2013-02-08 09:45 pm

Bear, Otter, and the Kid by T.J. Klune

Bear, Otter, and the KidBear, Otter, and the Kid by T.J. Klune

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

M/M romance. Boy raises his kid brother, hooks up with best friend's older brother, that's about it. Oh, except for one little thing.

You know how some authors can write about closeted people and all their internalized homophobia, and it's interesting and complicated? And then you know how some authors write about closeted people and all their internalized homophobia, and it's just poisonous and awful and incredibly unpleasant to read?

. . . Yeah.

Spending a couple hundred pages in this guy's head while he insisted he wasn't "…like that" made me want to scrub my entire life out, and then go have a lot of self-affirming queer sex as loudly as possible.

Of course the problem isn't really the narrator, or even the writing. The problem is that the book is carrying so much internalized homophobia of its own, it's falling down under it. Like, okay. On two separate occasions in this book different people who have been busily explaining to each other that it's okay for someone to be gay have a serious, not even kidding conversation about what you say to a nine-year-old who asks if a guy is gay. Because, like, do you tell him the truth? But – wait for it – the eventual consensus is that it was okay to tell him the truth because he's pretty mature and he can handle things that send most adults running away screaming.

No. Seriously.

I assume I don't have to unpack the multiple levels of fucked up there, because if I do, I'm gonna need another couple thousand words. Suffice it to say, this whole book thought it was telling a heartwarming story of family and growing self-acceptance, but what it was really doing was perpetuating a lot of notions of queerness as othering and abnormal and, you know, like that.

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2013-01-06 01:22 pm

Steamroller by Mary Calmes

SteamrollerSteamroller by Mary Calmes

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It's kind of confusing how hit and miss Mary Calmes is for me, considering that everything she writes is fundamentally the same. It doesn't matter whether she's writing contemporary or urban fantasy or whatever, I could pick a Calmes out of an anonymous lineup after ten pages. It'll be the one with the serious desire kink—where every other guy desperately wants the protagonist – and possessive behavior on the part of whichever muscle-bound Neanderthal is the central love interest of this one, who will win the protagonist after somewhat strenuous pursuit. It's a formula. She really, really, really likes it. And it seems to be working for her, so hey, carry on.

I keep reading them because her protagonists have a range and vividness I'm not used to seeing in this genre. These guys get to be real and flawed and complicated in ways that ring true (though don't expect the same treatment for the love interests. Like . . . at all.) And she has a nice touch with the friends and community. (Though as a side note, I can't tell if I'm perturbed or entertained to see that the gay romance genre substitutes "douchebag straight friend" for the "sassy gay friend" of your standard het romance.)

This one was a total miss because it wanted to be a novel, but she didn't let it be one. Dunno why, but this novella is missing about 40,000 words. Prickly overworked poor college kid is wildly pursued by wealthy adored football star on the way to the draft, see above re desire kink. Cut so many emotional corners it lost all tension and interest, and didn't live up to the promise of the protagonist.

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2013-01-02 10:24 pm

Finding Home by Cameron Dane

Finding Home (Quinn Security, #1)Finding Home by Cameron Dane

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Teen runaway attempts to pickpocket a guy in the security business – this does not go well. I attempt to read the following story of internalized homophobia, roommate pining, and creepy nonconsensually voyeuristic masturbation scenes – this really does not go well.

Abysmally terrible. I bailed at the 2/3 mark because, even though I could have finished it in about twenty more minutes, I really did not want my literary 2013 to go on as it had begun. By which I mean with such awful, awful, awful porn. This is all "tight tunnel" this and "hard meat" that, and I made a new year's resolution to try positive thinking and shit, so for real, I deserve better porn than this.

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2012-06-08 11:04 pm

Burning Bright by Rachel Wilder and A. Catherine Noon

Burning BrightBurning Bright by Rachel Wilder

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The one with the gay veterinarian who meets the kinky marine weretigers and then there's a lot of growling and group sex.

God, this was so boring.

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...Don't even lie. You totally missed me.
2012-04-26 09:29 pm

Come Unto These Yellow Sands by Josh Lanyon

Come Unto These Yellow SandsCome Unto These Yellow Sands by Josh Lanyon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Classic Lanyon dynamic -- [insert artistic inclination here] narrator with [insert tragical condition/past here] gets tangled up in a [insert type of crime investigation] while his hard-nosed cop boyfriend glowers a lot. Here that would be poet, drug addiction, and murder, respectively.

Totally serviceable, in that way they are when the formula works for you.

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2012-04-23 09:38 pm

Mexican Heat by Laura Baumbach and Josh Lanyon

Mexican Heat (Crimes & Cocktails, #1)Mexican Heat by Laura Baumbach

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

We interrupt this flow of childhood nostalgia rereads to bring you some gay porn -- excuse me, "manlove."

This is the one about the two undercover LEO's in a mob war and one of them calls the other -- I swear to God, I am not kidding about this -- gatito and there's lots of sexual dominance and tragedy and eventually some really dubious disability content. There is an exponentially higher component of batshittery than I usually expect out of Josh Lanyon, but you know, for that long stretch from 2 to 5 a.m. when there's just absolutely no way I'm getting to sleep, I was really down with that. In the light of day . . . yikes.

The thing with the limes and the net bags? That wasn't sexy, not even at 4:30 in the morning.

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2011-03-24 11:59 am

His for the Holidays

His For The HolidaysHis For The Holidays by Josh Lanyon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

M/M romance, rated for enjoyment, not quality. Oh, and the “Holidays” in the title is there for alliteration, not multiculturalism. It’s more like His for Christmas Except Also There’s That One Jewish Guy. In no particular order:

ZA Maxfield, “I Heard Him Exclaim.” Schmaltz, and boy howdy. A mindlessly enjoyable story about two men finding each other, punctuated by some terrible writing. Seriously, check this out: “Chandler inched his way forward again, angling to either hit Steve’s sweet spot or pierce his heart like an hors d’ouvre.” I sporfled so violently when I read that, I banged my temple off a train window. The unfortunate mental imagery! The terrible muddle of literalism and simile! And that simile – ha, yes, because when you’re writing about two guys falling in love, clearly the appropriate association to draw is to one of them putting the other’s heart on a stick and eating it!

You’re welcome.

Harper Fox, “Nine Lights Over Edinburgh.” A standout in quality and depth, featuring a middle-aged, alcoholic, slightly bent cop with massive internalized homophobia issues. Fox also seems cognizant of the ways his genre – and this narrative in particular – treat female characters badly, as disposable props. Unfortunately, the formulaic romance fell flat when slapped over this promising mix. Eyes meet across a crowded room, danger, grief, blah, love for no explicable reason, porn, blah.

Josh Lanyon, “Icecapade.” Why I snagged the book. The one about Noel the retired diamond thief, and the FBI agent who’s been chasing him for years. Suspend disbelief by neck until dead. It’s basically White Collar future fic with the serial numbers filed off. By which I mean I thought it was great.

L.B. Gregg, “Mistletoe at Midnight.” Acceptably schmaltzy tale of old lovers reuniting, marred by a background family that’s supposed to be charmingly eccentric, but was just embarrassing and uncomfortable. Also some really odd fatphobic undertones.

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2010-05-19 03:25 pm

Kushiel's Chosen

Kushiel's Chosen (Kushiel's Legacy, #2) Kushiel's Chosen by Jacqueline Carey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Perhaps some day I will read one of these BDSM courtesan-spy epic fantasy doorstops and actually be able to talk about it afterwards, but today is not that day. Because right now, I am just so fucking grateful to this book, it has eclipsed the book itself – unintentionally hilarious, strangely unproblematic – almost entirely. This is what I read during the final two weeks of my last semester in law school. It’s what I read on the eight minute dog walking breaks, what I read when I snapped awake at 4:30 in the morning but just could not face studying more right then, what I read when I took a half-hour breather twelve-hours out from the end when the euphoria started setting in, it’s what I read on the train in to my exams. And you know, there were pirates! And prison breaks! And kinky lesbian sex scenes! And great battles! But I barely noticed, because this book was pleasant in a white noise kind of way, and it was long so I didn’t have to face finding something else to read, and it just tra-la-la’ed along for 600 pages whether I was paying attention or not. Basically it was the book equivalent of someone quietly holding your hand and telling you about their day just so you could listen to the sound of their voice and not worry about the sense of it.

Oh my God, Jacqueline Carey. Thank you thank you thank you.

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2009-12-02 07:30 pm

Kushiel's Dart

Kushiel's Dart (Kushiel's Legacy, #1) Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Epic BDSM prostitution fantasy. Young woman in fantasy!Europe is raised by a court spy to be a courtesan. Politics and adventure ensue.

I was trying to figure out which word is most important up there, by the way, but actually I think it works out that there's one that doesn't matter much. To wit: epic! BDSM! Prostitution! . . . fantasy.

And the really funny thing about this book is that an epic BDSM prostitution fantasy would generally evoke a response, one way or another. I mean, you'd really think, right? And yet here . . . not really. It's an interesting book, by turns annoyingly portentous and accidentally hilarious (there's no intentional humor, by the way) and then sometimes genuinely interesting. But mostly it was the book equivalent of white noise – soothing, better than silence, just there.

Epic BDSM prostitution fantasy. White noise. Who'da thunk.

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2006-08-27 11:49 am

Zaftig: Well Rounded Erotica edited by Hanne Blank

As the title suggests, this is an anthology of erotica about zaftig people (usually women) and their lovers. The stories which stand out for skill and real thematic depth are Corbie Petulengro’s “In Season” about a young femme finding the power of personal competence after fleeing from a violent partner, and Hanne’s “Denial” about an overweight man’s discovery that his diet coach lusts for him. Much of the rest hover in some other classification like monologue or vignette or open letter, or even prose poem in paragraph form. They range from a sweetly infatuated ode on a beloved to a frankly bizarre story about a woman getting a blowjob from a stranger on a sausage fake penis, and through many lands and degrees of quality in between.

Which isn’t surprising. Though writers of erotica are a very experimental bunch (in terms of form, geez!), I bet there was a very small pool from which to draw this anthology. And it shows. Most of these pieces do triangulate female desire, big bodies, and food/eating/consumption. But they’re a jumble not a chorus, and the book fails to be an anthology in that the works are not in real conversation with each other. And as much as I like her personally, Hanne’s introduction adds nothing to draw these diverse and sometimes strident threads together.

But taking off the academic hat, it is a book of erotica. And these stories are, indeed, erotic, though I found most bemusing rather than outrightly arousing. I’d like to think this is because I’m not generally engaged by short form erotica -- I need to actually care about the people getting their jollies, and short stories aren’t sufficient to make me do that.

One thing I will say for these writers collectively, though, is that many of them have guts. And I’m not talking about their subject matter – though a few of these stories are bizarre and revealing – but a sort of prose guts. They go on wild figurative fancies full of vaginas with teeth, lesbian goddesses, explosively purple passages. And you’ve got to admire that sort of unbridled enthusiasm.