Tag Archives: Bywater Books

Fried & Convicted: Rehoboth Beach Uncorked – Fay Jacobs (Bywater Books)

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Fish gotta swim and Fay Jacobs gotta fry.

As relentless as her beloved Rehoboth Beach tide, Fay Jacobs rolls in with Fried & Convicted: Rehoboth Beach Uncorked, another compendium of columns from Letters from CAMP Rehoboth and Delaware Beach Life. Now allied with the fine folks at Bywater Books, Jacobs will most assuredly keep the commentary ebbing and flowing for as long as the sea repeats itself in shells. And in these days of uncertainty and upheaval, having something to depend on is important.

Jacobs’s topics are neither unique nor incendiary. They’re mundane episodes of the suburban life most of us live, no different than the domestic humor of Jean Kerr and Erma Bombeck–two columnists I’ve mentioned in the same breath with Jacobs in other reviews of her work. And just like those two writers, she’s developed her own unique brand of quiet, gentle humor. Note, however, that doesn’t mean it’s slight or even the slightest bit “less than.” Taken in sequence with her other books, her latest is an addition to the chronicles of one queer life Jacobs has been building since she came out, telling her individual story while reflecting many of our own. In that sense, she is more of an iconoclast than the quaint, elderly(ish) Jewish matron she appears to be.

That she has, once again, reinvented herself–this time as a stand-up comedian–comes as no surprise to anyone who has read her work. The laughs, the point of view, and her uncanny sense of timing are all present in the text. Her droll delivery in person only amplifies them. I’ve gotten a chance to hear Fay read a number of times, and she’s always a delight–but her performance never distracts from the material, making it all the stronger.

But beyond that, I’m always impressed by the openness and sincerity in Jacobs’s work. Whether she’s drinking martinis or ziplining (or both simultaneously), her exuberance and zest for new experiences comes through. As her work is rooted in popular culture, a certain number of columns dealing with passing fads are less successful than the others, but even those provide a bit of nostalgia for days when we had things to think about other than Donald T—p, economic disaster, and the re-marginalization of queerdom. Indeed, Jacobs’ last few columns are about T—p’s installation.

Despite the magnitude of our recent political upheaval, it’s a comfort that queer writers like Fay Jacobs will continue to find humor amidst the horrible. If you’ve never read her before, this is a perfect place to start. If you’re already a fan, you don’t need me to convince you.

JW

© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler

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The Liberators of Willow Run – Marianne K. Martin (Bywater Books)

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One of the reasons I brought this blog back to life is the political climate in our country these days. Queer writing of any sort has always been a rebellious act. Make it romantic, make it raunchy, make it strident, make it sweet, make it so beautiful that even our most vile enemies can’t hold back their tears. But make it count. And the more voices we can muster, the louder our collective cry will be. Marianne K. Martin’s latest, The Liberators of Willow Run, shouts freedom from the rooftops for the disenfranchised of all stripes.

Audrey works at the Willow Run Bomber Plant near Detroit, making B-24 bomber planes essential for victory in WWII. Rose works at a nearby restaurant, having gotten the job after a stay at the Crittenton Home for unwed mothers. Nona is a young black woman also employed at the plant, but she has a plan for her education and a career in mind. Together, they conspire to prevent Amelia, also a Crittenton resident, from returning to a less-than-desireable home situation as Audrey and Rose fall in love.

Martin draws all these plot elements together with a sure, steady hand, creating characters that live and breathe on the page. Moreover, they fight. They fight for respect at work, they fight for love, they fight for the right to do as they please with their bodies and their lives. But most importantly, they fight for each other as they risk bucking the whole white patriarchial system. They are more than cute, scrappy fighters, too. Their struggles are real in ways we are about to become all too well-acquainted with again.

But there is little, if any, polemic here. Instead, Martin serves us people—strong and indomitable, yes, but as fragile as we all can be. Audrey, in an attempt to lay bare her life to Rose, takes her to meet her former lover, Velma, confined to a nursing home as the result of a so-called “cure” for her “condition.” If I take anything away from this book, it will be this scene between these three women. It brought tears to my eyes then and does now as I write about it.

Martin also shows a mastery of suspense as Audrey and Rose concoct and carry out an improbable scheme to rescue Amelia, putting a delicious spin on the title of the book. The event and subsequent investigation by the police is taut and well-spun. And when the plant closes, and the women are again relegated to secondary roles in society, Martin has plans for them. Just as it should be.

The Liberators of Willow Run isn’t just a good read. It’s essential. It’s a primer for struggle, a reminder of what was, and a cautionary tale of what may be around the corner. Highly recommended.

JW

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Finding the Grain – Wynn Malone (Bywater Books)

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Have you ever not trusted the ending of a book? Not to say that it wasn’t credible or not in keeping with the characters as drawn, but rather the opposite. You feel you know the characters so well that as the happy ending washes over you, it’s all you can do not to scream at the half-page that ends the book, No! Don’t do it! She’ll fuck you over again!!!” That’s what I experienced with Wynn Malone’s richly detailed and absolutely sumptuous debut novel, Finding the Grain.

Orphaned by a tornado a month before her high school graduation, Augusta “Blue” Riley graduates from high school and plans for college with the help of her aunt. But while at university, Blue meets and falls in love with sorority girl Grace Lancaster. Parental pressures, however, puts the screws to their relationship and Grace bails, leaving Blue adrift. Twenty years on, after hopping from town to town, job to job, and bed to bed, Blue finally rediscovers herself and finds a career that makes her happy–building furniture. She settles down and opens up a shop, not quite over Grace but determined to put the past behind her. Until Grace shows up again. Will they fulfill their destinies? You have to wait to the last page to find out.

Well, this is a romance after all, and one of the unbreakable laws of the genre is the Happy Ever After ending. The joy is in the journey, and there’s much joy to be found here. Malone’s greatest strength is her characters. Both Blue and Grace are wonderfully drawn, absolutely believable, and frustratingly lifelike. I say frustrating because they do exactly what real people do instead of characters in books. And just when you think you have their relationship figured out, Malone throws you another curve. But such curves she throws–soft, low, and deadly.

But as true to life and Blue and Grace are, Malone shows her facility with character in other ways. Preacher, the man who mentors Blue in the art of wood carving, is a patient, wise, and talented older black man who could have easily tipped over into an offensive (or worse yet, bland) caricature. Morgan Freeman’s entire career rests on parts like this. We know just how he’ll react to her being a lesbian, how he encourages her talent, how he waits for her to prove herself, and how he comes to love Blue in his own gruff way. However, Malone injects so much detail and so much humanity into Preacher, he transcends the limitations of that stock character and lifts right off the page. Morgan Freeman should be so lucky.

But we are lucky indeed to have the fruits of Wynn Malone’s labors available. Finding the Grain is a terrific read that’s as warm, comforting, and sturdy as a well-carved piece of wood. And I’ll bet you scream at the last half-page too.

© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Out In Print’s Best 13 Reads of 2013

I came across some absolutely amazing books in 2013; volumes that uplifted me as a reader as well as encouraging me to grow as a writer if for no other reason than to produce work as funny or bittersweet or beautiful or just plain damn good as the books listed below. Well done, everyone. This list is in no particular order, but they are all excellent. If you haven’t purchased them yet, you really need to. So without further adieu, here are Out in Print’s Best Reads of 2013:

Bitter-Orange-Cover-Shadow-V6Bitter Orange – Marshall Moore (Signal 8 Press) Buy from Amazon

Moore’s story of an individual rendered literally invisible is both stunning and satisfying, being at once a cautionary tale as well as a comment on our technological civilization (if those two words aren’t contradictory). But Bitter Orange is also possessed of a paralyzing wit that seeps through the dialogue and drips onto the prose itself. Moore is at his funniest when he’s making a point, and these points are so sharp, they hurt. In a good way.

Unknown_13A Romantic Mann – Jeff Mann (Lethe Press) Buy from Lethe Press

Mann’s fiction and essays are well-represented in many Best Of lists, but I found this volume of poetry to be as deep and poignant as any of his prose. Perhaps more so. Be it his romanticism, his BDSM predilections, his love of food, or his love of men, all are on display here in a celebration of language, lust, and lore. Even if you don’t normally enjoy poetry, you might find this a winning entry point. I urge you not to pass this by, for without it, you do not have a complete understanding of this multi-faceted author.

358171Light – ‘Nathan Burgoine (Bold Strokes Books)  Buy from BSB

I loved this remarkable debut novel, from its romantic underpinnings to its superhero flair to its slightly politicized action scenes. It has winning characters, a juicy plot, a neat twist, and a real love of language and storytelling at its core. And a dog. Can’t forget the dog. I have been proud to be associated with Burgoine at nearly the inception of his career, and it continues to be my pleasure to cheer him on.

350351Fortune’s Bastard (or Love’s Pains Recounted) – Gil Cole (Chelsea Station Editions)  Buy from TLA Gay

This marvelous Shakespearian mashup (of “Twelfth Night” and “Merchant of Venice” among others) is a delight in more ways than one. It inhabits the Shakespeare idiom perfectly in terms of language as well as character and plot. It’s so damn assured that I was in awe of how totally it achieves what it sets out to do. More than a pastiche, it’s perfection.

cache_280_427_3__80_ArtonFireArt on Fire – Hilary Sloin  (Bywater Books)  Buy from Bywater Books

This fictional biography of painter Francesca deSilva is memorable not only for the story it tells, but for the essays on deSilva’s work sandwiched between chapters of her story. Those essays are as brilliantly satirical of art criticism as deSilva’s story is involving and engaging. Her art informs her life as much as her life informs her art. But even if you’re not an art critic, this wonderful book is a portrait of a fascinating life. And an untimely death.

imgresThe Dirty Trilogy – Ashley Bartlett (Bold Strokes Books)  Buy from BSB

I don’t think this is a cheat since two of the three books came out in 2013 – Dirty Sex, Dirty Money, and Dirty Power are really all of a piece. Bartlett’s POV character, Vivian Cooper (Coop, please) is a marvel–a romantic, streetwise, smart-assed heroine who will leave you laughing tears. The plot is long and convoluted, involving love, the Mob, a fortune in gold, besties, fake parents, and real heartbreak. Start with the first one and hang on, baby.

41XZwbtIirL._SY346_Conjure: A Book of Spells – Peter Dube  (Rebel Satori Press)  Buy from RSP

A grimoire, no less. Elegant, understated prose poems promising “To Strike Obstacles from Your Path and Unlock Doors” or “To Undo an Error Past” but are mystically metaphoric. In terms of difficulty, this is the most challenging book I’ve read all year. Once its secrets were unlocked, however, I found it fascinating, enthralling reading — all the more interesting for the amount of work I put in. It’s not for everyone, but those who get it will be truly affected.

17949975Thoreau in Love – John Schuyler Bishop (CreateSpace)  Buy from Amazon

An entirely successful vision of what some missing pages of Henry Thoreau’s journal might have revealed, this marvelous piece of historical fiction is told with verve and enthusiasm. It takes chances with character, liberties with history, and its readers for a lusty, dizzying ride. Bishop’s research is impeccable but barely shows, Thoreau at last coming through as a person instead of a historical figure. It captures the heart as well as the head. 

cache_280_427_3__80_giraffepeoplelargewebGiraffe People – Jill Malone (Bywater Books)  Buy from Bywater Books

Much more than a young adult novel, Jill Malone’s Giraffe People is a wonderfully voiced and nuanced look at fifteen years old. The perspective is as adult yet as childish as you remember your own life at that time. If you have forgotten what fifteen was like, you need to read this. If you remember, you’ll be as involved in Cole Peters’ life as she is. And Malone maintains this voice with remarkable consistency, never putting a foot wrong.

Where Thy Dark Eye GlancesWhere Thy Dark Eye Glances – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press)  Buy from Lethe Press

If any author’s work needed queering, it would be Edgar Allan Poe, and Steve Berman has collected a wonderful batch of take-offs, pastiches, and imitators–except none of those categories approaches the sheer originality of the stories, essays, and poems here. And the book looks as good as it reads. Lovingly produced and sumptuously written, Where Thy Dark Eye Glances is a class act that deserves your attention.

5100A Horse Named Sorrow – Trebor Healey (University of Wisconsin Press)  Buy from Amazon

Trebor Healey breaks his long silence and absence from fiction with a beautiful, elegiac road trip as Seamus Blake carries his boyfriend’s ashes back to Buffalo as he’d promised him he would. But as road trips go, he finds the journey to be more important than its end. Lyrical and sad, Healey’s prose uplifts rather than depresses. If you have ever had grief in your life, this will speak to you.

Who_the_Hell_is_Rachel_Wells_lgWho the Hell is Rachel Wells? – J.R. Greenwell (Chelsea Station Editions)  Buy from Giovanni’s Room

Eleven short stories collecting the best and worst of Southern manners and mannerisms, this collection is by turns heartbreaking and hilarious, sometimes in the same paragraph. Caricature? Well, yes. But there are characters here as well. Both subtly shaded and as outrageous as the best/worst drag ever, this batch of stories never relents in its celebration of Southern culture. Which is no contradiction in terms.

dickinstein-frontcoveronlyDickinstein: Emily Dickinson, Mad Scientist – Shannon Yarbrough (Rocking Horse Publishing)  Buy from Rocking Horse Publishing

An inspired mashup of Frankenstein and Emily Dickinson, the execution is as accomplished as the concept. By combining these two apparently disparate elements, Yarbrough illuminates both halves of the equation. Emily Dickinson wasn’t a mad scientist, of course, but Dickinstein certainly gives us the freedom to reimagine her.

And there you have them–a baker’s dozen of the most wonderful treats 2103 had to offer. Now, we begin expanding our critical waistline for 2014. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it….

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

Please note: The books included may not have necessarily been published in 2013, but read and reviewed here at Out in Print in 2013.

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The Cruel Ever After – Ellen Hart (Bywater Books)

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One of the most wonderful parts of doing a blog like this is finding out about books you never knew existed. I’ve known of Ellen Hart for a long time now and met her more than a few times, but until Bywater Books recently re-released two of her Jane Lawless mysteries, I’d never read her. After diving into The Cruel Ever After, however, I’ve become a fan who can’t wait for the next one.

Jane’s life as restauranteur and occasional detective is disrupted by her long-gone ex-husband Chester (Chess) who shows up in town “between fortunes.” But Chess and his somewhat unhinged girlfriend Irina have a get-rich-quick scheme involving antiquities looted from the Baghdad Museum. When antiquities dealers and buyers start showing up dead, Chess becomes the prime suspect.

Even though it’s part of a series, it’s definitely a standalone book. Some initial confusion regarding the ancillary characters is quickly resolved with a bit of explanation, then it’s on to the action. And action abounds here. The body count isn’t obscenely high, but the revelations and twists come thick and fast. However, nothing will prepare you for the rather shocking scene featuring Irina near the end. The blurb on the back of the book indicates it’s an Alfred Hitchcock moment, and that’s a very apt characterization. I can almost see Hitch’s camera dollying back as we see who (or what) is in the…ah, never mind. I couldn’t possibly spoil such a wonderful frisson of discovery.

Instead, I’ll talk about the characters. Jane and her friend Cordelia are absolutely marvelous–fully-developed and three-dimensional. However, Hart seems to be most interested in the quirky flaws of Chess and Irina, who threaten to steal the book away from Jane.  Hart is clearly having fun with Chess as she creates a delightful rogue with a twisted sense of priorities and an inexhaustible supply of falsehoods and half-truths. Obsessive Irina is also well-drawn and attracts your full attention when she’s on stage. You never know what she’ll do next.

As this is the first and, so far, only Hart book I’ve read, I don’t know whether or not this is a common occurance, but she keeps the tension ratcheted up until the very last page. Most mysteries will resolve themselves, then have a bit of a rest where people go back to a somewhat normal existence and mull over what they’ve learned or gotten from the case, but not this one. A central plot point isn’t resolved until the second to last page. And I loved that. No boring last chapter, no words of wisdom from the detective…just delicious tension and an unrelenting urge to read the next one. Right now.

But until it comes out, I have some catching up to do.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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