The end of the year is finally upon us and if you’re like me (and I know I am), you’re busier than a one-armed paper-hanger in a windstorm (bonus points to anyone who gets the two 90’s references in that sentence!).
First and foremost, Jay is my favorite this year. Not only does she put in all the time and effort of organizing everything on this fantastic blog, but she’s got the patience to work with reviewers (me) who are nowhere near as organized as she is. Thank you, Jay, for pulling everything together with such panache!
Now, on to the books! My disorganized-chaos file keeping system informs me I reviewed 67 books as of this posting. While these may not be all the 5 star ratings I’ve given, these are books I would 110% re-read, books I would buy in dead-tree format (if I didn’t move around so much), and books I would gift to someone (even if they weren’t strictly M/M fans).
AMBERLOUGH by Lara Elena Donnelly
This is an intelligent spy thriller featuring a multitude of well-developed and engaging characters. The prose is beautiful and paints a lush picture of the city Amberlough. It’s filled with emotion and, yes, a lot of tragedy. I loved the dynamic between our two main characters Cyril and Ariside, and couldn’t help but hope for the best even as I prepared for the worst. The ending is one to debate over coffee with a good reading buddy, then furiously write fan fiction about how you THINK it turned out. If you like the socio-cultural aspects of The Great Gatsby and the political intrigue of The Captive Prince (confession: I haven’t read the third installment yet so bear that in mind), I think you’d enjoy this story very much.
The CENTURION’s CHOICE by Sandra Schwab
If history is your thing, this is a great read. If history isn’t your thing, this is a great read. I am no history buff, so I cannot attest to the veracity of the details—yet I could tell there were details to appreciate. It’s reflected in the use of the Latin titles for Lucius and Florius, in the descriptions of their surroundings as they navigate the Second Marcomannic War. The story is firmly set in this richly described historical setting and the characters are very much involved with the minutiae of being at war. At the same time, the attraction between Florius and Lucius is given equal attention for a wonderfully balanced historical romance.
COUNTERMIND by Adrian Randall
Here is a densely written technothriller whose layers are painstakingly peeled back as we watch Alan Izaki run for his life as he is pursued by Countermind agent Jack Smith. All Alan wants to do is live his life in peace, and all Jack wants to is capture him. But as their paths intertwine, we see nothing is as black-and-white as it would seem. There are so many contemporary social issues that shoot through the text, but there is nary a soapbox in sight. What, for example, is the definitive meaning of “personhood.” How does one address an agender person? These are merely the facts of the lives of our broad cast of characters—things that describe their lives but by no means define them. If you want to explore these kinds of social issues without having a preachy text (far from it!) or you simply want to lose yourself in a delightfully complex futuristic novel a la Bladerunner, this would be a great read.
EATING THE MOON by Mark David Campbell
This is one of the two books I read this year where I literally started sweating, speed reading, and trying to remember to keep my jaw shut as all the threads culminated in a flash-bang fantastic ending. For one thing, I loved that it features an older man as the main narrator; for another, I loved the structure of the book. This older guy, named Guy, is going to a therapist (let’s hear it for Canadian single payer!) to make sense out of his life. Specifically, as he enters his golden years, he can’t stop thinking about (obsessing about) the time he was shipwrecked on a island paradise where he was free to be himself—to be gay and love whom he wanted to love, to share that love if he so choose with others. We flip flop between the therapists office and Guy’s exploits on the island. Clearly, we know he did not stay on that paradise—nor that it was necessarily a problem-free life. Yet as the end of the book approached and we learn how Guy left the island, a whole new host of questions arise…and the ending is unforgettable.
SKIN by Christian Baines
This is the other of those two books I read this year where I literally started sweating (and swearing), speed reading, and trying to remember to keep my jaw shut as all the threads culminated in the bitterest sweet ending I think anyone could have come up with. Angst, thy sweet name is Christian Baines. There is a small cast of intimately intertwined characters, but only at the end do we realize just how intertwined they truly are. Set in present day New Orleans, there is more grit than glamour as the characters struggle to just be themselves, to make ends meet, to survive, to get justice in the face of grievous wrongs. I loved how the story telling unfolded. By the end of the book, you can see how you’ve been manipulated by Baines in a way that preserves the big ending for, well, the big ending. And what an ending! Even before the writing was on the wall, I was desperate to reread this to get a better grip on the time line. Overall, this is a great read for anyone who loves surprise endings or who likes to challenge themselves to figure out a mystery before reading the entire book.
WAITING FOR WALKER by Robin Reardon
Here is a young adult book that actually feels like it was written for young adults, not for what marketing teams want young adults to like. I loved the realism presented. Our two main characters, Micah and Walker, are not mere avatars but fully developed people. Even better, so are the supporting characters. While Micah struggles to be happy with divorced parents and coming out, Walker is trying to come to terms with his gender identity. I like how this is clearly a story about the relationship between Micah and Walker, but there is just as much attention given to each of their family lives—in other words, our MCs are not defined by their romantic interest in one another. This is a story about the complexities of family, of relationships with them and with romantic partners, and just plain old growing up. That even extends to the adults who are by no means perfect when Micah’s brother changes religion for the woman he loves. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to read an honest, if messy, depiction of people growing up at all stages of their lives in contemporary America.