2017: a pictorial letter for the New Year.
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2017: a pictorial letter for the New Year.
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“Cassandra woke up to the rays of the sun streaming through the slats on her blinds, cascading over her naked chest. She stretched, her breasts lifting with her arms as she greeted the sun. She rolled out of bed and put on a shirt, her nipples prominently showing through the thin fabric. She breasted boobily to the stairs, and titted downwards.”
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Love is Love
Publisher: IDW Publishing
(W) Phil Jimenez, Cat Staggs, Steve Orlando, Dennis Cowen, Paul Dini, Ming Doyle, Brian Michael Bendis, Emma Vicelli, Ed Luce, Kieron Gillen, Various (A) Phil Jimenez, Cat Staggs, Steve Orlando, Dennis Cowen, Paul Dini, Ming Doyle, Brian Michael Bendis, Emma Vicelli, Ed Luce, Kieron Gillen, Jay Edidin, Various (CA) Elsa Charretier
The comic book industry comes together to honor those killed in Orlando this year. From IDW Publishing, with assistance from DC Entertainment, this oversize comic contains moving and heartfelt material from some of the greatest talents in comics – – mourning the victims, supporting the survivors, celebrating the LGBTQ community, and examining love in today’s world.
All material has been kindly donated, from the creative to the production, with ALL PROCEEDS going to the victims, survivors and their families via EQUALITY FLORIDA.
Be a part of an historic comics event! It doesn’t matter who you love. All that matters is that you love.
• Featuring an introduction by the project’s organizer, Marc Andreyko!
• Featuring contributions from some of the biggest names in comics!
(Release date: 28th December 2016)
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And so we come to the end of 2016 and like everyone else and their damn brother, it’s time for me to look back and review. Specifically, I’m reviewing what I’ve been reading. Because I’m an engineer, I love statistics. Running the numbers, we have:
I read 108 books this year, or 27,289 pages. All of those fall in the gay romance (fiction) category. Looking over my Goodreads reviews, the breakdown is:
5 Star Reviews: 32%
4 Star Reviews: 43%
3 Star Reviews: 17%
2 Star Reviews: 4%
Did Not Finish: 5% (not included in the page count, of course)
Generally if something was going to fall under 2 stars I just stopped reading it, though mercifully that was rare – 6 books for the year, in total. I admit that my general approach is to lean on Goodreads reviews (yeah, I know – Internet crowdsourced reviews, grain of salt, and so on). My criteria eventually become that the book must have more than 300 reviews, and the average rating must be over 3.65 (out of 5). That rule of thumb has served me pretty well, as the review summary shows.
Of my 5-star books, 33% were contemporary settings and 66% were shifters of some kind (canine, feline, etc.). I, um, may have a particular kind of subgenre I enjoy?
So, what were my favorite reads of 2016? I’ll start by saying that this is not limited to books published in 2016. I only started reading the gay romance genre in 2015, and I still feel that I’m just brushing the surface of the wonderful books to be found there. My favorite thing to do has been to find a great author and dig into their back catalog, which may explain why my to-read list is at 70 books and growing!
First up, my favorite series:
Bear, Otter, and the Kid, by TJ Klune (Contemporary, Slice-of-Life)
(Bear, Otter and the Kid, Who We Are, The Art of Breathing)
These books are all about the characters. From the neurotic Bear to the steadfast Otter and the Kid, who is too wise for his years. They are all simply fantastic. The dialogue is snappy and funny, and yet the situations are so real and heartbreaking at the same time. Every single one of these books made me cry, in a good way. TJ has a talent for characterizations that drags you in and grabs hold of you as the story unfolds.
Hidden Wolves, by Kaje Harper (Shifters, Suspense)
(Unacceptable Risk, Unsettled Interlude, Unexpected Demands, Unwanted Appeal, Unjustified Claims, Unsafe Exposure)
Harper has created an amazing setting here: Modern-day America but with a hidden subculture of werewolves, separate from humans. As the series progresses, we see what happens when the public suddenly finds out these people exist worldwide, and how the werewolves will survive in this sudden and new world. I love the characters here was well, but the overarching story kept me captivated beginning to end.
How to Howl at the Moon, by Eli Easton (Shifters, Humorous)
(How to Howl at the Moon, How to Walk Like a Man, How to Wish Upon a Star)
This is much more lighthearted than the series above, and it’s nice to have an occasional break. This series posits there is a small town hidden in the California Sierras when the population consists of the “Quickened” – humans who can shift into dogs of various breeds. Easton has fun playing off the traits of each breed but even as she does, she creates memorable characters, and book includes some really fun banter back and forth. Of special note is the audio version of this, narrated by Matthew Shaw. He does a remarkable job voicing the characters, keep the cast separated and imbuing each voice with a recognizable personality.
Infected, by Andrea Speed ( @notmanos) (Shifters, Mystery)
(Paris, Prey, Bloodlines, Life After Death, Freefall) More books still to be read, but that’s where I am right now!
This is another fascinating setting with fantastic characters. An HIV-like virus has spread worldwide which causes those infected to transform into a feral feline five days out of the month – cougar, lion, leopard, panther, or tiger. The transformation takes a terrible toll, and the larger cats are in for a short, painful life. In the midst of all of this is Roan McKichan, an ex-cop turned private investigator who was born with the virus and is an oddity: he survived to adulthood. He is reaching an accommodation with his lion and becoming something the world has never seen before. This series is so engrossing! The mysteries are fun, but are window dressing for Speed’s wonderful characters. Bloodlines in particular was incredible, and contains some of the most touching, heartwrenching writing I have ever read. This series only gets better and better!
Wolf, by AF Henley ( @afhenley) (Shifters, Suspense)
(Wolf, WY, Wolf, En Garde, Wolf, In League)
This is a great case of a series progressing in scope with each book. Henley has created a great world here of werewolves and vampires and who knows what else, all of whom exist without the knowledge of everyday society. Sinister forces, compelling characters, and plot twists galore make this a fun and engaging read.
And then there’s the one-offs and beginnings of series that I have not yet had a chance to pursue:
Hell and High Water (THIRDS #1), by Charlie Cochet
Great police procedural/suspense with feline shifters. Fantastic characters and dialogue. The audio performance by Mark Westfield is amazing, some of the best I have ever heard on any audiobook. (And it is definitely performance, not narration!)
How to Be A Normal Person, by TJ Klune
This is TJ in full-on humorous mode, but even then he tell this story between a socially isolated misfit and an asexual hipster with warmth and sensitivity. Definitely the sweetest book I read this year, and the funniest too.
Into This River I Drown, by TJ Klune (sensing a theme here?)
A polar opposite of Normal Person, this book is remarkable. The setting itself is almost a character in the book, and it will drag you through the emotional wringer. Still, the writing is so damn good it is absolutely worth it.
Sidecar, by Amy Lane
A sweeping 25-year story of the romance between Joshiah and Casey. This is an example of Amy Lane at her best, with great characters, believable dialogue, and a strong and real relationship that I can only hope to emulate. It’s not flashy or fancy, it’s just a damn good story told damn well.
Hands down, though, my favorite book of 2016 is Wolfsong, by TJ Klune. The shifter story that TJ swore he’d never write, this book is epic without a doubt. It is also so much more than gay romance. This is modern fantasy more than anything. The story grabbed me from the start. The world of Ox and the Bennett family is so engaging and just incredibly well-written. The fact that the book has an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 on Goodreads with 2,500 ratings says a lot for it. Read it. Just read it.
As for 2017? There’s so much more to read! It’s astonishing because for the last 25 years or so I could count the numbers of books I read each year on one hand. I’ve found something that really resonates with me in these books, and it is so refreshing. People talk about the importance of representation in modern culture. All of this reading has driven that point home for me. These are gay characters, doing things that people do, and occasionally getting it on with another guy without the camera freaking out and cutting away. These are people I know. This is my life.
Something else worth mentioning, too: The gay (or m/m) romance genre is a small one, relatively speaking. The publishers aren’t huge (there’s many self-published books too!) and a widely-read book may still only have tens of thousands of readers, not millions. I’ve had the good fortune to interact with several of these authors over social media and it has made discovering this genre all the more enjoyable. As someone who grew up imagining authors as these unknowable figures on high pedestals, the ability to reach out directly to an author and say, “Hey, I really like this thing that you wrote” is fantastic. I know that if I were writer I would love to hear feedback, and if I can make someone feel good about their work I am more than happy to do so!
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For a handy round-up of this week’s covers, check out this Best Of article I put together for Genre Reader. While you’re at it, SIGN UP and get yourself 10 FREE BOOKS. Merry Christmas, you gluttonous filth-pigs!
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Merry Christmas from me and my husband! We wish you all peace and happiness.
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Annie (corgi/blue heeler) got her ball! @takazajw helped her play with it ? #corgi #cowboycorgi #blueheeler (at Anderson, South Carolina)
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The AO3 Tag of the Day is: A gentle being who leaves lube in convenient places all over fanfiction
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only question on this final for college english is “is a future where a fursona is a legally mandated part of your ID a utopia or a dystopia”. teacher hasn’t blinked once for 45 minutes
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In a world where a werecat virus has changed society, Roan McKichan, a born infected and ex-cop, works as a private detective trying to solve crimes involving other infecteds.
But when your heart is gone, it’s easy to fall into a black hole and never crawl out. Roan has been lost and alone for more than a year, and his best friends think a new case might be just the motivation he needs. Roan forces himself back into the game and discovers a dead man who might not be all that dead, a street hustler that wants to hustle him, and a dominatrix who is well prepared to take Roan’s orders. As Roan claws his way out of the darkness by diving back into his work, he finds himself in a race against time in the adrenaline-pumping realization that nothing helps a person want to live like helping someone else survive.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Normally I refrain from reviewing later books in a series since they don’t have a lot of context to readers who haven’t read the earlier books. I think that this review is necessary for me if only to document that after the emotionally draining end of Infected: Bloodlines, the story still carries on, and is definitely worth continuing.
As with Prey, Life After Death is two novellas sandwiched together. The first is by far more affecting. As Paris predicted, Roan took a long time to recover from his death (is this a spoiler? I suppose the title is a spoiler so…). Speed captures the depression that follows painfully accurately.
Roan idly wondered if he cared about anything and decided that no, he probably didn’t. Should that bother him? Again, he didn’t care.
We follow Roan as he slowly digs himself out of the worst depths, although he by no means fully recovers. His discussions with an imaginary Paris who haunts his hallucinations are touching and show a tender side that Roan tries so hard to hide.
“The pain is supposed to fade, right? Why isn’t it? I still miss you so much I can barely stand it. I keep expecting to see you every time I open the office door.”
Paris wrapped his arms around him and gave him a squeeze that he could almost feel. “Oh sweetie, it doesn’t fade. No one should know better than an infected that pain doesn’t ever really fade-you just get used to it.”
We do get back into the swing of his life, though, as he begins to reach out and populate his world again with those who care about him. As he takes on new cases and slowly comes up for air, we continue to learn more about Roan, his lion, and the world around him.
The second novella is somewhat less successful, if only because it’s almost more of an extended slice-of-life story. Over the course of the novella Roan takes and completes several cases, and the ending seems rushed. Even so the journey is worth it, because Speed makes spending time in Roan’s world with his friends and his enemies enjoyable. Recommended.
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Time to retire to one of my favorite local watering holes. (at Side Lot Brewery)
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Rating: 5 out of 5 for the series (so far)
In the 1960’s a virus was loosed that killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. A vaccine was created, but the vaccine had…side effects. For those “infected” with the virus, five days out of every month they transform into a feral feline – cougar, lion, leopard, panther, or tiger. This is not a neat transformation, either: it can take an hour or more, and is excruciatingly painful as all of the bones break, the body is re-formed, and mass is redistributed. The bigger the feline, the greater the toll it takes on the body, so while there are many cougars, tigers have a diminishingly short lifespan.
Roan McKichan is an oddity. Where almost all other infecteds caught the virus later in life, he was born with the virus and somehow lived when all other virus children usually die shortly after birth. A former cop and now a private detective, he is coming to an understanding with the lion inside him and becoming something the world has never seen before.
To say these books blew me away would be an understatement. Andrea Speed has created a world that is mesmerizing, and populated by unforgettable characters. Roan, first and foremost, is an utter smartass to anyone and everyone, with a history that explains why he must put up a tough-guy image to shelter his more caring and thoughtful self.
His boyfriend Paris, a tiger strain, is wonderful as well. He is cheerfully manipulative, taking advantage of his good looks and charisma any way that he can. Now, though, he has turned his life around and is, as they say, using his powers for good. The banter between these two is a joy to read, as they fall in love and quickly establish a cozy relationship both at work and at home. The side characters can be a little stereotypical (Roan’s gruff cop friend for instance), but that is easily overlooked.
I read these books slightly out of order (Prey, Paris, Bloodlines) and I think that that is probably a good way to do it. Prey is actually two novellas put together, though they complement each other well. It is a great introduction to the world of Infected, and the reader quickly gets a feel for the flow Speed’s writing. If I had one complaint it would be the sudden changes in point of view in the narration, jumping from Roan to Paris and back (and in one chapter to a tertiary character altogether!).
Paris is a prequel to Prey, showing how Paris and Roan met and fell in love. It provides great backstory for the two, and really allows you to become invested in the characters. The downside to this is when you get to Bloodlines. Here, the tiger strain is catching up to Paris, and even as Roan tries to maintain normalcy and carry on their lives, there is no denying that Paris is dying. I won’t kid you – there is no happy ending here. Even so, it’s some of the most powerful writing I’ve come across lately. Yes, I was a weeping mess, and yet the trip was utterly worth it.
I take heart that this is just the start to the Infected series. There are six more books, plus various novellas and short stories. Normally I would look at such a sprawling series in askance and wonder if the author is diluting the stories as they go, but from what I have read I have every faith that all of these will be excellent and enjoyable reads.
Finally, one last note: Although I came by these books through the M/M Romance genre, they are so much more than that. This is Urban Fantasy where the characters happen to be gay and have gay relationships. The bedroom door is closed in this series, which is to say that any sexytime takes place off-page. If the idea of romances has ever put anyone off, this is a great place to start to see what you’ve been missing!
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*goes up to gay couple* so who is the healer and who is the tank
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Breakfast time for Nora and Charlie! #bordercollie #husky #dogtraining (at Volo, Illinois)
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Our good friend @tabbiewolf just started a Kickstarter for these awesome pins and she’s already at $1,300 out of $3,000 just one day in! We’ve backed her because she’s an awesome artist and great person, and the pins are super-adorable 🙂
@mutantlexi You asked and Tabbiewolf answered!
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