Monday, October 21, 2013

Reading Habits: Moments, Blood & Guts, Cowboys & PI's

I had this post almost ready before the dreaded flu hit me over a week ago now, but it still holds since I've read very little since then. It's a little update on my reading habits, books I'm reading, and books read.
Reading Habits:
Sometimes my reading habits get the best of me and other times they work like clockwork. I read different books at different times during the day. I use my Kindle and iPhone during my commutes to and from work and at lunch time, and read print books at home during the evening and weekends. That means that I'm usually reading multiple books at the same time. It gets crazy sometimes! For example, at the same time I went nuts reading gay cowboy romances and an entire mystery series, in print and in my Kindle I was reading contemporary fiction, literary fiction and other books that I don't often review here.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I am reading Dear Life, the last collection of short stories by Alice Munro. In this book, Munro captures what seem like ordinary moments that change people's (mostly women's) lives. Sometimes the decisions that lead to those changes seem... mundane, but turn out to be life altering. Not all the stories are working for me on the same level, but one thing I can say about Munro, with few words she can pack a lifetime of information in a short story.

Blood & Guts:
I am also in the process of reading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, one of the most gruesomely violent books I've ever read. The writing is fantastic -- sparse, tight, yet so freaking descriptive. It's like he punches you with words one minute and just lulls you with beauty the next. The worse part of it, and the most effective, is when the beauty of his words calmly and nonchalantly describe the horror and violence that humans achieve without even trying. Mr. McCarthy's perspective of the human condition and the lack of humanity in his portrayal of the historical American West is turning out to be rather daunting.

Blood & Guts - A Legal Battle: 
I also just began reading Gilbert King's Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner for general nonfiction. I am not too far into this book yet, but I can relate a little bit of information on it. So far I'm struck by Gilbert King's excellent creative nonfiction style of writing -- this book reads more like a novel, and it is not a dry accounting of events. The book begins with a brief accounting of landmark cases that Thurgood Marshall argued in Southern Courts and before the U.S. Supreme Court beginning and after the mid-1940's when he served as counsel for the NAACP during the Jim Crow South era. He is best known for his 1951 win Brown v. Board of Education, which brought about the desegregation of public schools, and for serving as Justice of the Supreme Court, the first black man to do so. However, this book specifically focuses on one of Marshall's less known cases, the 1949 Florida case known as the Groveland Boys.
Anyway, before the flu got me, I was reading like a machine. For example, this month I finished a crazy reading spree of contemporary western M/M romances. Don't ask me why, except that I love westerns and while reading one book something began to bug me, so I decided to do some comparison reading and went on an unexpected marathon.

As I moved along from one book to another, I realized that what was bugging me was that the core of these westerns all seem to have "required" points. There is the closeted cowboy or rancher who struggles to make the tough decision to come out of the closet when that one man shows up in their lives, the requisite homophobes, and the other closeted gay cowboys who pop out of the woodwork and are always lying in wait to give support and advice when needed. This sounds cynical, I know, but as a reader, this trend just hit me as a "truly tired" plot device. I read five books in a row and all hit the above mentioned points, as have many other contemporary western M/M romances I've read before. After a while I stopped making notes and just wrote a few lines about what was different. There is always the matter of different writing styles, and a different angle thrown here and there.

In Heart of a Cowboy by Z.A. Maxfield, I enjoyed the writing and the fact that the main character is honest with himself, his lover, and those around him. In Long Tall Drink by L.C. Chase, story trumps sex and both main characters are given backgrounds that are explored and used to develop the overall story and romantic conflict. In Pickup Men by L.C. Chase, a frustrating read, the fact that the story begins with the couple breaking up is rather unique. But the most interesting aspect of this piece is that Chase incorporates two different perspectives dealing with the consequences that arise from sending young gay men to "rehabilitation camps." And, in No Going Home and Duncan's World, T.A. Chase focuses his novels on fathers who physically abuse their sons, and psychologically lost young men who need and look for "daddies" in their lovers and require their support in order to come out of the closet.

On my iPhone, I read the first book of Marshall Thornton's Nick Nowack Mystery series, Boystown: Three Nick Nowack Mysteries. This is a series that my friend Indigene highly recommended to me because she knows how much I love good LGBT mysteries. I fell in love with the gritty central character Nick, the 1980's Chicago setting, Mr. Thornton's pared down writing, and the book format. The book is separated into three sections with titles (novellas), each with a mystery solved by Nick, but the overall storyarc focuses on Nick's personal life and the recurring characters give the book (and overall series) continuity.

This is a great first book with wonderful mysteries that hooked me and a fantastic, rather captivating, ex-cop turned PI whose prolific sexual escapades mask the heartbreak of losing the ex-lover who shoved him out of the closet resulting in the loss of both his family and job with the Chicago PD. I liked the first book so much that I ended up reading the entire Nick Nowack Mystery series up to the latest release, including Little Boy Dead: A Boystown Prequel, Boystown 2: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries, Boystown 3: Two Nick Nowak Mysteries, Boystown 4: Time for Secrets, and Boystown 5: Murder Book. I became so invested in Nick that frankly, I can't wait to find out where Thornton takes this character as well as some secondary characters I've become attached to -- particularly since we know some of what is coming and after the heartbreaking events in Murder Book.
What Else?:
I've finished a few books since I began writing this post, The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, a historical fiction/romance book set in 1927 during the Mississippi Flood (Kindle ed.), The Padișah's Son and the Fox by Alex Jeffers, a Turkish erotic fairy tale (Print ed.), and 'Nathan Burgoine's debut full-length novel Light, a combination superhero action/adventure romance, with strong spec-fic elements (Kindle ed.).


  1. I hope you're feeling much better now!

    That's an interesting point you make re standard plot devices - I totally agree! And for whatever reason, the "laundry list" of plot devices feels to me as though it's more prevalent in contemporary m/m romance. I think that's why the % of m/m contemps I'm now reading is so much lower than in previous years - they used to feel fresh and different, now it's all a bit same-y and down to the author having a distinctive enough voice.

    And I could probably say the same about NA nowadays...


    1. Li, thanks!

      I guess we all understand how plot devices work, they are standardized. But as you say, the approach has to be fresh and feel unique. I think, though, that when as readers all the stories begin to run together and after a while we can't differentiate one from another there is a problem.

      My own % of contemporary m/m romance reading went down a long time ago. I switched to reading other LGBT books that stand out for me: fiction, spec fic, sci-fi, urban fantasy, mysteries, etc... but I still love my romance and revisit it once in a while. I am always looking for that one good one! :)

      I don't really read YA romance or NA (at all), so I can't really comment to that... but, I've read some reviews and some posts and it seems some readers agree with you.

  2. Hi Hils,

    Sorry to hear that you caught that nasty flu. It's been bad in Canada as well and started relatively early this year in August. Hope you're feeling better.

    Interesting observation about the "truly tired tropes" in m/m cowboy/western romances. Now, you know I do love my cowboys, but I find this to be true of not only cowboy/western m/m romance or m/m romance in general, but to a large degree of m/f romance as well.

    So happy you enjoyed the Nick Nowak Mysteries. Isn't Nick a great character!?!? When I first picked-up the series I read all the published books in one shot as well. Couldn't read anything else. But now I've gone back to re-read each instalment slowly and still thoroughly enjoying the series. Like you, I'm eager to see where Marshall Thornton takes the character of Nick in the next book, given the truly bad place the character is in at the end of Book 5.

    I so enjoyed 'Nathan Burgoine's Light - such a fun and feel good story. I've placed Alex Jeffers' latest on my to read list.


    1. Hey Indie!

      This flu is nasty! Mine turned into a sort of bronchitis... ugh!

      We both love our cowboys! We agree that the "laundry list" effect (as Li says above), has hit our beloved m/m cowboy trope hard! For me, it has hit the m/m contemporary romance sub-genre in general. It makes it tough when I go looking for something new to read, try it, and end up rereading old favorites. When it comes to m/f? Sigh... just think Duke and Victorian historical romance... there are great ones still being written out there, and then... :(

      RE: Nick Nowak Mysteries! Thank you so much for the recommendation! I couldn't put the books down at all... my goodness. Thornton really hooked me with that character. The time period and setting also had a lot of to do with the hook for me. I must say, there was a sense of the inevitable about it... and I knew what was coming, but, my... I remember those days (lived in LA), and Thornton depicts them well and without adornment. I liked that.

      I really enjoyed Light by Burgoine. It was a totally unexpected read... the cover doesn't reflect the content of the book? But yes, it was a fun, feel good story and I enjoyed the romance in it. 'Nathan is good at writing both romance and spec-fic (great combo). I also think you'll love Alex Jeffers' Turkish erotic fairy tale. It's not long, but it is worth it.


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