books

C.S. Poe

Books

Snow & Winter: The Mystery of Nevermore (2016), The Mystery of the Curiosities (2017), The Mystery of the Moving Image (2018), The Mystery of the Bones (2019)

Short Stories: Marriage, Love and a Baby Carriage (2016), Kneading You (2019)

Anthologies: Footsteps in the Dark (2019)


Snow & Winter


The Mystery of Nevermore (2016)

Sebastian Snow runs an antique shop, has an in-the-closet copy boyfriend, and achromatopsia–he can’t see color and has other vision problems due to that.

When he finds a body part in the floorboards of his store, he’s drawn into a mystery, initially against his will, but later with greater excitement.

The truth was, my partner of four years, Neil Millett, also had keys and the code, but mentioning his name around cops was a bit tricky. He was a detective with the NYPD’s forensic investigations unit, and very much in the closet. So much so that the only people who knew we were living together were Max and my father. Neil didn’t want other officers knowing he was gay, and when I was twenty-nine with a heart all aflutter for a sexy detective, I didn’t mind.

I really like Sebastian as much as I dislike Neil.

Clothes shopping was stressful for me. Department stores were so bright, and there was apparently a concept of clashing colors. My idea of adding new options to my wardrobe was heading out to secondhand shops with Pop, letting him grab a dozen items in dark colors he says won’t hurt anyone’s eyes if I mix and match, then we’re out in ten minutes.

I was really fascinated by Sebastian’s colorblindness. The author put a lot of work into how these limitations would affect his life, from the many negatives (trouble dressing, issues with lights of normal brightness) to some of the positives (being able to see more clearly in the dark). The whole thing makes Sebastian a complex and interesting character.

One thing I didn’t especially love was that Sebastian was not clearly split from Neil when he has sex with Calvin (the other cop and love interest).

The mystery itself was fine. I was a little wary about Sebastian repeatedly investigating the case (and getting himself into trouble), but it was okay, and I enjoyed the whole thing.

Publisher: DSP Publications
Rating: 7.5/10

The Mystery of the Curiosities (2017) 

Sebastian and Calvin are making their relationship work. It’s hard for Calvin whose family won’t speak with him now, which is exacerbating the PTSD he won’t admit he has, but Sebastian is doing his best to make Calvin feel loved.

And Calvin does his best to deal with Sebastian’s weaknesses in a way his ex never did.

I liked old black-and-white movies. They were easier to watch, what with never being overwhelmed by the mess of tones and colors blending into one another that represented modern cinema.

I do like how the problems Sebastian has with his vision are brought up in unexpected ways.

“These aren’t the same colors, are they?”

“Uh, I guess not.”

“What color?”

“Brick color.”

“You’re fucking hysterical,” I said.

Max shrugged. “What’s it matter? They’re like a reddish color. Some are a bit darker, a not really purple. It’s hard to say.”

“But definitely not matching,” I concluded.

“No,” Max said, shaking his head. “Does that mean something?”

I turned to stare at the pile again. “I don’t know. Maybe. They’re old.”

So what do I like about this story? I like Max, and how he initially is willing to help Sebastian, and the realizes mysteries aren’t as fun as he’s expected.

I really like how Sebastian is patient with Calvin, and tries to support him and tries gently to push him to talk to someone about his PTSD. Yes, Calvin’s reluctance to talk is difficult, but it also feels incredibly true. I particularly appreciate that the PTSD is clearly presented as something that is not going to magically get better–yes Sebastian and his father want Calvin to get a dog, but they both see that as a starting point to his recovery, not a solution.

There’s a scene where Sebastian is initially jealous when he thinks Calvin has been talking to someone else about his past and problems, but immediately realizes how irrational the stupid that is.

That’s something else important that I don’t think gets enough recognition–that we all get irrational thoughts and feelings, and that’s okay as long as we recognize them for what they are.

One problem I did have was that Sebastian KEEPS DOING STUPID STUFF. He’s told “Don’t do A” so he immediately runs out and does A. Which sometimes triggers Calvin. Which really bugs me. Sebastian KNOWS he is making bad decisions, but keeps making them. I suppose that could just be a personality quirk, but it really bothered me when those decisions kept upsetting Calvin.

And I suppose that is Sebastian’s shtick.

I dropped my haphazardly packed bag onto the couch and then kicked off my shoes. I changed into my regular glasses and went across the room to open the fridge. “Full bar. We can get drunk and make some bad decisions later.”

So it’s another good entry into the series.

Publisher: DSP Publications
Rating: 7.5/10

The Mystery of the Moving Image (2018)

After having been burned out of his apartment, Sebastian and Calvin are moving into a new place–together.

And Sebastian is done with mysteries and putting himself in danger. Or he thinks he is, until a Thomas Edison Kinetoscope shows up at his shop.

Calvin–although not healed–is seeing someone for his PTSD and is healing.

Calvin hardly ever talked about his therapist or their sessions together. Not that I expected him to. It was his journey. So long as he sought discussion with someone who would guide him to discovering self-forgiveness and healthy coping mechanisms, I didn’t care if he never shared a word.

Which means that Sebastian has no reason not to face his anxieties now, even if he thinks they should be a thing of the past.

So yeah, a lot of things were good. But I guess that’s why I’d also been sidelined by anxieties lately. I wasn’t expecting old self-doubts when I was on top of the world.

What I like best about Sebastian is that he’s a geek. Not in the technology way–he’s completely inept with technology–but that he gets excited about his interests and is passionate about them.

“I remember watching Fred Ott’s Sneeze in my Film History class. That was Edison’s, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, first copyrighted film in the United States,” I murmured. Fred Ott had been a gentleman who worked for Edison, who by all accounts had a particularly memorable sneeze. It was one of the test reels shot by W. K. L. Dickson, Edison’s assistant, who was the brilliant inventor of the Kinetograph camera and Scope viewer. “But even that film didn’t survive,” I continued. “It was submitted to the Library of Congress as a series of still images, later reanimated into a movie.”

“How do you know this?”

“I took notes in college.” I carefully removed the canister lid.

“You’re the guy at the cocktail party everyone regrets striking up a conversation with.”

Not me. I love meeting people like that.

“I’m ignoring the sarcasm only because I’m incredibly turned on by you spouting random facts at me,” I answered.

Calvin smirked. “I’ll remember that.”

So, I love the bits and Calvin and Sebastian’s relationship. I love that Sebastian is working out a friendship with Neil, and that they are learning to talk about the things that bother them.

I also enjoyed the mystery, even if I think that Sebastian takes too many foolish risks.

It’s a fun series, and I’ll be glad to read the next when it comes out.

Publisher: DSP Publications
Rating: 8/10

The Mystery of the Bones (2019)

The fourth (and perhaps final) Snow & Winter book finds Sebastian trying to plan their wedding–and not particularly enjoying it. But he is determined it will be perfect, and that means following all the books and rules.

“There’s a whole industry dedicated to specialized bras for wedding dresses,” I continued.

Calvin’s silence was palpable confusion.

“They make adhesive bras,” I concluded. “Which… sounds pretty awful.”

“Almost lost my nipple to one of those,” Quinn stated. “Had a rash for three days from the residue.”

I do like Quinn.

I also really like Sebastian’s father.

I walked to the kitchen area on the left of the spacious apartment layout, opened a cupboard, and removed two mugs. “But something happened and I blew chunks.”

Pop set the pot down with a minor clatter and looked at me. “Are you sick?” He did the parent hand-on-forehead maneuver.

Also, Sebastian is still freaked out over the events from the past summer.

“Life isn’t all about money, Seb.”

“You can say that. You don’t have a hospital bill the length of a CVS receipt.”

But mostly I just like Sebastian.

My brain felt like a library card catalog, and I was in a mad rush to find the one title that would help me navigate this sensitive situation with relative success.

Filed under social sciences. Should I start with 302.2— Social interaction, communication? 305.3— Groups of people, by gender or sex? Hold up, 306.7 has a footnote— for problems and controversies concerning various sexual relations, see 363.4.

“This is why no one likes you,” I muttered while raising my head. “You’re in the bathroom making Dewey Decimal jokes to yourself.”

Sebastian swears he does NOT want to play private detective ever again. He is done with that, both for his own health and for Cal’s sanity.

Unfortunately, someone thinks differently.

“What’re your eyes doing?”

“Moving,” I answered, my tone more dry than white bread left on too high a setting in the toaster. My Dancing Eyes condition was hardly noticeable as an adult, but still they wobbled involuntarily at times. “I have achromatopsia. Sometimes my eyes move strangely when I get stressed.”

“You’re stressed?”

“Yes, Officer,” I said with a hint of mockery. “I’ve only had one cup of coffee and found a head in a box.”

“Your stressed is pretty calm, Mr. Snow.”

As with the previous book, the mystery is outlandish, but she does a good job walking the line and mostly doesn’t go into ridiculousness to far-fetched it throws me out of the story. That’s actually a harder line to walk than you’d think. If you’re going to write a book set in “the real world” and are going to be over-the-top, you have to make sure that the rest of your story is grounded and correct. And she does this for me. Calvin and Sebastian are real people with real issues who are working hard to deal with those issues. They have jobs that require their time, and they have family members and friends. All those things are grounded in reality, so I’m good with the mystery being crazy.

Not that it was a bad mystery, because it wasn’t. But the characters are what I liked best.

Publisher: DSP Publication
Rating: 8.5/10


Short Stories


Marriage, Love and a Baby Carriage (2016)

Marriage Love and a Baby CarriageTheodore Reinhart’s convention in San Diego is not what he was expecting.

I was attending a singles’ convention for special people like me to find their forever penguin partner. But after I paid the attendance fee, got a hotel room, and booked my flight, I found out it was specifically for guys and gals.

This story is hilariously over-the-top. It’s about gay penguin shifters. It’s adorable.

“My name’s Theodore Reinhart, I look like a rainbow puked on me, and I’m a gay penguin— Magell— attending a meet and greet for straight folks.”

Theodore is a mess, arriving at the convention with lost luggage and only the suit on his back.

“Good plan,” I told myself. “Better plan: ditch the coat.” I took it off, only to realize it tied the ensemble together. Without the jacket adding to the plaid and stripes to show I’d purposefully mismatced, I looked like I’d gotten dressed while blindfolded.

Did I mention this is ridiculous? It’s ridiculous. It’s fated-mates and love-at-first-glance.

I thought a walk on the beach after this would be nice.”

“Can you read minds?”

“Am I reading yours?” he countered.

“Plagiarizing it,” I answered.

It’s utterly marvelous and I completely adore it.

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Rating: 8.5/10

Kneading You (2019)

Kneading YouChristopher Hughes always wanted to live in a small town. With a degree in literature, he’s delighted to take a job taking over the local library and help it recover from years of neglect.

Unfortunately, a local Selectman wants the property for a building project, so Christopher has a tiny window and an even tinier budget to impress the town so they keep the building, and just maybe give him a budget for improvements.

But once the local handyman, Miles Sakasai, shows up, Christopher finds one more thing to work towards.

This story is so sweet!

Although he doesn’t have a degree in library science, Christopher is still passionate about libraries.

This library is not cost-effective. It’s really that simple.”

“But it’s not about making money,” I declared. “It’s about having a safe and free place for people to come and learn! This town doesn’t even have a bookstore— you have to drive nearly twenty miles to the closest one, and then you have to buy the book! Libraries are here for those who can’t afford to make that purchase. For kids who need resources for school, or even— if we were able to purchase a computer or two, we’d have high-speed internet for those who need something better than dial-up. Libraries are crucial!”

And Miles is just as sweet–a quiet man who is content working as a handyman and baking bread–doing what makes him happy rather than what society (and his family) expects of him.

And in addition to being sweet, it was an interesting story. How was Christopher going to save the library? Because the HEA wasn’t just Christopher and Miles, but Christopher saving the library.

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Rating: 7.5/10


Anthologies


Footsteps in the Dark (2019) L.B. Gregg, Nicole Kimberling, Josh Lanyon, Dal MacLean, Z.A. Maxfield, Meg Perry, C.S. Poe and S.C. Wynne

Entrée to Murder by Nicole Kimberling
Twelve Seconds by Meg Perry
Reality Bites by S.C. Wynne
Blind Man’s Buff by L.B. Gregg
A Country for Old Men by Dal Maclean
Pepper the Crime Lab by Z.A. Maxfield
Lights. Camera. Murder. by C.S. Poe
Stranger in the House by Josh Lanyon

This is an anthology of mysteries with M/M romance. Most, but not all, of the stories have boinking.

Entrée to Murder by Nicole Kimberling

After a steady diet of big city trouble, Chef Drew Allison moved to the island town of Orca’s Slough to get a taste of life in the slow lane. But hometown hospitality goes stale when he finds a dead body in the basement of his own Eelgrass Café.

I really like Drew. He wants to make his restaurant work, and wants to get his partner out of trouble, but since part of the trouble is their bartender, he’s kinda of stuck. He also a genuinely good person who wants to take care of his employees, especially Lionel, his young assistant.

I vaguely recollected that Lionel’s grandmother had refused to teach him to cook because “his wife would take care of that for him,” while his busy single mother possessed neither the time nor the inclination.

I also love this story for the variety of characters, including two older women who are also main characters, and a delight.

All but one looked up as I entered.

“This is Andrew,” Evelyn announced, waving her hand back as though I were some stray dog that had followed her home. “He’s the chef at the murder restaurant.”

To my surprise, only one of the old ladies seemed scandalized, and she appeared to be mainly irritated at Evelyn.

“I’m sure he doesn’t want to be introduced like that.”

The mystery is good, but what makes the story are the interactions between the characters, like Drew seeing Lionel getting dropped off at work.

(S)he told him off in Korean. I stood gawking, impressed by the volume she managed to produce from her tiny body. She put to shame a couple of chefs I’d trained under.

When she noticed me watching, she changed her tone to chirpy English. “Okay, I love you, bye, bye!”

I really enjoyed this story.

Twelve Seconds by Meg Perry

A mysterious phone call, a missing executive, and an exploding rocket throw space reporter Justin Harris and Air Force Special Agent Greg Marcotte into an investigation that will change their lives…if it doesn’t kill them first.

This story alternates POV between Justin and Greg.

As a space reporter for the Hughes-Simmons news syndicate, parent of the Orlando Tribune and other major newspapers around the US, Justin Harris was expected to respond to space news regardless of the hour. If an air leak developed in the International Space Station, if a rocket failed on a launch pad in French Guiana or Kazakhstan, if Elon Musk tweeted anything, Justin needed to hear about it.

This is the story that I read bits out loud to Michael. And it wasn’t even the dialog, but a bit with an alligator and an unexpected dead body.

Greg clapped Fleshman on the shoulder. “This sort of decision, Airman, is why God invented colonels. And here comes mine now.”

Ward Vernon strode up to them, scowling. “Where the hell is Santos?”

Greg said, “Throwing up, sir.” He pointed to the gator.

Vernon’s jaw dropped. “Jeeezus Hallelujah Christ!”

Airman Fleshman was biting his lip to keep from laughing.

Mindy arrived a few minutes later and surveyed the situation, shaking her head. “Damn.”

Vernon said, “Indeed. What kind of gun do we need to kill this gator, Agent Leonard?”

“Our service weapons would work, sir. But it’s illegal to kill a gator without a permit.”

Vernon scowled. “We’re the United States Air Force, dammit. We’ll shoot whatever we like.

I think what I liked about those bits were that they felt precisely like what would happen in that situation.

I also loved that Justin was a tremendous, adorable geek.

This was another great story.

Reality Bites by S.C. Wynne

Detective Cabot Decker is called to the set of hot-shot TV producer Jax Thornburn’s reality-TV show after a contestant is mauled to death by a tiger. Is someone trying to ax Jax’s career—or Jax himself?

This was a Hollywood story, so the setting was a little less appealing to me, but the main character was a police detective, so that was a definite plus.

I kinda wanna make Michael read this story, since a major plot point is an electronic lock, and he knows lots and lots about this. But from what I’ve listened to over the years, they got things correct.

The characters were fine. Not my favorites of this series, but that was mostly comparing it to other stories.

“I’m still not sure about this.”

“I’ll make sure you have fun.”

“I don’t want to have fun.”

“Then I’ll make sure you have a horrible evening.”

“I can do that all by myself.”

“I’ll pick you up at eight.”

The mystery was the strong point of this story, and I very much liked it.

Blind Man’s Buff by L.B. Gregg

A game of Capture the Flag turns deadly inside an abandoned shopping mall when Tommy and Jonah stumble into a homicidal maniac’s hunting grounds.

This was a very interesting story. If it was a movie, I totally wouldn’t watch it, because things chasing and attacking in the dark are so very much not my thing, but the premise and the characters were lovely. Tommy and Jonah are high school teachers, and also tremendous geeks, who like physical RPGs, like the game of capture the flag they are playing in an old mall.

What makes Tommy so likable and adorable is that he is still a dork, even if he’s also the tank of the group and has spent years honing his body and doing things like parkour. (Did I mention the pakour? As a life-long klutz, I adore parkour.)

I’d spent most of the last decade working to become more like Thor because the weak, geek, queer motif hadn’t paid off for me, personally.

But he’s also a grown-up.

Here’s the adult learning curve in life— or mine, anyway. Adulting is about facing hard tasks, difficult decisions, and unpleasant realities. Stepping up to the plate even when you don’t want to, because you have to. But sometimes adult life requires you to stand down, listen to others, and find the grace to compromise respectfully.

There were a couple of issues with the mystery here, but mostly I really liked it.

A Country for Old Men by Dal Maclean

Inspector Calum Macleod has returned to the Western Isles of Scotland to bury a part of himself he can’t accept. But the island has old secrets of its own. When a murderer strikes, Calum finds his past can’t be so easily escaped.

This was possibly my least favorite story in the anthology, but that’s mostly because I don’t like second-chances romances where they main characters are antagonistic towards each other at the start.

But it still had plenty of positives.

“You know what’s disappointing?” Adam asked. “I do Muay Thai— Thai kickboxing— every week. It’s supposed to be good against knives. But… it turns out you don’t necessarily understand someone’s going to attack you until the knife’s already at your throat.”

Another good mystery.

Pepper the Crime Lab by Z.A. Maxfield

When Lonnie Boudreaux’s neighbor is murdered, he must foster the man’s dog, befriend a mysterious former cop, and stop the killer—or else!

I especially liked the main characters in this story. Lonnie is a workaholic whose health has forced him to reevaluate his life.

The mystery was also very well done, and I would actually love spending more time with these characters.

Lights. Camera. Murder. by C.S. Poe

When a hotshot television producer hires him to recover a stolen script, NY PI Rory Byrne must go undercover on the set of the ground-breaking historical drama The Bowery–a job complicated by Rory’s unexpected attraction to handsome, talented, and out-and-proud actor Marion Roosevelt.

Another TV-set mystery, this one set in New York. The main character is a private investigatory who is set to the set of a TV show to figure out which of 100 possible people are a thief.

One of the things I liked best about this story was the premise of the TV series: an historical series with a M/M romance. It allowed almost the entire cast to be LGBTQ.

I also very much like the mystery, although the romance between the two characters didn’t do much for me.

Stranger in the House by Josh Lanyon

Miles Tuesday’s memories of Montreal are happy ones, but now that he has inherited the house at 9 Braeside, everything feels different. Was Madame Martel’s fatal fall really an accident?

This is another story where I liked the mystery, but felt like the romance was lacking.

In the old days, confirmed bachelor was code for gay, but Miles was pretty sure in Oliver’s case it meant middle-aged-heterosexual-used-to-having-his-own-way.

Miles is a really really nice guy.

“I’m an enterprise architect for BEC Financial.” “Enterprise architect. Is that something to do with IT?” “It’s everything to do with IT,” Oliver said cheerfully. It sounded really dull, but Oliver seemed happy about it.

Since the boinking part of these stories are my least favorite bits, that lack didn’t bother me that much, it just made the boinking more annoying that normal.

What impressed me most about this book was that these were novellas and and short novels, and all were excellent. That rarely happens in an anthology, but here even if one part of the story felt weak to me, the strengths of the other parts lifted it up.

Fabulous.

Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing, Inc.
Rating: 9/10