What a marvelous year for LGBT books it was. Yet again, I am taken aback by the creativity and passion of our community as well as its insistence on delivering quality stories told with panache and verve. Some were driven by character, some by plot, and others by fact and opinion–but they were all worthy of reading. Picking the ten best is always the toughest part of the year, but having an embarrassment of riches and difficult decisions is far better than scrounging for candidates. In no particular order, then, my handsome Duncan presents to you Out in Print’s Best of 2014:
Young adult gay books have exploded into the marketplace, but Mann’s Cub concentrates on teens who are not exactly in the mainstream–those inspired by scruffy companions, walks in the woods, and Greek myths instead of Beyonce and skinny jeans. That alone makes this book unique, but Jeff Mann is able to find the boy he was and puts that kid into the boys he creates, coming up with a story that charms. In many ways, this is the ultimate young adult book because it explores the possibility of being your own animal instead of following the paths carefully laid out for you. It’s a novel about taking chances and becoming who you were meant to be, and as I said in my original review, if it doesn’t become a YA classic, there’s no justice.
Speaking of taking chances, you need cojones the size of watermelons to take a sucessful series character like J.M. Redmann’s Micky Knight and do something to her you know fans of the books will be totally up in arms about. A transitional move? Sure. But, according to other Goodreads and Amazon reviews, it was one many of Redmann’s readers were unable to choke down. Whether or not it will lose her readership remains to be seen, but her bravery and willingness to reboot the series is laudable. However, that’s not the only reason to pick up this book. It’s a worthwhile addition to the Knight canon. The mystery (about girls sold into sex slavery) is interesting and serves as a great vehicle for an expansion of Knight’s character.
This homage to Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice updates the story of Aschenbach and Tadzio and exports it to California. McCabe wisely foregoes the temptation to play this for laughs, however, and gives us a darkly satirical look at youth, aging, and the attendant problems of both. Witty and slyly written, its philosophy never overreaches itself, so it stays accessible instead of becoming arch. The main difference between McCabe and Mann is that Aschenbach and Tadzio never meet, where as the analogous Jameson Frame and his paramour Chase have a torrid affair. This, for me, changed the focus from the original, but perhaps that’s what the shift was meant to do. Either way, there’s much to enjoy and be engaged by. I’ll never look at Botox the same way…
Who else but horror writer extraordinaire Lee Thomas could take a ruined pro wrestler, Irish and Italian mobsters, and a secret society of alchemists out to retreive a stolen relic and come up with something as compulsively readable as Butcher’s Road? As horrifying as the bloody scenes are, they’re never gratuitous, and Thomas’s characters are as complex as any found in Stephen King or Peter Straub. The plot is compelling and has enough twists to keep even the most jaded reader on his toes. I found myself trying to slow down and savor this, but in the end it was no use. It’s like trying to ration pistachios.
Keeping same-sex relationships together is difficult enough work considering the challenges couples face, but when one of the lesbians in question realizes she needs to transition to another gender, where does that leave the other half of the duo? Is she still a lesbian? The obvious answer is that she’s whoever she defines herself to be, but when you live in the public eye, as does the editor-in-chief of The Advocate, an easy answer isn’t always correct. Diane and Jacob Anderson-Minshall have met their challenges head on, learning and loving despite all the changes accompanying Jake’s transition. Their story is fascinating and told with humor, vulnerability, and grace. More than a memoir, it’s a study in binary gender roles. And bloody marvelous.
Peter Dube is one of my favorite authors, so he’s bound to make my short list any time he comes out with a new volume. Although I’ve read a few of these stories previously, such as his Edgar Allan Poe-inspired “Corvidae,” most of these were unfamiliar to me. Dube’s fictional forays all blend some dream-like or fantastic elements with reality until it becomes difficult to tell which are which, and these ten stories are no exception. I love his style–literate, but never oppressive or showy, and although some might find these tales dense, I find a close reading to be an extremely rewarding and enjoyable experience.
This volume is an embarrassment of riches for the beautiful and inspiring poetry, the deeply absorbing prose, and the informative articles about the publishing houses. Here you have terrific artists and businessmen like Jameson Currier, Steve Berman, Donald Weise, Felice Picano, Lawrence Schimel, Charlie Bondhus, Ian Young, Perry Brass, John Lauritsen, and Borland and Pennington themselves serving up chunks of their art along with insights about the publishing business in the beginning and now. The treat is in seeing both sides of these talented and driven individuals, giving the reader a feel for the men as well as the work they produce and publish.
Newcomer Christopher DiRaddo’s debut novel is masterfully told, full of heart and heartbreak. DiRaddo’s gift for dialogue is only matched by the clarity and directness of his prose. He also has a finely detailed sense of place and time, but he never lets either of those overwhelm the characters. The setting emerges as naturally as a sunrise. The plot is less important than character here, but what happens is not as interesting as the characters’ reactions. Indeed, this was a book I couldn’t put down because the main character drew me in and held me so totally. Universal and eminently readable, this is a first novel from an author to watch for in future.
By a long shot, Lincoln Avenue is the shortest book here. Its twelve stories clock in at just over a hundred pages, but their brevity is part of their power. Raised in Chicago, Shapiro’s prose evokes the industrial Midwest in ways that only fellow Midwesterners like myself, will truly recognize. For us, there is a whiff of reality around these pieces that adds another dimension. That doesn’t mean that coastal people won’t like it. If you come from an urban area, there’s much to remember here. Shapiro looks at that decaying landscape with a poet’s eye but spits it back at you with a serpent’s tongue. Fully realized despite its length, Lincoln Avenue is a marvelous short read that will have you thinking long after you’ve finished it.
Not your typical romance. Oh, it has the HEA ending, but the cynical intellectual hipster pose of its characters is totally blown out of the water when they succumb to emotions. Most romances tend to distance themselves from philosophy and discussion, but Hankins embraces those. That’s not to say it’s dry. In fact, it has some extremely hot sex–something I neglected to mention in the original review because I was so blown away by how well-drawn its characters are and how naturally they interact. An absolutely terrific first effort by a novelist I’ll enjoy reading even more from in the future.
And there you have it, Out in Print’s Best of 2014. I hope you order and enjoy each and every one of these. And if you do, don’t forget to tell us about it.
© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler