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Winter Kill

3/5. M/M. Small town cop meets uptight FBI agent as they investigate serial murder.

This is . . . weird? There's one perfunctory sex scene about one fifth of the way through, when the characters think they are having a one night stand and have only the vaguest of feelings for each other. What ought to be the second sex scene – and a far more interesting one as they are coming complexly and reluctantly together in the middle of a stressful situation – is, get this, fade to black.

I mean, I don't read commercial M/M for the sex scenes. That would be foolish at best, because oh lordy most of these authors drop straight into fanfiction.net territory when it comes to that. But the lack of sex scenes here is just so weird that it made me focus on the other weirdness. How this is a mystery first and foremost, until about 2/3 of the way through when the book is like oh shit, hot gay romance, um hang on, gimme a sec. Which would be fine if the mystery were more interesting, but, uh. You don't read a Josh Lanyon for the mystery. Though TBF this one has a surprisingly big and well-drawn cast.

I don't know, it's not like Lanyon is knew here and doesn't know how to put a book together. This one is just clearly way more interested in the small town cop shop and the arguments over community policing versus federal policing than, like, staying on brand. O…kay?
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The Mermaid Murders (The Art of Murder Book 1)

3/5. M/M mystery romance where the young up-and-coming FBI art crimes specialist tags along – for reasons – with a profiler revisiting a serial killer case that might be active again.

This, on the other hand, I read in a day flat. It's bog-standard Lanyon – serviceable mystery foregrounding a couple where one half is the uptight hardened law enforcement type and the other half is a younger, gentler, more artistic sort. I wanted bog-standard Lanyon for the zing of sexiness and the occasional depth of emotion. This one mostly delivered, but it did leave me wondering, exasperatedly, if Lanyon gets these names out of the freaking phone book. Jason West? Sam Kennedy? The law enforcement types always have these cookie-cutter white guy aggressively American names, which got me scouring my memory for a single Lanyon book featuring a person of color, and I couldn't come up with a single freaking one. Anybody?
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Fellside

3/5. Jess wakes up in a hospital burn unit to the news that, while high, she set a fire that killed her neighbor boy. She ends up in a women's prison and, while doing the slow work of hunger-striking to death and out of her guilt, she begins to see the dead boy, and to hear him enough to know he needs her to help him.

For the record, I started this book on October 15, read no other books alongside it, and did not finish until November 14. That is not my normal reading speed. Work was happening. So you can see how this really didn't have my attention, so when I say that it's good, but it's no The Girl With All the Gifts, who the fuck knows what my judgment is worth.

I do know that this book is made up of a hundred tiny chapters, some only a few hundred words, rotating through a surprisingly large cast of inmates, guards, healthcare professionals, drug dealers, etc. My indelible impression is of this book as a pile of glass shards in the sunlight: each piece reflects light, but at a different angle. That is the mechanism here – each character is so blinkered by his or her own circumstances that they all are coming at the world thinking they understand each other when they almost never do. Jess's search for a scrap of absolution intersects with a drug operation in the prison, intersects with an old murder, intersects with the politics of privatized prisons, intersects with the prison infirmary staff, intersects with – you get it. There are no surprises here – there's a "twist" that even I, giving this book approximately two neurons of attention, spotted half a book before Jess does, but it's not because she's stupid. It's because she can't see it, not until she has to. It's all very skillful, and accomplished. And depressing as hell, punctuated by echoes of a really beautiful, strange, queer love story.

Carey is just going to keep right on being good, though.
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A Fashionable Indulgence: A Society of Gentlemen Novel (Society of Gentlemen Series Book 1)

3/5. M/M historical. Young radical is found by his wealthy grandfather and brought back into society. And then there's the gentleman tasked with teaching him manners.

Finally trying Charles, dog years after everyone else. This is nice, I guess, though the antecedents (Pygmalion and that musical I hate) don't interest me.

But the thing is, this held little to no interest as a romance. I found that aspect quite dull. But the rest of the book – and this is supposed to be a romance, so you'll understand how amazing this is to say – but the rest of the book stands on its own and was a pleasant diversion. There's a density to Charles's world building, and a little extra zing to the historical detail. And this book manages that nearly impossible feat of being about a largeish group of queer men without being about how everyone is magically gay. Instead, it's about like finding like, and co-existing together without ever really talking about it, and the pressure they are all under, and the danger they are in.

Note: Currently $.99 on Kindle.
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Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children)

2/5. The one about the school for kids who went to a fantasy realm and then got sent home and who are really upset about it.

I picked this up – despite my . . . lackluster response to other McGuire – because I'm working my way through Kat Valente's tremendous Fairyland series, about a girl who goes there and comes home repeatedly. Thematic, y'see.

And that was a mistake, because comparing these writers and these books, uh. They're just a different class of talent doing a different class of thing. So after the density of Valente's thorny whimsy, Mcguire's straightforward – and so painfully obvious, the characters should be considered accomplices for not solving it sooner – murder mystery simply thudded. And after Valente's playful, stylish, tricky, complicit, kind, cruel, lovely narrator, who stitches those books together so beautifully. After that, the random and inexplicable swerves Mcguire's book takes into the omniscient view seem pointless. And in one case, where we get a girl's backstory and then she is killed and the omniscient voice pops in just long enough to tell us where the doorway back into her realm that she had been living and dying to find actually was, it seems simply mean for the sake of being mean.

So yeah. Did not fare well by comparison. Might be better on its own? It's a novella with a lot of interesting stuff going on – axes of classification for fantasy realms, an explanation as to why the school is mostly populated with girls that made me grimly nod, a transkid who got kicked out of his adventure because his tale did not respect his identity. And the title is great. But yeah. Not a good comparison.

Also, the ending. Can someone who liked this tell me whether you were okay with the ending, because it bugged me a lot.
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The Fire's Stone

3/5. The one where the alcoholic prince, the suicidal thief, and the young lady wizard go on a mission to retrieve the stolen gem that keeps the volcano from erupting under their city.

Ahaha, bless. This is some kwality 1990 fantasy, this is. Written back when Tanya Huff was not, uh. Well, she wasn't very good, you guys. Points for queer romance, though they get taken away again for the way this book is about a poly relationship, but just can't ever, you know, come out and say that.

But the M/M/F triad is sweet, and clearly the heart of this otherwise kind of boring story. Which makes up for the wild overabundance of daddy issues, and the consistent erasure/irrelevance of mothers, and that terrible thing where a book signals to you that one of the heroes is a good guy because he decides not to have sex with a thirteen-year-old, what a good guy, you guys, applause. So all the things you'd expect, really.

Uh, the triad really is cute? And the book is currently $2.99, if any of this is speaking to you.
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Six of Crows

4/5. Fantasy heist caper where the team of lowlifes and outcasts has to break someone out of the unbreakable prison, also politics.

"Caper" seems like the wrong word. Far too cheerful for this tense book that manages to balance grimdark with humaneness better than anything I've read in a while.

One of those books that I think is classified as young adult only because the protagonists are under eighteen. (Well, and because YA is often more lucrative). Because this is otherwise an entirely adult book about adult themes – the costs of survival, the rigged game of life when you don't hold power, being the dupe, being the one duping. I really liked this. The heart of this book is partly the heist, but it's mostly the team, and its interlocking sets of relationships, romantic and otherwise. It would be a wild oversimplification to say that this book is about hardened people coming to care for each other, because it is vastly more messy and satisfying than that. But if simplification you must have, there you go.

Oh, and did I mention half of the team is composed of persons with disabilities? Because it is.
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Planetfall

4/5. Twenty years after a group of colonists follow a woman's post coma visions to settle on an alien planet, a surprise survivor born after the initial planetfall reaches the settlement. And then things start falling apart.

File this one under it was great. Never ever reading it again.

The narrator of this book – bisexual lady engineer in her seventies – is the sort of unreliable narrator who is mostly unaware of her unreliability. The first third of the book has that slow, creeping quality you get when this is done really well: you are following along, it's interesting, it's scifi, and then once in a while you go "wait…what?" And then you start to put things together, and the narrative pulls tighter and tighter, and the narrator's sense of overwhelming, impending disaster eats you up. This is one of the more terribly skillful renderings of someone with an anxiety disorder that I've ever read. And not just the narrator – her entire colonial society is gripped by it. So much so that I had to put the book down and walk away for two days in order to calm down. (I also nearly noped out of a huge huge public humiliation squick at a climactic moment, so take that under advisement).

So yeah. This is masterful, as psychological work. Psychological horror in some places. Not horror at mental illness, to be clear – the book is in other parts of its mechanism playing with some classic horror tropes, including Poe. The scifi elements are less successful, to my mind; I was frankly disappointed with that resolution in the last 5% of the book. It was reaching for something about the co-existence of religious belief and scientific belief, but it just didn't get there, I don't think.

Happy to supply specific spoilers/content notes in comments if desired.
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How to Howl at the Moon

M/M. A professional horticulturist, refugee from a betrayal, moves into a small town which just happens to be populated by shifters (dogs into people, not the other way around). And the sheriff (border collie, natch) thinks this guy is growing weed, so poses as a dog to investigate. Like…you…do…

DNF. This is fine! Some of you will totally dig it! I…could not.

I'm trying to be more selective about M/M. I mean, I have such a low hit-rate on this stuff, it gets depressing. So I've been trying to go with more friend recs. And this is good! Easton is competent and a little creative and funny in the right ways.

But oh God I cannot with this book. It turned me into a horrible person. It turned me into a victim-blamer. But for real, the horticulturist's backstory of being taken advantage of was pitched in such a way that I snapped, "oh for fuck's sake, how stupid do you have to be to get rolled like that?" Which is on me. What's not on me is the way this book likes his ineptitude, and the way it frames a sort of learned helplessness as attractive to the other hero. That is, like, the opposite of my buttons.

Read if you like dogs and, uh, presumably relationships where one person was briefly the other's pet? This book'll deliver on that.
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Crash & Burn (Cut & Run Series Book 9)

3/5. Ninth? . . . in this M/M series about the FBI agents. I'm not gonna lie, this (and the prior couple books) have been really disappointing, since they seem to fundamentally misunderstand what is good about this series. Namely: a sense of genuine hilarity, and tropes tropes tropes.*

Let's review the glory days. The second book brought us wilderness survival straining a tenuous relationship with – if my recollection does not fail me – actual huddling for warmth. Oh, and the third book gave us pretend-to-be-married and kept boy roleplay. The fourth book gave us temporary disability, but let's not talk about that. Oh but the fifth book, that gave us zany road trip with bonus hitmen. Ooh, and the sixth book is peak whacky, with bonus meet-the-family and cowboys, and a random tiger (trust me, it's funny).

Damn, this series was good when it was good.

And, I mean, I guess you could read the first book if you want (partners who hate each other but fall in lust), but eh, it's not the best.

*Though in its defense, this ninth book did have 'roleplaying dubcon to fool the cameras while actually having intense, consensual, kind of hilarious sex.' So that's okay.
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The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

3/5. Telegraphist in the London Home Office is given a mysterious pocket watch which saves his life from a bomb. So he goes looking for the watchmaker, and finds a Japanese man with a secret. And a friend. And something else.

Okay, several of you guys are going to really like this one. I came close, but I was distracted by my initial misunderstanding of this book. I had the vague impression that it was a historical spy thriller with a supernatural thread. It's actually – and you'll note this is quite different – a queer philosophical romance with a supernatural thread. Whoops.

This is slow, thoughtful, atmospheric. Very concerned with gesture and the ticking of a weird, pretty mechanism at the heart. One character can predict human actions – he knows what you'll do as soon as you decide it. Which is . . . complicated, when it comes to loving someone you haven't met yet, based on the might be.

Anyway. It's pretty. And unusual. Not as clever as it set out to be, at least not to me, and I think Pulley didn't really have control of the dismount. But I've never read anything quite like it. And it'd probably help to know what it is going in.
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Earth Logic (Elemental Logic Book 2)

4/5. *helpless gesture* Uh. It's fantasy? About elemental powers? But mostly about peacemaking? Except anything I say is inadequate and inaccurate, so.

Laurie J. Marks infamously has not yet finished the fourth volume in this series. In somewhat similar fashion, the audiobooks are being produced at the rate of approximately one every two years (hint: it doesn't normally work like that). You'd think this would drive me nuts, but it actually doesn't. There's something . . . meditative about taking these books so slowly. I mean, I don't know how you can think of only three books as a whole set of prayer/meditation beads, and yet, that's where my mind goes.

Anyway, yes, this series is awesome, and unusual. The obvious stuff first: it is populated by a lot of queer and generally non-normative people who build complex and beautiful poly families, and we don't have to have a whole big fuckin' thing about it. Less obviously, this series is subversive as hell in that it actively counters standard fantasy narratives. The appropriate response to violence in this book, in the end, is not violence. How rare is that?

But I think the most extraordinary thing about these books is the magic. It's elemental, like I said, and the "logic" of the title is part of the magic. The power comes as much from character as from, like, birthright. This became clear to me when I was jaw-droppingly outraged by a particular set of character actions in the first third of this book; they were just so obviously idiotic to me, I was astonished. What was wrong with these previously intelligent people? …Ah. Yes. I am not a fire blood. That is one success of these books, creating a personality-based magic system so interesting and accurate that I feel genuinely alienated from those parts of it that I don't understand. Gryffindors, WTF
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Carry On

4/5. Simon Snow is in his last year at British magic boarding school. He has a prophecy about him, and more power than any ten mages, and a mortal enemy to fight, and also the lesser enemy of his roommate. Who at some point he starts inadvisably making out with.

So everyone keeps saying that this is the book that Cath in Fangirl writes fic about; that is totally not true, as this book does not match in style or content the excerpts we get in Fangirl. In truth, this is a grownup version of the fanfic story Cath writes; grownup because this is clearly tighter and more mature than Cath's eighteen-year-old style.

So really, this book is the AU version of the slash fanfic that a character in another book writes about a different fantasy series that doesn't exist. Got that? Great.

I liked this. People are being predictably obnoxious about the Harry Potter analogs, because it is 2015 and we are still not over denigrating transformative works, not even close. And yeah, this book owes a lot to Harry/Draco fanfic. This book owes a lot to Harry Potter fandom at large. That’s the thing about it – this book isn't really about Harry Potter. It's about Harry Potter fandom, which is an entirely different and more extraordinary beast. This book is about those esthetics, emotional and stylistic. About my esthetics, I realized halfway through, because I grew up in Harry Potter fandom, and in a fundamental way, reading a book about the hero of the magical world falling in love with another boy is like coming home.

Also, it's a young adult novel that is getting marketed as much for its fantasy elements as for its queer romance (and by "marketed for queer romance" I mean shoved in the queer romance ghetto, obviously). So there.
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Fair Play (All's Fair Book 2)

4/5. M/M mystery featuring a retired FBI agent turned college professor digging into his father's radical past.

Brains are scary sometimes. I read the prequel to this book five years ago over a long night of hospital waiting. I finished the sequel on Thursday in a waiting room. During surgery this time, not after, but jeez! I totally did not plan that. Well, not purposefully, anyway.

Anyway. Needless to say, this series is tied up with medical stress for me. The sequel was as appropriate as the first book – soothing, just involving enough to be useful, emotionally satisfying. Lanyon has such a good grip on writing established relationships; the tensions between them, the push-and-pull, the sense of working together to build something difficult but lasting. They both struggle with trust in this book, and their mutual intimacy issues, and, uh, yeah, this works for me.

Now I just hope the next book isn't timed for another surgery.

Note: Kindle version is currently $3.99, which I assume is some sort of sale. Then again, M/M pricing is a continual mystery and puzzlement to me, so.

Other note: So Josh Lanyone "came out" as a woman, and . . . yeah. Thanks for that live fire demonstration of how you are utterly steeped in misogyny, pro M/M community. Jesus.
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Stranger on the Shore

3/5. M/M. A reporter investigates a twenty-year-old child abduction, and clashes sexily with the attorney of the victim's wealthy family.

A good book that wasn't to my taste. Lanyon does these standalone mysteries that exist somewhere in the hinterland between pastiche, homage, and fanfic. Here, the predecessor work is The Great Gatsby, and well, I kind of loathe Gatsby, so this book's contemplations and gestures were lost on me. I mean, our protagonist is an outsider to wealth, which is part of the point of this book about outsiderness in your own life, but honestly . . . Gatsby. Meh.

But if you like Gatsby, or the sort of book where there would be haunting music playing in the distant background of every scene of the movie version, you'll like this, because it's Lanyon, so it's actually well done.

Note: If you are such a person, looks like the kindle edition is currently discounted.
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Dangerous Ground

3/5. Collection of novellas about partners in a made up government security service who do a lot of running and shooting punctuated by sleeping together. And good grief, he really really likes his law-enforcement/military guys, doesn't he?

There's nothing wrong with this – Lanyon can write, which distinguishes him from a lot of people in this genre – but there's also nothing right, specifically for me. My favorite thing about Lanyon is that he likes established relationship as much as I do, because he understands that the hard part doesn't end when you get together, it's just starting. So his established relationship stories are full of negotiation and work, and I love that.

But the particular work here is the work of a couple where one of them is way more into it than the other is – or at least that's the way they both perceive it, at various points – and it's just . . . not what I came for. Not what I come to this genre for, specifically. Other people may really enjoy this, because it is a grown up, thoughtful examination of that dynamic. I just don't like that dynamic. Probably because the worst relationship of my life, in retrospect, was the one where I was the one way less into it, and argh, nope, that is not the fun relaxing brain candy place.
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All In with the Duke (Gambling on Love Book 1)

2/5. M/M historical inexplicably titled with reference to gambling when it's actually about a duke and a prostitute.

This is competently written, and appears to have pleased people who like the duke/prostitute thing, but. There is just something intensely claustrophobic about this book. It contains two main characters, who spend most of the book shut up together alone in the country, and roughly 0.75 other characters. I started developing suspicions halfway through, checked, and yup: the only other two characters in the book with more than a couple of speaking lines are product placement main characters for the rest of her series.

And I just, look. Publishing is a business, and the business is selling books. But for real, if you can only ever be bothered to create a character for the purpose of selling a book he headlines, you have a problem.

And you also write shallow stories, with no depth or texture.
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3/5. Urban fantasy London cops sequel to the well-received London Falling.

People I follow almost entirely enjoyed the first book, and then diverge sharply on the second. I avoided all reviews, so I didn't know why. Now I do, and it's . . . awkward.

So like Neil Gaiman is a character? And not just an in-jokey walk-on, but a recurring character? With, like, a plot line and motivations?

And if I take several steps back from this, I can go yeah, okay, that's doing something. Cornell talked about the space Gaiman is filling in this story in re magical underground London and access to its spaces, and if you think about the landscape of these books – this genre niche, I mean, as it has grown over the past fifteen years or so –incorporating RPF for the author of Neverwhere makes a certain amount of sense.

But the truth is I'm not taking a few steps back from this and viewing it from that vantage. Because close up, within the pages of this book? The Neil Gaiman RPF was super fucking awkward and super fucking weird, and it made me so uncomfortable for nebulous, inarticulate reasons that it nearly ruined this otherwise entertaining book. I don't care whether he got permission (he did) or how good of friends they were (not that close, as far as I can tell). It's . . . sort of about how Cornell thinks he's doing something groundbreaking and interesting when he's, uh, really not. And sort of about a man profiting off of RPF while so many women push boundaries in much more interesting RPF as part of a maligned subculture. And sort of about how secondhand embarrassing it all came off, particularly in light of Cornell's self-confessed celebrity crush. And sort of about the role Gaiman is playing and what Cornell thinks he is saying about access to magical spaces and fannish spaces via Gaiman when I am one of that apparently rare clique of people who don't like Gaiman's stuff and don't think it represents us and our fannish experience.

And just . . . nope.
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Back to text links for now.

The Boy With The Painful Tattoo: Holmes & Moriarity 3

4/5. M/M, third in the mystery series featuring two writers.

I started this last night when I took the dog out for her evening constitutional, and then it kept me company through the 4 a.m. insomnia. I didn't read this for the mystery (fine, but not engaging) or the genre jokes (many and charmingly bad). I sorta read it for the relationship, which is delightful and unusual in that these are two grownups who often fight with each other about things that grownups fight about! Imagine that.

Really, I read it for the protagonist. He's forty with a bad back and a vicious streak and a career on the rocks and a commitment to misanthropy that delights me. He's got piles of baggage and he doesn't fight fair, and he's the sort of guy who will say, "You're only hearing this once," over some romantic expression. He is just so cranky and vivid, and he doesn’t like kids, and he snarks on absolutely everything. He is aging ungracefully and he's a lot of work to love, but he's still allowed to be sexy. And falling in love has nothing to do with learning to smile or love the kid: it just involves wrangling boundaries at every turn. And I dig it.

Ugh, I really needed good satisfying M/M with actual human beings in it. Josh Lanyon is here for me.
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Playing with posting formats.



2/5. M/M of the married with kids with law enforcement entanglements variety. Points for boring me, rather than actively pissing me off. I mean, these guys appear to have one kind of sex in the physical sense (always penetrative, same guy always tops) and about 1.5 kinds of sex emotionally (quote claiming end quote) but the kids are actually a realistic amount of work and disruption so whatever, fine, be that way.

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