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Finding Identity in LGBTQ Fiction

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Following are reviews of some of the best recent indie LGBTQ fiction, reviewed in our April 2017 special LGBTQ section.

Sons of Devils

Book Cover
Alex Beecroft
Riptide Publishing
Softcover $16.99 (232pp)
978-1-62649-555-5
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Sons of Devils is an enthralling mystery and would be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys a dark narrative with moments of humor.

Sons of Devils, by Alex Beecroft, is a mystery with gothic, supernatural elements and a charming ensemble of characters. The narrative questions what is going on in the land of Wallchia and what shadowy forces are truly pulling the strings.

The story follows three perspectives, but central to the story is Frank, an exile from England struck with amnesia. Awakening in Wallachia, his fate becomes entwined with Radu Văcărescu, the region’s ruler and namesake of a family shrouded in mystery. Frank also meets Mirela, a Roma woman meant to be sacrificed to a ghastly entity that stalks the countryside. Elsewhere in the world, Zayd, who comes from a holy lineage, is summoned by the sultan for a magical undertaking.

One of the strengths of the novel is its protagonist, Frank. He has never experienced much hardship or resistance and as a result is very indecisive. However, when thrust out on his own, Frank must learn to survive in an unforgiving world. As the story progresses, Frank matures gradually, learning that the demons of the past will not always encumber the future.

One interesting plot device is the way Frank’s amnesia is used to develop his character. Memories start to return, and he experiences flashbacks to England and the circumstances of his exile. The book, despite its somber overtones and intense storyline, still contains a lot of humor. When referring to the livelihood of their slaves, one of the Văcărescus adds, “They eat hedgehogs cooked in clay, and berries, and they don’t have to worry about anything. We take care of all the difficult things, so they can dance and sing all day long.” This assertion is in contrast to the squalor they are subjected to. Moments like these break up the serious nature of the story line.

Sons of Devils is an enthralling mystery and would be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys a dark narrative with moments of humor.

GREGORY A. LOWE (March 27, 2017)

Sins of Our Fathers

Book Cover
A. Rose Mathieu
Bold Strokes Books
Softcover $16.95 (264pp)
978-1-62639-873-3
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

This novel seamlessly blends a ghastly murder mystery with an intriguing romance.

A thematically compelling journey through a town’s dark underbelly, Sins of Our Fathers, by A. Rose Mathieu, is an excellent blend of mystery and romance.

Shirking her wealthy upbringing at every chance, dedicated attorney Elizabeth Campbell has opted to dedicate her life to representing underserved populations instead of the high-profile clients served by her father’s law firm. Charged with reinvestigating the gruesome murder of a Catholic priest, allegedly committed by a man with a severely diminished IQ, Campbell soon finds herself at the heart of a much larger conspiracy.

In addition to dealing with an ever-growing stream of murders, Campbell must also contend with her feelings for steely yet attractive Detective Grace Donovan. An initial opponent to Campbell’s reopened case, Donovan also finds herself struggling to keep their relationship work-appropriate. A mystery spanning from the concentration camps of WWII to an abandoned Catholic school unfolds, leaving the two women to grapple with its consequences.

Sins of Our Fathers is excellently paced, introducing characters and situations in a way that allows for their natural extrapolation as the novel progresses. While the case that Campbell is charged with reinvestigating initially appears to be an open-and-shut claim, larger forces are shown to have influenced it. The novel weaves together a political and religious world outside of the courts.

Mathieu herself represented underserved populations as an attorney much like her protagonist, and she infuses Sins of Our Fathers with the technical accuracy of the legal system—flaws and all. Conclusions make sense because they are rooted in actual law practice.

Sins of Our Fathers seamlessly blends a ghastly murder mystery with an intriguing romance.

AMANDA ADAMS (March 27, 2017)

A Careful Heart

Book Cover
Ralph Josiah Bardsley
Bold Strokes Books
Softcover $19.95 (312pp)
978-1-62639-887-0
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Violence in relationships can affect anyone, as A Careful Heart compellingly proves.

A Careful Heart is a romance novel by way of domestic abuse. Sound improbable? Perhaps, but Ralph Josiah Bardsley takes on that often-neglected subject within the genre well.

The book follows two best friends from childhood to early adulthood. One finds romance, and the other thinks he has but realizes that the “perfect guy” comes with a devastating price.

The novel opens in 2001, when Travis and Stephen are entering high school in their small New Hampshire town. Travis, the extrovert, and Stephen, the introvert, complement each other in every way as they suffer the ups and downs of high-school life. Their relationship is tested when Stephen discovers Travis’s sexuality, but it ends up bringing them closer together. Bardsley crafts the family dynamics of both characters well, giving enough information to enrich the story without lingering too long on secondary characters.

Once Travis and Stephen head off to different colleges, they discover their own identities without the other. Strong scenes and authentic dialogue show particular finesse, as when Travis and Stephen see each other between semesters. The pace is well controlled, highlighting important moments and using exposition to summarize backstory. Once Travis and Stephen are settled in Boston as roommates, have their own jobs, and start dating, things get complicated. Stephen falls in love with a man, Gabe, and Travis begins dating an older man from the office, Benson.

The differences between each relationship are jarring—Stephen and Gabe have a supportive, sweet courtship, while Travis makes excuses for the bruises he comes home with after being with Benson. There are times when characters seem to be mouthpieces for issues, but the novel remains refreshing in its ability to show most characters as accepting and supportive of each other.

Violence in relationships can affect anyone, as A Careful Heart compellingly proves.

MONICA CARTER (March 27, 2017)

Beneath the Stars

Book Cover
Lynn Charles
Interlude Press
Softcover $17.99 (300pp)
978-1-945053-17-7
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

This contemporary romance has dimension and depth.

Beneath the Stars, Lynn Charles’s wonderful contemporary romance novel, connects the dots between unlikely lovers Sid and Eddie as they try to mesh their lives’ eccentric orbits. Taking on serious subjects such as grief, progressive fashion, and coparenting, this gay romance is ambitious and satisfying.

On paper, Sid Marneaux and Eddie Garner couldn’t be more different. Sid’s mixed-race, elegant, cosmopolitan, and snappy. Eddie, a small-town fire chief, dates “dunderheads,” and tries to balance his schedule with full-time fatherhood. However, under the surface, they have a lot in common: both men are mourning the deaths of women they loved whose influence they still feel in their daily lives. Eddie sees his best friend in the face of her child, who he’s raising. Sid, who runs a couture business for nonbinary people and trans men, hears his mother’s voice every time he sits at the sewing machine. Although their initial flirtation is sexy and light, they quickly bond over more substantial things.

Charles is an incredible writer whose storytelling keeps pace with her elegant way with words. In one sentence, she easily sets the scene. As Sid reflects on his father’s declining health, he notes, “His stargazing days with his father had gone by the wayside for more important happenings on earth. The few stars he could see through the light pollution meant little to him now.” Charles maintains a serious, thoughtful tone throughout Beneath the Stars, even during Sid and Eddie’s playful courtship. The sex scenes sizzle, and the bad puns are eye-rollingly satisfying, but under it all is a reflective current that makes every action seem significant.

Although things between Eddie and Sid get off to an awkward start, and more than one flashback diverts from the primary story arc, they are an irresistible couple. Adrian, Eddie’s biological son, adds a nice subplot that offers plenty of growth opportunities as well as a touch of romantic realism. Making love all night, sure—but forget sleeping in on a school morning. Charles shows that romance can be responsible, too. This contemporary romance has dimension and depth.

CLAIRE FOSTER (March 27, 2017)

Darkest Hour Before Dawn

Book Cover
Charlie Cochet
Dreamspinner Press
Softcover $14.99 (224pp)
978-1-63533-608-5
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Action scenes are written cinematically, and it’s not difficult to imagine fights playing out on a movie theater screen.

Charlie Cochet’s Darkest Hour Before Dawn is the ninth installment in the THIRDS series, a paranormal gay romance saga about a militarized law enforcement team of Therians, humans that shape-shift into animals. It focuses on the fiery but on-again, off-again romance between Team Leader Sebastian Hobbs and Chief Medical Examiner Hudson Colbourn. The briskly paced novel is packed with exciting action, steamy sex scenes, melodramatic passion, and tender moments of romance.

THIRDS is an elite team that subdues shape-shifting baddies with tranquilizer darts or a “quick punch to the muzzle.” Hudson and Sebastian rekindle a flame and draw nearer. Seb strives to protect his teammate and lover as enemies hunt Hudson down, he goes feral, and his brother Alfie returns from the grave.

The book features sharp and humorous dialogue like “If I don’t get at least a six-tier wedding cake with enough sugar to power the next shuttle launch, I’mma cut a bitch.” The novel excels at action, whether in ensemble fight sequences or boudoir scenes. Sex scenes are erotically charged but never gratuitous. They’re grounded in characters that are developed further, such as by having them flirt while sharing memories about past battles in air hockey, pool, and Mario Kart.

Erotic scenes are well written and detailed. Prose veers away from cliché and toward feeling: “A shiver racked through Hudson, and he closed his eyes. Being in Seb’s arms brought a flood of want through him.” Writing rips along with ferocity, leading to intimate and often confessional pillow talk that lends an emotional depth.

Action scenes are written cinematically, and it’s not difficult to imagine fights playing out on a movie theater screen. The plot zips along. The romance burns brightly. Cochet gives reasons to care about the characters. The novel would be interesting to anyone who’s read the previous THIRDS books, who appreciates well-written gay romance with a supernatural bent, or anyone who’s really into stories with shape-shifting animals.

JOSEPH S. PETE (March 27, 2017)

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The Bravest Thing

Book Cover
Laura Lascarso
Dreamspinner Press
Softcover $14.99 (226pp)
978-1-63533-635-1
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Lascarso’s writing is enthralling and stays true to the inner workings of a seventeen-year-old mind.

Following the tumultuous, burgeoning relationship between two teenage boys in rural Texas, The Bravest Thing, by Laura Lascarso, is an engrossing and compassionate look at the excitement of first love and the havoc which that can wreak when the community doesn’t approve.

Protagonists Berlin, a successful high-school football player and all around country boy, and Hiroku, the artistic and outspoken new kid in town, couldn’t be more different, yet the two find themselves attracted to each other instantly. Set in an unforgiving Texas town, the two manage to develop a relationship, only to have it abruptly halted by malicious townsfolk. Berlin must contend with the lie he’s been living, while Hiroku must fight to stay away from an abusive ex and an addiction problem.

Lascarso expertly switches perspective between the two teens throughout the novel, a choice that allows for a plethora of insight on both sides. Berlin struggles to reconcile his faith and public persona with his newly found attraction to men, while Hiroku must adjust to being the only openly gay (and Asian) student in town. Facing blatant homophobia, the two are forced into secrecy until a savage attack changes their lives forever.

Never preachy or heavy-handed, the novel manages to touch on many ever-relevant topics, from finding and maintaining faith in times of trouble to battling the perils of addiction. The solace each teen finds in the other is only the beginning of their journey to greater self-awareness, much of the internal work required for growing up left to the individual. This is the great strength of The Bravest Thing. Though decidedly a romance, the typical unhealthy codependent relationship is subverted, instead allowing two very different people to come into their own.

Lascarso’s writing is well defined, enthralling in both setting and plot advancement but also staying true to the inner workings of a seventeen-year-old mind. Moments of clarity and growth are peppered with the self-doubt and heightened emotion that come along with teenage love.

Offering new perspectives on a familiar feeling, The Bravest Thing is well worth a read.

AMANDA ADAMS (March 27, 2017)

Ghosts and Ashes

Book Cover
F. T. Lukens
Interlude Press
Softcover $16.99 (258pp)
978-1-945053-18-4
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

This is a rollicking adventure that blends elements from westerns, sci-fi, YA, and romance into a cohesive page-flipping thrill ride.

Ghosts & Ashes pits a burgeoning technopath against a powerful military, a despotic villain, and a dynamic romance in a LGBT-positive YA sci-fi adventure that unveils troubling ramifications for the future of the series.

Three months after the events of The Star Host finds Ren a captive under the watchful eye of the Phoenix Corps. Unfortunately, the star within him begins flaring up and endangering the crew. His only hope is returning planetside after months aboard ship. Meanwhile, his relationship with the intrepid Asher is put to the test. Ren struggles to control his power, remain connected to his new family, and discover the fate of his biological family back on Erden. Shocking revelations come to light about the Phoenix Corps, the Star Hosts, and Ren’s family.

The second book in the Broken Moon series builds upon the first nicely. The extent and variety of the Star Hosts’ abilities are expanded upon and hint at deeper conflict beautifully. Ren’s technopathic abilities allow him to seamlessly interact with any technology, while other Star Hosts can see the future, enter dreams, and more. Equally exciting is the world building. From the feudal-like Erden to the postapocalyptic Crei, each new planet is vibrant and diverse.

Characterization shines, especially in the unique relationship between Ren and Asher. Their romance formed under fire comes under constant abuse. Least of all is the strain of Ren’s power and Asher’s duty to the Phoenix Corps. Asher must balance his service with his love for Ren, as his love functions as an anchor that stabilizes and strengthens Ren’s control over the star within.

Despite a dearth of backstory, the plot moves at a steady clip with even pacing. Whenever the plot shifts from the action sci-fi aspects, it picks up romance and adventure elements wonderfully.

Ghosts & Ashes continues the adventures of the star host, Ren, as he comes to grips with his power and searches for his place in the cosmos. This is a rollicking adventure that blends elements from westerns, sci-fi, YA, and romance into a cohesive page-flipping thrill ride.

JOHN M. MURRAY (March 27, 2017)

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