Turning Tricks is the second book in Tenino’s Task Force Iota series and picks up about a month after the end of the first book, the fabulous 18% Gray. The story once again focuses on James Ayala and Matt Tenimore. They have returned home after Matt helped James escape Red Idaho, where James was being held prisoner. A member of the military in the Blue states, James had been captured by enemy forces and, after being found to be gay, had been sent for “re-education.”
Although James is no longer in the hands of the Red states, things are still unstable for him. He has an implant in his head, put there through illegal testing by the military. While it once just enhanced his empathic abilities, the implant is continuing to grow and change, giving James new, but unpredictable, mental powers. On the plus side, he can read people’s emotions clearly, even from a distance, and his mental connection with Matt helps bring a strong bond to their relationship. But the implant feels like a ticking bomb with its unpredictable growth. Making matters worse, they soon find that the original implant is not the only thing in James’ head, and an additional parasite, nicknamed the “trick,” also has taken hold, causing even more worry about the damage it may cause.
Together with Matt’s grandparent’s Lance and Anais, as well as cousin Laslo and others from the Queer Extraction Services Association, the men become part of Task Force Iota, a group developed to track down the others with implants and determine who is behind them. This means a risky mission for Matt, as well as more experimentation to figure out what is really going on in James’ brain. But there is something out there working against them, trying to spread the threat as the task force tries to stop it. For James’ safety, they must hope they can figure out how to contain the “trick” before it can be used against them.
So for starters here, clearly it will help you to follow along with Turning Tricks if you have read 18% Gray. This story sort of jumps into things, and while there is enough backstory to catch up new readers, personally I think it is a lot more rich having read the first book. Even with that background, I did find the book took a while to hit its stride for me. There is a lot of set up as the group learns more about James’ implant, puts together the task force, etc. We also slowly learn more about the evil presence that is causing the trouble, and it takes a while to really understand what it is and what it is trying to do. I am not particularly good with not understanding things right away, so I was a bit impatient here. But I actually think the slower reveal works, as we learn about what is happening at the same pace as the characters, which helps the urgency and excitement build over the course of the story.
Things really took off for me in the second half of the book, when the threat is clear and the action really begins. Once again we get lots of interesting technology and world building, as well as an exciting rescue. This was done so well in 18% Gray and I think it is just as interesting here in Turning Tricks. It was exciting and fascinating and kept the energy growing throughout the story as the group races to solve the puzzle of the implant, as well as to extract a key player from the Red states in a daring rescue.
But for me the heart of this story is once again the characters. Matt and James are just fabulous together. Their empathic bond allows them to connect with each other so deeply and that is so clearly conveyed to the reader. James continues to be the dominant one, both in and out of the bedroom, but Matt still remains a strong and confident leader. They are such a good match for one another and their love for each other only grows stronger over the course of the book.
And it was great being reunited with so many of the fabulous characters from the first story. Matt’s grandmother Anais continues to be hardcore and tough as nails. She doesn’t take crap from anyone and I love how she just gets the job done. His grandfather Lance also plays a big role, helping to lead the task force and continuing to help preside over the enormous brood of grandchildren, most of whom work for QESA or the military. And there is no forgetting the star of the show, Miz the horse. Oh yes, she is back, having tracked James from Idaho to his home, refusing to be left behind. The joy and love James feels at her return is so sweet and heartwarming and I love that she is just as stubborn as always. Plus I can’t help but get a giggle every time she and James “talk” telepathically.
I really enjoyed this book and think Tenino does a great job both continuing and building the story. We get a nice resolution to the most pressing of James’ problems, which allows us to feel comfortable about Matt and James’ future. But it is also clear that there is still danger out there, especially to the others with implants, and that there is more work and future missions to be done. Which is just perfect, because Laslo and Logan’s book is coming, and I for one can’t wait to see where else this story takes us. Great book, lots of fun and excitement. Definitely recommended.
Anne will be here today to talk to use more about Turning Tricks with an interview with Miz Horse and a book giveaway so be sure to check that out!
This is a short story about Matt and James celebrating Matt’s 25th birthday in a very special way. Matt has a fantasy that he wants James to help him live out and James is definitely eager to play along. And let me tell you, this story is scorching hot as well as sweetly romantic. But mostly crazy hot!
It takes place about a year after the events of the two novels, and even after the next book in the series featuring Logan and Laslo. Interestingly, this story was published in an anthology before any of those books came out. Tenino has done so well connecting all the stories; there are many things mentioned here that clearly tie into the novels, such as the slight dom/sub dynamic, Matt’s cousin Jude, the task force, etc. Even though it was published first, to me the perfect time to read it is is after finishing Turning Tricks. It was a wonderful way to finish off Matt and James’ romance and gives them a lovely and very sexy ending. If you have enjoyed the first two books, I’d highly recommend this story as well.