Lisa from The Novel Approach is here again with another edition of Booyah Books! Woot!
February may be short on days, but it was long on some really great reads. From perennial favorites to new to me authors, these were the books that kept me up well into the night, and then kept me thinking about them some more, long into the next day.
First up is a book that's been around awhile, from an author who's name is, for me, pretty well synonymous with M/M romance: Z.A. Maxfield.
ePistols at Dawn is the story of a reclusive writer, Kelly Mackay, who suffers from OCD and agoraphobia, and the tabloid journalist who's driven to get to the bottom of a story that could effectively blow the top off of Kelly's well ordered little world.
After a psychologically altering event, a horrific tragedy that was the catalyst for the person that Kelly would become, he wrote a book called Doorways under the nom de plume Kieran Anders, a critical work that would come to serve as the touchstone for every young man who read it and was, at the time, attempting to come to terms with his own sexuality. It was Kieran Anders’ crowning achievement, and the only book he ever penned. And it is also Kelly Mackay’s deepest secret, one he never intends for anyone outside of his minuscule circle of confidantes to know.
But journalist Jae Fields has got a righteous anger on and now nothing is safe or sacred, especially not Kelly’s right to privacy, or to his multiple identities.
Watching Kelly and Jae fall in love was a pure joy while, at the same time, it was a dangling-carrot-of-doom knowing their relationship was little more than a minefield of lies by omission and half-truths and unknowns just waiting to be unearthed. When the house of cards finally tumbles, it’s not an easy thing to witness; nor is it any easier, after all those cards are laid out on the table, realizing it might be too late to overcome all the duplicity that underscored the entirety of their relationship to that point. But boy, it was sure fun being a bystander to the story of these two men and all the colorful characters who helped them tell their story.
ePistols at Dawn has definitely made its way on to my All-time ZAM Favorites List. It’s a story that pits journalistic integrity against a public persona’s right to privacy, and is a story that turns the tables on the journalist, who suddenly finds himself the object of scrutiny by that same media. I loved this one a lot and wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to recommend it.
You can buy the book HERE
Next up is a book that you absolutely must read only if you're prepared to laugh so hard you might possibly make unbecoming snort noises. It might also make you cry, so there's that too. The book is T.J. Klune's Tell Me It's Real
This is Paul James Auster’s story, the story of a man whose self-confidence level is somewhere south of hella low but whose personality is somewhere north of luminous. This is the story of a man who isn’t salon tested and steroid approved; he isn’t what anyone might describe as genetically gifted or socially savvy, but he is real and he’s warm, and he and this delightful cast of characters are more than just words on a page. They’re psychedelic brushstrokes on a kaleidoscopic canvas of wacky and wonderful, and I loved each and every one of them to bits.
It's the story of the way he and Vince Taylor fall in love through spit-takes, and Heimlich Maneuvers, and a near maiming. It’s the story of how they fall in love in spite of Paul’s eternal skepticism that someone as beautiful as Vince could ever possibly be attracted to him. It’s the story of the way they stay in love in spite of an enormously bad decision on Paul’s part to go behind Vince’s back and confront something Vince very much wanted to remain private. It’s the story of the way Paul becomes the light in Vince’s darkness, and the way in which Paul reveals his awesomeness one small step at a time.
This book propelled T.J. Klune right to the top of my want-to-read-more authors' list.
You can buy Tell Me It's Real HERE
If you don't like unhappy endings, let me just say right here and now, you'll want to steer far and wide from Brandon Shire's Listening to Dust, because not only does this book not end happily, it doesn't begin happily either. But what it is, is the uncompromising story of the tragic ending to a romance that, truth be told, was destined to fail before it ever began. Dusty Earl is not a man who will ever find peace in or escape from his own sexuality in spite of the fact that the months he spent with Stephen Dobbins, when Dusty was able, for that brief time in his life, to become Dustin and to grasp hold of an ephemeral and ever elusive thread of equilibrium, had maybe caused Dusty to feel something like a quiet place amidst the confusion and conflict born in a place to which he knows he’s obligated by duty to return one day.
This book is an illustration of the influence of bigotry on a man from a small Southern town, a place from which Dusty escaped, joining the military in hopes of eventually being able to provide a better life for Robbie than the one they’d ever been offered within the extreme dysfunction of their family. It is a story of a modicum of freedom found three-thousand mile away, in a place where Dustin was able, for once, to withstand the burden of his self-loathing because he’d finally found someone who made it all a little easier to impersonate a man who will suffer a shred of reason in his unreasoned world. It was a place where, for a moment, Dustin was finally able to ask for and accept the gift that was offered to him, was able to give as much of himself as he ever had. And then he turned and walked away for the sake of his brother, as well as, I believe, for Stephen. A sacrifice that, in the end, fate would twist into the saddest of ironies, in which Robbie’s life would be forever impacted anyway by Dusty’s love for another man, and Stephen’s would be impacted by the fact that the man whom he believed had merely suffered his love, truly did love him in return, in the only way he was able.
In a poetic prose that only served to increase the emotional quotient of this already moving story, Brandon Shire paints a picture of a disillusioned man who tries so hard to run from the truth, though he can’t run far enough to hide from who he is. It is a story of hope and despair and of the promise of love that’s discarded like the flotsam and jetsam left behind in a life laid to waste by the liars whose words have wormed their way into Dustin’s psyche until those lies became the truths he wore like scars, convincing him that love wasn’t meant for someone like him. And in an equally though altogether different tragedy, the detritus of those lies brings about the destruction of Stephen’s dreams and costs him far more than he ever imagined he’d have to pay. Listening to Dust offers no happily-ever-after to the reader. It is brutal in its honesty and keeps counsel with the reality that sometimes a moment-to-moment happiness is the best we can hope for while we navigate this mortal coil without promise of anything more than that.
I loved this book for its uncompromising portrayal of its characters and their hardships. It doesn’t pull any punches, nor does it sugarcoat its truths to make them more palatable to a wider audience. If you want your fiction tied up in a lovely bow of forever after, don’t come looking here; you won’t find it. But, I’d hate to see anyone miss out on this story for fear of shedding a few tears along the way. They’re well worth it.
You can buy Listening to Dust HERE
My last two picks for the month are both short stories, one from what's becoming a new favorite writing team, L.A. Witt & Aleksandr Voinov, and the other from someone who's been a favorite from the start, Piper Vaughn.
Both of the shorts are incredibly erotic stories, but in entirely different ways, so I'll start with L.A. and Aleks' Take It Off, the second installment in their serialized Market Garden Tales, which began with Quid Pro Quo, and follows the story of rentboys Tristan and Jared, and their wealthy American john who's known only as Rolex. These books are unapologetically sexy and seductive, just like Tristan and Jared and the profession at which they excel, so don't go into them looking for romance.
Some people like to watch other people get down to the business of sex, while some people would rather read about it, then let their imaginations drift to all sorts of places that reality can neither attend nor compare to. If you’re one of the latter, believe me when I tell you to go have a look at Jared getting his sexy on for Tristan and Rolex this time around, then come back and tell me I’m lying about the sex and seduction business. Yes, that’s a triple dog dare. I’m forgoing etiquette and going right for the throat. If you do decide to read this one, let me forewarn you that they do need to be read in order, and I'll also tell you that, as this is a serial, there are no endings, only To-Be-Continueds.
You can buy Take It Off HERE
And last but certainly never least is Piper's latest (and self-published) release, Asylum, the story of Johnny Cairo (a.k.a. the Scaremaster) and his family's traveling haunted house called Fear Asylum. Where Take It Off is erotic for erotica's sake, Asylum is both sexy and romantic, and tells the story of Johnny's fight to keep from succumbing to the temptation of falling for Brennan, his best friend's younger brother. It's a story that illustrates how a man learns very quickly that just because his head says there are no-strings-attached it doesn’t mean his heart is bound to listen, especially when he’s faced with the possibility of losing the one to whom he realizes he wants nothing more than to be tied.
I’ve read this story more than once, and really, really would love a sequel. You can use that as an indicator of how much I loved it.
You can buy Asylum HERE