


“You give thanks to the things that save you,” Bodi acknowledged.


Peter dominates this book. His seeming passivity and resignation to his life in Daisy gives way to a slow, deep-seated fiery anger at the lies and hurts heaped on him and those he loves. The awakening we see in him as he unfolds and reaches for his power – just remarkable.


And Bodi. Broken, shattered, tossed aside by family, friends and a heartless town, he’s been out of the picture for six long years. Or has he? And his slow climb out of the hell he’s been in – sharp, stunning, powerful.


But it’s Michael, the missing leg of the triangle, who I am most intrigued by. Why he made the decisions he did. How he died a little every day for six years, before he ended up being buried and mourned for all of his strengths and flaws and weaknesses by the two men who knew him best and loved him most. And how he was so much more – and less – than anyone ever expected. A hero with feet of clay.


Regret is the sound of the ghosts of our own making. I will live with mine until I die.


There’s no regret for me in recommending this haunting book. Grief and loss by their very nature demand pain, and it’s a beautiful sadness and joy that transforms those emotions to peace and love. Amy Lane has truly outdone herself here, and I’m just glad she invited me along for the ride. It was magic.


Tom

Friday, August 24, 2012

"Tales of Foster High"

Review - "Tales of Foster High" by John Goode

Probably the best YA series out there

Very Highly Recommended


This is a compilation of three previously released works about two young men, Kyle and Brad, and their coming to terms with their homosexuality and how it affects their lives when they come out. The works are heartfelt, direct, amazing pieces, and I get chills every time I read them. I have reviewed them individually, and will share them collectively.

"Maybe with a Chance of Certainty"


"I don't remember the moment I knew I was broken...but I do recall when I started to understand it might be okay. It was the moment I fell in love with the boy with the green eyes."

Sigh.

Kyle is the loner in school - intelligent, socially awkward, alcoholic abusive mother. Gay.

Brad is the star of the baseball team, one of the gods of high school. Popular, beautiful. Unattainable.

When Brad asks Kyle to tutor him in history, it sparks a change in both young men that has to be read to be savored.

I LOVED this book. And I cannot wait for the sequel.

Mr. Goode captures both boys so heartbreakingly well. I found myself aching and crying with the care he invested in these characters. Other writers looking to capture what it is to be a gay man, or a boy, or whatever, should read this and pay close attention to the voices, especially of Kyle. So many don't get it right, that it is scary and unreal and that you feel broken when you realize you are different.

I wish I had had this to read with I was a teenager. Or even in my early 20s. At 50, I get it now. But the fragility of these boys' hearts and the fear and the ache and the love. Beautiful.

Just...read it. Please.

"The End of the Beginning"


This fine book picks up where “Maybe with a Chance of Certainty” left off. Responding to Kyle’s being bullied, Brad has outed himself to his classmates to protect Kyle. We find Brad the next day, contemplating what he has done, and doing some soul searching. Did he do the right thing? Can he take it back? What will his friends thinks? His family? Teammates? Can it be undone?

In the course of dealing with all this fear, which is ultimately what this book is about – fear, and will Brad master it – he meets a kindred spirit. Tyler, an older and hopefully wiser version of Brad, helps him in a weak moment. He recognizes himself in Brad, and gives him the best advice of his young life - “Trust me, living with a life full of regrets is just about the shittiest way I can think of existing.” God, where was my Tyler when was 16, 17, 18?

“I promise you the only thing worse than being a rat trapped in a maze is being aware that you were that rat.” With one simple observation, Brad’s soul is bared to us.

Where “Maybe…” was more about Kyle, this is definitely Brad’s story. We find out much more about what makes Brad tick, his fears, his hopes, his family, and most importantly, what he wants out of life. And we see, though his eyes, how very tough it is to be young and gay in a small town. How love can make us vulnerable when nothing else can touch us, and how fear can grab even the toughest of us by the throat and the heart and shake us until we are weak. How even knowing the right thing to do can scare us so badly, we will give up on ourselves and the ones we love to protect what is. Because what might be – no guarantees there, are there?

And that, in turn, makes us take a hard look inside. And makes me wonder, if I were in Brad’s position, what would I do? And that, my friends, is the sign of a great writer. Most anyone who writes can tell a competent tale – it takes an artist to make us stop and think. To hold up a mirror and invite us to look, think, feel. And make no mistake, with this book, Mr. Goode is an artist.
“At that moment I knew I’d follow him anywhere he took me.”

I feel the same way, Mr. Goode. Keep writing like this and take me with you.

"Raise Your Glass"


It's been only two days since baseball jock and school BMOC Brad came out to the school in an attempt to support his boyfriend, nerdy and invisible Kyle. The repercussions haven't really hit either boy terribly hard yet, as they skipped school the day before, and now will have to face the music.

The reaction at home has been mixed. Kyle's mother, gone agan, isn't a factor. And Brad's parents are, as usual, fighting over the news. It's at school where the dread will come in. Brad picks up Kyle and, drawing on other for strength, they head in to Foster High.

The kids are waiting. The news has spread, the gossip ripe. Whispers greet them everywhere they go. Conversations stop as they walk into their classes. Students once friends now look at Brad like he grew an additional head. For Kyle, it means he's noticed now.

But with attention comes conflict, and the underlying homophobia Kyle feared. And it comes out - verbally, physically, emotionally. Even to the point where Brad may not be allowed to play baseball, since he might...become aroused by the bodies around him. Never mind he's been dressing out in locker rooms for years. Never mind he is counting on a scholarship to get the hell out of North Texas.

Will the pressures of being out be too much for Kyle and Brad? How will the school, and the school board, deal with openly gay student? And, most importantly, will the boys be together and safe?

John Goode has once again delivered the goods. This is an emotionally stunning, powerhouse...gem of a story. The two characters, Brad and Kyle, leap off the page with verve and conviction. They grabbed my attention, my love and my heart.

This is a hugely relevant and important series. Nobody else in the genre has captured the pure psychological weight on the shoulders of gay teens, and how truly fragile, yet strong, these kids are. Brad on his own was maintaining, hiding his true self under a self-hating persona. And Kyle was living day-to-day, counting the moments until he was out of school.

Ah, but together? These two together have found something special, something that makes them more than just the sum of the two wholes. They found synergy. And with that, they can make it through.

There are horrible things that happen along the way in this book - deeds that can't be undone, words that can't be unspoken, hurts that can't be taken back. But alongside all that - there is something more. Something underlying all the pain and the fear and the hate.

The unspoken forces that Mr. Goode has given us here are Hope and Love.

Hope for these two boys. Hope for at least some of the people in this small Texas town. Hope for their parents, their friends - old and new. Hope for other gay men and women there.

And love. The love of a young man for another. A parent for their child. Love of self.

This book moved me to tears. Joyful tears that Kyle and Brad will make it. That they are not alone. And that it does get better.

Fine job.



Read this wonderful series and enjoy!!!

Tom

Sunday, August 19, 2012

"To Reach the Stars"

Review – “To Touch the Stars” by Jeremy Pack


Amazing epic story of love and courage


Very Highly Recommended


From the time he was an almost-teen in the early 1950’s, Nicholas Sullivan was fascinated with flying and the stars. His father, a pilot during WWII, filled the young boy’s ears full of stories of derring-do, and it shouldn’t have come as any surprise when at the age of twelve, Nick was stealing off under cover of night to take his dad’s crop-dusting plane off to try to get as close as he could to the edge of the sky.


At the same time, young Tait Williams was keeping his eyes much more to the earth. Usually in a book. As his mother noted, both wryly and with wonder, the boy was an old soul and wise beyond his years. His future, even then, was tied to writing and his dreams, while lofty, were fixed on the Pulitzer Prize.


Their lives, even then, took them in such different directions. Young Nick would grow and enter the fledgling NASA astronaut program of the early sixties as part of President Kennedy’s pledge to reach the moon within ten years. And Tait, he would finish college and start his career as a newspaper beat writer and copy editor.


Across the backdrop of thirty years – the triumphs and tragedies of the Apollo manned launches, the Vietnam War, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the early days of AIDS, love, marriages, deaths, babies, families – we are introduced to Nick and Tait’s lives. Their families, their friends, their loves, joys and sorrows. We meet Bill, Alex, Eleanor, the Senator, Vannak and Nkeah, Isabella, and Adam.


We see how fate and life hinge on small moments and seemingly minor encounters – what ifs. What if an unexpected nudge in the right direction didn’t happen? An offer of a job was missed. A gentle push from an unexpected source went to someone else. Even the unwilling granting of the second chance to make a better impression never materialized.


Will Nick and Tait be the biggest what if – what if the slow, inevitable dance of two people drawn to each other was stopped in its tracks because same-sex relationships are a generation away from being utterly forbidden and career-killing?


Jeremy Pack has written an exquisitely crafted ode to dreams, men and love. He’s taken a deceptively simple puzzle piece – boy meets boy – and gently and lovingly added piece after piece, layer upon layer of subtle grace and power until the complete, stunning panorama is shown. He’s spanned thirty years of almosts, not quites…of close. Of missed chances, of regrets.


This is a truly remarkable book. Mr. Pack keeps his hand firmly on the wheel, never allowing the story to veer, keeping his voice as pure and sweet as any I’ve read. His description of Nick’s exuberance at flying is as controlled and beautiful as is the horror of the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields of Cambodia he so hauntingly shows us.


This work is a treasure. I stayed up two nights reading it, and longed for more of Nick and Tait when I was finished. These are the men who paved the road for me as a gay man, and in turn my generation – gutted and devastated and maybe a little jaded in the time of HIV – has hopefully blazed a path for today’s gay youth.


This is a special book. Buy it, savor it, and fall in love a little. I did.


This is quite possible the best book of the year.


Tom

Saturday, August 18, 2012

"Last Dance With Mary Jane"

Review - "Last Dance With Mary Jane" by John Goode

What if...your dead love could talk to you?

Very Highly Recommended


Peter isn't handling the death of his partner well. Ah, that's an understatement, perhaps. He's out of his friggin' mind.

He's drinking, thinking over and over about the irony of what strength and will it took for Shayne to not only accept his diagnosis of Stage 2 HIV infection and the six or seven year life expectancy, but to actually overcome it and be healthy on the other end. Then, to lose his life in a freak car accident when he had everything to live for.

And the worst of his downward spiral is the constant calls he makes to Shayne's cell phone, just to have that one last bit of his man, one small slice of his day where he can hear his voice and everything can be right with the world.

But he knows that he's just hanging on by his fingernails. To Shayne, to his sanity.

And there are people all around him trying to help - his therapist, a bartender, and his neighbor. Trying to get him to get it all out and move on.

And then his life takes the weirdest turn yet when he calls Shayne's phone to hear him one more time...and Shayne answers.

What would you do?

John Goode has taken this dilemma and turned it inside on itself in this breathtakingly beautiful story about the ultimate second chance. To take my worst nightmare - losing a loved one without being able to say all the important things like "I love you" one more time - and having God, fate, the Universe give me one more chance to talk to that person...is so poignantly gut-wrenching.

Mr. Goode took me by the hand and led me along this road of discovery that is at once so self-evident and yet so very hard to grasp. He showed me the slow growth of love and caring, and how the path of love and life takes us through joy and illness and anger and joy. Then the grief of loss, and the stumbling steps we try to take to get back on way to living again.

Ah, but it would be easy to stop there. Just to make this another man-gets-over-tragedy story. That's not good enough. Mr. Goode took it one step further, and asked me, if you could make one last call, have one last talk, what would you say?

His Peter has to make that choice, and it forced me to wonder for myself, what would I do and what would I say? It's especially relevant as I just lost my partner, but I had the chance to say all the important things, the I love you's and the you are mine and I am yours' and the goodnight and goodbye's.

But...I would give much - everything - to have one more talk...but I have no regrets.

There are fantastic turns and twists here - how Shayne got to be nicknamed MJ, and how Peter used the word "feckless" and who it pissed off, and how the Universe is like a clock.

Trust me, read this and find it all out for yourself. Then think about who you need to call tonight and say something to, in case you don't have a tomorrow with them.

Just...excellent.

Tom