Gay Marriage in Romance Novels

Scribbled below are my thoughts regarding a recent article from a literary critic bemoaning the lack of gay marriage and long-term gay relationships in fiction.  He either is not familiar with male/male romance or dismisses the genre, hence my response.  I do not claim to have a great deal of expertise on the topic, but I can provide one fan’s perspective.  I also list some of my favorite works that focus on married gay couples (and link to an article commenter who listed ten more serious male/male romance works).

In response to: “It’s time fiction reflected gay married life” by Matthew Griffin

My Response | Commenter’s Ten Works | My Favorite Gay Marriage Fiction


My Comments

It is easy for literary critics to overlook or dismiss “pulp” fiction when looking for thoughtful and meaningful insights into society and social relations.  The author of a recent article lamented the lack of fiction that reflected gay married life.  He indicated some popular fiction (e.g. science fiction) and popular cinema (Brokeback Mountain) had been meaningful to him.  However, he also stated that much of the gay literature he had read usually focused on past difficulties (such as homophobia and AIDs) and almost always had tragic endings.  When he read gay literature that was focused on more positive relationships, he found it generally to be rooted in sex, beauty, physical pleasure, and repeated encounters with different partners rather than long-term relationships.

As a reader of the male/male romance, I do recognize there are many works in this genre that may focus on physical pleasure, superficial appearance, and/or immediate conquest/hook-up/coupling of two men.  However, serious readers of this genre will recognize there are many works focused on personal and romantic gay relationships and the societal issues surrounding their long-term struggles and success. Many works have focused on a journey to marriage, both in the newly legal sense as well as in the long-term relationships that has been part of gay culture in the United States for decades.  (Before any U.S. state legalized gay marriages, most of my gay friends in long-term, committed relationships used the terms “married” and “husbands” to refer to themselves even if broader society called them “partners.”)  The male/male romance genre has always included serious explorations of permanent love and relationships, and gleefully has also incorporated legal marriage into newer plot lines.

It’s possible this author is unfamiliar with this somewhat “niche” genre, or may dismiss it as “pulp” fiction that is not worthy of serious consideration, as some others have done in the past.  Whatever the author’s experience or opinions,  I do not want to rehash old arguments but I will take this opportunity to say popular fiction has often made insightful comments on current society and aspirations for a better world.  Pulp science fiction in print and on film of past decades has predicted both technological and social developments in society, from Isaac Asimov to Gene Roddenberry.

The often maligned romance genre has been too often dismissed by some feminists and scholars as stereotypical fairy tales or simply reinforcing traditional patriarchy, reinforcing a stereotype that a woman needs to be with a man to be complete.  Yet there are plenty of examples in this broad genre of powerful women breaking  gender norms, and often knocking down men devoted to patriarchal/male domination in relationships, and uplifting those who are willing to join with strong women in challenging at least some repressive gender roles.  (One doesn’t have to be a misandrist or totally opposed to long-term monogamy or marriage to support the equality and empowerment of women.  I have always embraced the feminist label for myself, and also enjoyed many male/female romance books with strong women as well as male/male novels.) In a similar manner, while some “male/male” romance works seem to be focused on titillation, plenty have social and personal substance in their stories and relationships.

In short, I am arguing that the male/male romance genre has seriously tackled gay long-term relationships, both before and after the legalization of gay marriage, and that romance as a genre should not be summarily dismissed even if some works are simply focused on immediate pleasure rather than more serious issues.  (While this is probably not news to any who are likely to read this, it did make me feel better to vent a bit.)

A quote from the article:

The gay literature I read in the years after that never quite answered my questions. Much of it is rooted not in the drama of long-term relationships but in the sharp pang of sex, in the search for love in immediate beauty and physical pleasure, often moving from one object of desire to another in quick succession.

Below are two lists of male/male romance series that have a rich depth and breadth that reaches far beyond the sex/beauty/physical focus which the author describes above.


Ten strong male/male romances focused on long-term relationships:

Provided by a commenter responding to the article on The Guardian‘s website

1. More Heat Than The Sun series by John Wiltshire
2. Cut and Run series by Abigail Roux and Madeleine Urban
3. Stockhlom Syndrome series by Richard Rider
4. Special Forces Series By Alexandr Voinov
5. The Adrien English Mysteries by Josh Lanyon
6. The Shatterproof Bond series by Isobel Starling
7. The Psycop Series by Jordan Castillo Price
8. Shattered Glass by Dani Alexander
9. Captive Prince series by C.S Pacat
10. The THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet


Some of my favorite “gay marriages” in recent fiction:

Love Lessons series by Heidi Cullinan
Promises series by Amy Lane
Bear, Otter and the Kid series by TJ Klune
Unto Us the Time Has Come by Sean Michael
Hope by Rick Reed (7&7 Anthology of Virtue and Vice)
Love Lessons series by Heidi Cullinan

Comments:  The series covers college-aged and new adults from a wide variety of backgrounds and approaches, from jaded players, Disney-princess twinks, gay men fleeing religious discrimination, rich and financially struggling, suburban and rural. (Series is set in a Midwestern college environments that reflect my own experience.)

Promises series by Amy Lane

Comments:  Thes tear-jerker novels follow a strong young man who suffers, survives, and thrives in a difficult, homophobic environment, including taking in a friend ejected from his family for being gay, and a couple growing through their taboo attraction, war, and the development of an increasingly broad and inclusive family. (Set in the Sierra Foothills very close to my current location.)

Bear, Otter and the Kid series by TJ Klune

Comments:  Extremely humorous and rather irreverent series filled with laughter surrounding serious issues.   I must admit, this actually isn’t one of my personal favorites, as one of the characters drives me too crazy, but overall is a fan favorite for a “laugh-out-loud” take on serious issues.

I actually personally prefer the At First Site series, which is even less reverential and more caricature-driven humor. Even so, I see plenty of realistic attitudes and experiences in the characters even if they are driven over-the-top in humorous but endearing caricatures.

Unto Us the Time Has Come by Sean Michael

Comments: Gay marriage can lead to gay divorce, and this holiday story centers on a gay couple and their kids coming to terms with celebrating Christmas while separated. Interestingly, many of the (female) reviewers found the men’s behavior to be extremely knuckled-headed, and wondered why it took them so long to get their heads out of their a**es. I found their behavior utterly believable. I’m just not sure if it’s a male versus female point of view, or maybe I just have my head too far up my own…

Hope by Rick Reed

Comments:  This short story (available in the free 7&7 Virtue & Vice anthology) centers on a man dealing with the fallout of HIV in the 1990’s but able to survive and move on to love and eventually marriage.  In some ways, a relatively pat and simplistic story, but one that resonated deeply with me.

A Walk on the Wild Side Anthology (review)

Tagline: 30 brief m/m romance shifter stories released one per day in June 2016

Walk on the Wild Side Anthology Book Cover

Daiy Dose 2016
Title: A Walk on the Wild Side Anthology
A Dreamspinner Anthology – Daily Dose 2016
Genre: Paranormal Shifter M/M Romance

Format:  Anthology of 30 short stories
Size: 370k words

Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)
ISBN: 9781634775168

Rating:   star star star star 4 stars  (I really liked it!)

Summary: A wide variety of m/m paranormal romance shifter stories released (to me) one per day in June 2016.    Individual stories are rated and listed below with links to  fulls reviews.

Each year Dreamspinner Press compiles a “Daily Dose” anthology of 30 short stories and novellas. This year’s theme is A Walk on the Wild Side consisting of paranormal shifter male-male romance.  Since I have a particular interest in shifters and short stories, I purchased a pre-publication package which means I received one new story each day during the month of June.  As I had time to read and review them, I added a new post for each new release, and they are listed and linked below.

Individual Story Ratings and Summaries

Alpaca Lies by Elizabeth Coldwell
2.5 stars (short / full review)
Short story (7k words, 23 pages)
Alfie the Alpaca lusts after estate heir Sam (even though he has a dodgy boyfriend)

Always Follow Your Goat by Nora Roth
2.5 stars ( short / full review)
Short story (9k words, 29 pages)
Milly the meddling goat butts the camp counselor towards her Jack

Bye-Bye Birdie by Lex Chase
2.75 stars (short / full review)
Short story (10k words, 29 pages)
Flighty parakeet shifter flees from the heroic but clueless iguana shifter

Buddy the Cat by Sara Stark
2.75 stars (short / full review)
Short story (6k words, 22 pages)
A librarian, a wandering cat, and the hunky businessman

Book Cover
A Cat Builds a Raft by Bee Allen
3 stars (short / full review)
Novella (18k words, 52 pages)
Zeke lives as a housecat for Toby, and when Toby’s family causes issues, the cat shifter might have to confront fears and more

Chords by Taylor Roxton
3 stars (short / full review)
Short Story (11k words, 33 pages)
Werewolf howls should soar at Julliard but for a mysterious, unscented upperclassman – and a cage

A Cobra’s Charm by Meghan Maslow
4.5 stars (short / full review)
Novella (17k words, 52 pages)
Sshy sssnake enslaved ssshifter belly dances for his master before meeting his animal’s arch-nemesis

Daniel’s Lynx by Ava Hayden
4.5 stars  (short /full review)
Novella (16k words, 55 pages)
Jilted middle-aged man finds the missing Lynx

A Dove’s Wing by Katya Harris
3.5 stars (short / full review)
Novella (17K words, 55 pages)
When his nephew shoots a dove with a BB gun, uncle Abe is in for a surprise

Faerie Riddles by Cassia Rose
4 stars (short / full review)
Fantasy Novella (17k words, 55 pages)
The scholar and the bounding fae puppy are riddled with danger beyond the Great Iron Wall

Fieldwork by Charles Payseur
4 stars (short / full review)
Short Story (12k words, 38 pages)
Shy shifter with a secret is thrust into a dangerous, field-agent assignment with a buff partner

Holy Cow! by E.M. Lynley
4 stars (short / full review)
Novella (17k words, 55 pages)
Shiva’s bull rushes an American doc in exotic, intriguing India

Love, Marriage, and a Baby Carriage  by C.S. Poe
4 stars (shortfull review)
Short Story (9k words, 32 pages)
Queer penguins looking for a mate at heterosexual WaddleCon find an egg

Love Unmasked by Dale Cameron Lowry
4.5 stars (short full review)
Short Story (8k words, 28 pages)
The shame of being a varmint ‘Coon could challenge the most open-minded of critters

Man’s Best Friend by C.B. Lewis
4 stars (short full review)
Novella (17k words, 48 pages)
Colorado lumbersexual looks for the dog he rescued only to find a naked Englishman wearing a leather collar

More Beautiful Than a Unicorn by Bell Ellis
3.5 stars (short / full review)
Short Story (12k words, 28 pages)
Twenty-five year old virgin, a unicorn, an exotic Indian… nice gay fairy tale

More Fish in the Sea  by Fil Preis
3.5 stars (short / full review)
Novella (17k words, 49 pages)
Betrayed Wiccan bisexual beseeches the Hawaiian Moon only to get fed to the sharks

Of Nuts and Men by L.E. Franks
2.5 stars (short / full review)
Short Story (14k words, 41 pages)
On a hunt for summer nuts, the squirrel shifter encounters alpha pheromones gone wild, tiger piss, and a treed man

Pastures New by Parker Foye
2.75 stars (shortfull review)
Novella (15k words, 45 pages)
A champion stallion retires to be a lonely stud and preens for an inquisitive journalist

Putting Down Roots by Tam MacNeil
4 stars (short / full review)
Short Stories (9k words, 29 pages)
Bookstore clerk gets a teaching job in an isolated manor rooted in a haunted village

Quiet as a Mouse by Asta Idonea
4 stars (short / full review)
Short Story (8k words, 25 pages)
Shy church mouse shifter trapped by his feelings for the choirmaster

Shifter  by Mark Wildyr
4 stars (short / full review)
Short Story (5k words, 19 pages)
The young native man canoes past the enchanted isle with a story to tell his childhood friend and crush, but witch spirit will transform the pair?

Shifting Silver  by Brandon Witt
4 stars   (short / full review)
Novella (15k words, 45 pages)
Sparing the horned whale might mean death for the vegetarian native, making him as rare as a unicorn in his family of hunters

Spiked and Feathered by Jessica Walsh
2.75 stars (short / full review)
Short Story (7k words, 21 pages)
Anthony wakes up with a hang over and wonders why his one-night stand has feathers

They Called Him Nightmare by Deja Black
5 stars  (short / full review)
Short Story (7k words, 26 pages)
A bright boy turns into a businessman of the night who burns for the dark one called Nightmare

To Arizona by Meg Harding
1 star  – due to personal dislikes (short / full review)
Novella (15k words, 46 pages)
Hockey player/otter shifter shipped to the desert deals with a tough captain

A Werewolf in Sheep’s Clothing by Rob Rosen
3 stars (shortfull review)
Short Story (5k words, 19 pages)
Vegetarian predatory shifters must stick together lest they fall off the wagon

Werewolf PTA by Felicitas Ivey
3 stars (short / full review)
Novella (18k words, 51 pages)
Small-town PTA meetings, an exotic Doctor, a hunky sheriff, and multiple murders spell… werewolf?

Wild Fate by Savannah Brooks
3.5 stars  (short / full review)
Novella (17k words, 55 pages)
Heading deep into the Alaskan wilderness, the photographer is fated to meet a bear of a man

A Wolf’s Résistance by T.J. Nichols
4.5 stars (short / full review)
A shifter member of the French resistance seeks shelter with the gruff blacksmith

Coin Tricks by Willow Scarlett (review)

Tagline: Big, bad bouncer and the waifish twink encounter life, family, and each other

Coin Tricks Book Cover

Title: Coin Tricks

Genre:  Contemporary M/M Romance
Format:  Novel (71k words)

Sites:  Goodreads | Amazon

Publisher: Self-published (Feb. 2016)
ISBN: 9781311339621

Retail: $4.99

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
Sweet, slowly developing but truly heartfelt friendship between opposites in a complicated, economically struggling, life-loving, and a bit exotic setting
Synopsis: Wiremu is a very large bouncer and security guard who catches Sid when the skinny, young gay man attempts to shoplift from his superstore.  The oversized Maori draws upon the support of his extended (but also a bit divided) family when he discovers just what desperate straights face the small, freckled red-head. Sid is too proud to accept much charity for himself and the little girl in his charge, but the big man persists in trying to befriend the library assistant. Can two young gay men who appear to be opposites in almost every way find trust, friendship, and possibly more?  It might take a trick or two, or perhaps a bit of magic, too overcome their differences.
Review: This is a story of a developing relationship between very different men – a huge, native Maori, rugby-playing tough guy versus a quiet, effeminate library assistant who loves magic.  The strength of the writing explores Wiremu’s careful concern for a vulnerable young guy along with his internal struggle to provide help, friendship, and more without scaring the vulnerable man away. I appreciated the struggle of a very strong guy with uber-tough,  homophobic, and hyper-masculine role models coming to grips with his own sweet and gentle center.  His care for a sometimes swishy, troubled, and earnest “twink-like” waif of a man made for a compelling if sometimes a little slow moving read.
The story is set in Auckland, New Zealand and significantly incorporates the protagonist’s native/indigenous family culture, and the dialog is sprinkled with Maori terms. The cross-cultural aspect was very significant but just one of many interesting themes explored, including abandonment, isolated nuclear versus extended family environments, gender issues, homophobia, and difficulties in trusting due to a history of abuse. This jumble of (sometimes conflicting) ideas and feelings creates multi-dimensional and imperfect characters working their way through their coming-of-age, shouldering of adult responsibility, and budding relationships. The role of magic is sometimes subtle but almost always present, from mundane coin tricks and slight of hand diversions to the enchantments cast by true friendship, family, and love. Overall, the author explores a nice array of emotions and hesitancies in this short, sweet, and caring story about two young gay men trying to make it in a sometimes hostile world.
Recommended for:  readers who like a very gentle and sweet, personal story of friendship and possible romance between two young but very different gay men; those looking for “comfort” read with a theme of rescue from abuse; fans of family settings for LGBT stories.

Steam:

Heat:  fire fire  (some explicit sizzle) – This book is centered on building trust and friendship, with romantic feelings definitely present but almost secondary.  There are two scenes of appropriate but explicit intimacy, just crossing the line to “Adult Romance” for me.

Passion – heart heart heart heart  (passionate friendship turning into something more) – More about friendship and trust, the chemistry between the two seemed real, the magic between them slowly building.  (I found the sexual tension to be underplayed.  I would have expected the long, celibate delay – between young men at their hormonal peak who sometimes shared a room and a bed – would have kept both of them much more on edge than seemed to be described.  However, this was a story more about the magic of trust and friendship and love than the passion between the sheets.)

Other Comments (with a minor spoiler):

Although it was touched on fairly briefly, I greatly appreciated Sid’s “admission” of his gender fluid identity.   His fear of rejection for sometimes acting effeminate and also embracing the feminine side of himself struck me as incredibly genuine and authentic to the real world.  The acceptance from a large, tough man like Wiremu, especially given his masculine role models, was touching and comforting.

The dialog includes a smattering of interesting Maori terms, hyperlinked to definitions in an appendix. The linking mostly worked in my epub copy using the iBooks reader on an iPad. Other reviewers have indicated the linking may be problematic using other formats/applications/platforms.

The summary for this story on various book sites call Sid a librarian, but within the book the description of his position (and his economic hardship) seem to indicate he’s a library assistant (I.e., he works in a library, but doesn’t have the full, advanced degree need to be a professional librarian). Overall, it’s not a big deal, but it’s similar to calling anyone who works in a medical office a doctor or a nurse, even when there are plenty of medical assistants, orderlies, office attendants, etc., who provide some level of service. I expect and don’t particularly mind when the general public lumps everybody together (e.g. anyone who works in a library must be a librarian, just like anyone who provides assistance in a medical office must be a nurse, etc.). I do appreciate it and generally expect authors (or in this case, perhaps a publicist) to be accurate about these types of details. (From what I can tell, New Zealand has advanced qualifications for someone to be a professional librarian like the U.S., U.K., and Australia do.)

Themes include homophobia, friends to lovers, gender fluidity, effeminate gay men, magic and magicians, family, siblings.

7&7 – Anthology (review)

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

7 Vices & 7 Virtues
Title7&7
A DSP Anthology of Virtue and Vice
Genres: Fantasy / Historical / Paranormal / Science Fiction (+Horror)

Format:  Anthology of 14 short stories
Size: 360 pages (122k words)

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)
ISBN: 9781634773607

Bonus:  Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)

Tagline: Mixed bag of decent to excellent writing, innovative but a bit uneven stories, and a couple that push the envelope (but not necessarily in a good way for me)    Individual reviews below

The establishment of a new boutique (LGBT-friendly) imprint to explore a wider-ranger of immersive, unique and unforgettable fiction is a welcome development.  This anthology of 14 short stories on each of 7 vices and 7 virtues provides a good introduction to a range of writers and styles that expand significantly upon the offerings of typical Dreamspinner releases.  “Speculative fiction” covers a wide array of approaches and genres, and a nice variety is reflected in the collected works.

Overall, I found 11 or 12 of the 14 stories to be rewarding, short reads, although one I found to be particularly offensive and another rather baffling.  I’ve included brief ratings and summaries of each story below along with links to more detailed reviews.

Horrific Content Warning:

Unfortunately, one or two of the pieces significantly push the envelope without, in my opinion, nearly enough warning.  I would classify two of the pieces as full-on horror (and the ending of a third can be interpreted that way).  Horror was not listed as a genre in the publisher’s description.  Although the blurb mentions “rise to the highest heights – or sink to the darkest and most perverse depths,” they also mention that the stories cover the consequences of the the call to good and evil, as well as there are pleasures to be found in the darkness.  These descriptions, combined with a lack of a horror tag and a general light treatment of vices in most of the stories, did not prepare some readers (including myself) for a couple of stories that went much, much darker than the others.

I am all for writers writing what they want, and readers enjoying what they like, but I would have much preferred a clearer indication (e.g. a horror tag in a more prominent place than buried in the editor’s introduction) to prepare me for the story I found to be particularly offensive.  It might have been the most well-written piece in the collection, but without a horror tag and based on the tenor of other stories (light treatment of vices, many with surprising twists at the end), despite some clear telegraphing of the direction, I couldn’t believe the story was heading to such a torturous, shaming ending without some kind of twist.


Individual Story Ratings and Summaries

The Darkness of the Sun by Amy Rae Durreson
Virtue: Faith. Genre: Fantasy
4 stars
Bereaved, unbelieving priest confronted with questions of faith. Set with an enticing array of characters in an interesting, slightly supernatural, pre-modern fantasy setting.
review

The Bank Job by Andrea Speed
Vice: Greed. Genre: Superhero
3.5 stars
Drats! Foiled Again! Attitudinal supervillain and minions encounter a couple of gay caped crusaders
review

Prudence for Fools by Sean Michael
Virtue: Prudence. Genre: Fantasy
3.75 stars
Magical seer with disturbing vision exiled to his husband’s remote homeland
review

The Gate by J. S. Cook
Vice: Anger Genre: Noir Fiction
2.75 stars (higher if you like Noir Fiction)
A gay man sees a seedier, dark side of the wartime effort
review

Heirs to Grace and Infinity by C. Cummings
Virtue: Justice. Genre: Urban Fantasy
5 stars
Fugitive sorcerer matches wits with the Bureau’s top agent
review

The Rendering by J. Inman
Vice: Gluttony. Genre: Hateful Horror
Zero stars
– (excellent writing, rating based on lack of a “horror” tag)
It was pretty clear from the start what was set-up to happen, but I thought surely they wouldn’t go to the obvious outcome, as most of the other stories in the anthology had a surprise twist in the end. Also, despite the clear signs from the story, I couldn’t imagine going to such a hateful and shaming place, taking an extremely sympathetic character (except for one over-the-top vice) to such a torturous end (and, of course, based on the genre headings, I was not expecting horror). In some ways, I think this piece had possibly the best writing, which may have ended up making the offensive, fat-shaming ending so incredibly much worse for me because of the empathy I had for the character. While reading, I thought a twist in the ending was especially likely given how lightly most of the other vices were dealt with in this anthology, which makes this lack of a horror tag extra-galling to me.
detailed review

Beyond the Temperance Effect by Serna Yates
Virtue: Temperance. Genre: Science Fiction
3.5 stars
How much temperance will you need for fifty years in space and beyond?
review

Covetous by Pearl Love
Vice: Envy. Genre: Horror (or torture porn)
3 stars
Pissed off ex-lover asked what he would give to get his desires
review

Hope by Rick Reed
Virtue: Hope. Genre: Contemporary LGBT
5 stars  (no-doubt based on a personal connection)
Looking for hope in crises around a mother’s death and one’s personal life
review

Horseboy by J. Tullos Henry
Vice: Pride.  Genre: Historic LGBT
4.5 stars
A Horseboy of the Lebanon, a Templar Knight, and intimate desert secrets
review

Train to Sevmash by Jamie Fressenden
Virtue: Charity. Genre: Contemporary LGBT
4.5 stars
Would James Bond off a Bond vixen? (LGBT agent version)
review

Red Light Special by Rhys Ford
Vice: Lust.  Genre: Urban Fae Fantasy
4.5 stars
Fae and elves and a succubus, oh my! (In Detroit)
review

Traitor by Clare London
Virtue: Fortitude. Genre: Spy/Cloak and Dagger LGBT
4.5 stars
Twice betrayed – interrogating one’s ex-comrade and ex-lover agent
review

Couches of Fabric and Snow by Brandon Whitt
Vice: Sloth. Genre: I have no idea (horrific interpretation possible)
No rating
Too lazy to work, to relate, to love, to really live…
review

 

 

Hope by Rick Reed (review)

Story tagline: Looking for hope in the crises around a mother’s death and one’s personal life
Personal comment:  Memories of slowing building hope during a key period in LGBT history, and an ex-lover who faced similar issues as the main character

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Virtue #5: Hope
Title: Hope
Author: Rick Reed
Genre:  Contemporary Romance
Format:  Short Story (47 pages)

Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)


This story took me on a trip to my personal bittersweet memories of a slow sea change in the realities and hopeful aspirations during a time of enormous crisis in the LGBT community.

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of Rick Reed’s short story is the virtue of hope.

In 1997, Todd moves from the big city to his mother’s house upon her passing, finding a couple of surprising companions and advisers in the small town. The man next door, Cal, who took care of Todd’s mother in her final days, is welcoming but uncertain about the man from the big city who had missed his own mother’s funeral. In addition to some distrust from his new neighbor, add some very disturbing health news from Chicago and possible hallucinations in his mother’s house, and it seems Todd has little hope for any kind of a normal life.

The author touches on a couple of monumental and deeply felt issues that have dominated the gay community in different years over the last decades.   The story focuses on a period that saw a sea change from despair and resignation to brighter, more hopeful outlooks.  It was a quick but nicely personal and evocative trip through the realistic fears and the beginnings of a different outlook for the main character. The specter that offers the despairing man advice was a nice touch as, for me, it serves as a symbol of reaching for hope from a place that isn’t necessarily real or realistic but important to voice and latch onto none-the-less.

In this way, the author captured something very real to me (and I’m sure many others), the beginnings of true, realistic hope in the aftermath of an oppressive reality.  His wistful, aspirational tag at the end just reinforces the importance of this virtue and another nod to how wonderful it can be when “unrealistic” hopes are actually achieved.

Personal Reflections (with spoilers):

This quick read hit home very deeply for me as I lost a friend and former lover to HIV/AIDs during the same period covered by the story.  He faced the same hopelessness at the beginning of this period, as well as the loss of his mother.  Unfortunately for my friend and ex Eric, the hope of the new therapies did not materialize soon enough.

I vividly remember the very slow change in reality and realization that HIV was no longer an absolute death sentence, and how the people with HIV gradually began to live and plan for longer and longer lives.  The process was a slow one, as in the gay community in Chicago (where I was) and, I’m sure, around the world, we were still dealing with and reeling from the loss of so many friends and family, loved ones and lovers.  When I sang at an exhibition of the AIDS Memorial Quilt on World AIDS Day in the late 1990’s, I remembering feeling the hope that HIV was no longer a death sentence despite the devastation that each panel sewn onto the quilt represented.  The author captures a key time when hope for a long and fulfilling life became more and more real again for so many of our brothers and sisters.

I normally take into account how a story makes me feel as much as how much I appreciate the strength of the writing and general work.  This is one story I am happy to acknowledge there may be little or no objectivity in my rating, but works for me as a glimpse at a key period in my personal and LGBT history – and the author’s choice of “hope” is perfect.

Be My Queen by RayeAnn Carter (review)

Be My Queen Book Cover

Title: Be My Queen
Author: RayeAnn Carter
Genre:  Transgender Romance
Format:  Novella (38k words /114 pages)
Sites: Publisher | Goodreads | Amazon

Publisher: Less Than Three Press  (April 2015)
ISBN: 978162045268

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Tagline:  Handsome bi guy slings into town and sweeps transgendered heroine off her feet

This was a relatively simple, short, and extremely sweet novella regarding a handsome bisexual guy sliding into town and sweeping a young transgendered woman off her feet. It was a quick, nicely escapist, and rather straightforward contemporary romance.  Lavender, the heroine, displayed a nice combination of nervousness, excitement, and pragmatic (if perhaps a bit jaundiced) expectations.  Her struggles with issues related to her physical and mental health, including the safety of living with supportive friends which also exposed her to their tribulations, injected both some obstacles to overcome and at least a little bit of “realism” in the otherwise fairy tale feel of the romance. Diego was a bit of an over-the-top hero, but his “love at first sight” ridiculousness worked just fine in a nicely saccharine story.

Overall, I enjoyed this as a wonderful little “feel good” romance that has protagonists who could use more love and representation in fiction (as well as in non-fiction and real life visibility). It’s fantastic to have a transgendered heroine, which is clearly the draw of this piece, but I was also pleased to read a fun story with a fully realized (i.e. not confused or experimenting) bisexual character.

 

Sleigh Ride

SleighRideLG

Title:  Sleigh Ride (2015 Advent Calendar)
Genre:  Male/male romance
Book info: Publisher | Goodreads
Format: Compilation of 31 short stories and novellas
Publisher: Dreamspinner (Dec. 2015)
ISBN: 9781634769648 | 9781634769655

Series:  Dreamspinner’s “Advent Calendar”

Overall rating:   4 stars (out of five)

Tagline:  holiday collection of short, escapist and soothing HEA/HFN male/male romance stories

 

Dreamspinner compiled 31 holiday-themed short stories and novellas to celebrate the 2015 Chirstmas/holiday season.   I purchased the “pre-order” package and thereby received one story each day during the month of December.  Overall, I found them to be soothing, albeit sometimes very short escapes, providing brief relief from the craziness of a very busy time of year.  I enjoyed all but a couple of them as quick and soothing diversions (rather than the more fully engaging and fleshed out stories I would expect in full-length novels).

Overall, 29 of the 31 stories nicely delivered to me anywhere between 15 and 90 minutes a day of m/m romantic escapism. For most of the stories, the heat level usually runs from low to just an off-book promise, but “meet-cutes” abound.   While the bulk of the stories were contemporary, Christmas romances, the collection includes a nice range of characters, backgrounds and themes, including Chanukah and New Year’s celebrations, a few “alternate” (fantasy/science fiction/paranormal) settings, raising kids as a single Dad, and a Christmas Elf fantasy or two.  Gay aliens, a bisexual or two (someone acknowledges we exist!), and super-heroes help round out diverse characteristics that really appeal to me.

Surprisingly, I postponed reading what turned out to be my favorite story as its theme (a divorced couple missing each other and their kids at Christmas) seemed to be too much of a downer, while one of the set-ups that intrigued me the most (courting Santa’s son) was my least favorite.

Because of their brevity, I generally wouldn’t spend the list price for each individual story,  but as part of a discounted, pre-holiday collection purchase, I enjoyed reading a different, usually engaging and escapist short every day.   Here is the order I received them over the course of the month:

Day 31: Kismet by Cassie Decker

3 stars crushed phone crushes crush until Kismet strikes on New Year’s Eve  (review)

A “missed-connections” setting was sweet, if a little over-the-top and straining credulity just a bit.  Overall, however, it was a quick story of frustration over the hot guy met during a serendipitous airport coffee, but the connection was lost until New Year’s Eve kismet led to a happily together reunion.

A sweet story ending with a nice little bit of sizzle (although the characters seemed a little over-the-top regarding their missed connection).

Day 30: The Beary Best Holiday Ever by B.G Thomas

3.5 stars – Grumpy bear and the cub – with a little Death by Chocolate tastiness (review)

A sweet exploration of mis-communication, personal baggage, and an ever-bubbly cub whose appreciation is larger than life.   Rounded up because of the cool caves, interesting plot device of party-planning over several months, and bear pride!  (I performed at a national Bear Pride event once – it was a blast!)

Day 29: Holiday Hotel Hookup by Jeff Adams

4 stars holiday hotel smut   (review)

Well-written, nicely set-up holiday hotel smut, with some studly, hairily hot (and also somewhat geeky) sizzle.

Day 28: Talk Turkey by Bru Baker

3.5 stars the new Windy City transplant and the helpline guy who is definitely not a turkey (review)

A sweet short story that reads quickly, it centers on a recent transplant from NorCal (Sacramento) to Chicago. Carson is a likable character and readers who appreciate watching a totally clueless guy flail around in the kitchen might find him extra-endearing.

Day 27: Elf on the Beach by TJ Nichols

3.5 stars – the wintry Christmas elf  and the Australian summer surfer, or the magic of belief (review)

A gentle story of a lonely, orphaned, traumatized man coupled with the power of faith (and hot elf love) that could bring the magic to make him whole.  The drama wrapped up quickly, yielding a fine little holiday story with a swift, pat happy-for-now ending.

Day 26: Hearth and Home by E.T. Malinowski 

4 stars – Santa and Mrs. C help nudge a grouchy tinker Elf to soothe a klutzy hearth Elf into a heated connection (review)

Five stars for the setting and initial, cute banter, a solid 3.5 stars for the Elf on Elf sizzle, rounding out to four stars overall.

Day 25: Blame It on the Fruitcake by Pat Henshaw

4 stars – lovely, sweet holiday hook-up between the orphaned, home-raised biker and the consummate professional with the big family (and tasty fruitcake)  (review)

Another short, escapist read, this sweet story centers on the hesitations of the big bike mechanic regarding his attraction to his smartly dressed neighbor (who is also the supplier of his newly discovered love, fruitcake).  It wraps up quickly and neatly as these holiday shorts do, as much as I would have liked a novella- or novel-length treatment of these characters.

Day 24: Hapless by Therese Woodson

4 stars – a sweet perfectionist attempts to give his hockey-playing beau a romantic, holiday proposal to remember  (review)

From the description, I thought this story might not be the type I would like, but I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  The repeated attempts to propose came across as sweet, earnest, and realistically disastrous.  Despite the overwhelming presence of this plot device dominating the short story, the ending still seemed real and the characters’ chemistry real (if a bit schmatzly).

Day 23: Son of Santa by Kate Sands

2 stars – alienated prodigal son tracked down by the elf he can’t help but crush on   (review)

Alternate tag line: alienated prodigal son stalked by an obnoxious elf sent by meddling parents

The set-up for this story, Santa’s son Noel taking a sabbatical from the North Pole, is original and intriguing, and some of the characterizations and dialog were rather interesting.  However, the repeated, deep frustrations voiced by Noel became rather strong, and for some readers (myself included) the strength of Noel’s reactions ruined whatever potential chemistry there might have been between Santa’s son and the elf sent to track him down.  (Some readers found Noel to be much too whiny and simply wanted him to “get over” himself.  Reading between the lines, I took Noel’s attitude and tone to mean his home in general and Fannar in particular treated Noel very badly, so the elf came across as a stalking, intruding, obnoxious a-hat to me.)  In any case, in the end I wanted the two of them to be as far away from each other as possible.

1 star for the (lack of) enjoyment level, and 3 stars for the ideas and writing

Day 22: Somewhere To Be by Amy Yip

3 stars – jilted Chinese delivery guy is delivered to his family by the sweet but lonely fair-haired British bloke

Sweet and short, it covers a nice range of blind date, past relationship and family traumas, and semi-closeted to the traditional Chinese family  all in a quick and easy read.  A nice HFN highlighting the fact that nice guys don’t always finish last.

Day 21: A Trip to Remember by Meg Harding

3.5 stars – snowed-in together, two men share a holiday (and movies and games and a bed…)

The characters were not my type, but their banter and competitive teasing quickly built rapport and attraction between the two in their “forced-together” holiday.

Day 20: Fireworks and Resolutions by Leandra Dohman

3 stars – office Christmas kiss leads to an initially awkward but eventually fire-work filled New Year’s

The two big story ideas were very interesting, but were difficult to flush out fully in a short piece.   The main foucus, hiding at a New Year’s Eve part due to embarrassment at past klutzy and/or drunken behavior, was carried out well.  The second device – New Year’s resolutions to help shape a new relationship (preventing  miscommunication and adding heat) – was nifty but seemed a little quickly tacked on to the very beginnings of a hit-or-miss relationship.  On a positive note, while the leap together seemed a little rushed, the author was able to stitch together a nice “awkward beginning to a relationship” arc in a very short story.

Day 19: Northern Lights by Asta Idonea

2.5 stars – dumped in Iceland and rescued by a Viking (review)

For a story about being dumped on one’s birthday in a foreign country and knocked unconscious, it slips its way into being semi-sweet.  Of course being rescued by a pagan Viking stud is about as nice a way as possible to resolve that dilemma, and the story ends with a hint of a hopeful HFN.

Day 18: Unto Us the Time Has Come by Sean Michael

4.5 stars – utterly sappy story of two separated husbands getting back together at Christmas  (review)

Apparently, this is my kind of snappiness, as it made me cry (and that does not happen very often).

Day 17: Home Is Where the Christmas Trees Are by CJane Elliott

3 starslonely gay bachelor uncle has a traumatic break but gets some (definitely physical and maybe emotional) relief  (review)

Dex was very sympathetic as a single gay man trying to care for his recently orphaned niece, although a couple of twists and turns in the story were appropriately unsettling for him.  His meeting with a potential love interest (and his mother) was also nice and sweet, and became hotter with an eventual hook-up.

Day 16: Best Laid Trap by Rob Rosen

2.5 sizzling, snarky stars  –  snarky New Year’s Eve sex in a snowed-in cabin

A short, eventually steamy “story” focused on a snarky man stumbling into some New Year’s Eve sex in a snowed in cabin, with a possible HFN.

Day 15: Loving and Loathing Vegas by Lex Chase

4 stars Demonic friends-to-lovers story wrapped in otherworldly, baby-riffic style  (review)

The premise of two incubbi (sex demons) having a contest to fall in love over the holidays is enticing as all, well, Hell. Overall, the plot reads much more like a standard friends-to-lovers romance than a paranormal tale.

Day 14: Grateful by Kim Fielding

4.5 stars – klutzy guy dreading another, “typical” Jewish family gathering meets the multi-talented, “to-die-for” foreigner (with a Newfie)  (review)

A nicely reassuring, HFN quickie for fans of the awkward, normalish, and sometimes clueless guy catching the eye of the suave, sophisticated stud (with his own interesting needs).

Day 13: Teddy Bear Christmas by CC Bridges

3 stars – a lonely Jewish guy working the holiday, a man missing his family, and the teddy that unites them  (review)

If only all stranded/snowing/airport travel were so rewarding, and that every frazzled, overworked, overwrought airport worker could find such a nice break from the ire of over-stressed travelers.

Day 12: Nøtteknekkeren by Felicitas Ivey

4.5 stars – a nicely surreal and just grim/Grimm enough Christmas fairy tale (review)

This struck me as the most original writing of the collection, although in reality it’s a wonderfully “gay” take on a haunting, traditional folk tale.  A little darker than the typical story (and I’m usually not a fan of dark), overall I found the reading experience to be the most interesting of the compilation (although not the most soothing or escapist).

Day 11: Leap Through Eternity by Sara Stark

2.5 stars – bumbling, cutely stumbling “idiot” and the mostly naked stud in briefs (review)

Day 10: Worth the Wait by Caitlin Ricci & Cari Z.

3 stars – hot umbrella man to the rescue (and he’s good with the adorable niece, too)  (review)

Very short but enjoyable story of a nice, first connection between two likable guys, including an adorable, book-obsessed niece and a nice setting for bibliophiles. 3.5 stars rounded down for its brevity and leaving the reader wanting so much more.

Day 9: An Assassin’s Holiday by Dirk Greyson

4 stars – a 3.5 star dark premise/happy ending read rounded up for some reciprocal tastiness (review)

Day 8: Christmas Miracles of a Recently Fallen Spruce by Brandon Witt

4 stars –  Quick holiday, “meet-cute” with a white Christmas, a two men in a PG one man tent, and, of course, a requisite “Horny Elf.” (review)
A quote from a character sums up my feelings about this story:   “I like the different sides of you. All anal retentive and a dirty elf-loving artisan. Good stuff.”

 

Day 7: Four Alternative Christmas Presents by Tam MacNeil

4 stars – yearning after one’s super-hero (or lusting after the boy wonder) (review)

A clever super-hero story, a fantastical setting explores even more “alternate” settings.

Day 6: Menorahs and Mistletoe by Jess Roth

4 stars – a nice present from one of Santa’s elves for the lonely bisexual Jewish dad

A tender and sweet holiday short, the story includes a nice incorporation of Hanukkah, a single parent worrying about the effect of dating on his child, and a bisexual guy all woven into a brief m/m romance. (Oh – and while office or bathroom encounters aren’t usually that hot to me, but when there’s a cute elf, well…)

Day 5: A Certain Kind of Holiday by Andi Van

3.5 stars – travelling with the older, cheating professor turns out to be just what the holiday ordered (review)

Day 4: Old Acquaintance by Avon Gale

4.5 stars for me (partly for the common little kink missing from most m/m romance) – Oh yes, and a semi-drunken New Year’s Eve first time for a jilted middle-aged guy – with a splash 😉 (review)

Day 3: Mission Mistletoe by Jessica Payseur

3 stars – gay alien Christmas in space (review)

Day 2: Not the Best Day by Brynn Stein

3 stars – the Butthead isn’t exactly Beavis  (review)

Day 1: Whispers of Old Winds by George Seaton

3.5 stars – rugged veteran/sheriff in a semi-supernatural Colorado mountain setting (review)