Everyone around here knows that I read every last word of Heidi's m/m fiction - featuring a great plenitude of man-on-man action. What you might not know is that hers is not the only m/m fiction I read. This comes as a result of having a non-paying side gig of proofreading galleys for Dreamspinner. And to be 100% honest about it, I really enjoy reading this genre more than I ever thought I would. I blame 5 seasons of Queer As Folk (and one laughably bad season of The Lair) for causing me to be completely "eh, whatever" when it comes to the sex. And seriously, it's just sex and the sex is but a mere portion of it. It doesn't threaten my masculinity. To paraphrase a friend of mine, I don't need a hetero-proving empty seat between me and a friend at the movie and I've only gotten huggier as I've gotten older.
And what a story I would have missed had I let the m/m aspect of State of Mind turn me off. State of Mind is Libby Drew's first book for Dreamspinner, and if this is any indication, it'll be the first of many many more.
Set in a non-specific future, the book is equal parts X-Men, James Bond and Jason Bourne. The book opens by introducing us to Grier Crist, a "Gifted" who has until recently worked for The Organization, a global outfit that basically uses the Gifteds' special powers for the good of humankind. Only Grier has reason to believe that the Organization is not all that it appears to be and severs his ties with them. So The Organization sends one of its best men, Alec Devlin, after him. Together, they untangle a complicated web of of deceit and intrigue.
There were so many things I loved about this book. One of my biggest beefs with m/m fiction is that so often, the protagonists do not act like men would act. As another of my friends has told me, they may be gay, but they're still guys. I felt like Drew had a really good handle on both Grier and Alec as men. Although they didn't start out as friends, I completely bought the eventual camaraderie that developed between them. Her mix of barbs, sarcasm and a liberal sprinkling of sexual tension made their interactions very believable and a joy to read. I found myself saying to myself, "man, if only I could be half as witty as these guys!" I guess that's what happens when you have a writer like Drew providing you with your lines.
As a rule, most of my interactions with the thriller genre - whether it be a James Bond movie or a one of the Jason Bourne novels - I feel like the stupidest person in the room. It seems like I am perpetually the last person to put the pieces together and easily lose track of who is chasing who and why I'm supposed to care. Most of the time, I feel like I need the Cliffs Notes. Not so with State of Mind. Drew is a masterful storyteller, dropping plot points like bread crumbs - just enough to keep us following her but never revealing too much too soon. I admire someone who can weave a complicated story and never really leave us confused, except for the times when we're supposed to be. When you arrived at the end, it all made sense - even the things I didn't think made sense while I was reading it.
And yes, there is sex. It is very well done sex. I get really pissed off at people who just presume that romance novels - and especially novels in this genre - are nothing more than cleverly disguised porn. I'm fond of saying that either those people haven't read many romance novels or haven't watched very much porn because nothing could be further from the truth. Heidi says that the sex in a book always has to move the plot forward, ALWAYS. There's not tons of sex in this book (less than in others I've read), but what there is passes The Heidi Test and is always crucial to the plot. It's never gratuitous or sex for the sake of a sex scene. It is, honestly, a relief after the carefully laid build-up. It is in that respect that the comparison between novels in the romance genre and porn breaks down. Show me a porn in which there is no sex scene for the sake of having a sex scene and I'll tell you to come back when you've found porn.
The payoff for me in these books is always the relationship. I've heard it referred to as "emotional porn" and if that's what it is, so be it, but I think that tragically oversimplifies it. It's no secret that I am very interested in masculinity and how it's evolving and I can't understate the role that gay men have in this evolution. The emotional openness that I've seen in these books just reaffirms for me that straight men should be reading these books. We have so much to learn from each other.
I won't be reviewing (or even counting) every book I proof for Dreamspinner in the 2010 Book Challenge, but State of Mind was too good to not include. I can't recommend this book enough to fans of the genre and to sci-fi/thriller fans as well. Go pick up State of Mind from Dreamspinner in paperback or eBook and help this book skyrocket to the #1 spot on the Dreamspinner bestseller list which is where it belongs.
And yes, that is me on the cover of the book.