OMG, this was hard to narrow down! But here is my list of the best books that I read in 2012, with most but not all being released this year as well. What criteria did I use to choose these books? First, all had to be so impeccably written that they felt like mainstream professionally published fiction.
Second, I looked for complex, appealing characters. For example, the guys in Four Corners by Kate McMurray (also in Out in the Field), or the British main character in Pressure Head by JL Merrow (I loved the cultural details and his unique voice).
Third, I wanted a strong setting. It could the place itself. For example, Mexico in Day of the Dead by Erik Orrantia. Or it could be vivid, complex details that make the character’s job come to life. The job has to be balanced with the romance and woven naturally into the story with no info-dump. For example, the pharmaceutical smuggling in Diversion by Eden Winters, and the guy in The Condor by Isa K, who is running an escort service in New York City.
Fourth, I looked for books that had a profound emotional impact on me. Books that lingered in my memory and stood out when I reviewed the entire year. Something like Xylophone by KZ Snow or The Island by Lisa Henry.
Fifth and last, I included books that were so unique in some way that they stood out like beacons in the sea of sameness that makes up our gay romance genre. Something like Bartender PI by Ethan Stone, which was absolutely hilarious with its wordplay and lovably inept hero. Or Counterpunch by Aleksandr Voinov that centered on heavyweight boxing – in the slave leagues. Or Hawaiian Gothic by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane, which was as gorgeously surrealistic as anything China Miéville might have written. Or the two by Jordan Castillo Price, which were a breath of fresh air in terms of concept and plotting.
So, here is the list, alphabetical by title. Links go to Amazon.com.
1. Bartender, PI by Ethan Stone. Wonderful humor with the wordplay (think Yankees catcher Yogi Berra saying, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”) and lovably inept hero. The mystery plot is gratifyingly twisty and keeps you guessing.
2. The Condor by Isa K. Full of surprises. I truly didn’t know which of two possible guys our hero would end up with until the last moment. Also, the most realistic and matter-of-fact depiction of prostitution I’ve ever read in our genre. The hero worries about quarterly taxes and bickering amongst his employees!
3. Counterpunch by Aleksandr Voinov. Dark, gritty, and contains some ferociously vivid boxing scenes. An unforgettable, heroic main character.
4. Day of the Dead-A Romance by Erik Orrantia. Beautiful depiction of Mexico and Mexican culture in a compelling narrative that isn’t in line with traditional romance, but is very much worth reading. Chava, the effeminate gay teenage cholo, is a stand-out supporting character.
5. Diversion by Eden Winters. Wonderful characters and hot chemistry between them. Lots of humor and excitement, and a superbly realistic and complex plot centering on pharmaceutical smuggling. I couldn’t put this one down, and I’m champing at the bit to get my hands on the planned sequels.
6. Four Corners by Kate McMurray (and Out in the Field
by Kate McMurray). I liked Four Corners even better than Out in the Field, but both are examples of the author’s subtle, beautiful writing which focuses upon ordinary, appealing, complex characters who are alluringly masculine.
7. Hawaiian Gothic by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane. Beautiful, amazing setting in Hawaii that pitches an appealing Filipino-American hero into a supernatural quest filled with nightmarish imagery. With the exception of China Mieville’s books, I’ve never read anything like it.
8. The Island by Lisa Henry. This book carries a huge emotional impact. The author does a brilliant job of winning your trust, despite your growing sense of anguish for one of the main characters, while never actually hitting you over the head with a scene of brutality.
9. Magic Mansion by Jordan Castillo Price. Reality show! True magic! What more could you want? This book offers truly entertaining escapism.
10. Pressure Head by JL Merrow. This author has a huge talent for characterization and dialog. I loved this character from his cheeky personality (see also Lucky in Diversion by Eden Winters) to his gloriously British voice and setting. The mystery is tightly written and the psychic aspect is fascinating. The supporting character of the neurotic vicar is a stand-out.
11. The Starving Years by Jordan Castillo Price. If you love dystopian fiction and hot m/m/m, look no further.
12. Xylophone by KZ Snow. This beautiful novel, filled with hope and humor, subtly communicates the anguish of sexual abuse while never hammering you over the head with angst. Wonderful, funny supporting character in Bob of Bouncing Bob’s Polka Doodles. This is a book that will stay with me for a long time.
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