Kazza K’s Books of the Year: 2014
Here we are at the pointy end of another year. I can’t believe how it has flown by. Another year for me always equates to more books read as they form a huge part of my life. Reading gives me the ability to delve into someone else’s psyche, to be transported, inspired, to hurt, to dream, laugh or cry, and it allows me great passion. I also get to learn a lot about another person’s muses or characters that come alive and leap off the pages into my life. Okay, it isn’t always perfection, but that’s all right, neither is life. What I may see as wonderful, and sublime, another reader sees as ordinary. What I see as ordinary, another reader cherishes. It’s the subjective nature of the beast and that’s part of what makes reading and reviewing so interesting.
Once again I’ve read a lot of books this year, albeit more slowly. I haven’t reviewed them all. The ones I have reviewed aren’t all on here. The ones I felt strongly about – one way or anther – are certainly on here. Some have Pinterest boards and I’ll attach them to the book if I’ve created one.
2014 also saw an astronomical growth in our blog traffic, and while On Top Down Under is myself and Cindi, it is by no means a small blog. It started over a love of books and it continues for that very reason and for our fellow readers. It is a huge undertaking to write the kind of reviews we do here and we take great pride in what we write. It is not always easy to find the time and some people make it known they don’t agree with our reviews (opinions), particularly mine. But we like to keep everything real and honest and that is how it will always continue.
Cindi and I are grateful to those people who subscribe, follow us on Twitter, or other social media. If you added a comment, thank you. If you are more in the background, we understand, thank you for dropping by. We’re honoured that you choose to read our book reviews and visit our blog. If you are an author in our primary genre, LGBT, we’ve probably read and reviewed you, or will. Please think about supporting our blog. We have now been going for over two years and we’ll be going for a lot more, the universe willing.
To our guest reviewers this year, we’ve enjoyed having you contribute. Next year, joining Cindi and myself, we will have one more permanent reviewer, along with guest reviewers. As for my blog partner, Cindi, this review site would not be the same without her. Behind the scenes it’s terrific having her as my co-conspirator, it makes reviewing – and everything in between – even better. Cheers, Cindi! To the authors who write the books, another cheers! To those who support us and have been a part of our blog anniversary, interviews, giveaways, and much more, you have been terrific. My Books of the Year list is about celebrating books, specifically the ones that spoke to me at a core level.
Before you go into my Books of the Year know that all the books listed have links to the full review and the publisher. On the full review the genre, tags and triggers (if applicable) are at the top. A number of my reviews are NSFW, so be aware of this before entering a review. All reviews across the blog carry an entry warning because the majority of books we review are adult in nature and you need to be 18+ to enter this blog. Without banging on further, here are my favourites for 2014 and a brief “why” they are on my list.
This year three books vied for my #1 book of the year. In the end the decision was made and while is was a tough decision, in a stellar year of LGBT writing, Jaye Larson and Dixon Rowe refused to leave me alone. They bored into my soul and set up home. Because it was initially hard to make a decision, I decided to add some more detail to my top three books. The result is below.
Congratulations to Lynn Kelling and her wonderful book, Arctic Absolution. Kazza’s book of 2014.
This book is sexy and emotive reading. It isn’t actually released until December 16th and if you like the sound of the blurb and review, I can’t recommend it highly enough. What happens when you have two men who shouldn’t get together, a paroled ex-con and an Alaskan State Trooper, yet they do? What happens when two flawed and damaged men find themselves in a complex relationship? At first Jaye Larson sees it as further protection, something he learned as a pretty young thing in jail, and Trooper Dixon Rowe sees Jaye as this exquisite young guy asking for
sex help. While Dix decides to help Jaye, and do the right thing for a resident of Zus in need, he is fascinated, attracted, drawn to Jaye in much more carnal ways which grow and grow. Dixon has a habit of linking up with men who aren’t good for him and it seems he is doing it all over again with Jaye. His very recent ex, Marcus, is abusive and away for crabbing season, but when he gets back…things can’t possibly go well. I applaud Lynn Kelling for tackling some tricky subjects very, very well – real-time PTSD flashbacks, powerful sexual attraction, domestic violence, maladaptive behaviours and some interesting sexual role play. This book is a wonderful mix of the psychological and deeply erotic. Sometimes off-beat and boundary pushing, it makes for one hell of a ride.
The Reluctant Berserker is set around 900AD, and the book looks at pigeonholing people and sexuality. It also has action, faith/spirituality and love. The MCs, Wulfstan and Leofgar, are different men from different backgrounds – one a Saxon warrior, the other a scop, or travelling musician. However, when they meet behind a hall, and Leofgar kisses and pins the bigger Wulfstan against the wall, there is no going back from what they both feel; albeit a journey for both men physically and emotionally to get where they need to. It is Dark Ages same-sex attraction and a reversal of roles, the scop the dominant partner, the warrior more submissive. Of course, this is a simplication of something more complex because of the time and ideas. Literary in quality, the writing is glorious and the journey of both men intriguing.
This is a seamless co-write between two very talented authors, Lisa Henry and J.A Rock. Small town attitudes and cliques, parasomnias and frustrations are perfectly explored by the authors. Joseph ‘Bel’ Belman is a local Sheriff in the town Daniel Whitlock is paroled in after he burned a house down with Kenny Cooper inside. The jury and judge agreed that he did it whilst sleepwalking – he has a history of it – but the town doesn’t believe this, Bel doesn’t believe it. But when Bel sees Daniel in town, and then discovers how he lives, trying to do everything to stay awake, attempting painful and dangerous things so he won’t hurt anyone else, his heart softens. When someone tries to burn Daniel’s cabin down Bel can’t do anything but help Daniel and the attraction he once felt for Daniel years ago resurfaces tenfold with his protective nature coming to the fore. A long book at over 400 pages, it never drags. It’s emotionally intense reading from cover to cover.
In a stellar year for LGBT writing, this is a beautiful and evocative piece by Brandon Witt. He gives the reader a small town experience for a gay veterinary surgeon, new to town, and a local man who is grieving four years after the loss of his wife, trying to raise a family. This book is not a GFY, Travis is bi but married his best friend and lover, Shannon, who died of cancer. Brandon Witt shows the emotional turmoil of losing a loved one too early and the effects of being true to who you are when it is not always an easy thing to do. Once again, Brandon Witt does not let me down with his writing, and I have read every single one of his books to date. I am sure this will be the number book on many blogs for the year. Close here too.
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First time published author and all I can say is wow! Written in third person present tense, not always a winner, this is impeccably written. A N Bond sure can write. Beautifully. I loved the edginess to this book and the complexity of the characters. Right until the end there is a mystery and you think you might know, but you don’t – twisty little sucker. It does not have a cookie-cutter ending, it isn’t wrapped up in a neat bow, so be aware of that. The author took her characters to places that some readers might not like, but it was right and it was real and the author was true to her characters and storyline – I totally respect that. This is one book I would be pre-ordering any sequel for. I’d love more on Joseph and Ryan. If not, it is still a very, very good book as is.
A beautifully written novella about human behaviour, the darker, quirky side of people, the inhumanity, feeling a disconnect and self-loathing towards people who are the antithesis of what you like and need. How do you feel when you collect serial-killer art and you find yourself on the end of the game for once? Not feeling so superior or so confident in the face of people who care about themselves and all around them, including the Earth and their carbon footprint. People who are more than they seem and so decent that it makes you have a reassessment of who you are and what you want in life… and how you go about it. A great romance and a great look at the human condition in this beautifully written novella.
Fabulous Young Adult/New Adult contemporary paranormal book by a very talented young author, Devon McCormack. While I have a soft-spot for Clipped, this is a different novel. When Ryan Came Back heralds a maturing of this author’s writing style. What do you do when the boy you’ve been in love with for some time dies? How do you deal with the guilt you feel about not noticing something was wrong? How do you then cope with him appearing to only you as a ghost, telling you that he didn’t commit suicide? That he wants you to help him find out who was involved and some of the pain that digs up. Well portrayed teen emotions, and family dynamics, plus a great mystery that is hard to solve until the reveal. And (for me) something very important – young gay males writing for young gay males, as well as appealing to an older market. When Ryan Came Back has deep feelings, teenage turmoil, mystery and suspense, paranormal aspects, and a realistic ending. I really loved it from cover to ‘the end.’
Four novella size stories that range from sexy romance to erotica to deeply emotional. Whether it is about 1940’s America and jewel heists, a Viking tracking down an ex that means a whole lot more than the bounty on his head. Or Sundance, pre-Bolivia, and an erotic old west pairing. To the current day setting of a dying man looking to reconnect with someone who was a lot of firsts in his life. This book is one of my favourite all-time anthologies. A cleverly complied anthology with a great foreword by Jerry L Wheeler.
14 erotica stories all wonderfully written by Gavin Atlas. I loved them. If some were longer I wouldn’t complain, and that’s a compliment, but they worked in their current size and format. The book is, as implied in the title, about bottoms. It is also about the tops they encounter. The stories are all different within the construct of the title and each one stands up to or betters the quality of the one before it. From criminal justice, to small towns, to exotic circuses, to pirates on a train in a dream, all stories are interesting and varied. Fantastic gay erotica.
Walk With Me, Cardeno C – Dreamspinner Press
This is simply a feel good, well written book with the nicest of nice MCs – the adorable and passionate Eli Block and the honourable and always responsible Seth Cohen. They are a great match, which Cardeno C is so very, very good at. Walk With Me is set over several years and the many weddings that the hapless Rabi-in-training Seth has to officiate at. This book is a slow burn where age and a lack of understanding of sexual orientation form a part of the main story. There were times I adored Eli’s dedication to Seth, at times I felt this pressure in my chest for him, but the book is never sad or bogged down. I’m glad Seth got a clue and saw what was right in front of him but I am also glad he waited until they were both ready for what was meant to be. Always a HEA at the hands of the hopeful romantic, Cardeno C.
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Dark and psychological with possible sexual triggers for some readers. I read this as an ARC last year but it was released this year, I still love the book a year after first reading. Strain is a Dystopian book where a contagion has decimated the population with pockets of people here and there. The Jugs are a military unit who travel and police the people, kill revenants, and look out for contagions. On one mission the Jugs come across two survivors of a revenant attack. Nineteen year old Rhys and his scumbag brother in law. They lived in a religious compound and Rhys is sheltered and young. I really liked Rhys and Darius, but it is tough going and not a stock standard relationship. There is a big age and power difference between the MCs, which could be problematic for some. Strain is dark, psychological, and erotic reading with some major gray areas and some not so grey throughout. The concept of using semen to ‘cure’ Rhys is interesting/was presented well. Amelia C Gormley is a quality writer.
Gay ménage fantasy that has three of the most wonderful characters involved in the story. This is part one of a trilogy and is told from Tamelik’s POV. He’s been with his Master since he was twelve and eventually they became lovers, once he was old enough. Mater has given orders to Tam to buy another pleasure slave, and Tam buys Kai. Kai is an ex Granthian soldier who, at twenty two, is a bit older than is considered a wise purchase-age for a slave. There are several dynamics in The Slave, that Tam and Master have been lovers for a while and Kai is not interested being involved; yet he is drawn to Kai and through him, Master. It is deeply erotic and sets up for The Soldier perfectly. Sexy, intriguing, well written and paced to perfection by Kate Aaron.
A Hard Loving Man, Dale Chase – Wilde City Press
Gordon Howlsey is a respectable man, he’s married with children and works at the local bank. But Gordon wants to be down and dirty with the men he knows are looking for the same thing at the local saloon. He gets the chance when his bank is robbed and he is taken hostage by outlaw Tom Stoddard, and fucked by the man. A posse finds the men and Grant is taken back to town, it’s not his fault he was held hostage, Tom Stoddard is arrested and held. However, Grant wants to be with Tom and is attracted to the bank robber and killer of men. What will happen from here as Grant breaks Tom out of jail and enters the world of an outlaw, being fucked by a man? Can a respectable man be on the run? Can an outlaw be an upstanding citizen? Can two different men meet in the middle? Dale Chase is a superb author of lit-erotica. She takes the old west and stamps it with an authenticity that makes the backdrop perfect without overwhelming the reader. Her men are men of their time and the sex is raw and gritty like it would be. It is believable when they hook up and it’s not always on fluffy beds with clean sheets and pretty boys.
This is a clever piece of writing. Witty, urbane, literary in its style, but very approachable. What do you do when you end up in a porn movie? What happens when your favourite porn star pops out after? How do you educate him about Sondheim and Judy Garland when he only knows that everyone is attractive, the sun always shines, and the pizza boy delivers to your house last, and who cares about the money? Well, it seems, you and your best friend set up some social climbing, while plotting revenge and having to deal with bigger social climbers than you. This is also a touching book about friendship, family, relationships, and that not everyone is beautiful and cares about the latest Broadway production. If you haven’t read David Pratt before this is a nice place to start.
Let It Be, Cheryl McIntyre – Cheryl McIntyre
New Adult gay romance written by an author who normally writes heterosexual romance and transitions beautifully. Let It Be tackles depression, a major suicide attempt, feeling trapped in the closet and all the various and sundry emotions and pain this entails. Guy keeps a bedside vigil at his boyfriend Ian’s hospital bed, and hopes for his HEA with the young man he loves deeply. This is a very well written look at the psychology of being closeted and fearful of how parents will react to you coming out. Pushing those you love away in the process. The frustrations at being the one pushed away, and the love that can be missed when someone is in a dark place. I am picky at psychology and the portrayal of depression and I had nothing but positives about the way Cheryl McIntyre handled this book. Could it have been longer? I guess so, but I loved it in novella size nonetheless. More gay romance please, Cheryl McIntyre.
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Beckoning Blood, Daniel De Lorne – Escape Publishing
Another debut novel by another promising author, and an Aussie too! Thierry and Olivier are twins in Carcassonne, France in the 1300’s when Olivier is turned into a vampire by mistake – the maker assumes he is Thierry who he has been watching. Ah, but Olivier cannot be without his twin as he craves him more than a brother should – it is not acted on in the book. The book is bloody and a dark paranormal which starts in (1300’s) France and ends in current day Perth, Western Australia. The theme is a recurring love throughout for Thierry, and Olivier’s bloody streak, they both have it it’s just that Olivier is more, shall we say, passionate and open about it. If you like LGBT vampires and are okay with a HFN, with the promise of more to come in another book, then this is a great read.
Aaron was on my Books of the Year list two years ago. It was wonderful revisiting Aaron and Spencer here, but it was nerve-wracking going in. J P Barnaby delivered a great follow up on a very special couple. The heart of Aaron was alive and well in Spencer. This is how you write characters that are true to your originals. I hate it when authors mess my favourites up on me. Hate it. In Spencer, it is three years down the track, the guys are twenty one, and while Aaron is still recovering from his original trauma, he can be touched now. Spencer and Aaron have developed some software that a company offers a substantial sum for. Spencer wants to earn money and do some things a twenty one year old does. He wants to take the offer and work for the company to develop it further. Aaron isn’t quite ready to venture out into the world. While there is some conflict, it’s not melodramatic, it’s believable. The relationship develops more in this book and I loved how it was handled. Much love for Spencer. J P Barnaby at her best.
Hades is a crime/thriller novel written by a fellow Sydneysider, and a very talented one at that. Candice Fox writes a cracker of a debut novel. Two children turn up at the home of known “fixer,” Hades after a bungled robbery. Thing is, he doesn’t fix them. It is told in the past by Hades and in the present by Frank Bennett, the new partner of Hades “daughter,” Eden Archer – the cool and aloof Sydney Metro detective with a brother who has more attitude than anyone dare. Set amongst a crime of missing and dead people, who appear to be part of an organ harvesting operation, and rooted in a troubled past and a list, Hades is compelling reading. The POV are flawless and this book is incredibly brutal, bloody and edgy. Not for the faint of heart.
Erotica Books of the Year
Erotica forms a fair part of my reading pleasure throughout the year. There is an art to writing good erotica, you have to make the characters interesting, but know how to rein it in, and the sex must be well written and fit within the theme of the book and premise. I also look for books that have been well edited and where the author has taken the time to care about their overall product. All of these books are 18+ only reviews and 100% NSFW.
My erotica Books of the Year are all bisexual reads for 2014 –
First time published author Candi Kay delivers a sexy, tight bisexual erotica read with a good story thrown in. It hits a lot of my buttons – bi, older man/younger man, stepson/stepdad and I finished wanting more for Rick Preston and the very gorgeous Lance. There is an interesting storyline, Rick’s wife brings a lot more into his life than he bargained for, sham marriage or not, including the delectable Lance. A well edited and sexy bi romp.
I was very glad that Rick and Lance had a promise here of a HEA and the author delivered for me. One of my favourite stepdad/stepson combos got what they both deserved – each other in the best possible way, but they had to work for it. Once again, it is well written, edited and sexy, everything I look for in erotic reading. This was a fitting HEA for these two guys.