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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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Parting Shot (A Matter of Time, #7)Parting Shot by Mary Calmes

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

It's the first grudge read of 2015! …That didn't take long.

Grudge read, btw, meaning a book you desperately want to throw across the room less than halfway through, but you continue on to the bitter end just for the satisfaction of knowing for sure that it really is that terrible. And also so you can slam it in full knowledge.

So yeah. M/M of the cop and billionaire variety. This book is an unholy mess – disorganized, confused about who its unlikeable protagonists are, full of random BDSM content with no accuracy or emotional context or, uh, sexiness.

But whatever. A bad book is a bad book. Here's what's offensively bad about this one.

So both our heroes were closeted, right, very purposefully and to the detriment of previous relationships. Until – you can see this one coming – they meet each other and that all changes. Here's what our narrator, the cop, has to say about it: "It made me almost sick that I had waited so long to be brave and stand up. That was crazy, but I felt like I owed someone an apology."

That's right, kids. A queer person staying in the closet is failing to be brave and stand up. Coming out being, you see, entirely a function of the queer person's courage (and also whether he is in real love) rather than, say, oh just some random options – physical safety, job security, maintaining familial stability, I could go on.

Staying in the closet isn't a failure of courage. It is often a carefully calculated decision, and an essential or very smart one. This book and it's repeated refrain of how coming out was so much easier than expected – the executive board doesn't care! The police captain doesn't care! – isn't just erasing homophobia, it's placing responsibility for the consequences of homophobia on queer people. Queer people aren't in the closet as a random cultural artifact! The closet exists because of a vast and terrifying history of oppression and violence which is still alive and well today!

But, well, if only those queer people would be braver. Problem solved.

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All Kinds of Tied DownAll Kinds of Tied Down by Mary Calmes

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I generally like Calmes's contemporary romances more than her fantasies (which in my experience are epically batshit). This one, about two federal marshals, is a decent bit of vaguely power dynamic-y porn wrapped around some boring action/adventure nonsense, sprinkled with, like, every character from other books of hers she could awkwardly shove in. This book is almost interrogating the usual Calmesian tropes – she takes a vague stab at mixing up which of her usual types tops, and for her that's, like, serious subversion because she's one of those authors who is deeply, deeply concerned with who penetrates and who gets penetrated, that being, like, an intrinsically and vitally important aspect of everyone's personality or whatever. Not that this genre is fucked up or anything….

Anyway, whatever, it's fine, a little incompetent around the edges, nothing exciting.

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The GuardianThe Guardian by Mary Calmes

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Abandoned at 60%. I am far too exhausted to work up the outrage this book deserves, so let's do this the quick and clean way.

Blah blah blah gay romance where the ad executive saves a giant dog from a fight, except the giant dog is actually a hot dude from a fantasy dimension.

Item the first: The first time they hook up, hot dude from fantasy land is startled to discover, mid sex act, that the protagonist is willing. This apparently never having happened to him before.

Item the second: Shortly thereafter, the protagonist meets up with the group of women who were hot fantasy dude's previous sexual partners (for financial remuneration). And these ladies elucidate that, indeed, hot fantasy dude is sexually brutal and violent, that it was rape at least some of the time, and that one of them frequently believed that he would kill her during sex.

. . .

You know how I often say that I don't care what a book's kinks are as long as the author knows it? Like, go ahead and have a watersports kink, whatever, it's not my thing but I won't stop you. But for the love of God, own it. Don't pretend it was an accident. 'Oops, my word processor slipped!' 'I just wrote a story about a dude sexing up someone who is drugged unconscious, but it's not rape and how dare you say I would write a story about rape, because I'm the author and I know the unconscious dude secretly wanted it, so there!'

There is very little more secondhand embarrassing than watching someone shame themselves over the kink they are writing stories about, often within the stories themselves.

So yeah, you know how I often say that?

Well, this book is the counter argument. This book explicitly makes sure we know hot fantasy dude is a violent rapist because that makes him sexier to the protagonist, and that is supposed to make him sexier to the reader. There's nothing coy about this, no inference games. Calmes thought being a violent rapist -- being an uncontrollable brutal animal, nearly a direct quote -- makes this guy hotter, and she owned that.

And it was so fucking gross, I have a bad taste in my mouth over a week later.

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Timing (Timing, #1)Timing by Mary Calmes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So to put this book in context, on the morning of Valentine's Day I was huddled in bed when my girlfriend brought me a box. Inside it was a black and gold pendant necklace, a statement piece that will go really well with my charcoals and cranberries and other usual work colors. And it was interestingly textured, which is important for us compulsive fiddlers, and all around sweet and beautiful and romantic without being overbearing, and and and.

And I said, "Thank you. Excuse me, I have to go throw up now."*

All of which is to say, this book could have been terrible, and it probably wouldn't have mattered much. I read it on the train into work, tucking my head down to try and minimize the spinning dizziness. And I read it when I gave up the fight and came back home in the middle of the afternoon and curled up under a fuzzy blanket with the dog and intermittent cats. And I finished it there, with the world still revolving gently around my head.

It could have been terrible. It wasn't, though it also wasn't what I would call "good" either. Enjoyable as fuck though.

Calmes usual protagonist – long-haired, extroverted, nearly universally beloved for his beauty and general awesomeness – goes to Texas for his best friend's wedding, and discovers that what he thought was an ongoing feud with the best friend's brother is something else entirely. It's a "have loved you always" story with bonus cowboy and calmes usual run of "only you can manhandle me right, I'm saying no but I don't mean it" thing. And basically it was the one good thing about an entire day. So that's pretty cool.

*Not pregnant.

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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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