My holiday in Italy (which was amazing! See above – Cortona where we spent our second week) brought with it lots of very cool books. My kids are getting older now and the constant supervision that was needed just a couple of years ago has now let up considerably. Now I can read while they swim and play and an hour or more can go by at a time without someone needing something. It’s one of those weird ironies of parenthood that this independence I’d longed for just a short time ago now makes me feel contrarily bereft. Ah well. At least it provides me with ample reading – and listening – time.
First up on the reading front was Two Gentlemen of Altona by JA Rock and Lisa Henry. This was a fun romp. Feeb Mac meets con man Henry when Henry witnesses a murder – Mac is forced to hunt Henry down then protect him. Mac is gruff and Henry is charming and there’s a nice thread of real emotion running through the frolics. My only gripe was a certain… ahem, lack of completion in this volume. If you catch my drift. It was quite the tease.
My first audio book of the holiday was Plan B by SJD Peterson. I love this book – have read it twice – and the narration on this one is pretty good, if a little too arch at times for my liking. Having said that, this is a first person POV story and the MC, Danny, does have a distinctive voice in the book that the narrator echoes in a way that felt accurate so it does work – I guess what I’m saying is that he lost a teeny bit of likeability for me in the from-reading-to-listening transition but that’s audio books for you. All books have to pass through reader filters but to me, it feels like audiobooks have extra filters to get through. For me, the parts of this audiobook that really took off were the dialogue sections between Danny and Lance. The narrator does a fantastic and very distinct voice for Lance and it just flows – I can’t imagine it’s easy to carry off transitions between different character voices smoothly in dialogue scenes.
My next read was a free bit of Sterek fanfic that Sam Evans pointed me to, Little Wild Animal by Lisa Henry. I’d been tweeting about teetering on the edge of the rabbit hole of Sterek fanfic just before I went on holiday (after reading one piece) so I knew this was a dangerous course of action.
It’s probably just as well I had no internet connection for a week after reading Little Wild Animal since I guzzled up this fun and touching lost boy tale in a few big gulps. I think I begin to see the lure of fanfic. The ready made characters. The possibilities that it offers, both to follow /build and to subvert. Even after reading just two (vastly different) examples, and never having watched an episode of Teenwolf, I can begin to see the blurred outline of this universe and key things about the characters: a bouncy naïveté to Stiles, a reserve and intensity to Derek. ‘S’interesting.
My next read-y book was Megan Erickson’s Trust the Focus which I liked a lot. Great friends-to-lovers coming out tale. NA. Nice, rounded characters and a road trip that rollicks along at fair old clip. I could quibble with a few things here and there but you know what? Why would I, when I enjoyed it so much? I then guzzled Kate McMurray’s first Rainbow League book, The Wind Up. For some reason, I enjoy Kate McMurray’s baseball books, despite my fundamental lack of interest in sport generally and complete and total ignorance about baseball in particular. This story was slightly different from others of hers I’ve read, being about an amateur team rather than a pro team. It was a nice and easy read, light on angst and I burned through it quickly.
On the audio front, I moved onto the second and third books in the I Spy series by Josh Lanyon. I have been eating up Lanyon’s audiobooks one by one and loving revisiting his whole oeuvre in that way. Whilst these were not my favourites, they’re still great. The narration on these ones is difficult – the poor narrator’s got to pull off a British first person POV AND a second MC with a distinct (Shenandoah Valley) American accent. I’m guessing the narrator is actually American. Although the British accent he uses is good, I kept detecting what sounded like an American hard “a” creeping in. Of course, for all I know, the southern accent he uses for Stephen could be off but the fact is, I can’t judge the accuracy of that one so I assume it’s fine. All of which underlines that listening to an audio book is a highly subjective experience. The general performance here (as with other Lanyons I’ve listened to) was well-matched to the book – spot-on for the flat, jaded, bleakness of Marc’s first person pov. And the voice he adopts for Stephen voice is great. Again, the tricky dialogue sections just sang.
My next read was Marie Sexton’s Shotgun. Although I liked this book, it’s main pleasure ended up being that it sent me back to revisit an earlier book in the series, Promises, which I found I enjoyed more the second time around. Loved actually. Then, as often happens on holiday, that sent me off to reread another favourite, False Start by Janey Chapel – it’s not related to Promises in any way, it’s just that I thought of it as I was reading Promises. I adore this short novella about a closeted man coming home for his college reunion and meeting up with his out ex boyfriend. Really nice writing, strong emotion and a neat, satisfying running metaphor. It’s not whack-you-round-head amazing, just a great example of a story you see a lot in MM romance done really well. I’ve read it at least 4 times now.
From what I can see, Janey Chapel hasn’t written anything new for a while :-(
My final holiday audio was Floodgates by Mary Calmes. This is classic Calmes with a loved-by-everybody-but-oblivious-to-his-own-charms pretty boy and a big, hard, superalpha cop pairing. This story also features a dickhead, cheating, handsome ex and there’s a murdering stalker too. Nice narration. I liked it a lot. Lots of standard Calmesisms that are like catnip to me. I have to admit to loving the climactic sex scene in which Cord demands Tracy’s agreement to a committed relationship using only the power of his mighty wang. There’s a great line where Tracy gasps something like “Sex talk means nothing,” and Cord replies, “It means EVERYTHING.” (my emphasis). And it’s cheesy but I love it so much! I could use that single example as a springboard into a whole new blog post about “money shot” moments like that in romance novels, both het and queer. But time, sadly, doesn’t allow.
Happy reading days.