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A Gentleman's Position by K.J. Charles

Charles-k-j-a-gentlemans-position-society-of-gentlemen-3I have been eagerly anticipating this romance since we were first introduced to Lord Richard and his trusted valet David Cyprian. Richard is the linchpin around whom all the Ricardians revolve.  The Ricardians (bisexual, gay or transgender) all look out for one another, protecting each other from those who would happily send them to the gallows for their orientations, preferences and predilections but it is Richard who sets the standards,  provides the listening ear or chastising word if needed and sees that the Ricardians problems are solved.  

David Cyprian however is really the person who makes it all happen.  Officially as valet he makes sure Richard always looks flawless but unofficially he the person that pays the bribes, gathers the illicit information and makes sure Richard has absolutely everything in his life go smoothly. He is the rogue with all the connections, who fixes the problems before Richard even has any inkling of them. He is incredibly proud of how far he has risen in life, but has not risen so far that he doesn't know how to work on the street.  

The one wrinkle in David and Richard's relationship is that while Cyprian is beyond devoted to Richard & Richard trusts him like he trusts no other their mutual attraction has become impossible to ignore. While David is more than willing enter into a liaison with Richard, Richard is resolute to never importune someone in his employ (unlike his father, who used and abuse anybody under his power). Their facade of mutual indifference crumbles completely in the aftermath to a surprise death-bed summons from Richard's estranged mother. 

Once their mutual attraction is no longer something they can ignore, Richard ends up hurting David while trying not to hurt him and as a result he is deprived of David when he and the Ricardians need him most.  Richard must convince David to return and if they all survive, help him figure out how they can be together.

I loved this romance. I usually avoid boss-employee/servant-master romances for all the reasons for all the same reasons Richard wants to avoid one. KJ Charles however has a great handle on the issues of consent, agency, dignity and the nature of partnership that are such a large stumbling block in their relationship.  I loved how hard it was for Richard to unbend, and realize he was wrong. Richard has to eat a lot of humble pie, and comes truly appreciate and recognize all that he has taken for granted in David. David also grows, setting boundaries and demanding Richard truly see him and value him. He is able to demonstrate that his love is not servile even if he is Richard's servant.  

Charles exploits the intimacy of David's role as Richard's valet to explore the anguish of denial and build sexual tension but the biggest loss they feel when they are apart is for each other's companionship. I loved that despite the deep chasm between them, it is the absence of their easy relationship, the effortless conversation, that wrecks them both. 

Like all the endings in the Society of Gentlemen series, I believe in David and Richard's love and felt hopeful for them despite having a great awareness of the many risks they continually face.  Charles also provides a great pulse pounding and satisfying conclusion to the overarching series plot. I highly recommend this whole series.

I received a review copy via NetGalley from the publisher Loveswept.  A Gentleman's Position by KJ Charles will be available starting April 5th.


NK Jemisin's The Fifth Season (Broken Earth bk1)

612FnTYaDAL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I've been in a fantasy mood recently so I ventured out of the relatively safe world of genre romance to read the first book in N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth series. The Fifth Season was in turns heartbreaking, jaw-dropping and thanks to its immaculate pacing, absolutely gripping. I was listening to the audiobook and it was hard to turn off the car and stop listening each morning and evening when my car rides ended. Yesterday I listened to the last fours hours all in one go because I could not stop.

The Stillness is a massive, extremely geologically active continent dotted with large and small communities, remnants of a once mighty empire whose lore on how survive the not-infrequent periods devastating climate change, known as the seasons, provide a foundation for its common culture. 

In the Stillness, the Orogenes are people whose inborn ability to manipulate geological forces makes them an object of fear to the general population. To be an unsanctioned, unregistered Orogene is to be a Raga, a monster, bearing the curse of Father Earth, facing a death sentence if discovered.  The alternative is to be a Fulcrum trained Orogene, raised from childhood into a regime of control and suppression, only allowed to express their extraordinary powers at the Fulcrum's command and under its strict guardianship.  

The Fifth Season is the extremely personal story of the making of continent wide-cataclysm in the Stillness. We enter the story through Essun, a raga, whose family has fallen apart days before the Cataclysm takes place.  When her  husband discovers his young son's orogenic powers, he kills him and leaves town with their daughter. Essun is desperately trying to track down her murderous husband and rescue their daughter. We also follow Syenite and Damaya. Syenite is an ambitious fulcrum-trained orogene who is increasingly angry and chafing under the Fulcrum's insidious control over every part of her life. Her new partner and mentor is Alabaster, quite possibly the most powerful oregene under Fulcrum control. Damaya is a young girl, rescued from her parents and brought to the Fulcrum for training. The Fulcrum is both a safe place and a dangerous one for Damaya, as she learns to control her powers. The story jumps back & forth through time till all the stories converge in moments of breathtaking clarity where what was left unexplained in one story is suddenly central and important in another. Together the story is one of immense heartbreak, grief, survival and transformation and it is only getting started.

The novel was flawlessly intersectional, deeply aware of the overlapping layers of race, class, and gender that play into the way people move in the world and respond to it. The world itself is richly developed & vibrantly diverse. The story centers on POC, including LGBTQ characters that are fully realized. It was just so amazingly refreshing to read, even if it took me through the emotional ringer, because the story is so deeply meaningful. I will be eager awaiting the release of The Obelisk Gate in August. 

 



A Queer Trade by K. J. Charles

K.J. Charles has built a fascinating magical Victorian world through her numerous Charm of Magpies related novels.  I'm not completely caught up on the main Charm of Magpie books, but I couldn't resist jumping ahead to read this one because is features victorian era black hero.  A Queer Trade is the prequel to Rag and Bone which was released last week and I am currently in the middle of reading.

Crispin Tredarloe's master dies while he is away visiting family and returns to discover his master's heir have started emptying the house and have disposed of many magical papers. He is desperately searching for the paper waste man that hauled away his masters' spells before they can harm someone and expose him. This particularly urgent because Crispin Tredarloe isn't simply a magician's apprentice but an illegal warlock. If the blood magic is exposed and traced back to him, his life might be forfeit.

Ned Hall's trade might be unusual trading in paper, recycling people's old letters, and discarded notes into wrapping and packing, but it is honest work, and its freed him destitution after his family cast him out for being gay. His attraction to Crispin is quickly tested by Crispin's casual snobbishness and likely insanity.

I love how Charles's is aware of  and then layers various impediments and conflicts into Ned and Crispin's relationship, race and class differences on one end, and then give them a shared understanding of familial rejection.  I look forward to reading more about these two.


March RT Reviews

Knit Tight by Annabeth Albert I love knitting. I always carry a project with me and knit at every opportunity. I was equal parts wary and excited when I started reading this romance but I loved it. It got the knitting right and I found the romance very lovely and honest, especially as they struggled to make time for each other and to accept love. I will be looking for more of Annabeth Albert's work in the future.

Duty Before Desire by Elizabeth Boyce I was initially really enjoying this story. I am sucker for the rake reformed & fake relationship tropes but I ended up deeply disappointed with it.

All Chained Up by Sophie Jordan This RS-tinged romance lost all momentum in the last few chapters and ended with a deflated whimper.


Backwards to Oregon by Jae


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Luke Hamilton has been living as man since, her mother died when she was 12. Guarded and reserved Luke awkwardly tries to avoid the advances of Fleur, a prostitute former military buddies have paid for as parting gift.

Although warned by the Tess, the brothel's owner and one of the few people privy to Luke's secret that Luke's has special needs that require her discretion, Fleur, whose real name is Nora is puzzled and distressed by Luke's reticence and brusque refusal of her services.  

Both Tess and Nora are truly shocked however when Luke returns to the brothel with a marriage proposal shortly after rescuing Nora's young daughter from a ugly altercation on the streets. Confused, wary but convinced of Luke's good-nature Nora agrees to join Luke on the grueling cross-country journey from Missouri to Oregon in hopes of providing herself and her daughter a more promising future.

Along the way Luke and Nora grow closer but their marriage is tested in several ways by the journey and the secrets they keep from each other.

I believed in this romance and the conflicts and tensions that drive Luke and Nora to make the unconventional but believable choices they have made. Jae carefully developed the characters and built up the tension around their secrets, slowly unwrapping the pasts that shaped them.

The only low-light in the novel for me was one of the encounters the caravan has with a Sioux, where a Lakota man tries to trade a pony and young woman for the red-headed Nora or Amy, much to Luke's frustration.  Up to that point the novel had done a good job staying away from stereotyping Native Americans. That scene felt unnecessary to the story.

 


Beyond Ruin by Kit Rocha

Beyondruin-400Beyond Ruin is the seventh book in the gritty and erotic post-apocalyptic romance series by Kit Rocha. I have an unapologetic love for this series, and I loved this book but you won't love it as much as I did  if you haven't invested in reading the previous books in the series. Luckily Bree Bridges and Donna Herren, the writing duo known as Kit Rocha have made it easy to catch up by offering discounted book bundles and fantastic website with a great character directory.

In Beyond Ruin all the seeds of conflict between Eden and the sectors that have been planted from the very beginning are bearing fruit. The tensions that rock  the central romance between Mad, Doc, Jade & Scarlet is inseparable from this conflict.

Mad, Adrian Maddox Rios, is the grandson of Prophet who built a powerful religious dynasty in Sector One.  He is somewhat estranged from his family, having fled to Sector Four and joined the O'Kanes, rather than taking up leadership there and face the suffocating love the of Prophet's followers, who would gladly give their lives for him, and wear his sainted mother's image on their bodies.  

Dylan "Doc" is a self-destructive pain-pill addict, who once was a sought after physician in Eden before he learned too many secrets and found himself a captive forced to oversee torture sessions. Dylan's family had sacrificed everything so he could get an education, but he became nothing but a tool to masters of Eden. He lost them and the position they had wanted for him and now he feels he has nothing left to lose. Once reckless and rootless, he has found some solace and comfort in Mad's embrace.

While Dylan and Mad are together they long for Jade and Scarlet, dreaming and fantasizing about them but unable to figure out how to approach them. They are caught in a tug of war of desire and fear, wanting and wishing but never quite acting on the flirtation, dancing frustrated circles around each other. 

Jade came to Sector 4, fragile and strung-out, after being betrayed by the Cerys the head of Sector Two.  She once used her training as an Orchid-trained prostitute to be serve as a spy, pleasing and manipulating powerful men in Eden with sex and submission.  When her patron discovered the truth, he nearly killed through drugs and abuse.  She has found comfort and love in Scarlet's arms but has not yet lowered the walls around her own heart enough to truly give and accept that love.

Scarlet is orphaned singer from the bombed-out Sector Three. She feels keenly out-classed by her lovers, never having lived in anything like the luxury and privilege they have all come from. They all adore her open-hearted embrace of life and sensation.

Beyond Ruin is probably the most plot heavy book Kit Rocha have ever written. A hell of a lot stuff happens, both to the central quartet and to Eden and the sectors. There are attacks, rescue missions, assassinations and the steady build-up toward war, all while Jade, Scarlet, Mad and Dylan try to figure out if their coming together as foursome can be maintained. There are a lot of moving parts to their relationship and they have to figure out how they can be there for each other beyond wrecking themselves with pleasure in bed.  Kit Rocha excels at building toward some seriously dark wrenching relationship moments that are 100% earned and consistent to who the characters are.  The push and pull of their ambitions, self-protection and instinctual drives, come up against the desire to truly accept, trust and belong to each other.

The stars of the book for me where Jade and Mad because they both struggle so much and respond so differently to very similar situations.  I was fascinated by Jade's internal struggle to let herself be truly seen by her lovers and her agonizing sense of responsibility over all the girls from the pleasure houses in Sector Two. Raised from childhood to feign desire and pleasure, to mimic affection and care in order to manipulate and control, she constantly questions her reactions and responses, as she works to reclaim her authentic self.  I felt Mad's anxiety and claustrophobia in Sector One, and his desire for and fear of wielding power over others.  He is a true prophet in how clearly he saw his grandfather's corruption and is struggling with untangling his desire to protect, save from his grand-father's power-hungry appetites. His struggle is how to love and care without controlling and self-martyr-ship.

The sex in these books continues to be inventive, hot but most importantly emotionally meaningful. The storyline continues to build with great payoff for longtime readers and I am on the edge of my seat waiting  to see what the future holds for the O'Kanes as their world is shaken once more.

I received a review copy for Beyond Ruin from one of its authors and was happily immersed into it.


Queer Romance Month: HEA's for All of Us to Read

We All Need Stories badgeAt RWA this summer, I had the opportunity to have lunch with a bunch of amazing interesting women (Elisabeth Lane, Carolyn Crane, Joanna Bourne, Rose Lerner and Sarah Lyons) at a small french restaurant. During lunch  Sarah Lyons extended an invitation to all us on behalf of Alexis Hall to write a post for this year's Queer Romance Month.

My first thought was YES! soon followed by oof. I read and enjoy Queer romance, wanted to celebrate it and I review it here on my blog. The oof was from trying to think about how to approach it.  I've spent a large part of my year thinking about how to support those with queer identities as a cis straight parent and friend. I've tried very hard to shut up and listen and be there for them in every way I can, whether it be in celebration and laughter or pain and tears. So my post is about how reading Queer Romance has helped see  HEA's for people I love whose stories didn't get told when I was growing up.  I am not sure when the post will be live today but I believe sometime around dinner time.  I'll add a link here once it is up.  

Happily-Ever-Afters For All Us to Read

There have been so many great posts this month about identity, discovery, and life, so please check them out.

 


Lead Me Not by Ann Gallagher

LeadMeNot_500x750Issac Morris followed his father in to ministry. He has a passion for bringing people to Christ but his father's church is particularly focused on calling "Sodomites"out of their sinful lifestyle by confronting them with their sin through loud and aggressive protests. Issac has grown increasingly frustrated with their inability to persuade people to listen to them.  When he learns that one of his nephews is struggling with homosexual desires he is convinced that they have to try something new and different. He and his sister Ruth set out to film a documentary, one that will document his choice to become gay and then become straight again in order to convince homosexuals they too can choose to leave the lifestyle.  Although his family is hesitant to see him take such a dangerous and risky path, they reluctantly agree to support his endeavor. Ruth and Issac relocate to Seattle and Issac sets out to enter the gay lifestyle.

Coming out to his parents at 14, propelled Colton Roberts into a nightmare. After his family's rejection he spent the majority of his teen years alone on the street, raped, pimped, abused and addicted.  He found acceptance and Christ's love in the persons of Pastor Mike and his wife Gail who rescued him from the streets.  Faith, therapy, rehab and the love and support of the South Street Community Church have held him together through many struggles. He juggles bartending shifts at CapitolOUT with evenings working with at-risk LGBQT youth at the his church's youth shelter.  

Issac and Colton meet when Issac is assaulted by homophobic thugs outside of CapitolOUT. Colton can't help but feel concern for Issac as he is clearly overwhelmed and inexperienced. Sympathetic upon learning that Issac has only recently come out, Colton agrees to help Issac learn to navigate the gay community in Seattle and they slowly build a friendship that eventually blossoms into something more. 

Gallagher (who also publishes for Riptide as L.A. Witt), took on quite a challenge with this book. The novel is equal parts a story of self-discovery as it is as romance novel.  Issac's journey toward realizing that he is gay and struggling to figure out how he can reconcile it with his faith and call to ministry is tortuous.  I thought Gallagher did a great job illustrating how hard and painful it is for Issac to slowly realize that he isn't choosing to be gay for the sake of the documentary but instead for the first time in his life acknowledging his identity.  He is under incredible pressure from his family, which makes him extremely conflicted and confused. The way things unfolded in the later half after some fateful/unavoidable confrontations was for the most part believable, especially the lure denial hold for Issac.

The romance was gentle grounded in growing attraction born out of friendship and affection. While they are both certainly attracted from the beginning, Colton's cautiousness leads to take things very slow letting them building trust and intimacy long before they ever even kiss.  Issac's deception and betrayal have significant consequences and although I felt Issac should have groveled even more, their HEA developed in the extensive epilogue was perfect.

I couldn't help reading Lead Me Not through the filter of the current conversations and movements in the Evangelical community toward greater acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ people.  While Issac does have many conversations and reads one book (published in the 70s!) on how reconcile his faith and his sexuality I wished Gallagher had Issac engage with more current books and scholarship than he does in Lead Me Not. Books like God and the Gay Christian specifically address some of the issues Issac most struggles with, specifically the bad fruit his anti-gay ministry is bearing (inspiring attacks,  the rejection of vulnerable children & suicides) and tackling how the Bible can and has been reinterpreted without it losing its authority.  

I really appreciated the attention Gallagher paid to the power of family relationships to affect a person's well-being. Colton struggles with accepting his parents' rejection for years. Issac works to reconnect with family members he has shunned, while wrestling with the family who fear losing him. Although the book asserts you can't choose who you love, it really meant who you fall in love with. Both Colton and Issac's family consistently stopped acting in a loving way toward those they disapprove of.  The novel does really illustrates is that while you can't choose who you are attracted to, your identity, are related to, or who you fit with most, you can choose to love them even when you disagree.

Inspirational romances are not generally something I enjoy reading. I struggle to not get stuck on some minor point of theology or get annoyed easily if I think something is being misrepresented but I think overall Lead Me Not succeed in being both a credible inspirational romance and a satisfying love story. I rolled my eyes occasionally but not enough to diminish my enjoyment of the story.

 

Disclosure: At RWA I had opportunity to meet Sarah Frantz Lyons,  Editorial Director of Riptide Publishing who is friend of my friend Elisabeth Lane. During one of our conversations Sarah mentioned being excited about Lead Me Not, because it was something that they had never done at Riptide or to her knowledge anywhere else, a M/M sweet inspirational.  I was immediately intrigued because although I am not typically an inspie reader, I am very interested in the intersection of the Faith community and the LGBT community so I knew I had to read it.  Check out the #FaithfullyLGBT hashtag on twitter if you want to know more about LGBT people who are working to live out their faith.

I received review copy of Lead Me Not from Riptide via Netgalley.


The Girl Next Door (Bend or Break #3) by Amy Jo Cousins

811EYqcZ1iL._SL1500_This is book three of Amy Jo Cousins's mixed/crossover NA series Bend or Break for Samhain. I have not read the first two books which were M/M, and while some past conflicts and events are referenced the book stands well on it own. 

Cash is a former rich/jock/party boy who has radically remade his life. He left a job at his dad's firm, leaving the fancy car and downtown condo behind, to go work his dream job. He has been working in the inner city coaching kids for little more than minimum wage for two years and generally just working very hard at doing things the right way.  He has never felt like the smartest kid in the room, but is very aware of how massively privileged he has been in life, so he is doing his best to do something worthwhile and real.  But his life is complicated by the surprise arrival of his runaway gay teen cousin.  He doesn't want to screw things up further for his cousin, so he calls on his best friends Tom and Reese  for help. Tom and Reese urge him to call Steph. 

Steph is the reason for Cash's life change only she doesn't know it. She broke his heart when she ended their friends with benefits arrangement, to pursue a relationship with a closeted Muslim girl their last year of college together.  Although it has been two years since Cash and Steph have had any real contact when Cash needs help she drops everything to help him. 

I liked how quickly Steph and Cash fell back into their old habits of sexual flirtation and interest and how that was both very good (in bed) and very bad (emotionally) for them.  Their sexual compatibility and interest has never been an issue, but falling into bed together easily just masks their inability to honestly confront and talk about their feelings for one another. They are both playing the same game, hoping not to be hurt if they don't push for more and if they don't define what they are doing together.  The what-are-we-doing-but-I-want-more conversation between Steph and Cash gets pushed back into the background for a very long time, but once they do have it is spectacular. I loved how big and out of control their conversation became.  It felt like just the kind of friendship-splitting fight that could and would happen if a couple have been dancing around each other emotionally for months.

I liked the book as a whole a lot, particularly the exploration of the complicated ways friendship/relationships rules develop. There was an incredibly hot threesome (mentioned in the blurb) that I thought was fantastically executed but that I struggled somewhat to make sense of story wise. In talking to a friend about it I  realized that I might have been carrying some Erom expectations into this book as I don't usually read NA.  I had expected the threesome to serve as challenge or confirmation for Cash and Stephany and their relationship. But they were at the same place emotionally at the end of the threesome as they were at the beginning.  Cash trusts Steph and is blown away by her sexual adventurousness.  And it did not turn into a relationship test. What we do see is what a loving, tender and all around good guy Cash is by the way he treats Varun through out. We also see a continued exploration of Cash's straight but not narrow sexuality. However the threesome might have been pivotal for Varun and I'm curious if it will be revisited in Varun's book.  

Despite the story being told exclusively from Cash's point of view the story sometimes felt crowded. While Steph is first and foremost in  Cash's mind, his life is complicated. He is trying to figure out how to make his budget balance, how to take care of his cousin, how to do well at his job, how to be a good friend and at the same time figure out how to keep Steph in his life however much distance and artificial obstacles she wants to put between them. I thought his realization of how to finally achieve that was wonderful and true to his character and I can only wish Cash and Steph many many years of happiness.

I received a review copy of The Girl Next Door from the author, Amy Jo Cousins.


Signal Boost (Off the Grid #2) by Alyssa Cole

Signal Boost is the second novel in Alyssa Cole's post-apocalyptic series Off the Grid for Carina Press.  A mysterious event has damaged  the world's or at least North America's electrical grid and crippled communication systems.  In Radio Silence, John leads his best friend Arden out of Rochester, NY to his family's well stocked remote cabin.  There John's big brother Gabe and Arden unexpectedly fall in love.  Signal Boost is John's story and a continuation of the post-apocalyptic plot.

Pre-Flare, John or Jang-wan as he known to his family was a happy gay man, studying computer science and sharing an apartment with Arden. Post-Flare, his life has become stifling and monotonous, he lives for his pre-dawn conversations with Arden before the rest of the family wakes.  The predictable routine of his Post-Flare life is upset when he tackles an intruder trying to pilfer tomatoes from their vegetable garden.

Mykhail was an astro-physics graduate student Pre-Flare, home on extended leave to take care of ailing relative. His Post-Flare life has been incredibly traumatic. He hasn't had any of the comforts the Seong family has enjoyed. He has experienced the horrible things since the Flare and has very little to live for. The one thing that keeps him going is the hope that if he find his way back to his former college campus he can  help get the grid up and running again. Mykhail is convinced his former professor and graduate adviser was one of the few people prepared to respond to this event.  

Jang-wan & Mykhail immediately hit it off.  Mykhail is funny, interesting and they connect over long conversations about the cosmos while stargazing. Jang-wan jumps at the opportunity to be of  use. His orienteering skills can get Mykhail to Burrell where his computer skills might be again be of use. 

On the road Jang-wan & Mykhail get to know each other a lot better and face perilous situations. Jang-wan learns all about Mykahail's complicated family, and the life choices.  The heightened emotional situations they experience on the road eventually breakdown Mykhail's resistance to his attraction and admiration for Jang-wan.  The story takes a big shift at this point, moving from trek-road-trip romance to romantic suspense. Many things don't seem right at Burrell College and  Mykhail's will to pursue their relationship is very quickly tested.

I was really looking forward to this book. I enjoyed Radio Silence a great deal and the teaser chapter for Signal Boost was fantastic. But uneven pacing & world building issues tripped me up.  I liked the characters, but I liked the idea of them together more than I liked the execution of it.  Jang-Wan and Mykhail's lengthy conversations about the stars and astrophysics felt like they had been cribbed straight from Neil Degrasse Tyson's Cosmos series.  Jang-Wan & Mykhail's complex emotional and relationship issues  were abandoned in the last quarter of the novel, replaced by a larger set of issues. The action scenes and intrigues were exciting but I felt Mykhail & Jan-Wan's romantic arc suffered.  

 There was a lot of great potential in this story but it did not quite live up to my expectations.

I received a review copy of Signal Boost from Carina Press via NetGalley