Tuesday, June 27, 2023

SPRING IN SIBERIA, a well-honed spear of a story is thrust into one's readerly guts


Red Hen Press
$18.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: 1985. Russia. As the Soviet Union disintegrates and Western capitalism spreads its grip across their land, the Morozov family finds itself consigned to the remote, icy wastes of Siberia. It is here that their only child, Alexey, is born.

A sweet and gentle schoolboy, Alexey discovers that reciting poetry learnt by heart calms his fears. That winter gales can be battled with self-invented games, and solace found through his grandmother’s rituals and potions. But when Alexey’s classmate, the son of KGB agents, confesses his love, the desire of two boys to be together clashes violently with the mad world around them.

Exploring the healing power of literature, the magic of first love, and the ways our family and homeland can save (or shatter) us, Spring in Siberia is a coming-of-age novel that, in the darkest of times, glows with hope and the yearning for freedom to be oneself—completely.


My Review
: A sweet, gentle childhood spent among adults who love him doesn't mean Alexey/Artem wasn't always made aware of how different he was from other boys. His father's mother, whose earthy peasant lifeway he came to root inside, never made anything easy but always taught him that he, and he alone, was responsible for his life by never excusing him from the work of wrestig food for his supper from the unforgiving Earth of Siberia. She taught him to accept the gift of belonging where you plant yourself with her stories of her own early life spent in the Russian west before she was sent to Siberia to care for her brother and then made her life there.

This lesson, above all, would serve the young man well: Make your own life, and thus your own happiness.

The entirety of Artem's...do pardon, Alexey's...life was spent in upheaval and dislocation as the old Soviet Union collapsed and a new old country Russia was (re)born. Being a child with a firm grounding in self-reliance, he takes the new world in his stride. I found his mother's transformation from a depressed, moping lump into a purposeful and energetic capitalist very interesting...and Alexey's trotting right along behind her, using the first money he ever earns by selling flower arrangements on a set of beautifully bound Pushkin books he sees in the local post office. It challenges this planned-economy-raised kid's willpower to save his money instead of spend it well beyond its breaking point, which everyone here should probably relate to. He sees his very first TV commercials and nothing on this wide green Earth will do but he must have some vile, neon-colored sludge to drink...much to his grandmother's appalled confusion, as he's been working with her to pick and preserve wild berries his whole life. What is suddenly so appealing about this new stuff?

In this quiet little moment in a boy's life, the entire tragedy-to-come of Russia: An old, bad system ends with nothing to replace it and a new on with inscrutable rules that aren't like the old rules confuses the bejabbers out of most people who aren't like Alexey's freshly liberated mother.

Her love for her son isn't smooth...he's mistaken for a girl a lot, is clearly a femboy, and is bullied mercilessly. Alexey's father, less successfully capitalist than his wife, is repulsed by the growing strangeness of his only child; the family disintegrates under the many stresses of the world. As Alexey enters adolescence, his isolation from his peers is ameliorated by the love of Anton, expressed in a sweet, sweet, strange and menacing scene on a balcony. Things for th young lovers go poorly, as one would expect them to, given the world's homophobia. Anton and Alexey, eventually, are driven apart by adult cruelty and hatred. How that plays out is so deeply sad, and so universally relatable, that I wanted to jump into the story and shepherd them through the hateful nastiness of small-souled bigots.

Alexey, smart as a whip and hell-bent on not being like Them, goes to university on a "red diploma"—a free pass into the higher education system. He chooses, as did Artem the Author, to train as a journalist in a country about to lose even its unfree statee-supported press. He's trained to observe from birth by being Other, so he has a clear vision of how unfair the new system is to the old system's relicts. Here, then, is the main pleasure I got from reading this sad, oft-told tale of growing up Other in a world that genuinely and utterly, in a bone-deep way, hates you for being yourself.

It's not just gay people, it's not just smart people, it's Them...whoever it is that isn't like the one hating with all their tiny soul's capacty...and every living one of us is Them to someone. Alexey realizes this in a blinding, road-to-Damascus moment in a school hallway.

Life is cruel to Others. This well-honed spear of a story is thrust into one's readerly guts. You'e never again going to look at that butch girl or that femme of a boy and think "Other" after reading this story. Artem/Alexey is a human being and, as we follow him through a rough and turbulent upbringing in a hostile world without a safety net of any material, social, or spiritual sort, we can no longer pretend that we're not all guilty of glossing over the costs of our own quiet little prejudices. Emma Goldman, social activist and poet whose lines are on the Statue of Liberty in New York's front door to the USA, said:
There is no greater fallacy than the belief that aims and purposes are one thing, while methods and tactics are another.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

June 2023's Burgoine Reviews & Pearl Rule Reviews

Author 'Nathan Burgoine posted this simple, direct method of not getting paralyzed by the prospect of having to write reviews. The Three-Sentence Review is, as he notes, very helpful and also simple to achieve. I get completely unmanned at the idea of saying something trenchant about each book I read, when there often just isn't that much to say...now I can use this structure to say what I think is the most important idea I took away from the read and not try to dig for more.

Think about using it yourselves!


Code Name: Lise: The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII's Most Highly Decorated Spy by Larry Loftis

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: The true story of the woman who became WWII's most highly decorated spy

The year is 1942, and World War II is in full swing. Odette Sansom decides to follow in her war hero father’s footsteps by becoming an SOE agent to aid Britain and her beloved homeland, France. Five failed attempts and one plane crash later, she finally lands in occupied France to begin her mission. It is here that she meets her commanding officer Captain Peter Churchill.

As they successfully complete mission after mission, Peter and Odette fall in love. All the while, they are being hunted by the cunning German secret police sergeant, Hugo Bleicher, who finally succeeds in capturing them. They are sent to Paris’s Fresnes prison, and from there to concentration camps in Germany where they are starved, beaten, and tortured. But in the face of despair, they never give up hope, their love for each other, or the whereabouts of their colleagues.

In Code Name: Lise, Larry Loftis paints a portrait of true courage, patriotism, and love—of two incredibly heroic people who endured unimaginable horrors and degradations. He seamlessly weaves together the touching romance between Odette and Peter and the thrilling cat and mouse game between them and Sergeant Bleicher.


My Review
: I like spy stories because it never ceases to fascinate me why people who obviously think they're good, solid, honest people tell themselves it's okay to lie, cheat, and steal. "The end justifies the means" said Ovid 2,000+ years ago. A very consequentialist viewpoint that I worry about promoting, since it presupposes the agent knows what "good" really is and thus empowers lowlife scum to act in the bad ways they want to act to achieve something they think is "good." Well, anyway.

This woman's life is one that, absent documentation, I'd say was a myth. If someone wrote it exactly like this as fiction, I'd snort mightily and tell 'em to rein it in and make the story believable. The author's prose is adequate to the task at hand. The reason to read the book is the story not the storytelling. For spy-story lovers it's proof that truth is still weirder than fiction. For history readers, the same. For all its fascinating turns and proofs that women lie, cheat, and steal with the same verve as men do, it fails the Bechdel Test dismally, as Odette is motivated and manipulated by LUUUV for men. Don't think she's some fempower icon, y'all. Literally everything she does is for some man or another, living or dead. My rating is based on how much fun I had reading it not necessarily on its objective merits.

It's $13.99 on Kindle (cheaper as a tree book) can be yours at the non-affiliate link.


The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music by Steve López

Rating: 3* of five

The Publisher Says: Now a major motion picture-"An intimate portrait of mental illness, of atrocious social neglect, and the struggle to resurrect a fallen prodigy." (Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down)

This is the true story of journalist Steve Lopez's discovery of Nathaniel Ayers, a former classical bass student at Julliard, playing his heart out on a two-string violin on Los Angeles' Skid Row. Deeply affected by the beauty of Ayers's music, Lopez took it upon himself to change the prodigy's life-only to find that their relationship has had a profound change on his own life.


My Review
: Having my heartstrings plucked plangently has never been my personal beau ideal for reading. Tolerable writing. The 2009 movie is actually more fun than the book because it's got Jamie Foxx in a rare dramatic turn. Robert Downey Jr. was okay as Steve Lopez. Nothing about the whole experience, film adaptation or tree book, was better than average. In the 1980s it would've been a Movie of the Week on CBS.

There's a $4.99 Kindle edition should you want to click on the non-affiliate link.


Ordinary Equality: The Fearless Women and Queer People Who Shaped the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Rights Amendment by Kate Kelly and illustrated by Nicole LaRue

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: We are all living through modern constitutional history in the making, and Ordinary Equality helps teach about the past, present, and future of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) through the lives of the bold, fearless women and queer people who have helped shape the U.S. Constitution. Ordinary Equality digs into the fascinating and little-known history of the ERA and the lives of the incredible—and often overlooked—women and queer people who have helped shape the U.S. Constitution for more than 200 years.

Based on author Kate Kelly’s acclaimed podcast of the same name, Ordinary Equality recounts a story centuries in the making. From before the Constitution was even drafted to the modern day, she examines how and why constitutional equality for women and Americans of all marginalized genders has been systematically undermined for the past 100-plus years, and then calls us all to join the current movement to put it back on the table and get it across the finish line. Kate Kelly provides a much-needed fresh perspective on the ERA for feminists of all ages, and this engaging, illustrated look at history, law, and activism is sure to inspire many to continue the fight.

Individual chapters tell the stories of Molly Brant (Koñwatsi-tsiaiéñni / Degonwadonti), Abigail Adams, Phillis Wheatley, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Alice Paul, Mary Church Terrell, Pauli Murray, Martha Wright Griffiths, Patsy Takemoto Mink, Barbara Jordan, and Pat Spearman, and features other key players and concepts, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Title IX, Danica Roem, and many more.


My Review
: Women of every age and station shouldn't need to fight for equality, it should be theirs by birthright. Sadly, that is not the case here in the US (or most other places in the world). These quick hits of informative prose illustrated quite appealingly with scenes or faces of the people profiled are a bit too short for me. I wasn't taken with the author's acid asides, either. This is a quibble, because I read the book straight (!) through and really should've browsed it bit by bit over days. Anyone needing to chuckle instead of scream at the state of our political landscape could use this as a tonic: It was ever thus, best to laugh then gird your loins for the next round.

There will always be a next round.

Gibbs Smith will vend you a paperback for $27.99 and, for an illustrated book, that's very reasonable.


This space is dedicated to Nancy Pearl's Rule of 50, or "the Pearl Rule" as I've always called it. After realizing five times in December 2021 alone that I'd already Pearl-Ruled a book I picked up on a whim, I realized how close my Half-heimer's is getting to the full-on article. Hence my decision to track my Pearls!

As she says:
People frequently ask me how many pages they should give a book before they give up on it. In response to that question, I came up with my “rule of fifty,” which is based on the shortness of time and the immensity of the world of books. If you’re fifty years of age or younger, give a book fifty pages before you decide to commit to reading it or give it up. If you’re over fifty, which is when time gets even shorter, subtract your age from 100—the result is the number of pages you should read before making your decision to stay with it or quit.

So this space will be each month's listing of Pearl-Ruled books. Earlier Pearl-Rule posts will be linked below the current month's crop.




Rating: 1* of five

The Publisher Says: Ype is a gay man living in Amsterdam with his boyfriend Nico. When asked by Nico to accompany him on a work trip to America, Ype must confront his deep fear of flying. While doing so, Ype finds he also has to come to terms with his social and sexual anxieties, his neurotic nature, and a serious case of imposter syndrome.

What follows is a moving and deeply personal story, filled with humor as well as drama—surprising, honest, and unforgettable. Ype embarks on an adventure that leads him to his ultimate fantasy: being the last person on earth. Encouraged by a sentient robot vacuum cleaner called Chupi, he finds out what it really means to be true to yourself.


My Review
I suppose there's some piracy concern or something that makes this desirable. I do not care. If I have to work this hard, only to be unable to read the file provided for my review, my review is going to be: Do not bother.

Monday, June 12, 2023

UNCLE OF THE YEAR & Other Debatable Triumphs, famous gay actor writes vignettes a la Sedaris...and succeeds at it!

UNCLE OF THE YEAR & Other Debatable Triumphs

Crown Books
$28.00 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: From the star of The Book of Mormon and Girls, candid, hilarious essays on anxiety, ambition, and the uncertain path to adulthood that ask: How will we know when we get there?

In Uncle of the Year, Andrew Rannells wonders: If he, now in his forties, has everything he’s supposed to need to be an adult—a career, property, a well-tailored suit—why does he still feel like an anxious twenty-year-old climbing his way toward solid ground? Is it because he hasn’t won a Tony, or found a husband, or had a child? And what if he doesn’t want those things? (A husband and a child, that is. He wants a Tony.) In deeply personal essays drawn from his life as well as his career on Broadway and in Hollywood, Rannells argues that we all pretend—for friends, partners, parents, and others—that we are constantly succeeding in the process known as “adulting.” But if this acting is leaving us unfulfilled, then we need new markers of time, new milestones, new expectations of what adulthood is and can be.

Along the way, Rannells navigates dating, aging, mental health, bad jobs, and much more. In his essay “Uncle of the Year,” he explores the role that children play in his life, as a man who never thought having kids was necessary or even possible—until his siblings have kids and he falls in love with a man with two of his own. In “Always Sit Next to Mark Ruffalo,” he reveals the thrills and absurdities of the awards circuit, and the desire to be recognized for one’s work. And in “Horses, Not Zebras,” he shares the piece of wisdom that helped him finally come to terms with his anxiety and perfectionism.

Filled with honest insights and a sharp wit, Uncle of the Year challenges us to take a long look at who we’re pretending to be, who we know we are, and who we want to become.


My Review
: Impostor Syndrome played for laffs. And it got them from me! What I don't always understand is how the idea of this common mental illness is so undertreated in the world of psychology, except of course among women in whom it was first identified forty-five years ago. That makes sense because it's a subtle way of (in)validating women's power.

Actor Rannells is a gay man of a certain age writing about himself and his multivalent struggles to achieve success, find love, gain self-esteem and confidence, and then Own It. If Impostor Syndrome does nothing else, it weaponzes the "virtue" of modesty to create eternal insecurity and "unworthiness" in those not inoculated against those insidious underminers of personal satisfaction and empowerment by virtue of gendered, class- and race-specific messaging. Just look around at those whose self-esteem is most on public display to get the import of this effective means of social control.

Those reflections being delivered, the story itself is a laugh-out-loud collection of short essays, the precise proper length to be read while in down-time from tasks of ordinary living...waiting in waiting rooms, between required or assigned busy-work bursts...and they deliver not simply respite from these but quietly effective food for thought. Rannells has lived an active public-facing life. His reflections on how that's worked for him, what it's cost him, where it's led him, are both completely personal and universally applicable in their outlines. (Funny how often those things go hand-in-hand, isn't it?)

What I enjoyed most about the read was how much honesty Actor Rannells brings to his gayness. He denies, hides, celebrates, and ultimately integrates his sexual and romantic focus on his own gender in a social milieu, the theatre, where it's not exactly uncommon. The process isn't direct, and is never over...gay men never stop coming out...but it's a lot less time-consuming as he ascends the career ladder with candor and humor. Aging has its good points. He's in charge of his own life and future in ways he never thought he could be as a young gay man. But the eternal struggle to believe himself actually possessed of that power, and the deservedness of that success, that is the ongoing "gift" of Impostor Syndrome, is the quiet but inescapable burden of his humorously delivered anecdotes.

I'm older than Rannells, older even than his decade-plus older partner, and I still recognize and relate to all the struggles he underagoes. I found comfort, fellowship, and fun in this read. I hope you'll take it with you to the next doctor's office or bureaucratic waiting room you go into.

Friday, June 9, 2023

THE HENRY HOKE PAGE: OPEN THROAT, how did Author Hoke think of a puma being queer?! & STICKER, queer boyhood through the lens of stickers


$25.00 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: In elegiac prose woven with humor, imagination, sensuality, and tragedy, Henry Hoke’s Open Throat is a marvel of storytelling, a universal journey through a wondrous and menacing world told by a lovable mountain lion.

A queer and dangerously hungry mountain lion lives in the drought-devastated land under the Hollywood sign. Lonely and fascinated by humanity’s foibles, the lion spends their days protecting the welfare of a nearby homeless encampment, observing obnoxious hikers complain about their trauma, and, in quiet moments, grappling with the complexities of their gender identity, memories of a vicious father, and the indignities of sentience. “I have so much language in my brain,” our lion says, “and nowhere to put it.”

When a man-made fire engulfs the encampment, the lion is forced from the hills down into the city the hikers call “ellay.” As the lion confronts a carousel of temptations and threats, they take us on a tour that spans the cruel inequalities of Los Angeles and the toll of climate grief, while scrambling to avoid earthquakes, floods, and the noise of their own conflicted psyche. But even when salvation finally seems within reach, they are forced to face down the ultimate question: Do they want to eat a person, or become one?

In elegiac prose woven with humor, imagination, sensuality, and tragedy, Henry Hoke’s Open Throat is a marvel of storytelling, a universal journey through a wondrous and menacing world told by a lovable mountain lion. Both feral and vulnerable, profound and playful, Open Throat is a star-making novel that brings mythmaking to real life.


My Review
: From the off, I wasn't sure about this...how did Author Hoke think of a puma being queer?! What kind of twee nonsense is a whole novel told from the point of view, nay, in the voice of, an animal going to be?!

Oh me of little faith.

What dazzles and delights me about this read is the meditations on being and becoming a sentient individual in the shadow of trauma and persecution, being and becoming an existential threat to creatures you're not able quite to emulate but whose world you inhabit. It's never about you, the fear and the anger; it's about what They bring with them into the tiny corner of space They condescend to allow you to roam in so long as you don't transgress Their amorphous, undefined boundaries.

Oh wait...that's pretty much a perfect summation of being queer in the cishet world.

Right there came my happiest moment in this read. I felt so exactly in tune with this puma. I felt so completely free to be in his head, and to enjoy his meditations on what the hell it is humans think they're doing. It's not quite what our lion thinks it is, of course, but he's a savvy old survivor with very keen senses...so he's often Right even when he's factually incorrect.

Of course, I'm tiresomely wedded to certain perceptual filters, and kept jumping a little in my seat when the cat would describe, eg, cars as being metal objects...what's a cat know about metal, my ill-tempered filing elf who lives in my brain rent-free and refuses to come up with words and/or data when I want them but freely kibitzes on minor points of fantasy in excellent reads, wanted to know. The cat who knows about metal should also know what a lighter is, and call it by name. Irritating damned elf needs to get a grip on what its actual job desciption requires.

So no five full stars. If fantasy is to work, it needs to make internal sense and be consistent in its fantastical dimensions...see Chouette for a similarly batshit crazy idea that works on this specific level better than Open Throat does.

But don't think for a second I am warning you off this short, concentrated, pithy read. I am not. I am waving my arms at you to get you to join me over here in the scrubby, hot, dry edgeland with this wonderful old cat as his world, never safe, takes on another configuration of threat.

He and I? We're hangin' as we await some kind of ending. Whatever we once thought we were doing, it's no longer what They want us to. And there's a pont in life where the reality of the exercise reveals itself in blinding bright light and inarguable simplicity. It's very much a before-and-after moment in one's life.

“I’m old because I’m not dead.”



Bloomsbury USA
$14.95 trade paper

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Object Lessons is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things.

Stickers adorn our first memories, dot our notebooks and our walls, are stuck annoyingly on fruit, and accompany us into adulthood to announce our beliefs from car bumpers. They hold surprising power in their ability to define and provoke, and hold a strange steadfast presence in our age of fading physical media. Henry Hoke employs a constellation of stickers to explore queer boyhood, parental disability, and ancestral violence.

A memoir in 20 stickers, Sticker is set against the backdrop of the encroaching neo-fascist presence in Hoke's hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, which results in the fatal terrorist attack of August 12th and its national aftermath.

Object Lessons is published in partnership with an essay series in The Atlantic.


My Review
: Twenty little meditative essays inspired by a ubiquitous part of 1980s and 1990s childhoods: Stickers. (GAWD how I hated the damned things. "Easy release" my lily-white one! I was still finding them on the undersides of chairs and backs of paintings in 2010.)

Author Hoke shines in these quick hits of memory, bringing the reader back into his world as it was and thinking about his various challenges...disabled mother in a wheelchair, absent father, being queer in Charlottesville, Virginia...and the roots his white self has in the South, with all the freight that implies.

He reckons with comparatively large parts of his ancestral racism; he states that, with all its contradictions, he intends this read to make his identity "...a little more tangible." Without being acquainted with the gentleman, I feel that I have a picture of him as a person that would never be obtainable through any more rigorous, structured look at what makes a person into the unique self they are. No, it's not autobiography, or even memoir, it's that rare thing : The reflective essay, the thoughtful, loosely organized look into the back corners of the closets and the darker recesses of the attic for the bright, shiny things once delighted in and now gathering patina and dust in unused parts of one's mind

I enjoyed myself as I wandered around with Author Hoke as he showed me his once-prized gewgaws and knick-knacks. Join us for a good old wander.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

A VERY GAY BOOK: An Inaccurate Resource for Gay Scholars

A VERY GAY BOOK: An Inaccurate Resource for Gay Scholars

Andrews McMeel
$30.00 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: From the creators of @verygaypaint, the immensely popular comedy design brand, A VERY GAY BOOK paints a cheeky and satirical portrait of the world where everything—from sports to science to soup—is gay.

Trees are gay. It’s why their branches brush up against each other so softly. Right-handed people are gay because that’s the first hand you use when you do the Macarena. Left-handed people are also gay. Magnets. Palindromes. All gay. A satirical textbook—including sections on history and heroes, customs and traditions—celebrating a very gay world, A Very Gay Book is an invitation to revel in the (both real and absurdly fictional) iconic successes of the LGBTQ+ community.


My Review
: I don't know if everyone will "get" this very, very gay duo's sense of humor. Here's their pinned tweet from their Twitter account:
Very Gay Paint Retweeted
Nic Scheppard @Nicschepp

Gay porn is so obsessed with guys being broke. I can’t see a financially-stable stud get wrecked?? The system is so broken.
10:16 PM · Aug 4, 2022

I myownself about had an aneurysm from laughing at that. Follow the links! These guys are hilarious!

Like all humor, it's not universal...the French still think Jerry Lewis is a scream, and the Brits and Aussies love them some men in drag, among other utterly inexplicable tastes...and it's unwise to read the hole thing straight through. Humor is like Aperol spritzes or Negronis...one or two, delicious...more than that gets yucky.

I doubt this would be anywhere near as hilarious to someone straight, but I sure as heck don't understand that much about why humor even works.

A lot of the humor in here is barbed, so be aware that you're not necessarily going to be comfortable with the things they're taking aim at:
It's really up to the individual to decide how much is too much at one sitting, but I really hope some of y'all will try this truly howl-worthy collection of rude, thought-provoking, not-always-truthful snippets of prose this Pride Month.

I know I laughed!

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

FATAL SHADOWS, twenty years of hooking in new readers


Just Joshin'
$5.99 ebook editions, available now

Rating: 4* of five, with minor reservations

The Publisher Says: One sunny morning Los Angeles bookseller and aspiring mystery author Adrien English opens his front door to murder. His old high school buddy (and employee) has been found stabbed to death in a back alley following a loud and very public argument with Adrien the previous evening.

Naturally the cops want to ask Adrien a few questions; they are none too impressed with his answers, and when a few hours later someone breaks into Adrien's shop and ransacks it, the law is inclined to think Adrien is trying to divert suspicion from himself.

Adrien knows better. Adrien knows he is next on the killer's list.


My Review
: This groundbreaking series started in 2000 at the late, very lamented Gay Men's Press, when there was a great deal less M/M fiction around.

In a lot of ways, that fact explains the unquestioning acceptance of the M/M audience of Jake's waffling about Adrien, for whom he clearly has a lot of feelings...even if he doesn't want to come right out and say so for quite a long time. This approach/avoidance dynamic doesn't play the same way it did in 2000. We'd probably call it "queerbaiting" today, and it really makes me personally feel squirmy, but I totally grandfather this book in under the "the past is a foreign country" rubric. I don't think being lenient with an artifact of a bygone era is always a mistake; more especially so when it's something as influntial as this book and series were in that barely-rememberable time.

I confess that, had the prose been less fun to read, I might be harsher. Author Lanyon is justly celebrated for her skill with dialogue. Funny when that's what the story needs:
“Just shut up and listen.”

“Well, since you ask so nicely...”

There was silence. I listened. He didn’t say anything.

“Are we communicating through the Psychic Hotline or what?”
“Drink your coffee—people in Africa are sleeping.”

...quietly intense in other moods:
I dug out the powder blue cashmere cardigan my mother Lisa gave me the Christmas before last, pulled on my oldest, softest Levi’s. Comfort clothes; the next best thing to a hug from a warm, living body. Lately there had been a shortage of hugs in my life. Lately there had been a shortage of warm, living bodies.
“Everything a gay man does makes a political statement. Everything matters: where you bank, where you shop, where you eat. When you hold your lover’s hand in public.”

Some verities are eternal, or so it seems....

What the reader gets by turning on this time machine is a hit of funny, a soupçon of sexy, a helping of gay awakening, wrapped in a pretty darn interesting mystery. I would have LOVED to see this as a TV series in the Aughties or the Teens; now, I just don't think it'd play that well. Not that I wouldn't sample it! But my hopes wouldn't be high.

The price of experiencing things after their time. Still, a very worthwhile read indeed.

Monday, June 5, 2023

PEDRO & DANIEL, when home is not The Safe Place it should be

(illus. Julie Kwon)
Levine Querido
$19.99 hardcover, available 20 June 2023

Rating: 4* of five, doubtless the full five or even more for its target audience

The Publisher Says: Pedro and Daniel are Mexican American brothers growing up in 1970s Ohio. Their mother resents that Pedro is a spitting image of their darker-skinned father; that Daniel likes dolls; that neither boy plays sports. Both are gay and neurodivergent. They are alike, but they are dissimilar in their struggles, their dreams, their approach to life.

Pedro & Daniel is a sweeping and deeply personal novel that spans from childhood, through their teen years, and into adulthood. Theirs is a bond that won’t be broken. Together they endure an abusive home life, coming out, first loves, first jobs, and the AIDS pandemic, in a coming-of-age story unlike any other.

Despite everything, there is much joy in the stories in the book. Their resilience and special bond help the boys face one evil after another. While Pedro suffers more at home, Daniel is particularly susceptible to the malevolence of the outside world.

They are similar: gay, neurodivergent Latinos in love with all things Mexico.

Son tal para cual.
They are cut from the same cloth.

They are different: Pedro is darker-skinned, oppressed, repressed, introverted, and agnostic. Daniel is precocious, carefree, mischievous, religious, and unguarded.

Mismo perro, distinto collar.
Same dog, different collar.

CW: References to domestic violence, child abuse, homophobia, colorism, racism, clergy abuse, suicidality, sex, and death.


My Review
: The survivor always writes the history. Pedro, the in-book pseudonym for Dr. Federico Erebia, a retired physician, who is also an artist, a woodworker, an author, and an illustrator, here tells the story of the horrifying, abusive family life led by himself and his late brother Daniel. Their boyhood having roughly coincided with my own, and their immigrant parents being much like the immigrant parents I knew in South Texas, the dichos and the interspersed poetry with prose, the cultural touchstones were all bone-deep familiar. What added to my sense of coming home was the young men's comings-out, internal and public, between themselves quietly and subtly; being gay in a deeply religious and brutally homophobic culture, during the peak terror of the AIDS crisis, only added to my anxious sense of identification with them.

What makes this story ideal for its youthful intended market is the absolute honesty and clarity of Author Erebia's prose; he couldn't tell a lie in these words, or even invent too much, because the ring of truth is absent when he does. He also never softens any blow, or pretends what hurt wasn't that bad, or helped grow him up, as other authos have in pursuing similar themes. He never takes the tack that it will all turn out okay; his belovèd brother dies of AIDS.

Love does not conquer all. What Love does is help one bear all that misery hateful bigots heap on you from before you know why they hate you. This is honest and it is helpful to young people to be told the truth. Things can hurt so bad in the moment that no one is surprised that you would consider ending your life. No one who's experienced hatred and rejection, however it's presented, is at all ever going to judge you for that. I do enjoy a story that tells young gay boys and girls all that, as well as implicitly supports the knowledge of no you aren't imagining it; yes, they do mean it; but crucially importantly you can and are wanted by others you haven't met to survive all of it. This story says loud and clear the truth: IT DOES GET BETTER.

Why I only rated it 4 stars of five is I found myself almost chanting the metrical dichos and poetic snippets, in that read-aloud to infants cadence. I don't enjoy that sensation. It's not aimed at me, so I present this as a reason, not an excuse. Others have other ideas about this facet of storytelling, and it works in the rap/hiphop/modern spoken word generation a treat. For me and those of my tastes, exercise caution in your consumption.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

SOMETIMES YOU JUST KNOW, age-gap found-family gay male romance


Self-published (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$4.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Can a thirty-year-old man overcome his fears and find love? Arnie Violet is the son of an alcoholic mother and a father who abandoned him at the age of ten. Believing himself unlovable, he lacks self-confidence in everything from work to romance. Then, Arnie meets eighteen-year-old Peter Jordan. Peter is the opposite of Arnie: self-assured, frank, and assertive.

There is an instant attraction between them, but warning bells sound in Arnie’s head. His relationships never last long, there is a major age difference between the two men, and most importantly, Peter is his boss’s nephew. With the help of a new friend, Arnie embarks on a journey of self-discovery and learns to let go of the past and lean into life.


My Review
: The synopsis is very precise and on-point, so we go into this read with a clear roadmap of the journey. It's not suspenseful...it is compelling to me, whose experiences of life are very close to Arnie's minus the maternal alcoholism. Abandoned by a father whose selfishness was complete? Check! Emotionally abused by a codependent mentally ill mother? Check! Involved in an age-gap romance? Check!

I know from reading the author's bio that he's telling us a story rooted in his own gay-male experience. This comes through in many facets of Arnie's story, and none more clearly than the opening scene where Arnie is raked over the coals by his supervisor, Rachel, not for the first or even tenth time, in the cruelest and most belittling way. This sets the tone for the read: Arnie in an awful and humiliating position, painfully unable to defend or extract himself from it.

As the narration is all third-person limited, we're privy to all the ways the action mirrors his past abuse. It can feel a bit repetitive, but it definitely sets the stakes. This is a man with a huge hill to climb just to get up to "bad." When glimmerings of good things come to him, if he even recognizes them, he's immediately on the alert for the fuckening. This being a romantic story, we know this is what we're here to watch him triumph over.

And do that he does...he's handed a dinner invitation by his boss hot on the heels of his very public humiliation by Rachel, and of course is all set for it to turn into a fiasco...especially when he meets the boss's handsome, sparkling dominant nephew. Who is all of eighteen. And beautiful.

And interested in thirty-year-old Arnie.

That CAN'T be right.

What follows is the journey to self-acceptance and to learning about accepting acceptance. Arnie is, at long last, among people who want to be with him. That's an intoxicating feeling to someone not accustomed to it. Arnie blossoms into a happy, still-nebbishy middle-aged guy. I'd've been a lot less kind if he'd suddenly changed completely, but he's a better-adjusted version of himself at the end of the book—not someone suddenly tured into a confident, self-motivated dudebro.

I liked this read just fine, and appreciated its positive resolution that stayed within realistic outcomes. A lot of guys could identify with nebbishy Arnie Violet. His trajectory, while pat (as expected in this genre), is never incredible. It's a warm comforting thing to see this ordinary no one much get to live out his happy dream.

No matter how banal the dream may be.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

BEST MEN, gay-male romcom light on rom but very well supplied with com!


Berkley Books
$17.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: When two best men in a wedding party fall for each other, they realize love isn't a piece of cake in this hilarious and heartfelt romantic comedy debut by screenwriter Sidney Karger.

Max Moody thought he had everything figured out. He's trying to live his best life in New York City and has the best friend a gay guy could ask for: Paige. She and Max grew up next door to each other in the suburbs of Chicago. She can light up any party. She finishes his sentences. She's always a reliable splunch (they don't like to use the word brunch) partner. But then Max's whole world is turned upside down when Paige suddenly announces some huge news: she's engaged and wants Max to be her man of honor. Max was always the romantic one who imagined he would get married before the unpredictable Paige and is shocked to hear she's ready to settle down. But it turns out there's not just one new man in Paige's life--there are two.

There's the groom, Austin, who's a perfectly nice guy. Then there's his charming, fun and ridiculously handsome gay younger brother, Chasten, who is Austin's best man. As Paige's wedding draws closer, Max, the introverted Midwesterner, and Chasten, the social butterfly East Coaster, realize they're like oil and water. Yet they still have to figure out how to coexist in Paige's life while not making her wedding festivities all about them. But can the tiny romantic spark between these two very different guys transform their best man supporting roles into the leading best men in each other's lives?


My Review
: Max, 35, is Old. He tells us so himself. As I am damn near twice that age, I got right tired of hearing that nonsense. Max has a disastrous love-life. Max has one friend, Paige, for most of his life, and she is what I would call a collector: someone who gets a lot of people into her orbit and then keeps them there without paying a lot of attention to them. Max himself points this up by mentioning their friendship habit of going to a specific diner and Paige does the same trick of focusing all attention on herself with even the waitstaff...who, like Paige, basically ignore Max.

I am familiar with this kind of "friendship." It happens to a lot of gay guys I know, not the best-looking, not the most outgoing, but who still crave affection and settle for this dark twin of it because it's obvious that the friend is doing them a favor. It's so pervasive in Max's life that he has a friends-with-benefits deal going with his ex...who literally makes the booty call and then tells Max he just needed to get off before his date with the new guy in his life so he wouldn't come across as too sexually demanding!

It's all Max knows, being second-best, so he rolls with witty sarcasm as his defense mechanism. There are lists and texts and all sorts of not-story documents larded in to this too-long but very relatable story of modern friendship among the generation where gay is just a thing you are. These are the people who piss off the old white men who wear traitorous flags to show what patriots they are the most. It's not important that anyone is gay until Paige gets among the older people she needs to make herself different from.

I liked the snark, I liked the honesty about Max's Paige-provided employment and its soul-sucking banal cruelty...which Max is a big part of delivering!...and I liked the scene on Fire Island with Max as the very, very obvious fish out of water. I got no chemistry to explain why Max and Chasten were into each other, it seemed to take forever before anything happened and then it was as though they'd never been at odds or felt aggrieved by the other's presence in Paige's court of admirers. Shall we say there's no real tension resolved and be as discreet as Max himself is about details of his more lurid energies. The narrative is all-Max all the time and for over 300 pages it's a kind of strange thing that we never once see anything but the barest surfaces of Max's responses to anyone.

Self-loathing ≠ introspection.

I'd've preferred a shorter version of the story, or more delving into the real feelings behind Max's witty, bitchy narration. It's okay as a com, but the rom part left me wondering what more there was to all these characters. What makes the read fun is the snark; what needed moe thought was the length. I'll be on the lookout for Author Karger's next book with high hopes.

Thursday, June 1, 2023



Three Rooms Press
$14.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: A roving female gang of fun-loving rebel bikers, street racers, and bandits led by Robin agree to give back to queer girls in need of help in this stunning modern reimagining of the Robin Hood legend.

Robin and her four Misfits—Little John, White Rabbit, Daisy Chain, and Skillet—have run away from their families in order to live off the grid on their own terms. For a while, they’re hidden, safe, and happy as they commit petty crimes that provide enough to get by. All that matters is keeping their small clan alive. Then, one mission proposed by an unfriendly associate from their past reminds them of their former lives and motivates the group to a new purpose. The five Misfits develop into a league of strong individuals united by a fresh goal: do whatever it takes to help queer girls rise above oppressive laws and attitudes.

Kelly Ann Jacobson, the author of the award-winning LGBTQ+ young adult novel Tink and Wendy, is back with another diverse twist on a popular legend.


My Review
: I love Daisy Chain the best because her sibylline utterings aren't remotely clear to her listeners, fellow very young women, except by accident; or, I suspect, by her deeply sneaky inner sibyl wishing to make clear messages only occasionally.

The Prologue, by its nature, is a giant spoiler. Even I, deeply indifferent to spoilers, thought as we then moved back in time for the bulk of the novel, "what's suspenseful now that I know what I know?"

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

In that Daisy Chain-uttered Shakespearean truism, laddies and gentlewomen, lies the essential truth of this book. Every runaway runs out of steam at last. All lies are signposts aimed directly at the truth. And when eternal runaway Daisy Chain at long last finds herself, she then finds the greatly belovèd carved-granite mass that is Robin right where she left her.

So that Prologue? What does it spoil? Does knowing where mean how has no value? Or is "Don't waste your love on somebody who doesn't value it" more than one lie told in one sentence? That hand is always pointing its curled fingers directly at the truth of love never being wasted because it is valued...if, perhaps, differently than one would ask for it to be...but still valued.

What's on offer here is this: A story designed to be eaten up by young, questioning women in search of Identities in a world awash with given, never chosen, names. It's going to offer those young women snow chains for the tires on the unchosen, unsuitable dune-buggy that in their ill-suited design keep slipping on the glaciers where they inexplicably find themselves. This story can be their Nottingham of the spirit while their bodies work out how to steer their unstable, utterly unreliable transportation on to as-yet-unseen safer paths.

Highly recommended for those young women among your graduating family who could use a nudge to become Robin Hood not the Pretty, prized-but-powerless Maid Marian.



Three Rooms Press
$14.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: What happens when Tinker Bell is in love with both Peter Pan and Wendy? In this sparkling re-imagining of Peter Pan, Peter and Wendy’s granddaughter Hope Darling finds the reclusive Tinker Bell squatting at the Darling mansion in order to care for the graves of her two lost friends after a love triangle gone awry. As Hope wins the fairy’s trust, Tink tells her the truth about Wendy and Peter—and her own role in their ultimate fate. Told in three alternating perspectives—past, present, and excerpts from a book called Neverland: A History written by Tink’s own fairy godmother—this queer adaptation is for anyone who has ever wondered if there might have been more to the story of Tinker Bell and the rest of the Peter Pan legend.


My Review
: Never for a moment have I believed that the story of Peter Pan and Wendy and the Lost Boys was sweet and Innocent and all on the up-and-up. There is a seedy adult-mediated sexuality in the whole concept of the story. The Lost Boys and Peter trapped in that eternal tween-age: where parents can comfortably if mendaciously Not Know that their kids are steadily, stealthily beginning the sad journey into adolescent sexual awakening. They're busily putting together hints and clues, and feeling weird new things without possessing words to explain them yet. Wendy, here as always the odd creature out, has a body the Boy and his boys don't know inside out already. She has a mind they can't fathom and she can't explain, because who can explain how they are built different from you? And because no one really talks to kids about what they want to know regarding sex and sexuality, parents keep giving kids the original deeply subversive story about the tragedy that befalls the innocent when Innocence is finally and forever lost. Never mind that the kids don't want this Innocence we're determined to protect in them. Having no idea of what Innocence means, the Innocent can't wait to get rid of it.

"It's harmless," goes the reassuring hiss of the lying snake within the well-meaning adult. "After all, it's got a tiny fairy standing between them, so Nothing Can Happen."

That's what this book is about: what happens when the tiny fairy, sick of being Between too many things and having no ground of her own, takes her rightful place in the action. As seasoned readers we know that's the starting gun for tragedy to unfold. This book is about the price that loving one, being in love with the other, exacts on the lover. Also what terrors there lurk within the armor-plated ignorance of being the belovèd. This story rips the dishonesty off the older story of wanting to keep your cake but eat it too...that evergreen source of unhappy resolutions to love triangles. Teach them young that there is no frictionless way to be in love: If you care enough to make it count, like Tink does, you will suffer most when your belovèd suffers. Teach them before they create disaster by refusing to choose, by declining to believe they can, they truly can! have happiness if they bravely reach out for it. It's better done like this than the Innocence-celebrating original.

These readers come away clear about what prolonging Innocence costs. What they probably don't—maybe eevn shouldn't yet— see is the pale and semi-conscious illness-ridden compromised and dishonest simulacrum that will, like here in this story, become the best you can have if you waver betwixt and between, refusing to make a choice.

As stories for youths go, this one is honest, well-told, and contains what looks like a happy ending that is, in fact, a dire warning. I'd time-travel to give this morally complex, intellectually serious retelling of a deeply problematic story told by a very sketchy source I wouldn't let near anyone under twenty-five to every teen I knew when I was one myself.