A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson
Received to review via Netgalley; published 26th October 2016
I want to like A Taste of Honey, just as I wanted to love The Sorceror of the Wildeeps. There’s some fascinating world building in the back of this, and some beautiful, lyrical, sensual language. And there’s LGBT characters! And the cover looks awesome! It actually gives me more of the background I wanted from the other novella, and the relationship was also much more up-front; obvious from the start.
Knowing other people really enjoy both Wilson’s novellas for Tor.com, I guess I just have to include it’s a case of “it’s not the book, it’s me”. It’s harder to even put my finger on what I didn’t like about this one — it just felt so disjointed, so opaque.
It’s a shame, but unless I hear something very different, I probably won’t read Wilson’s work again. It just doesn’t work for me.
Fair Chance, Josh Lanyon
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 1st March 2017
Fair Chance is a follow-up to other books featuring Elliot and Tucker, Fair Game and Fair Play. As such, no wonder I wanted to get my hands on it! I enjoy the relationship between Elliot and Tucker. The lack of stereotyping in their relationship is refreshing. It doesn’t hurt that I also like the background characters around them. Elliot’s dad Roland is a key figure, for example. Elliot and Roland still have a fascinating bond, despite the events of the previous book.
The emotional connections feel real, and the mystery feels urgent. Particularly in this book, where Tucker is the one in real danger. I enjoy that though he’s stereotypically masculine, he expresses his feelings more than Elliot. He’s the one more prepared to discuss and compromise and figure things out. And better, Elliot is beginning to really trust this. The doubts are still there, but he’s getting used to the idea he can rely on Tucker. The deepening emotional closeness adds to the urgency.
Like I said, development.
It also feels good that at the end of the book, Elliot gets a shot at going back to the life he wanted originally. I did enjoy that he was ex-FBI, that he was a professor and had adjustments to make. All the same, it’s satisfying to see him ‘come home’ and find a new place for himself, doing what he wanted all along.
The resolution of the mystery isn’t too obvious or anything like that. I feel it relies too heavily on coincidence, and Elliot’s ability to connect the dots. It’s still a satisfying conclusion to that thread of the story. Or at least, one hopes it’s the end of that story, and Elliot’s now finally done with Corian.
On a final note, the sex scenes are okay: not too awkward, anyway. They make sense as part of depicting Elliot and Tucker’s relationship. They’re also skippable if you’re just here for the emotional content.
Carry On, Rainbow Rowell
Didn’t I just read Carry On? It’s true, I read it not that long ago, but after the US elections and various personal stresses (I have how many assignments due?), I needed some comfort reading. Harry Potter doesn’t work for me — for one thing, I’ve never been that big a fan, and for another, I had to read the second and third books five times each in a week on a school trip, since my mother only let me take two books. Since then, and especially considering how miserable the other kids made me, I’ve rather gone off Harry Potter.
My love for Carry On is totally separate to anything I feel about Harry Potter, though. I’m aware I’m in the minority there, but I only read four of the Harry Potter books, and never experienced the end of the series or got into the fandom. So I felt in the position to just love this: love the way the magic works, the way it permeates their thinking; the way Simon and Baz have always been drawn to each other; the way even their love scenes read a little bit like fighting in place.
There are things I don’t love — the constant POV switching, for example. It’s particularly jarring when it happens several times in what should just be a paragraph. And I don’t love feeling like Penny, Ebb and Agatha had their own stories that needed telling, and that they came so close to being able to tell them… before being cut off by the inevitability of Simon and Baz, and Simon’s victory. Particularly in Agatha’s case. I thought the descriptions of her feelings toward Simon were great, and I’d have liked to see some closure between them. In fandom, it’s always been the female characters that suffer from people’s attempts to pair up the boys, and it’d have been nice to get a fuller picture of Agatha. Simon’s still very much the Chosen One, narratively.
But these are things that could probably only be addressed by whole books that deal with these tropes, and deal with the lives of the women around Simon and the Mage. I don’t think there really was space here. Penelope Bunce still rocks the heck out of the book.
And it’s still a book I enjoy very much.
The Man Everybody Was Afraid Of, Joseph Hansen
This is one of those mysteries where you can’t root for the mystery to be solved for the sake of the victim, a man who was a bully, a racist, and thoroughly unpleasant in almost all his interactions. Instead, the characters surrounding them need to get their hooks into you, and in this case that didn’t really work for me. Much more central was Dave’s sadness over his father’s illness, his disconnection with Doug, and the connection he does form with Cecil — one that rather surprises a reader familiar with Dave, who doesn’t seem like the type to be very appreciative of cheating, and yet does so himself.
It gets a little bit too convoluted in solving the mystery, in order to bring in a bunch of red herrings and implicate several different characters. That made it frustrating, and not quite as smooth a read for me as the earlier books. It’s still enjoyable, but not a favourite.
Troublemaker, Joseph Hansen
Reading this a second time, I’m definitely sure it’s not my favourite Brandstetter novel. Some of the characters are just… such gay stereotypes, and I prefer it by far when Hansen steers away from that — which, luckily, he does with Dave and Doug. The mystery itself was interesting enough, with plenty of red herrings, but I felt like the background stuff was lacking — the best bit was when Doug calls Dave for help with his mom, and that’s kind of ruined by the fact that Dave can’t even go to help because he’s too busy somehow trying to save someone’s life.
(And how, how does Dave always end up involved in these cases?)
Still, Hansen’s writing and plotting is always solid, and though it isn’t one of the standouts of the series, it’s a worthy installment.
Death Claims, Joseph Hansen
The first time I read this, I commented on the descriptions — saying that at times they were laid on too thick — and style, and also that Hansen somehow manages to make you care about the characters, even minor ones. I disagree with the first one now, perhaps because I knew going in what Hansen’s style was like: it still reminds me very much of Chandler, even if he doesn’t have quite the same knack for the well-placed word or reference (no “shop-worn Galahad” here). And I still agree with the second one: a particular character doesn’t show up for most of the story, and yet I very much cared about how things worked out for him, and about what he tried to do.
I also commented on the subplot between Doug and Dave, which I loved: I loved the fact that they’re both damaged and imperfect, that their past lovers (both dead, and therefore idealised) get in the way, and their responses to that. I love that Dave decides it’s time he did some work to keep the relationship going, and then he does — but also that he’s a self-righteous ass about some things, not some paragon of virtue. Their relationship feels real, both in the way they disappoint each other and in how they match.
I can’t remember the individual books well enough to decide where it sits on my mental ranking of the series; I look forward to discovering that in the rereads to come, I think. But it’s solid and I enjoy it, and especially for Dave’s life outside the cases, even where it’s relatively background. He has a life outside the cases — much more so even than another favourite detective of mine, Peter Wimsey, whose life outside cases is mostly spent discussing the case anyway, or touches on it. Perhaps that’s part of why I love Dave Brandstetter so much.
The Door into Sunset, Diane Duane
I really like that this series is out there, full of characters outside the traditional fantasy mold, full of female characters, in a world created by a goddess. And it helps that there’s dragons and that the most important relationship through the books published is that of Freelorn and Herewiss. And again, that they have a realistic struggle to adjust to new things, to find their feet in their relationship and keep it ticking over without letting it stagnate, to find room for each other. There are some really great scenes, like the section in Lionhall or some of the battle scenes.
One thing I really, really liked was the characterisation of Cillmod, and even Rian. They’ve been boogeymen for so long, and this book finally expands them a little. Cillmod turned out to be especially interesting. It was great to see some ambiguity, some signs of another side of the story.
But. I don’t know. For me, it just doesn’t quite click. Sometimes I feel like the issue of the Goddess is hammered home too hard, too frequently; sometimes I want the characters to stop thinking so much about getting into bed with each other, because hey, there’s actually a war going on; sometimes the tone just feels pompous or… or something I can’t quite put my finger on, but in any case find offputting. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it — I wouldn’t have finished the three books which have been written if I didn’t — but I’m not sure it needs the fourth unwritten book, and I’m glad enough to leave it here.
Fair Play, Josh Lanyon
Confession time: a long time ago I received this to review, and did not get round to it (partly because I hadn’t read Fair Game yet). So in the end I bought it. But in the interests of full disclosure, I did originally receive a review copy.
I really don’t know what took me so long, apart from the sheer length of my damn to read list. Fair Play is kinda great: I’m not so much talking about the plot of the mystery, though I did also enjoy that. No, what I enjoyed most was Tucker and Elliot’s negotiations about their relationship, the way they had to work around each other, the way they hurt each other sometimes but still cared. And I especially enjoyed that they’re both masculine and open about their sexuality, and open about their wants and needs (at least with each other). Even better, the more emotionally intelligent of the two is Tucker, who would otherwise be a stereotype of a buttoned up cop with issues. Instead, he’s open with his emotions and not afraid of them, and he doesn’t let Elliot run away. It’s great.
Less great is their persistent miscommunications and head-butting sessions, but it does make sense for the characters and where they are in their relationship.
I did enjoy the mystery/thriller plot too; not so much the plot itself, I guess, as the way it made Elliot reflect on his father’s life, on the relationship it revealed between Roland and Elliot. That was already interesting in the first book, and it’s great here too. Again, emotional openness between masculine manly men. And, okay, it was kind of interesting reading about the sort of anti-Vietnam protests that Elliot’s father was involved in. It’s not a world I know much about, given that I’m British, and I liked the way it set the stage. The two books work together really well, and it’s not just about the romance between Tucker and Elliot — the other characters are important too.
Two Boys Kissing, David Levithan
I do like Two Boys Kissing. But there’s one thing, right up front, that bothers me: the total privileging of gay men in the LGBT community. It happens a lot, and it happens in this book, talking about the generation of gay men who died of AIDs, centering the book around their narration as a kind of Greek chorus, and I just — where the hell are the women? Women have always been part of the gay community too, and though some appear in this book as allies, there’s a dearth of lesbians. And that sticks out a mile given that a range of different male queerness is explored, from trans people to gay people living in bigoted families to gay people living in families that just sort of look the other way, to gay kids thrown out and ending up on the street…
It’s a book about the gay community, where the central recurring theme is two boys kissing to draw attention to gayness being out there and okay. And that draws an audience of people, including support, and it’s… all gay men? I get that the AIDs epidemic, which is another theme, disproportionately took the lives of gay men. But other issues, like homophobic bullying and families not accepting you, aren’t limited to gay men and those stories aren’t just about gay men.
I mean, representation at all is a good thing, and the differing experiences of queerness here are great as far as they go. Some of the couples are cute; some of the stories are sad. The Greek chorus works really well, even though I feel that it’s not talking to me — the story looks at some of the issues gay people have faced, some of which are applicable to queer women as well, and it just feels like it’s all about the boys.
As a story, it’s readable and touching. And yet thinking about it after the fact, I found it problematic.
Fair Game, Josh Lanyon
Fair Game is reasonably typical of Josh Lanyon’s books, which is to say it delivers a mystery plotline twinned with the life of a non-stereotyped homosexual protagonist, without dealing solely with his love life (for example, in this book, Elliot’s relationship with his father is another key point — it isn’t just about him and Tucker, although it is about that too). Elliot is an ex-FBI agent who is rebuilding his life after a suspect shot out his knee, and I enjoy the fact that his physiotherapy is mentioned, that he can’t just get up and go go go as if he were still an FBI agent, even though emotionally that is something he hasn’t come to terms with yet.
The mystery itself, well, I guessed where it was going solely because I found a particular character irritating, after one or two red herrings. But that isn’t rare for me, and I was still interested in how Tucker and Elliot worked it out.
I really enjoy Tucker’s character, too. To begin with, he seems like a macho guy who maybe doesn’t want to accept that he’s gay or deal with his feelings, but in fact he’s readier to do so than Elliot is. He’s willing to put himself out there, to apologise for what he’s done wrong, to make the effort to meet Elliot more than halfway. It makes a nice contrast to the couple in Lanyon’s Adrien English stories, for sure. (And the sex scene did not contain any metaphors which made me spit my drink, which is also an improvement, entertaining as those could be.)
I need to get round to reading the sequel, Fair Play; I do like the couple, both individually and apart, though I’d like to see more of Tucker and his life where it doesn’t revolve around Elliot or his job.