Monthly Archives: April 2010

Welcome Home – Glenda Poulter (P.D. Publishing)

Buy it now at Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.

Life throws all of us unexpected curves, and I would bet
that everyone reading this vividly remembers many of these moments from their
past.  These moments are what help
define who we are or who we will eventually be. 

Welcome Home is about change.  It’s the story of Shelby and her five childhood friends who
learn the hard way how to survive difficult and sometimes tragic events that
will inevitably change all of their lives. The events these six friends endure
come from many sides: family, fear, silence, but more difficult to comprehend
is the betrayal from within their own circle.

After reading Welcome Home I tried to recall a time when
another book had touched me so close to home, one that literally made tears
pool in my eyes; not only for the characters, but for the memories of my own
childhood and the love and loss that I have faced during my life, and frankly I
couldn’t think of one single book that even came close to this one.

The novel starts out with Shelby returning to her hometown
30 years after she graduated from High School, a town she swore she would never
return to permanently.  Yet after
years of traveling as a photo journalist life throws her another curve, the
death of her estranged mother and a possible new job at a local magazine
publishing house.  She arrives in
her hometown just before her 30th high school reunion.  At the reunion Shelby is confronted by
one of her childhood friends; the same friend that destroyed their last year of
high school and tore their friendship apart.  It is this meeting that throws Shelby back in time to
finally confront the pain and betrayal that she and the others have lived with
for all of their adult life.

Glenda has woven an amazing story of love, hate, coming out,
and death.  It’s a story that
everyone can relate to and if someone reading this novel, doesn’t feel for the
characters or feel a twinge of sadness, hope or joy seeping up from their own
past, then the person hasn’t experienced their own life.

This is more than a story of betrayal and loss it’s a story
of hope.  Hope that no matter what
life throws our way, we have the strength and ability to survive, to forgive
and to love once more.

Read this novel just have a few tissues handy.

Reviewed by William Holden

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Alleys and Doorways – Meredith Schwartz, ed. (Lethe Press)

Buy it now at Giovanni’s Room or at Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.

I’ve been away from the fantasy/spec-fic genre too long.

I don’t know how that happened but in my absence, queer
fiction has seen fit to evolve its own voice in that genre. I’d always thought
we were terrific subjects for fantasy lit and I guess if I’d started my writing
career sooner, I could have gotten in on the ground floor but hindsight is
always twenty-twenty. Don’t worry. I’ll catch up.

I’ve been reading a lot of it lately for this website and in
addition to Steve Berman’s terrific Icarus Magazine and Tom Cardamone’s Pumpkin Teeth, Meredith Schwartz’s great collection of queer urban
fantasy,
Alleys and Doorways has
now come to my attention. This volume is a must for fans of the genre.

As with any short story collection, there are one or two
that don’t quite suit my taste, but Schwartz’s batting average is excellent.
The anthology starts off strong with Rose Fox’s understated story about an elf
and eternal life in a city park, “Everlasting” and continues that streak with
Valerie Z. Lewis’ stark, post-apocalyptic “The Steel Anniversary.” Lewis is the
only author to use that setting, however. The other stories take place in
realities closer to our own—reality being an elastic concept, that is.

B.A. Tortuga’s tale of a tattooist and his subject, “The
Truth of Skin and Ink” could have taken place in any city, for example, while
Steve Berman’s Lovecraftian “Path of Corruption” has firm roots in New Orleans,
a city that seems to inspire stories about degredation and alternative beings
luring victims into dark alleys with darker motives. M. Decker’s “Side Effects”
and A.J. Grant’s “Underneath” are both great dragon stories, the former playing
it for laughs and the latter bringing a latter-day knight to slay said reptile. 

My favorite here, though, is JoSelle Vanderhooft’s
delightfully warped “Were,” a sly, tongue-in-cheek tale about two sci-fi geeks
whose attraction to each other trumps the fact that one is a werewolf and the
other is a were . . . um, bunny? I love
how Vanderhooft stands the whole transformation thing on its head:

            Dr.
Jekyll writhes in shadows as he turns into Mr. Hyde; Larry Talbot

            shifts
from man to monster, his eyes glassed half with horror, half with

            sorrow.
But there was no tragic dignity in my transformation. I was

            looking
at the Easter Bunny . . . I looked like the bastard child of Tiny

            Tim
and Bargain Bob’s All-Occasion Costume: buck teeth, big paws,

            pink
fur—pink!—and a fucking cotton tail up my ass crack.

In short, a terrific story from a great collection of queer
fantasy. There’s something here for everyone, from chilling to comic. And even
a tale or two to make you think.

Which is what good fantasy should do. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered – Tom Cardamone, ed. (Haiduk Press)

Buy it now direct from Haiduk Press or from Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.

One of my favorite places in New Orleans is the FAB Bookstore, a little hole-in-the-wall place on Frenchman Street in the Marigny. Otis, the owner, has his shelves crammed with queer lit and where there aren’t books, the paintings and framed photographs are stacked to near tipping height.But what really sets a book-romantic like me salivating is the smell—the dusty aroma of book-musk.

You can smell it from the street, a heady printer’s perfume that lures you through the door and won’t let you back out until you’ve dropped at least fifty bucks on out of print, dog-eared treasures. It’s the musty scent of wisdom, wit and passed-on wealth of knowledge that has enabled queer culture to survive. And it rises addictively like pollen of crack cocaine from the pages of Tom Cardamone’s The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered.

This most marvelous book-about-books is an informative, fascinating look at 28 little-known queer classics and how they affected some of today’s best and best-informed authors. You’ll hear from such terrific writers as Christopher Bram, who lauds Allen Barnett’s The Body and Its Dangers, a Lammy award winning collection of six powerful short stories, Sean Meriwether, who shares his own coming out process hastened by Lynn Hall’s YA classic, Sticks and Stones and Aaron Hamburger’s ruminations on J.S. Marcus’ opus about Berlin, The Captain’s Fire.

You’re sure to find much common ground with these fine writers. Myself, I was drawn to the essays about three books I also fell in love with: Neil Bartlett’s Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall (Philip Clark), Agustin Gomez-Arcos’ The Carnivorous Lamb (Richard Reitsma) and Christopher Coe’s Such Times (Jameson Currier). Having had my own experiences with these works, reading the assessments of others is absolutely fascinating. 

But beyond reinforcing the worth of what you’ve already read, these essays help build a list of what you should be reading next. High on that list for me is the first black queer detective novel by George Baxt, A Queer Kind of Death (lovingly critiqued by Larry Duplechan), Kyle Onstott and Lance Horner’s horny Roman epic Child of the Sun (backhandedly complimented by Michael Bronski) and Paul T. Rogers’ challenging  Saul’s Book (gauntlet thrown down by Paul Russell).

All of the contributors are wonderful writers on their own,who to a man manage to explain the importance of their subjects while piquing your interest in them. That’s no small feat. Editor Cardamone has assembled a great collection of interesting, well-told stories about stories, and if that doesn’t stoke your fire, then you’re not a book lover.

And if you’re not, what are you doing here?

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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Solitude and Sea Glass – T.D. McKinney & Terry Wylis (Amber Quill Press)

Buy it now from Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.

Despite my reputation among friends, I am not opposed to
genre exercises. I love a good mystery, and I cut my teeth on horror and
speculative fiction (formerly known as sci-fi). Genre writing is the mac and
cheese of literature—good old comfort reading. You know how it’s going to turn
out, but the best of it makes the ride worthwhile.

I will confess, however, to having some difficulty with
romances. Not because I’m not a romantic kinda guy. Ask the men I’ve stalk …
uh, sent flowers to. Much of the gay romance that crosses my desk these days is
more like HeteroHomances—gay characters suffering the same plot contrivances
leading to the same happy endings as those experienced by heroines in Danielle
Steele or Barbara Cartland bodice-rippers. And yes, Virginia, I’ve read a few
of those, too. It’s just that these
characters are gay men.

These books really get my anti-assimilationist dander up, as
to me they reduce the incredible diversity of gay romance to idealistic
heterocentric monogamy, making us more palatable—and less dangerous—to society
at large. That way, we get to see gay characters finding their one true love
Just Like Straight People Do. There are those that would argue any visibility
is good for the movement, but I ain’t buyin’ it. For that reason alone, I had a
difficult time with McKinney and Wylis’ Solitude and Sea Grass.

Holland Faust was an Oscar-winning Hollywood star until a
lunatic fan slashed his face with a knife, forcing him to retire to a secluded
Maine island. Enter Ruby Kegan, the young man hired by Faust’s agent to be his
summer assistant. Of course, they fall in love. But Kegan finds he must choose
between his true love and a new job which will assure him a prestigious career.
Will Kegan leave? Will he return? Will he and Holland find true happiness
living on the island with the kindly husband and wife caretakers?

Of course he will. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s just a
bland thing. This is a case of a great premise and some interesting characters
bogged down by expectations of the genre. How I wish McKinney and Wylis would
have defied those conventions or made their characters edgier so that you
really did have a doubt how it would turn out. But every time I felt an
uncertainty, they plugged the hole and reassured me that things would be okay
in the end.

Which is a shame. The book has a marvelous sense of place,
and Holland Faust is a well-drawn portrait of a star whom fame has wronged.
Ruby Keagan is a bit fuzzy in terms of character, but the housekeeper and her
husband are nicely developed bit players even if they are stock. I just found
myself hoping that McKinney and Wylis would have taken more chances in terms of
the obstacles they put in their way. Okay, Barbara Cartland might not have done
it 

But Agatha Christie would. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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The Wolf at the Door – Jameson Currier (Chelsea Station Editions)

Buy it now at Giovanni’s Room Giovanni’s Room or at Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

I certainly do, and with their annual queerlit gathering,Saints and Sinners, just around the corner, that unique morning-in-the-Quarter smell of bleach, vomit, stale beer and jasmine lingers in my thoughts.Thankfully, I have Jameson Currier’s marvelous new novel, The Wolf at the Door to tide me over until I get off the plane

It’s the story of Avery Greene Dalyrymple III, co-owner of Le Petite Paradis, a Dumaine Street B&B, his current business partner and former bed-mate, Parker, and the many ghosts who occupy the hotel with them. A death in the hotel unravels Le Petite Paradis’s spirit world, bringing to light a cruel slave past that manifests itself in foo-lights, wolf apparitions and dead lovers that threaten the living. 

The plot is a bit complicated and difficult to summarize, but it unfolds so naturally and organically that you never lose track or become disengaged. Currier’s writing is up to his usually high standards, which means that he can make you smile and scare the crap out of you in the same paragraph.  And I believe his work here to be his richest, most personal and heartfelt yet.

More than being a good ghost story, The Wolf at the Door is one gay man’s spiritual journey, though not as boring and dry as that sounds. Though he’s been looking mostly in the bottom of bourbon bottles, Avery’s search for spiritual belonging – finding God in ghosts– is as universal as it gets, and Currier brings it to life with both wit and wonderment. Blending philosophy with good old-fashioned scares, Currier makes the impossible look effortless. The ending, which I won’t spoil for you, actually brought a catch to my throat and a tear to my eye.

The book even looks good. I rarely comment on cover art, but I have to give props to Bryan Cunningham, whose paintings on both the front and back conjure up the French Quarter as vividly as Currier’s writing, which is no easy feat.

So, forget the beach reads this spring – the tawdry dramas of all those pretty muscle boys fade away quicker than watercress sandwiches.  Sink your teeth into Jameson Currier’s spicy all-you-can-eat ghost and God gumbo. It’ll stick to your ribs, stir up your brain cells and lodge in your soul.  

Until I get to walk the cracked sidewalks of Bourbon Street again, that’ll do just fine. 

 Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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In Jupiter’s Shadow – Gregory Gerard (Infinity Publishing)

Buy it now at Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.

French diplomat Jean Giraudoux once said,“The key to success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” But Gregory Gerard has nothing to fake in the memoir of his boyhood, In Jupiter’s Shadow. His sincerity is apparent on every page, handily overwhelming the book’s few shortcomings. 

The Jupiter of the title is Jupiter Jones, the boy detective featured in the Three Investigators series of books by Robert Arthur. Gerard tries to emulate Jupiter whenever he has a problem, sussing out clues and doing research like any good gumshoe.However, he doesn’t solve the mystery of his gayness until the last few pages –after multiple operations for his hydrocephalitic brother Paul, escaping Catholic guilt and enduring the death of his best friend Roy in a car accident.

Despite these traumas, Gerard has a fairly typical adolescence with his upper-middle class family, making the word for this book “sweet.” Yes, it’s Walton’s-style family sweet – but Gerard’s keen eye for observation and talent for maintaining tension ensures that its sweetness never cloys or becomes overly sentimental.

Is it a perfect book? No. I could have used more of a sense of place and time to root the characters, though he tries to accomplish that through his forced crush on Sheena Easton and love of Stephen King bestsellers (remember when King wrote instead of just typed?). In the same vein, his brothers and sisters weren’t drawn too distinctly, with the exception of Paul, who was a standout character.

However, the portraits of his parents more than make up for the lack, especially that of his father Darwin, a plain-spoken blue-collar kinda guy who becomes overly polite and florid when drunk (dubbed the “Drinking Dar” by Gerard). There is love, respect and drama in this relationship, much of it brilliantly implied rather than baldly stated. The scene where he tells his father he loves him, on advice from kindly Father O’Malley, is beautiful and understated.

What I liked about In Jupiter’s Shadow is its lack of pretension. It’s a loving look at one gay man’s boyhood – certainly not mine and probably not yours, but a nicely drawn, entertaining portrait of warmth, family and home.

Be it ever so humble. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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An Ideal for Living – Marshall Moore (Lethe Press)

Endings are tricky.

Just because the author knows how the story should end doesn’t mean the reader agrees. The reader often has an entirely different conclusion in mind. A good seventy percent of the time, readers mention dissatisfaction with the ending as the reason they don’t like a particular book. Okay, I made that up – but had I not confessed to the fiction, you’d have bought it, right? And it’s the ending that makes Marshall Moore’s An Ideal for Living such a wicked joy.

An Ideal for Living is the story of Grace, a woman out to regain her philandering husband, and her brother Robert, a gay man carrying a torch for former bed-mate James. Robert and Grace have many differences but one thing in common – obesity. Enter James’ friend Stefan, a massage therapist/miracle worker who can re-shape bodies at will. Robert gets slimmer and James gets more handsome, but Grace gets hospitalized for crash dieting in an attempt to patch up her marriage. Until she finally meets Stefan. And that’s where the ending comes in.

It’s been way too long since we’ve heard from Moore, but An Ideal for Living is full of the droll wit that made The Concrete Sky such a delight. The dialogue is snappy but never too snappy to lose believability, and his characters are fully realized. Both Robert and Grace are funny, fascinating studies in self-loathing. And Moore’s follow-through is surefooted. He hits the ground running with the premise and never once falters or looks back.

But as entertaining as the writing is, I wondered at the three-quarters mark how the hell Moore was going to thread the plot loops together. I needn’t have worried (and really didn’t). Once he gets Robert,Grace, Grace’s husband, their mother Gloria and the miraculous Stefan all together in the same place, it all becomes clear – sickly, blackly, beautifully clear. If I said more, I’d spoil it for you, and that would be a crime.

An Ideal for Living is that most marvelous of creatures – a breezy, quirky read that suckers you in with charm and wit and then slaps you in the face while it smiles at you.Totally engrossing and well worth your time. And you’ll love the ending. Or hate it.

Either way, you’ll think about it long after the last page has been turned.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler  

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