Welcome, one and all, to Flashback Friday, a new feature we’d like to try out on you here at The Novel Approach, a feature aimed at introducing you to some of the older books in the gay fiction and romance genre that you may not have heard about otherwise, especially if you happen to be a newcomer to the community.
During our Flashback Friday segments, which will go on until we run out of topics to talk about, we’ll tell you a bit about the books we’re featuring, what we loved about them, and we’ll even give you the chance to win an e-copy of one of the featured books, winner’s choice, so you can experience it for yourself.
One of the things we readers and reviewers in this genre are often asked, especially we women, is how we came to be so devoted to this particular niche set in the greater world of modern literature. Some of us have been around the genre for years, while others of us are newer consumers. Some of us have given credit to authors such as JR Ward and her Black Dagger Brotherhood series for our discovering gay romance, while others of us can give credit to nothing more than dumb luck and random chance. I happen to fall into the latter category.
Today’s Flashback Friday segment is dedicated to The First—the first book those of us who chose to participate ever read in this genre, why we gave it a go, and what clicked with us that helped us become devotees of gay romance and fiction.
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I came to read M/M books through one of my favorite M/F authors, Lauren Dane. Her book Laid Bare is one of the first romances that showed the two men in love with each other, as well as with their third. The first time Ben and Todd kissed, I needed a cold shower. It was hot, sexy, and different than traditional hetero romance. It made me crave more stories that were like it. But there really weren’t any that I could find among traditional publishers. So, I went surfing the internet and found a whole genre to read.
My First M/M book was Without Reservation by J.L. Langley. It changed my life by opening doors to a whole new genre of romance. A genre that didn’t hold back and wasn’t afraid to be a little rough, a lot growly, sugary sweet and fabulously sassy, sometimes all in the same book. There were more diverse characters, more angst, more issues, but also more being able to accept yourself than in other genres. Without Reservation got me because at heart I’m a paranormal addict, I LOVE stories with shifters, witches, magic, and fae-kind. Mostly, though, Without Reservations had some of the best characters I’d read in a long time, and it showed us all that love overcomes. Love doesn’t distinguish eye or hair color, or height or weight, or, in this case, male or female. Love is Love and it shows Chay and Keaton just what that means.
Chayton Winston is a veterinarian. He is also a werewolf. Much to his Native American parent’s chagrin, he has always dreamed of a fair-haired, Caucasian mate. However, he never imagined his mate would be male. As a heterosexual man, he’s not quite sure what to do with a male mate, but more than willing to find out.
Keaton Reynolds wakes up, in wolf form, and finds himself with a mate. He’s instantly attracted, but not so thrilled to find out the man is straight. Having been in a relationship once before where his partner professed to be “Not gay” left a bad taste in his mouth. Keaton wants to make a break for it and pretend he never set eyes on Chay-but Chay is not ready to let him go.
Together the two work to solidify their shaky relationship and battle the prejudices against homosexuals. Chay must deal with not only his mother’s prejudices against gay men but also her hatred of white people.
When a power struggle in Keaton’s pack threatens Keaton’s life, the two men learn to depend on one another and their relationship to get them through it.
My son came out on August 13, 2012. Wow, Kathie, you remember the date? You bet! We have it marked on the calendar and celebrate it each year. My struggle was, how can I support him? What does being gay mean? What kind of culture are we now a part of? We were helping with the Marriage Amendment in Minnesota at the time, spending two to three nights a week on the phones, but now we had skin in the game. I really think “Don’t Mess with a Mom” is so true. After our son came out and I hit the phones at the next phone bank, I was on fire. I know I turned quite a few voters that night, and every night after that, until the election. It was personal!
But really, how do you go up to a gay person and ask question about their sex life, gay bars, and stereotypes they are faced with? I couldn’t ask my son. How embarrassing would that be for a twenty-one year old, right?! So instead, I started looking for reading material and going to PFLAG meetings. In my search, I came upon a bio of an author, Brandon Shire. It read, “Great stories should not depend on gender or sexual preference of a character, but instead upon the strength of the characters and the honesty and urgency of the story. Brandon writes for people who enjoy being challenged, and for those who strive to understand situations they don’t typically encounter. He pens raw, emotional stories about characters which readers will either love or love to hate.”
I started reading Afflicted around 10:00pm one night, an usual reading time for me, and I was still reading it at 6:00am the next morning. Brandon Shire had pulled out every emotion from me. I had nothing left to give that day, so I called in sick! And, I have never looked back. I tried to read some of my favorite het authors after that, but they just didn’t hold a candle to the passion that was written in the M/M Books. I want my children to have all the passion that Brandon Shire writes about.
I read to dream, I read to be exposed to other cultures and places, and I read to connect to fellow M/M Authors and Readers.
Blurb: A high-priced male escort and a blind gay man meet by chance. What ensues is a hot, steamy romance by two men looking for something more than a one night stand. But can they reach beyond their own insecurities to grasp what they really desire?
Hunter Stephens is gay, tall, dark haired and scorching hot. But he doesn’t rely on the visual cues when appraising a man because he’s also blind. He listens to the timbre of their voice, trembles at the touch of their skin and luxuriates in the deep richness of the aroma of man. He’s hard of the hand because he’s a black belt and takes no shit, but soft of the heart because he’s lonely and has been for a while.
Until he meets Dillon.
Dillon Chambers is pure man candy. He’s a high-priced male escort that works with an exclusive agency who handles only the wealthiest of clients. But it wasn’t always like that for him. At sixteen, he was thrown out of the house for being gay and struggled to survive, turning tricks on the street and finding food and a place to sleep wherever he could. He met two people that changed his life, but he has never met anyone who could break his heart.
Until he bumped into Hunter.
I LOVE mysteries…no, love isn’t the right word…I INHALE mysteries…yes, that’s better! The Mystery genre has always been one of my favorites since I was a young girl. What young kid could not fall in love with Carolyn Keene, Agatha Christie or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Certainly not me. So it would follow, then, that my favorite book is a mystery novel…but the world of M/M fiction is a far cry from the likes of Nancy Drew, and so I think I should explain first how I came to fall in love with a little book called The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks by Josh Lanyon. Let me begin by sharing a bit of a letter I sent to the author because it will help explain why the book is a favorite of mine. Here is an excerpt of a letter I wrote a few years ago.
I feel it important to tell you I’ve never written a fan letter before. Even as a teen I never felt moved enough by anything or anyone to do so.
When my dear friend David passed away some 14 months ago, his former lover Tom and myself helped his mother take care of his estate—which included cleaning out his condo. David had a habit that honestly used to drive me crazy—every time he read a book, he would make a note inside the front cover—first giving the novel a star rating and then a short sentence about how it affected him.
Tom and I must have gone through a hundred piles of books scattered all about his home before I spied one of yours—The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks. It had earned a 5 star rating—a rarity from my friend David—and had this note: “Read this author again—he gets it!! Plus writes a damn good story.”
I am not sure what he felt you got—perhaps how love can be both splendid and require work—I can only guess…
Thank you, Josh! Thank you for writing seriously good fiction that can both transport the reader beyond their own limited existence and still manage to sometimes speak directly to that existence simultaneously—that really is a gift.
And what a gift it was…The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks was my FIRST M/M novel. Mr. Lanyon’s book opened up a whole new world for me—one that has given me a source of some of the most amazing literature I have ever read.
“Perry’s sense of loneliness and loss returned in force, crashing over him like a wave, dragging him out to sea on an emotional riptide.”
From the opening pages of this book, the author pulls us into the story, grabs our heart and attaches it to his creations, his characters, until you are just so sure that you have known these men all your life. Perry, a young and struggling artist, has taken up residence in a Victorian-era boardinghouse, complete with a cast of eccentric and mysterious residents that would rival any cast the likes of which Agatha Christie had ever put on paper. When Perry’s vacation is cut short, he returns to his apartment, only to find a dead body in his bathtub—a body wearing yellow socks. Thus begins an adventure that would include ghost hunting, secret passages, hidden loot squirreled away by the mob and, of all things, love. From one intense moment to another, we watch as Perry falls deeper and deeper in love with Nick, an ex Navy SEAL, who is trying his best to turn his life around. A life that will not include some frail young man with the eyes of a fawn and a laugh that sends shivers down Nick’s spine…such lovely shivers. That’s right—a life that will not, should not, cannot… Oh dear, who are we kidding? Up until the last lines of this novel, we sit on the edge of our seats, wondering just what will happen to these two men. During the course of this novel, a novel so well crafted that the love shared by these two men never overshadows but instead augments the thrill of the mystery itself—all the time we read, we feel more and more like we have known these people all our lives. We have walked these halls, we have felt Perry’s pain, have lived on the cusp of a new and fragile love. This is the power of a great novel…a power that grabs you by the throat and grips your heart and takes you on the best ride you have ever had without ever leaving your living room.
I love this book, not only because my friend David loved it, and not only because it is a mystery. No, I love this book because it dares to say that despite all that life can manage to throw at you, there is love waiting there as well. That no matter how hard you fall, someone will catch you, someone will care for you, someone is watching out for you.
Blurb: His romantic weekend in ruins, shy twenty-something artist Perry Foster learns that things can always get worse when he returns home from San Francisco to find a dead body in his bathtub. A dead body in a very ugly sportscoat — and matching socks. The dead man is a stranger to Perry, but that’s not much of a comfort; how did a strange dead man get in a locked flat at the isolated Alton Estate in the wilds of the “Northeast Kingdom” of Vermont? Perry turns to help from “tall, dark and hostile” former navy SEAL Nick Reno — but is Reno all that he seems?
In April of 2009, a book was published that took me until April 25, 2010 to find. The fact I came across this book at all was a minor miracle—a combination of dumb luck, an Amazon recommendation (which, to this day, I can’t explain, since I’d never searched for gay romance on the site before then), a serious reading slump precipitated by a lack of strong and multi-dimensional female protagonists (I can tell you the exact series of books—and the female character—that turned me off of M/F romance forever), and, let’s call it like it is, a raging case of curiosity.
My first gay romance was Jane Seville’s Zero at the Bone, the story of a maxillofacial surgeon in the federal witness protection program, who is set to testify in a murder trial—but someone wants to make sure Dr. Jack Francisco doesn’t live long enough to see the inside of that courtroom.
Enter an assassin named D, the man hired to ensure Jack dies before he has the chance to testify. What begins as a murder-for-hire, though, quickly turns into a hostage situation and then a cross-country trek which proves costly to both of these men; costly, because somewhere along the way they’d lost their hearts to each other, even while knowing there was no way they could ever be together—especially since D has made it his mission to ensure Jack makes it safely to Boston to give his testimony; after which Jack will then, once again, disappear into a new life and identity.
Talk about an opposites attract story… And a little Stockholm Syndrome? Yep, absolutely.
First of all, let me say this book isn’t perfect. The epilogue in particular was an unnecessary chapter tacked on to a story that had already ended in the perfect way. I know there are also some readers who’d found D’s rural patois frustrating to read, though I wasn’t one of them. Rather, I felt it only added to his character, made him more believable as a man who believed his only and last resort was the life he’d fallen into. But even while it’s not perfect, hello, I’ve read it SEVEN times to date. What makes it such a fantastic reread for me? Action, danger, suspense, betrayal, and a man who’d become such a cold and calculated killing machine that he wondered if he was even still human anymore. And then, he began to feel. Jack woke something inside D that made him want, made him need, and I fell in love with Jack and D and what seemed would be an impossible love affair. I still pull it from my Kindle library and dust it off every so often, which I haven’t done since October of 2013. My sentimental feelings toward my first ever M/M read may dictate it’s time to give Jack and D another visit soon.
Blurb: After witnessing a mob hit, surgeon Jack Francisco is put into protective custody to keep him safe until he can testify. A hitman known only as D is blackmailed into killing Jack, but when he tracks him down, his weary conscience won’t allow him to murder an innocent man. Finding in each other an unlikely ally, Jack and D are soon on the run from shadowy enemies. Forced to work together to survive, the two men forge a bond that ripens into unexpected passion. Jack sees the wounded soul beneath D’s cold, detached exterior, and D finds in Jack the person who can help him reclaim the man he once was. As the day of Jack’s testimony approaches, he and D find themselves not only fighting for their lives… but also fighting for their future. A future together.
My first M/M read is slightly out of the norm I would say. I was going through a really rough time personally, and my friend Tina had this group of books on her Goodreads feed. And she rated them 5 stars – which she RARELY does. So I saw they were free, and on-line, and I decided I was pretty bored with my YA, Paranormal, and Historical Fiction fare, so I’d give them a try. I had never heard of M/M before, and I don’t think she had the books shelved that way. I did read the book description and because I grew up in that era towards the end of the Cold War– in fact, I visited the USSR in 1979 as a high school exchange student to Finland, just before the “invasion” of Afghanistan – I was intrigued. I was a history major in college, and studied much of the history of this era – even referring to the Great Soviet Encyclopedia for a few classes. :)
To say that I was absolutely blown away by these books would be the understatement of the year. This is not a love story – this is an epic love saga, filled with obstacles and ultimately a satisfying resolution. This is the definition of enemies to lovers, and angst, and it all happens during a number of armed conflicts. I finished the nearly 1700 pages (around 1,000,000 words) between November 27 and December 7 of 2010, and it was some of the most impressive, brutal, beautiful storytelling I’d ever seen. I barely slept in the days that I was reading these books. I would work for 12 or so hours (I have a 3.5 – 4 hour commute each day), and read and maybe sleep a couple of hours. But I was completely obsessed with these books and these characters. They have vividly stayed with me since then – Vadim being my most revered, f*****d up character of all time. The bar was set pretty high, quite frankly. But I’ve never turned back.
Since then I’ve read probably 2100 M/M books. Obviously I’ve found my home. :) And I did tell Aleks Voinov the first time I met him at GRL ABQ in 2012 – and Tina – that it’s their fault that I have 9,000+ books in my Calibre library now, and will have to live to be 100 to read all these books!
Synopsis: Special Forces is the epic story of a Scottish SAS soldier and a Soviet spetsnaz soldier. Two enemies who meet in the line of duty during the early days of the Soviet Union’s last war in Afghanistan. Behind enemy lines respect and finally love grow… but that’s only the official version.
The reality of these two men is dark, brutal, fueled by aggression and insane lust. Steeped in pain and killing, with death as their shoulder companion, these Special Forces soldiers meet in 1980. Their intense hatred caused by rape, revenge and torture turning into fucked-up lust and years of secret encounters in the rat-infested labyrinth of Kabul and the Afghan mountains. Time, despair and desolation smoothing down the sharpness of hatred, its venom drained with each physical encounter, the lust helping to form an understanding that only two men of the same kind can share. Enemy Mine and Brothers in Arms – on two different sides.
This novel spans across over twenty-five years of their lives. It’s harsh and violent, but life is cruel and they just do what they need to survive.
NOTE: The Special Forces Series is already FREE and download links can be found HERE
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