Monthly Archives: January 2014

Cub – Jeff Mann (Bear Bones Books)

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Even these days when young gay adults have a plethora of reading options about themselves, the main characters provided for them to identify with still seem, in many ways, proscribed. Their idols and ideals still seem rooted in the pop culture of the moment. That’s fine for some, but there must be young adults out there who find solace and inspiration in more classic forms of literature and being. After all, classics are called that for a reason. But now, Jeff Mann has written a book for those young gay men who are inspired by Greek poets and walks in the woods instead of Beyonce and skinny jeans, making Cub is a fine, important read.

Seventeen-year-old Travis Ferrell is a strapping, full-bearded, hairy-chested, long-haired young man left behind by a coterie of lesbian high school friends who have gone on to college while he finishes high school. A shy boy, interested in his parents’ farm, classic poetry, and a love of language, he finds a kindred gay spirit in scruffy, scrappy, hirsute auto mechanic Mike Woodson. The same age as Travis, he definitely doesn’t run in the same circle. Brought together by a band of bullies, they fall in love. Will the disparities between them overwhelm what they feel for each other? Time will tell, even if I won’t.

As with some (not all) YA authors, Mann succeeds in finding the boy he was  and putting him in both the boys he creates. Although they come from different sides of the tracks, they are both willing to reach out and learn from each other, showing an astonishingly adult viewpoint you find only with other gay youngsters. It’s said that the only difference between gay men and straight men is who they find attractive, but I call bullshit on that. Because of who we are, because of what we feel, and mostly because of how our peers force us to consider our relationship to society as a whole at a very early age, I believe we possess a capability for introspection and a self-awareness our straight counterparts can’t yet access.

Does that mean Travis and Mike indulge in deep philosophical discussions? Well…er…yes, occasionally. Mostly they get up to what all horny seventeen-year-olds get up to–sexual exploration. And Travis begins to deal with his leanings toward bondage and fetish play. This is where Mann truly invests himself in his character. In his travel writing and non-fiction, Mann has fearlessly exposed his most brutish tendernesses, and he shows the same kind of bravery in biting off those chunks of himself to form these young men. And it wouldn’t be a Jeff Mann book without some fine vittles, so the boys eat Southern cookin’ in an orgiastic, Paula Deen-ish carb frenzy.

The boys fight bullies, friends, parents, and even themselves. But amidst the coconut cream pie and gravy-soaked biscuit orgies, between the roping and hiding, swirling around the discussions of who and what Travis and Mike have the potential to become, lies the importance of Cub. It’s a book for those boys out there who have discovered that they are different from many of their friends, but who also feel the division within the subculture they thought they could identify with. Their aloneness does not cease once they’ve figured out their sexual proclivities, but knowing who they are brings even more compartmentalization. Cub lets them feel there’s room at the table for them. And I can think of no one better to write this story than Jeff Mann, whose table is as broad and wide as his heart.

If this doesn’t become a classic, there’s no justice.

©  2014  Jerry L. Wheeler

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Anatomy of a Wish – Hayden Chance (Dorje Publishing)

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We’re all guilty. Yes, every one of us. And I’d wager that we’re guilty of it every day in our lives. The inevitable, “I wish.” You know you’ve done it. Perhaps you stopped at a red light and wished that you had gone a bit faster to make the light? Have you ever wished to win the lottery? Have you wished that you had taken a left instead of a right? Perhaps you’ve wished for a better job, a new car, a trip around the world. Come on, admit it. What have you wished for lately?

Meet Griffin Gallagher, a troubled young man without hope, without a job, without money. That is until he finds a coupon for a free bowl of soup. With that little slip of paper and the Catalpa Café,  Griffin’s life is about to change. He’s going to realize just what goes into a wish, how they are determined, and the consequences of those two little words, “I wish.” Griffin will take you with him on an amazing journey through a magical, strange world set within the gritty landscape of Chicago.

Hayden Chance has created a remarkable thing in his novel, The Anatomy of a Wish. His words are simple, his writing style easy, and together they make for one of the most wonderful books to come along in a very long time. You are immediately at ease with his prose. His characters are vibrant, real people you want to know, want to care for – and you do with minimal effort. They become your friends and your family without even thinking about it.

Get Anatomy of a Wish and let Hayden’s words transport you. It’s a story of love, hatred, hope, and redemption. The novel will grip you within the first page and won’t let go of you even as you turn the last page.

You’ve been looking for a book like this, perhaps you’ve even wished for it – Hayden Chance has just granted you your wish. Get this book. You won’t regret it.

Reviewed by William Holden  ©  2014

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Takedown: Taming John Wesley Hardin – Dale Chase (Lethe Press)

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Lethe Press has recently queered Dracula, Edgar Allan Poe, and Sherlock Holmes, but this technique is nothing new to Western writer Dale Chase. She’s been queering legends of the Old West since her first full-length novel, Wyatt: Doc Holliday’s Account of an Intimate Friendship for Bold Strokes Books. For her second, she turns to the less well-known gunfighter John Wesley Hardin and his stay at the Huntsville Prison in Texas.

The year 1878 sees Hardin’s arrest and incarceration in Huntsville for a twenty-five year stint. Convict Garland Quick is easily smitten with the killer. When they are both assigned to work the wheelwright shop, they begin an affair–regardless of Hardin’s married status and Quick’s present relationship with his cellmate lifer Jim Scanlon. Quick is, of course, drawn into Hardin’s failed escape scheme, but this is only the beginning for the two men as they endure torture, beatings, love, anguish, hope, celebrations, and despair.

Historical accuracy aside–and Chase mentions her disregard of the facts when they get in the way of the story–this is a damn fine yarn. It has everything you need for a terrific prison tale: an evil warden, floggings, bad food, a slipshod prison doctor, and prison sex. Lots of prison sex. And Chase writes sex scenes with a refreshing frankness and clarity, using all senses to achieve her ends. More important are the reasons Chase uses for Hardin and Quick having sex. Sex is used for love, celebration, punishment, vengeance, need, boredom, reassurance, and as a mood barometer. And in many of these encounters, the why is almost as telling as the act itself.

But the sex would be meaningless without wonderful characters. Chase’s Hardin is a confident, able man given to fits of morose depression and intense guilt for having sex with Quick outside his marriage. Not encumbered by matrimony, Quick has fewer obstacles to overcome. However, his relationship with Scanlon makes for some delicious dramatic tension as it breaks up while his affair with Hardin blossoms. Quick also has some great moments as Hardin is poised to win his pardon and leave prison life behind him.

Chase’s Western settings are perfect, with a fine sense of place that gives just enough detail but doesn’t belabor the point. She paints the picture, puts the characters in their places, then gets the hell out of the way as they play their parts. Her material is never overwritten or overwrought, which is most welcome in erotica. So if you’re feeling the chill of winter, you should get a copy of this and bask in the hot, dry dust. And the sweaty sex.

You’ll never want to leave your cell.

©  2014  Jerry L. Wheeler

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A Message from Your Friendly Blogger

IM000965.JPGGood morning to my regular readers as well as those just joining me.

For the last four years, I have posted two reviews a week on this website. As you can imagine, the pace at which I have to read in order to maintain this standard is pretty demanding. And when Bill and I started this little enterprise, we both had more than enough free time.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), the demands of freelance editing as well as my own creative pursuits have seriously eroded that margin of time. I considered dropping my blog responsibilities, but the fact is that I enjoy it. I believe Out In Print provides a needed service to the LGBT lit community, and I would hate to see that go under.

For the forseeable future, I will be cutting back to one post a week on Mondays rather than two. This will enable me to cadge some breathing time for editing and writing yet still maintain the blog. Rest assured, Out in Print is not going anywhere. And if I can find some great volunteers to do the calibre of reviews you keen readers are used to, I might be able to go back to posting twice a week. Until then, look for weekly new reviews on Monday–starting tomorrow with my take on Dale Chase’s new Western, Takedown.

Thanks for all your support and kind words, and have no fear–Out in Print remains all you need to read about all you need to read.

JW

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Time Fries: Aging Gracelessly in Rehoboth Beach – Fay Jacobs (A and M Books)

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Fay Jacobs is a very funny lady. If you don’t believe me, just listen to her read once. I’ve had this privilege a number of times at Saints and Sinners in New Orleans, and she kills. Slays. Her timing is professional Borscht Belt, flawless and as dependable as the sunrise. In Time Fries: Aging Gracelessly in Rehoboth Beach, her fourth volume of columns collected from various publications, she takes on the subjects of aging and celebrating the joys of being queer, but really anything is fodder for Fay’s gentle sense of humor.

And it’s this gentleness that keeps her material classic. These columns are reminiscent of two of my favorite humorists–Erma Bombeck and Jean Kerr. They rely on shared cultural values and a sense of absurdity for their laughs instead of the mean-spirited snark that passes for humor these days. PG rated? Of course, but that doesn’t preclude its hilarity.

Like Bombeck and Kerr, Jacobs finds material in her domestic life with wife Bonnie and their two Schnauzers. From recreational vehicle trips to ziplining to getting married to meeting Angela Lansbury to the poignant passing of the aforementioned Schnauzers, Jacobs manages to find the heart at the same time she brings the funny. Having done my fair share of book readings at odd places, I can sympathize with the rural book fair she attended at the…

…Delaware Agricultural Museum, a place, as you can imagine, I had no idea even existed. It houses antique tractors, cotton gins, and all manner of rural artifacts…I arrived to discover I was to set up my display in front of the museum’s goat breed exhibit, which I found instantly hilarious and appropriate. After dragging a six-foot folding table, a lawn chair, and several book cartons from the parking lot to the door, I felt pretty much like an old goat myself. As I unpacked, I noticed I was underdressed. There were authors in full Civil War garb, writers who appeared to be dressed for a White House state dinner, and a couple of women who might have been palm readers and/or still dressed for Trick or Treat. The man next to me boasted of having published 30 different volumes about Hessian soldiers in the Revolutionary War, though his plastic spiral-bound books seemed to have been published by Kinko House.

The situation is absurd and Jacobs makes the most of it, setting her scene and working her characters like the trouper she is. This is a scene she (don’t hurt me) milks for all it’s worth, and one any writer who’s been on a book tour will understand. And although this one is particularly germane to authors, others in Time Fries are universal skewerings of aging, health care, marriage, and the eternal separateness of being queer. Information at the website indicates that this is to be the last volume in the Frying series, but that would be a shame because now, more than ever, we need a smile and not a smirk.

Thanks, Fay, for making us smile.

©  2014  Jerry L. Wheeler

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The Shoal of Time – J.M. Redmann (Bold Strokes Books)

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I love authors who surprise me, especially when I’m expecting one kind of book and am delivered quite another. Not that the award-winning J.M. Redmann has written a bad Micky Knight mystery. Somehow, I think that outcome would be quite impossible. It’s just that this one didn’t take one of the subplots the way I thought it would. And I enjoyed it all the more for the surprise.

Micky Knight, fearless New Orleans private investigtator, gets involved with an FBI agent (or is she?) and her case involving human trafficking (or is it?), all of which is complicated by her relationship with another government official also working the case (or is she?). To add to the layers, she finds herself involved with Madame Celeste, the owner of a high-class prostitution outfit. Who is the real agent and who is the phony? The answer may surprise you.

In fact, many surprises await the long time reader of Micky Knight mysteries. Perhaps the most painful, or so the Amazon reviews might lead you to believe, is the fate of Knight’s partner Cordelia. As fans of the series will remember, Cordelia was diagnosed with cancer during the last installment. I don’t want to introduce a spoiler here, so I have to remain purposely vague. This issue , however, is central to any critique of the book and series, and you can easily find any number of fans writing reviews at Amazon who were upset by the choices Redmann made about Cordelia. But data will be lost with any reboot. Readers will be angry because the author did not take the paths they envisioned. And I must admit, I was rather shocked at what happened. But the outcome frees Redmann to take the entire series in other directions which may prove more exciting. Authors don’t grow without taking chances, and I don’t blame Redmann for not wanting to write the same book over and over. In that respect, The Shoal of Time is a transitional move.

That said, Knight is left adrift in ways she hasn’t been in a long time and must rely on some skills she hasn’t used in a while. Which brings me to the second major Amazonian criticism–that of Knight’s so-called lapses in judgment that put her in some awkward positions. The “Cordelia Outcome” has left Knight confused, vulnerable, and off her game so, of course, is going to make mistakes she ordinarily wouldn’t. What I find particularly brilliant about this is that the mistakes Redmann has Knight making are so amateurish, so obvious, that we know even without being told they’re related to the tattered state of her relationship.

For a character who never makes an appearance in the entire installment (oh, shit–there’s a spoiler), Cordelia’s fingerprints are all over this book from the aforementioned mistakes to Knight’s infatuations, willing and unwilling, with all three major female characters–the two agents and Madame Celeste. Her presence looms like a shadow over the narrative. The human trafficking mystery as well as the mystery over which government agent is real and which is bogus are obvious enough to be secondary, though interesting.

The real story here is the trashing of Micky Knight’s world and how she attempts to cope with the wreckage crashing around her. As far as that goes, this is fascinating reading that will upset fans yet provide a clean slate for Redmann to build something new and entirely different. As the saying goes, “Go big or go home.” Thankfully, Redmann has gone big.

And I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.

©  2014  Jerry L. Wheeler

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