Monthly Archives: July 2010

Will Grayson, Will Grayson – John Green & David Levithan (Dutton)

Buy it now from TLAgay.com or from our Amazon.com store to help support our site.  Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Wow, this book is so clever, it should be taught in cleverness school. The two
authors, John Green (An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns) and David Levithan (Boy Meets Boy, Nick
and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
) take turns
writing chapters in this humorous and affecting coming-of-age novel, and the
result was a triumph with some of the sharpest dialogue and description I’ve
seen.

As you might guess from the title, there are two narrators,
both teens named Will Grayson.  The
first Will is hetero, well-to-do, and gets good grades.  The second Will is gay, miserable, and
has to work at CVS so he and his mom can “afford the things they need from
CVS.”  They are both distinct,
charismatic protagonists, but the character who runs off with this book is Hetero
Will Grayson’s best friend, Tiny Cooper.

Constantly cheerful (except right after being dumped) and
optimistic, Tiny is either the “world’s largest gay person” or the “world’s
gayest large person.”  You can
understand his character by knowing his goal is to have his high school fund
and present a musical that he wrote.
This musical happens to be all about him.  At first, Het Will gets the novel’s best lines because he
can take good-natured jabs at how crazy Tiny is.  (As Tiny skips down the hall way, Het Will says “he can be a
skipper if he wants to because that’s his right as a huge American.”) After Gay
Will meets Tiny, he also picks up the thread.  (“Being hugged by Tiny is like being hugged by a sofa.”  “He punched my arm in a way that was
supposed to be friendly, but it felt like I’d been punched by a Volkswagen.”)  All three characters are dynamic and
learn about love and honesty in ways that will resonate with both younger
readers and adults. 

If I were forced to find a flaw with this 310-page book, it
would be pages 308-310.  I’m not
going to give any spoilers, so I have to discuss this in a very vague way.  In the movies, Jeffrey and Big Eden, there is this sort of magical environment where everyone is pro-gay
to an extreme.  While just about
any viewer would know it’s not real, it works to a degree because the stories
are consistent.  The characters of
Will
Grayson, Will Grayson
live in a somewhat
edgier reality, but at the end that reality drops away, allowing the magic to take
over.  I feel it was too late and,
thus not believable.  Total
hypocrite that I am, I have to admit I cried at the end, and I’m fairly sure
I’d never be able to think of an ending that would be an improvement.  All in all, this is probably my
favorite YA book since
The Year of Ice and Vintage.  Highly recommended.  

Reviewed by Gavin Atlas

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Happy birthday to us!

Today marks our first anniversary.

Bill and I couldn’t be more pleased with the response from you all out there – writers, editors and publishers as well as readers who listen to what we have to say and actually make purchasing decisions because of it. That is an awesome (in the original meaning) responsibility and one we don’t take lightly—which is why we will continue to bring you our best in thoughtful, entertaining, highly opinionated reviews.

Variety, however, is what keeps things interesting and it is my personal pledge to bring you more interviews with both authors and editors, including an upcoming profile of writer and cultural critic Peter Dube, as well as more thought pieces. And, of course, we will certainly continue our sponsorship of the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans, since that was pretty much the birthplace of this website.

What we will not be doing is bringing you many mainstream authors, gay or otherwise. And this is directed at the deluge of e-mail (well, five is a small deluge, isn’t it?) I received in my personal inbox about ignoring/not reviewing the most recent novel of an Out Mainstream Author. I won’t reveal his name, but his mother used to write vampire novels before finding Jesus. Why wouldn’t we be anxious to read and publicize this?

Well, this book was reviewed in every major press outlet known to mankind. He gets more publicity in a day than any one of the authors reviewed on this website will get in a lifetime, and that’s a damn shame, because many of the books featured here are as good if not better than his. It’s that community Bill and I started this website to serve—independent presses who struggle to break even and indie writers who reach a small segment of even the GLBT community. They deserve our attention and dollars more than mainstream authors, and their books will always have a home here.

Their indie creds, however, do not give them a free critical pass. Our standards are high and we are not afraid to call ‘em like we see ‘em. I had this conversation with someone at Saints and Sinners who called publishing reviews of books we didn’t like “ballsy.” We don’t think so, but we’re glad it distinguishes us from some other blogs and review sites and we aim to continue this practice.

And by” we”, I mean myself and our stalwart reviewers, Gavin Atlas, George Seaton and Wayne Courtois as well as our guest reviewers Lara Zielinsky, Ron Suresha and Jameson Currier. You guys all rock. Hard. And “we” also includes my co-owner, conspirator and partner in crime, William Holden, the major techno-stud – not to mention the godfather of this site, Steve Berman, who sparked the idea in NOLA last year.

So stay tuned throughout our “terrible twos” and check us out twice a week for the best of the independent queer press. We have been and will always be all you need to read about all you need to read.

JW

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Trauma Alert – Radclyffe (Bold Strokes Books)

Buy it now from Bold Strokes Books

When tough-as-nails ER surgeon Ali Torveau meets cocky, rebellious, but drop-dead beautiful Beau Cross, the mutual attraction is strong, but so is the mutual annoyance.  Even though Beau might be one of the most beautiful women Ali has ever seen, she thinks Beau, a firefighter/emergency medical tech, is both reckless and a “glory hound.”  Meanwhile, Beau, who is usually supremely confident, is shaken when she sees how quickly Ali dismisses her as a romantic possibility.  However, when her co-worker Bobby bets her she can’t get Ali to go on a date with her, she accepts the challenge.

That may seem like a low stakes plot, but both Ali and Beau are emotionally wounded characters who are unwilling to open their hearts to anyone, and that’s where the true conflict surfaces.  In my experience, the people I’ve known who are emergency medical workers have had to develop a protective mental shell to keep the horrors they witness at a distance.  So it’s quite believable that a trauma surgeon and a “first responder” such as a firefighter would have immense trouble letting each other get close.  The problems may be some of the typical devices of contemporary romance such as incorrect assumptions (Beau decides that Ali has called Beau’s boss and recommended that Beau be taken off duty, Ali sees Beau with another pretty woman and decides there must be something going on) and failures to communicate that serve to keep the romantic contagonists at odds.  However, they’re more effective when it’s understandable why these characters refuse to ask the questions they need to ask and why it’s such a struggle to overcome stubbornness, fear, and hubris, therefore allowing oneself to be vulnerable. 

While I’m sure many readers will be focused on the twists in the growing relationship as well as the painful secrets each character hides, personally I couldn’t get enough of the fascinating action scenes.  The author, Radclyffe, is a doctor herself, and you can tell because the trauma room scenes just boom and so do Beau’s rescue scenes when she’s in the field.  The writing is so strong in these moments, the pages fly.  These scenes also underscore how risky it must be to fall in love with someone who has a job as dangerous as Beau’s. 

 When reading romance, I think the most important things are for the reader to feel the attraction the character does, for the reader to sense the chemistry between the characters, and for the reader to want them to get together as much as the characters do themselves.  First, Radclyffe creates such a bombshell in Beau (Ali calls her “a walking orgasm”) that the bedroom scenes fogged my glasses.  Second, I think readers will sense how both their pain and their similar personalities make these characters right for each other.  Last, Ali and Beau are heroes in every sense of the word, and many readers will be yearning for the happily-ever-after these characters very much deserve. 

Reviewed by Gavin Atlas

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Queering the Text – Andrew Ramer (White Crane Books/Lethe Press)

51FoTqAPw1L._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_Buy from Lethe Press

Andrew Ramer’s superbly crafted new book of re-imagined Jewish scripture, Queering the Text, continues an ancient spiritual tradition of re-presenting traditional scriptural text while adding clarification and interpolating commentary.

Although the title might give an impression of the work as a tedious conflation of unintelligible queer theory and archaic Hebraic esoterica, in its exegesis of Hebraic scripture (the terms “Old Testament” or “Bible” in this context actually are not Jewish but Christian designations), Queering the Text adroitly succeeds in invigorating this subject.

In addition to injecting a gay sensibility that speaks to all queers — not only gay men and lesbians but also the often overlooked bisexual and transgender reader — the author displays an engaging range of literary styles, such as poetic, didactic, expository, and epistolary, that keep the material fresh and interesting.

The first section of Queering the Text, “The Genizah of Dreams,” reimagines passages from the midrashic texts (aka “Hebrew Bible” aka “Old Testament”) and presents 22 (one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet) midrashim, or investigations, into them.

The middle and longest section, “Al-Andalus: Tales of an Imaginary Spain,” inspired by homoerotic poems written in medieval Spain, is also the most ardent. In this section I was particularly moved by the tale in which two older men, a doctor and a rabbi, reminisce romantically as they celebrate their twenty years together:

They both laugh, over their cups of wine, thinking back on how it was, and how it is, and how it will be, now that both of them are old. Neither one says, “Who will die first?” Each one hopes it will be the other, to spare him the pain of being left behind. And each one prays the prayer of long-time lovers, that they will fall asleep in each other’s arms and die together, on a warm night when the sky is strewn with stars to help them find their way back home.

The concluding section of the book, “Avodah: Divine Service,” provides a more contemporary setting for the author’s reworking of ancient Jewish stories, such as in the delightful story, “Shacharit: Light in the Tree”:

A UPS man brought the carton right to their door. Inside the carton was a small square blue footlocker, and inside the footlocker, in a Styrofoam shell, sat a squat round metal thermos. Vapor rose up from it as Sara and Rachel unscrewed the top, from the liquid nitrogen the vials of sperm were hanging in, which came from a donor clinic in New York City that only worked with Jewish men.

As a once-potential Jewish sperm donor, I cannot help but smile at how this narrative skillfully melds the ancient wisdom with today’s queer sensibility.

Andrew Ramer has long been at the forefront of queer spirituality writing, starting with his classic work, Two Flutes Playing. He remains one of our Gay Spirit Vision elders, and his voice and insight have matured considerably in the two decades since that visionary work.

In his foreword, Jay Michaelson qualifies his assessment of the work: “knowing Andrew as I do, perhaps the word is “visionary.” Although I do not know the author personally, I will not hesitate to state that I believe Queering the Text is an inspired, illuminating, and joyous (occasionally even sexy) piece of visionary writing that deserves to take an honored place in the Queer Spirit Writing canon.

 

Reviewed by Ron Suresha

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God Loves Hair – Vivek Shraya

Buy it now direct from the author at God Loves Hair.

I think there is a spot in all of us that stores our not so pleasant memories from childhood this is especially true when you are different from everyone else around you. Whether the difference is skin color, religion, language, gender or sexuality, we’ve all felt that pang of sadness, isolation and fear.

Vivek Shraya dedicates his book to “the boy that was almost lost” and each richly told poetic story touched me, remembering my own childhood and the little boy inside who fought so hard to not get lost as well.
Shraya writes from his heart, and within each of the stories his devotion to faith and his culture is evident.  It’s what drives his words, bringing with it such a heartfelt experience of growing up different in Toronto.  But it’s not just Toronto it could be anywhere and any one of us.  The beautiful stories will surely touch you in that hidden spot just like they touched me. His flowing verse rings with honesty and memories of trying to understand who he is in a not so understanding world.
Selections from Gaylord!
“Maybe if I laugh to, Will and I could be friends.  He kicks me and I say Sorry.  He is puzzled.  He kicks me again, this time timidly, like a child unsure of his own strength and I apologize again…I am bound to sorry, as though it’s my only defense, as though each sorry holds a tiny spark of dignity.”

The same jocks surround me by my locker later and warn me of impending dangers.  Are you sure no one has beaten you up?  You are definitely going to get beaten up in high school…”

“He stands wide at the stall right next to me, making his presence known.  I pee as fast as I can focusing my eyes straight down, thinking about how our matching skin doesn’t protect me and how that feels like a betrayal.”

So I learn which hallways to avoid (faggot!) and which faces to avoid (if you ever look at me again, I will pound the shit out of you, you fucking fag.)  How to walk a little firmer, talk a little deeper, be a little smaller.  But I can’t make it stop.”
Along with each story there is a wonderful illustration by Juliana Nuefeld.  Together it’s a beautiful example of how to make something breathtaking and beautiful out of something ugly and all too familiar to us all.
Reviewed by William Holden

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Diana Comet and other improbable stories – Sandra McDonald (Lethe Press)

Buy it now direct from Lethe Press or from our Amazon.com store to help support our site – Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories 

Sandra McDonald is a master (mistress?) of allusion and metaphor. Her storytelling caresses a fantastic reality where nothing much seemed odd to me, or disconcerting; the weaving of the tales unhindered by any notions of the impossible. I would love to spend a few minutes riding the synapses in her mind, just to see what quirky and ever so incredible route they take in order to conjure such a reality.
This collection of fifteen shorts, counting the Prologue, takes you into a universe where the inevitable question becomes: Where does she get this stuff? How does she manage to hand the reader such improbabilities while, at the same time, evoking from the reader a notion that the matter-of-factness of her writing is witness that she sees some parallel universe where those improbabilities are, well, quite possible?
Ships at sea manned, um, womaned by nuns; firehouse mascots consisting of a three-headed dog, a water nymph; a fairy named “Tinkerbob,” throwing glitter as he flies and dances about the firehouse; an orchestra entombed in a tiny metal box that comes to life, plays horribly—later superbly—made up of musicians lost at sea, then animated by a magician’s tinkering with “…sacred metal from blessed mines;” a sect of pagan sorceresses who pass on the art of magic lacemaking to an unfortunate waif, Caterina, with the caveat the magic must never be taught to boys or men; a wooden sea captain’s statue, trapped within the confines of a beachfront carnival, who talks to gulls and befriends a small boy, of whom he begs a cup of the sea, to taste the sea or he will die; “Whitesuits,” aliens who appear to be saving humanity from itself, but have a troublesome little habit of gobbling up the ocean. And, there are no Gods in these stories. Just Goddesses. Amen.
These wonderful stories are, for the most part, metaphorical. All manner of sexuality and gender identification are dealt with respectfully, “…as sacred…,” as McDonald notes in her dedication. Notably the dedication also cites the beating death of Matthew Shepard in 1998, where the defendants at trial relied upon the “gay panic defense.”
McDonald ends each story with Author’s Notes. It is here the charming undercurrent of humor and, indeed, historical fact in the preceding story, is reflected upon in such a way the reader sees McDonald give us a blink of an eye, an impish grin. There are so many gems in the Author’s Notes, it is impossible to pick a favorite.
This is speculative fiction at its best, delivered with a writer’s twist—the result of those quirky synapses firing—that takes the reader to places they have never been…body, mind, or soul. Trust me on this.
Reviewed by George Seaton

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Somebody Killed His Editor by Josh Lanyon – Samhain Publishing

Buy it now from TLAgay.com or from our Amazon.com store – Somebody Killed His Editor
This is listed as “Holmes and Moriarity Book 1,” so I’m guessing this is the beginning of a series, and it’s a great start.  Christopher Holmes, a gay author of cozy mysteries, is having a career crisis as his agent, Rachel Ving, makes it clear that his “spinster and cat novels” are entirely out of fashion.   She summons him to a writers’ retreat at the remote Blue Heron Lodge in Northern California to pitch a new series to Christopher’s mean-spirited editor, Steven Krass.  In desperation to fit the trends, Rachel and Christopher pitch a “Regency-era P.I. series with demons and a sexy chicklit-y feel.”   
Things go about as badly as Christopher expected when it comes to his future with his publisher, but overall the weekend is far more terrible than he could ever have imagined.  Peaches Sadler, a nearly universally despised novelist, is found dead, and as Christopher is the one who discovered the body, he’s everyone’s prime suspect.  Moreover, Christopher is unlucky enough that J.X. Moriarity, a handsome ex-cop turned bestselling author, whom Christopher has a history with, is on hand to keep Christopher under house arrest.  Lanyon effectively isolates the retreat by dropping in a ferocious winter storm that washes out the only bridge and prevents any kind of law enforcement from coming in to help.  And then the trouble gets even worse.
I really enjoyed this book, particularly the witty first-person narration and dialogue.  Holmes is droll, self-deprecating, and endearing, if slightly bitchy.  His voice is distinct, clipped, and elegant.  Moriarity is also likeable, and his affection for “Kit” as he calls Christopher is more than charming.  There are a few sex scenes that are a bit mild by my crazy standards (which is probably appropriate since this is a mystery first, not erotica) but are beautifully written.  In fact the writing throughout this novel is gorgeous.  Also, these days it seems like errors are creeping into books, so my compliments to Samhain for what appeared to be flawless editing.
As for the mystery, I found it thoroughly satisfying.  It’s possible that a reader will be able to identify the culprit before Christopher does because the clues are there, but I didn’t figure it out.  The ending was a bit abrupt and Christopher never truly reveals the killer’s motivation, although, in my opinion, the reader has enough information to surmise what happened and why as well as why Christopher decides to be discreet.  Most importantly, this is not a mystery where the killer is barely in the book until the final scene nor where the killer stupidly reveals himself by attacking the sleuth nor does some random person come out of nowhere to unrealistically offer important information for no reason.  The logic of the plot and the detecting are solid and intriguing.  Highly recommended.  
Reviewed by Gavin Atlas

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