Dana and MtSnow co-review Tracefinder: Contact (Tracefinder series, book 1) by Kaje Harper. (Self Published January 7, 2016, 518 pages) A copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.
Blurb: What could an undercover cop and a drug lord’s pet psychic have in common?
Brian Kerr has spent years hiding behind a facade of mental slowness. His brother and sister got all three of them off the streets and into a cushy life, under the protection of a dangerous criminal. But to keep that safety, Brian has to use his Finding talent to track down the boss’s enemies. Although he pretends not to know what he’s really doing, each Find takes its toll, and he’s trapped in a life he hates, losing touch with his true self.
Nick Rugo’s job is to protect and serve the people of Minneapolis as an undercover cop. He isn’t closeted, but he isn’t out at work, and there’s a wild, angry side to him that he’s managed to keep hidden until now. When he’s assigned to bring Brian’s boss to justice, he intends to use anything and anyone it takes to do that.
Nick initially sees Brian as a pawn to be played in his case, but he keeps getting glimpses of a different man behind the slow, simpleminded mask. As the two men get to know each other, it becomes clear they share secrets, some of which might get them both killed.
How long have you been writing in the M/M genre and what inspired you to do so?
I started writing M/M when I was 14 (which was back in 1974). I read “The Persian Boy” by Mary Renault which is the story of a slave-boy who loves (and serves as a body servant for) Alexander the Great, while also watching Alexander’s love affair with his lifelong friend Hephaistion. It’s sad at the end, but the characters and emotions are wonderful. I had to rewrite the ending (being a romantic) to make it happy for Bagoas (although historically inaccurate.) Then I wrote something with characters of my own, then some Kirk/Spock (fade-to-black) slash, some Starsky/Hutch, some more original stuff… For 35 years I wrote stories and stuffed them in a drawer, until 2010 when my husband pushed me to actually submit one.
You’ve also written YA and are passionate about LGBTQ youth. Do you feel the M/M genre is a good source for them to find inspiring characters and relatable situations?
I think adult M/M has some wonderful books that could help older teens see gay relationships in an emotional and social context. A lot of LGBTQ Young Adult books are very focused on coming out and bullying and angst. In a way, some of the adult M/M has a healthier balance of being gay within a society and variable family situations. I’d have no hesitation giving any youth Tamara Allen’s historicals, for example, where relationships and real human characters are the focus. The amount of sex in M/M varies – I was writing M/M sex by the time I was 15 so I’m not going to be a prude about that – some teens will be fine with even the books that have a fair bit of it. (Some may even benefit from seeing it – there is a huge dearth of good gay sex ed. A male YA author I know laments that there can’t be detailed on-page sex in YA because the young boys are getting their idea of how gay sex works from online porn.)
At the same time, there are some tropes in M/M romance that are not what I want teens to see as romantic (like pushing a guy who doesn’t want sex to keep going and keep going until it feels so good his “no” becomes “yes.”) There are dark themes, some extreme homophobia directed against the characters. And the insta-love focus on “the sex was wonderful and of course now I’m in love after one night”, or the dominating alpha male seen as sexy without limitations – there are some unhealthy romance tropes out there. But of course, that’s true in het romance as well.
What are important characteristics for you when creating both supporting and main characters?
I try to keep it real. If something happens, I want the characters’ reactions to feel plausible and authentic. I want all my characters to have both virtues and flaws, and for professionals to act professional, for kids to fit their ages, for recoveries to take time. For my main characters, I think at heart, whatever their flaws, I want them to have some deep fund of compassion, kindness, empathy. They may hide it, or show it in wrong ways, but for them to be my romantic heroes they have to be men who want to do good and be kind to someone else. The one fatal flaw is self-obsession and callous disregard for others, without regrets. That I can do for a bad guy, but couldn’t imagine in a hero.
Would you rather write stories set in a location you are familiar with or an imaginary far away location?
The number of my books set in Minnesota is a measure of my preference for the familiar, for contemporaries. Part of that is laziness, combined with a desire to get it right. You can’t do both with an unfamiliar setting. You either accept errors, or you do an Edmond Manning, and go live in another city for a couple of months, and walk everywhere your characters will go, so it all feels perfect when you write it. I don’t have his dedication, so mostly I stick close to home. Of course, fantasy is even better – there all you need is consistency, and then no one can say you got it wrong. I love that too.
What do you think of the growth of M/M readership and do you see these types of stories being available in libraries one day?
They are already in libraries some places (Yay!) My local Minneapolis Library has a few in paper, and with the increase of ebook lending from libraries it will make them much more available. Four of my books are in the ebook catalogue of the Seattle Public Library.
I think that as we become more accepting of gay relationships this will only increase. M/M gives M/F romance readers a new way to see relationships, with more balance, more varied heroes, different story lines, and wonderful emotional moments. I believe the audience will continue to grow (and in fact, I saw an industry evaluation last year that called M/M the fastest-growing romance sub-genre.)
I like that your MCs don’t seem to be the ‘perfect’ six-pack ab ‘beautiful people’, but more the ‘everyday man’. Was this a conscious effort in your part to make the MCs resonate with a different audience?
It’s part of my effort to make my stories feel real. There’s nothing wrong with James Bond, or the gorgeous, hot romantic fantasy. It’s just not what I prefer. So just as I like character flaws in my heroes, I like physical flaws too, whether it’s my guys getting old in Into Deep Waters, or Nelson (of Nelson & Caleb) who is middle-aged, a little heavy, a little less hair on top, or Brian (of Tracefinder: Contact) who has round features and near-white fine hair, I want my characters to be relatable. It’s a challenge to keep the romantic fantasy going maybe, with guys you won’t drool over at first description. And yet, what is more romantic than a hero who sees the soul inside his mate and loves him, and will love him, without a six-pack or bulging biceps, throughout the years?
Tracefinder has a character with learning disabilities, possible mental illness, and paranormal abilities. What was your inspiration for him and the story? What kind of research did you have to do to make his character believable?
I’m a very instinctive writer, so I often can’t pinpoint my inspirations. I did want to one day write about a character with a paranormal skill that would be in high demand, far more than could be met. Like a Healer – how do you live with the fact that while you save one person, a hundred die? How do you decide what to do with that talent, where to offer it? How do you stay safe when bad men will want to use you?
I went with Brian’s “Finding” because it’s very useful but not to quite that same degree. And then I think, as part of figuring out how Brian and a cop get together and why he’s not yet sucked far deeper into the crime side of the story, the idea that he has some challenges and some unique coping strategies. The ways Brian protects himself from his tough childhood and his criminal relatives went into the “Brian-voice” that spoke in my head to spark the story. As for research, the dyslexia needs to have at least some real world grounding, so I’ve been researching that, and also identity issues (although his are a bit unique.)
How many books do you have planned for this series and will they all feature the same main characters or different ones in each book?
This series will all be the same couple – Brian and Nick – they’re going to need at least 3 books to get their romance settled, so the current plan is for at least 2 more. I’m well into the writing of book 2. But the series is open for more beyond book 3, if readers remain interested, because I think there will be room for some adventures even after the love and romance has worked its way deep into their story. In this first book they make a lot of progress, but they are still very tentative by the end. The future is full of possibilities, but not certainties yet. But that was necessary slowness, for how far apart they are at the beginning. Again, trying for realism, not insta-love, and problems that will take time (and therapy) to solve, not just the love of a good man.
What other books and series are you working on now? Do you think there are any books that every M/M romance fan should read?
Right now, I’m getting Book 4 of the Hidden Wolves series ready to submit to MLR (it’s in beta reading.) And Book 3 of Finding Family will come after Tracefinder 2 is done. (I was going to do it first, but Brian and Nick were much louder about needing their sequel right away.)
As for books every M/M romance fan should read… there is no such thing as the universal book. (It’s actually comforting to a writer to see that every beloved book, every classic, every story you wish you could have written, has one-star reviews that think it was terrible. Every single one.)
So I’d say, figure out what appeals to you and then ask for more specific recommendations on one of the forums. But in order to figure out what you do or don’t like, it can’t hurt to try some of my favorites… so of the 362 books on my “Favorites” list, for someone new to the genre I’ll suggest:
Contemporary – sweet : Julie Bozza – “Butterfly Hunter”
Contemporary – medium : Sean Kennedy – “Tigers and Devils”
Contemporary – angsty : Amy Lane – maybe “Beneath the Stain” or “Keeping Promise Rock”
Contemporary – funny : Hannah Johnson – “Know Not Why”
Contemporary – sexy : Damon Suede – “Hot Head”
Gay for you/Out for You : Tere Michaels – “Faith & Fidelity”
Mystery: Josh Lanyon – “Come Unto These Yellow Sands”
Fantasy: Ginn Hale – “Lord of the White Hell”
Sci Fi: Lyn Gala – “Claimings, Tails and other Alien Artifacts”
Historical: Tamara Allen – “Whistling in the Dark”
BDSM: Alexis Hall – “For Real”
Historical Paranormal: KJ Charles – “The Magpie Lord”
Contemporary Paranormal: Jordan Castillo Price – “Among the Living – PsyCop”
YA coming of age : Benjamin Alire Sáenz – “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe”
… I saw a meme on Facebook that applies here – “My friend asked me if I could recommend a good book. I told her, ‘I don’t think you have that much time.'” So many good books, so little time. Go forth and enjoy.
Dana – Prior to reading Tracefinder: Contact, I had only read one free story from Kaje Harper. I was definitely excited to read this book because I wanted to read more of her work. I was especially intrigued by the character Brian. He definitely didn’t sound like the average character in a m/m romance.
Besides having dyslexia and possibly other learning disabilities, Brian is also described as a little bit on the heavier side, big and awkward. He has a psychic ability that isn’t always used for the best reasons, but he tries to keep it from affecting him by acting clueless, so much that he sometimes believes it himself. The truth is he is a lot more observant than most people give him credit for. I think the author wrote him really well, and I could empathize with him. I also pitied him just a little bit. Not for having the disabilities, but for the poor home life he had growing up: his alcoholic mother, missing father, and later how his siblings seemed to use him to make a better life for themselves. Yes I do think they cared for him, and it did give him a better life too. But they never stopped to ask him if he wanted to do what they offered him up for, never quite treated him like a human being.
Nick was a character that I really liked, and really didn’t like at the same time. As an undercover cop, he is assigned to infiltrate the group of thugs working for a crime boss named Marston. The same man using Brian. I like him because he takes the time to really see Brian for who he is, and because he generally seems to be a good guy. He’s a bit rough and tumble at times though, and I don’t like him at certain points in the book because he has to use his connection to Brian to get further inside the workings of Marston and his crew. But at least he feels some guilt about it as well. For all that Nick is a more common type of character than Brian is, he has loner tendencies and I don’t think many people have really seen the real him. Except for Brian.
I think their characters work really well together, and I just have to root for them as someone is murdered at Marston’s home, and a ls Nick helps Brian use his gift for a different reason. There is definitely mystery and action in this book but what surprised me is that I never got bored with the story. It’s a fairly long tale at 518 pages, and not every one of them could be filled with action or intimacy between the characters. Something about the way the author told the story really sucked me in as if I was in it, and I was captivated as everything in the plot unfolded. Be sure to look for some definite twists near the end of the book, one that can be called disturbing, to say the least. It’s not a HEA ending, not with it being the first book of a series. Calling it a happy for now ending might even be stretching it as far as I’m concerned. One of them is still doing a job. I’m looking forward to the next book though. I’m sure there will be more mystery, more deceit, and maybe a few surprises. I am eager to see if Brian and Nick can find their way to that happily ever after ending.
9/10 pots of gold
MtSnow – I have always been a fan of Kaje’s, and I have read most all of her work. Most of this author’s stories always make me feel deeply in one way or another. When we were offered the opportunity to review a newer premise of hers, including paranormal aspects, I jumped at the chance!
Honestly, though, my first impressions of both Nick and Brian were a bit distant at first. This story is like a slow reveal, with us getting to know layers of each character at a pace that felt extremely lackadaisical. At first, with his love for the adrenaline rush of searching out an all out knock-down, drag-out bar fight at least once every three weeks, Nick was not someone I in any way felt drawn to. He almost came off as a bully or immature kid in a grown man’s body. But, eventually I started to like him as we were privy to his thought processes and his reasoning for going after his adrenaline rush.
Brian or ‘Bry’ on the other hand, well, I didn’t feel like we got to know him barely at all during this first installation in this series. We didn’t get to see as many of his POV excerpts as we did Nick, and with his ‘simple’ mannerisms, it was a bit hard to tell how much depth the real Brian had, especially as he seemed to question himself or disassociate so very often from his ‘other’ personality. But, when we get his back story, well, it starts to make sense.
Because of the undercover aspect of ‘NOK-Nick’ as well as us just getting to only see tiny bits of Brians ‘gift’, I don’t feel like I got a chance to feel any real spark or attraction between these two main characters. I’m sure, with Bry being learning disabled (but is he really?), it had to be a sensitive aspect for the author to try to figure out what was okay, and what was not with an officer of the law and a ‘special’ person, especially as it was hard to tell if ‘Bry’ actually knew and was culpable for his part in crimes that are followed thru due to information he provides with his ‘gift’.
Overall this first installment had a ‘grey’ or almost industrial feeling to me, with quite a bit of hopeless reaction to events rather than a positive energy. I didn’t really feel any physical attraction between these two, but more of an attraction of convenience, opportunity, and loneliness. But, with that being said, and me being very familiar with Kaje’s other stories, I know she has a lot more to come, and that we will be pulled into a ride that we won’t forget as more gets revealed to us!
I am hoping for more growth and depth to the personalities of both these main characters in future installments of this series, as the ending left me just barely hanging in there for hope for their future. It really didn’t even feel like an HFN, but more an introduction to a possibility for a future.
I do recommend this series, as I believe in Kaje as an author to have a bigger picture in mind, and her stories always end up being worth digging into, showing us some fascinating aspects of the human condition, even if it’s hard to know where her stories will go when you begin the journey she lays out for us. This is an especially good series for those that don’t want or need that ‘insta-love’ aspect, but that want a story with a more gritty, realistic, and positive journey to the end goal of a ‘real’ love story.
9/10 pots of gold
Kaje Harper grew up in Montreal, and spent her teen years writing, filling binders with stories. But as life got busy, the stories began to just live in her head. The characters grew up, met, endured, and loved, in any quiet moment she had, but the stories rarely made it to paper. Her time was taken up by work in psychology, teaching, and a biomedical career, and the fun of raising children.
Eventually the kids became more independent and her husband gave her a computer she didn’t have to share. She started putting words down in print again, just for fun. Hours of fun. Lots of hours of fun. The stories began piling up, and her husband suggested if she was going to spend that much time on the keyboard she ought to try to publish one. MLR Press accepted her first submission, Life Lessons, which was released in May 2011. Kaje now has many novels and short stories published, including Amazon bestseller The Rebuilding Year, and a selection of free short stories and novels available on Smashwords and elsewhere. She currently lives in Minnesota with a creative teenager, a crazy omnivorous little white dog, and a remarkably patient spouse.
Goodreads Author page: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4769304.Kaje_Harper
Books by Kaje Harper:
The “Life Lessons” mystery series (novels from MLR Press): Life Lessons, And To All a Good Night, Getting It Right, Breaking Cover, Home Work, Compensations, Learning Curve
The “Hidden Wolves” paranormal series (novels from MLR Press): Unacceptable Risk, Unsettled Interlude, Unexpected Demands, Unwanted Appeal, Unjustified Claims
Contemporary novels from Samhain Publishing: The Rebuilding Year, Life Some Assembly Required (Rebuilding Year #2), Sole Support
Free books on Smashwords and other retailers: Into Deep Waters, Like the Taste of Summer, Nor Iron Bars a Cage, Lies and Consequences, Show Me Yours, Laser Visions, The Family We’re Born With, Chasing Death Metal Dreams
Self-published novels: The Family We Make, Second Act, Tracefinder: Contact
A complete list with links can be found at http://kajeharper.wordpress.com/books/