Showing posts with label 2AABCGHILOPQSTU. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2AABCGHILOPQSTU. Show all posts

Friday, December 2, 2016

Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

Rating: WARTY!

This book was obnoxious, and I DNF'd it about a third of the way through it, because the main character, Logan, was totally ridiculous. If I'd known that Kirkus Reviews liked it, I would have avoided it like the plague. I don't think Kirkus ever met a book it didn't adore, so those reviews are utterly meaningless. If I'd known it had won an award, I would likewise have shunned it. Books which win medals and awards rarely meet my approval. They're far too pretentious and "literary" for my taste. This one wasn't really either, but it was still a disaster, well worthy of some literary medal or award. I'm unlikely to ever be offered one, but I promise you if I ever am, I shall flatly refuse it.

If this novel had been published thirty years ago, then some of it might have made a little sense (but still have been unforgivable), but to publish in 2009 and take the trope route main character Logan Witherspoon "just didn't know" is farcical. Any author who does this these days is clueless. The term 'gender dysphoria' was coined in the early seventies and while it took it's time entering the lexicon, other terms applicable to this situation were in wide use. Even people living in podunk towns know something of the LGBTQIA community, so Logan's extreme ignorance was a joke, and not even a funny one.

At any time there are always plenty of jerks and dicks who aren't fit to be anywhere near, let alone in the company of, the LGBTQIA community, but allowing this, Logan's complete ignorance about the topic simply wasn't believable. His 'extreme prejudice' reaction when he learned how Sage came to be the person she is was just plain stupid. It's not possible for the character we had been introduced to at the beginning of the novel to have become that extreme so precipitately by a third the way in, and even if we swallow his ejaculations for what they were, then it's simply not possible to believe that he could ever have erected himself from the sad depths in which he'd so comfortably wallowed. Logan was a dick, and that's all there is to him.

He was also a manic depressive going from high to low at a speed too fast to measure accurately with the technology we have today. Everything was extremes for him, and his behavior was entirely ridiculous and quite literally not credible. The way he behaved towards Sage was obnoxious, and his constant 'I' this and 'me' that made him seem even more self-obsessed and inflated than he would have been in third person. It was depressing to listen to his constant juvenile whining in an audiobook read by Kirby Heyborne, whose voice was way too John Green for my taste, which made the novel even worse.

Sage Hendricks wasn't much better, frankly. It's perfectly understandable that she'd be nervous at best and terrified at worst of her secret getting out, and to her credit she does try to steer Logan away from it, but at the same time, instead of adhering to their agreement to be friends, she proves something of a tease, and definitely leads him on. In some ways I can understand her behavior, but in other ways, it was inexcusable.

On the one hand, you have to allow that it's her business and no one else's, and if he truly cares for her he should accept her for whoever she is, but on the other, we don't yet live in a society where a mtf transgendered person is the equivalent of a biological female. Apart from the issue of pure acceptance (by society as well as by any given individual), there's also the issue of why people form relationships, and one reason is to have children. Clearly (until our medical profession advances dramatically), it's problematical to enter into a relationship with a guy when he doesn't have all the facts at his disposal. there are biological females who cannot have children either, so this situation is no different. If a couple are getting serious, then it's important to be completely honest with each other about what can be expected.

That said, this was another high school story and I cannot take high-school romance stories seriously for the most part. Or any YA romance for that matter. Very few of them are remotely realistic and most are so badly-written as to be a sorry joke. While there are some people in that age range who are commendably mature and who can realistically enter into a serious relationship with a reasonable expectation of it working out in the long term, most people the age of Sage are not sage and those like Logan are hollow at best and clueless at worst.

The rather tired premise for this story is really ripped off from Romeo and Juliet. Logan is pining over his lost love Rosaline, er Brenda (Brenda, really?), but then is suddenly overcome by his lust for new girls Sage. Admittedly, she plays a lot harder to get than does Juliet, whose morals I've always suspected, quite frankly. In this case, he's the Capulet and she's the mountebank. When she finally comes clean and reveals that she started out life with a Y chromosome in place of the other X, his reaction is laughable. The fact that he does take off like this, thinking the most horrid things about her, almost punching her, and using the most unforgivable names about her made me only realize that even if he were to come around later to her point of view, it would be such a pile of fiction that it wouldn't be worth the reading. That's when I gave up on this worthless piece of pretentious (I changed my mind!) trash of a book. And what's with the frigging title? Almost Perfect? Not by a long chromosome. And what's the betting that the cover model isn't remotely transgender?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Rating: WORTHY!

If I Was Your Girl is a novel about a mtf transgender character, written by a mtf author, and amazingly featuring a mtf cover model, Kira Conley. Now there's a trifecta. Normally I pay little attention to the cover because they're all glitz and no substance, and they have nothing to do with the writing or the author unless she or he self-publishes, but in this case I have to shout-out for the model, and the photographer, and the publisher! Way. To. Go!

The novel tells the story of a teenage boy Andrew's decidedly bumpy transition to a teenage girl coolly named Amanda Hardy. There is a lot of controversy over the author who (as Travis Lee Stroud) was accused of rape and abuse by his partner. I was aware of none of this when reading (actually listening to since this was audio) the novel, and at the time of posting this, I am not aware of any judgment on those charges, so for me the author remains innocent until proven guilty.

Let's not forget either, as many seem to have, that even guilty people can change! The author's note at the end of this book - read in her own voice on the audio book - would seem to suggest she's not as bad as she's been painted in some quarters, and also offers a slightly mitigating perspective if these accusation are true. Besides all that though, my reviews are about writing, and about whether a read is worth my time or not, and based on these precepts, this review goes ahead as planned! To do less would be to refuse to read or review, for example, Mein Kampf because Hitler was a psychopath, or any other such book. The US, it seems, thrives on worshiping books written by bad people while ignoring too many of those written by saints, but since this was a library audiobook, I don't have to worry if my money went to the wrong person!

Amanda is, in true YA trope tradition, the new girl in school. She's nervous, with her transgender secret and having been abused in her/his previous existence, which accounts for a lot of her current personality traits. All she wants to do is get through her senior year quietly, graduate, and get out of the south altogether. She fails in this endeavor (at least by the time the book ends) because she falls for Grant, one of the jocks on the school team. Here's where my first problem came along, and it wasn't because high school romances are largely juvenile and meaningless.

Sometimes a person does end up marrying their "high school sweetheart" but such cases are rare because a person that young can't typically make intelligent choices with something which will so intimately affect their life, and the sad thing is that they do not realize it! No, the problem was that Amanda doesn't appear too smart. She rejects her own best advice about not getting involved, and she welcomes the attention from Grant.

They start dating, despite Grant throwing-out warning signals because of his unexpected and unpredictable coldness at times towards her. Worse than this though, is that she tells him nothing of her history. To me, this was a betrayal of someone she supposedly was developing strong feelings about, but that wasn't the biggest problem. You can argue, for example, that he had a right to know that she cannot have children, but the problem here was not what her history was, but what has the potential to happen if she isn't straight with him from the start. And yes, she's straight, she's not gay! Gender and sexuality have nothing to do with one another! She never seems to think for a minute that this southern boy might react negatively to what she has to reveal or that others might treat him differently when they discover he's dating someone who was not born a biological female. That seemed selfish to me.

The story is written in a way that makes her father out to be a hero, and there are some tear-jerk moments here, but the fact that he hits a kid - a full on punch in the face, too - is what turned me right off him. He didn't even hit the right kid, which would still not have reprieved him, but it was also the circumstances of the punch which made me feel this could have been written better. Amanda was there before it happened and the most natural thing in the world is to yell "Dad, it wasn't him!" but she never does this, and that, to me felt completely unrealistic. This is one reason I didn't quite buy her dad's complete turn-around at the end of the book. It felt false.

But I'm no more judging the book on one or two events in it than I'd judge an author on one negative report no matter how much currency it's garnered for itself, so overall I consider this book a worthy read, and for me one of the best features about it was the audio version read by the talented Samia Mounts (who I understand is also a member of the LGBTQIA community! Quadfecta!). She did a spot-on job of delivering this story and made it all the more listenable. I recommend it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Trans-Sister Radio by Chris Bohjalian

Rating: WARTY!

This is the second of a disappointing pair of transgender books I'm reviewing today, both written by guys named Chris! This one was an audiobook, which for me is more experimental and therefore more likely to fail. This one sounded really promising, but in the end it turned out to be boring, slow-moving like you wouldn't believe, and with apparently no intention of ever going anywhere.

The attraction of this story for me was of the same variety that moved me to write Tears in Time which I published earlier this year. Is this love lost? If so, can you find it? If you find it will you recognize it? If you recognize it, what will you do about it?

Allison Banks, divorced and in her forties, finds herself attracted to Dana Stevens. The cover blurb says, "develops a crush on" like she's some teen-aged fluff-head, but I don't blame the author for the sheer incompetence and rank stupidity of book blurb writers! Not unless they self-publish! What Allison doesn't know, and doesn't learn right away is that Dana is a transgender male to female, about to start on that painful and lengthy journey. She's attracted to Allison, too, but she can't stay male. When she transitions, what is going to happen to their relationship? I thought this was a choice topic for a novel, but the execution of it failed for me.

One big mistake writers make is laziness. Make a girl a book-reader and she's intelligent. That way you don't have to do the work of showing she's intelligent. Make a person work in a bookstore or in this case, for public radio, and you pigeon-hole that person, telling to avoid having to show. I'm not a fan of epistolary or 'dear diary' novels either, but this was one, in effect.

It featured "transcripts" from a national public radio show about transgender people, and worse than this, it split the story between two perspectives, Allison's and Dana's. It didn't commit the final sin of making those perspectives first person, so I have to commend it for that, but really it was too much. The novel staggered along under all this lard, ponderously crawling, and it was stuffed with horsehair (that's the closest I can get without being foul-mouthed).

Judith Ivey's Boston-accented reading voice failed to help as well. It was awful to listen to, and I found myself tuning it out from time to time, and missing the story. After twenty percent, I gave up on it, so based on the short exposure I had, I can't recommend it. Your frequency may differ!

BALLS It Takes Some to Get Some by Chris Edwards

Rating: WARTY!

This is a review of a book for which I was allowed a review copy, for which thank the publisher!

This is the first of a disappointing pair of transgender books I'm reviewing today, both written by guys named Chris! The blurb for this book is as misleading as they get. You can't blame the author (Chris Edwards, not to be confused with author Christopher Edwards) for this because they have nothing to do with their blurb unless they self publish, but I did want to mention it as a point of order, and because it's something out of the author's hands that can seriously and negatively impact the very book the author has written.

The blurb says "At a time when the term transgender didn't exist...Chris Edwards endured 28 surgeries to become the person he always knew he was meant to be." The problem with this is that this book covers the author's experiences in changing gender largely during the nineties and into the early oughts (although it references some time before), whereas the term 'transgender' was coined in 1965, which was, I'm roughly estimating, about five years before the author was born) and was in common use by the seventies. So common had it become by the nineties that in 1992, the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy had codified a definition of it! So no, the blurb is outright wrong here.

I really wanted to like this book because I loved the title. It was when I began reading the first chapter that I began to realize I should not have loved the title so much. I really didn't like the first chapter, but it improved after that, and so I had mixed feelings as I read on. Although it continued quite strongly from there on, it seriously deteriorated the further I read, and by the end, I didn't even want to read the epilogue and that's where I stopped.

For me the book was at it's best when it described the struggle the author went through to get where he needed to go, which was from the fabulously-named Kristin Eskandarian, to the end goal of Chris Edwards. Determined he was and suffer he did, and I suffered with him (after a fashion!) but enjoyed the experience while it lasted. Every fundamentalist who thinks being gay or transgender is a "choice" needs to read books like this to get themselves an education. No one chooses this ostracism, punishment, struggle, emotional overload and physical pain. No one wants it. No one wishes for it, but some must endure it, and amongst those are people who cannot do right by themselves until they have corrected, to the best of their ability, a heartless trick of nature. This author is one of those people.

Religion just pisses me off, frankly, which is why I had a hard time reading, towards the end of the book, this musing: "I always wondered why God made me transgender." This blind belief imposed by society on everyone from birth (well they try) that some magical being has a plan for all of us is delusional. It is also a burden no one should have to endure, because it makes life harder and inexplicable when you have to accommodate a big bearded giant in the sky. It forces questioning statements like this out of people because when you let god in, you let rationality out. I can't prove this, but the evidence is all on my side: no god had anything to do with this. It's just nature, screwing-up. Fortunately, albeit clumsy as yet, science has the power to go a long way towards correcting nature's mistakes of one sort or another. No god can help, and anyone who worships a god who would purposefully do this kind of thing to people is worshiping an evil, capricious god not worthy of human intellect or attention in my opinion.

The early strength of this book was in its unflinching reportage of the physical struggle: the inconvenience at best, and pain and suffering at worst. The weakness of it was that there seemed to be no "emotional content" as Bruce Lee so cutely phrased it in his movie Enter the dragon There needs to be emotional content in a story like this and I wasn't feeling it. And while this is a memoir and so is expected to be about the author, the problem was that it was all about him, with very little time or room for anyone else, least of all other people in his position.

We have mention of family and friends frequently, but they are always bit players and they seem to disappear completely in the latter portion of the book. We never really get a feel for what they went through because the author is so intently focused on what he's going through. This really came to a head (if you'll forgive the unintended pun) in the last few chapters where the focus was not on his life in general, his liberation, what he experienced in general as a man, and and how he felt about everything. Instead of that, which would have been wonderful, the sole focus was on his desperate quest to get laid!

This really soured me on the entire book, and cheapened the experience of reading it considerably. While I was hoping for more of the post-surgery story, all I got was this endless quest to find a female and this is when it really brought it home to me that the author was very much a guy. His story was all about balls, but it was balls in the sense of testosterone, and not in the sense of guts. In short, it was the opposite of what I'd hoped for when I first saw this title.

I'd wanted a before-and-after story and in a sense, there wasn't one because for the author, there was only after. There never was a before because he never was a woman except in the most superficial sense. I get that, I do, but there is still a story there, and I kept getting hints of it here and there which were disappointingly brief: about how he felt and how he was treated when he was perceived as a woman as compared with when he brought out the man who had always been subsumed under a female exterior.

I'd hoped for more of a general story of post-op life along those lines, but all we really got was the op. There was no 'post' other than what I just mentioned, which sadly was all about his new "post" if I can put it that way, and it sounded rather desperate and of an entirely frat-boy mentality, which turned me right off. It was this kind of thing which made me dislike that first chapter, too.

There's a sick genderist joke that a man's brains are in his penis, and this memoir played right into its hands. In fact the author indulges himself in this kind of genderism when he writes, "Luckily the testosterone had yet to override the female part of my brain that has no qualms about asking for directions." Seriously? There were several such Whisky-Tango-Foxtrot statements such as: "I wanted my first time to be with someone I really cared about—who cared about me" which felt so hypocritical coming as it did at the end of bunch of chapters which talked only about getting laid - and with not a single mention of sexual diseases and risks. I found myself wondering, more than once, what happened to the woman? And the answer was always there: there never was a woman, not in any sense in this book! It was always a guy!

That kind of thing would have made more sense had it not come after statements like this one: "He then informed me that if I’m with a woman at a revolving door, the gentlemanly thing to do is to enter first and get it going so she doesn’t have to exert any effort. This guy was a true gentleman in every sense of the word, which is exactly what I intended to be." To me that's sheer sexism. A 'true gentleman' may well be what he was, but he didn't give me that impression having read those last few chapters, where it was all about sex, never about relationships, companionship, building trust, shared interests, or getting to know someone before diving headlong into them. Again, these are things guys are known for doing - and juvenile guys at that. There is no feminine side to this.

That quote harbors another issue, too. Are men and women supposed to be treated equally or not? If we are, then women don't get to have doors opened for them, unless you happen to be going out first, and hold it for the next person coming right behind, but in that case, the gender of either person is irrelevant. It's just the polite thing to do. But equality means precisely that - equal treatment for all. You don't get get to have the car door opened, or for men to stand up when you enter the room, or for you keep your purse closed while the man's wallet is perennially open on your date. Otherwise it's not equality, it's privilege, class, and special treatment which is precisely what the suffragists accused men of. Do we really want to go back to that? More on privilege anon.

It felt very hypocritical reading a statement like that above from someone who is, in this very memoir, talking of equality in the extreme: of the right of those who are gender dysphoric to be allowed to equalize themselves as this author was allowed, and to be allowed to be treated as all other men and women when the surgeries are over. That's what equality means. But as long as you're talking about wanting to be "a true gentleman", then you're missing the point! This is not to say men should be allowed to be dicks and jerks. We can still be polite, considerate, and well-behaved, but this behavior should not be considered the sole preserve of the male gender, especially since (some would argue and upon very solid grounds!) men are not even there yet! There's no reason at all these days why a woman should not open a car door for a guy, or why she should not go down on one knee and propose marriage!

The author's family, which had played an important role in the early chapters, were pretty much banished from the second half of the book. No longer was this thirty-year-old guy traveling with his mom for consultations. Family was out, which frankly felt a bit odd to me. Traveling with family for post op help I could see, but for a consultation? It felt more like fiction than memoir, but in the end it was his choice.

The fictional shadow grew darker when I read a statement like this: "Dr. Laub had made it his mission to travel to underdeveloped countries and provide life-changing plastic surgeries to tens of thousands of people." Now I don't doubt that a surgeon could perform tens of thousands of operations over a long career. But I just did a calculation, and over a career of forty years, starting from age 28 (four years of university, four years of medical school, and two years of residency minimum, would put him at 28), a doctor could perform ten thousand operations if he did five per week, fifty weeks per year.

That's not a heavy load by any means, but remember that what we're talking about here is charitable surgery in third world countries, and he wasn't doing those at the rate of five per week for fifty weeks of the year over forty years. He was doing those on trips away from his regular work. Hundreds I can see, maybe even thousands of such operations, but tens of thousands, all of them life saving? No. Just no! Doing such work is commendable and worthy, but let's be realistic about what he does instead of inflating it. We're not Donald Trump after all. To do otherwise is to do Dr Laud a disservice. If he supervised or worked with teams of surgeons doing these surgeries, then I can see tens of thousands over an extended period. But not one man. In fact, working with teams is what he did if you read about his work. Wikipedia describes it as "tens of thousands of life-altering operations gratis." That sounds more like it and does indeed make him a super-hero in my book!

It was slips like this that made me distrust the author setting himself up as a sort of spokesperson for the gender dysphoric. Quite often throughout this book there were directives like this: "You should never ask someone who is transgender if they have had or plan to have surgery."

I didn't grow up in the US so it's not my nature to ask personal questions of people I just met. I wouldn't advise it whether they're transsexual or anything else. I don't even ask such questions of people I know well unless it's relevant and I know they will not mind. This is why I have to wonder if the author is really talking on behalf of all who share his experience, or if this is just how he feels, and he's projecting it onto everyone else.

I don't trust it. That's not to say I'm advising asking the first transgender person you encounter all manner of personal questions. Far from it! It's just that I don't believe that all transgender people are the same (except in that they're transgender!) I believe they're like everyone else: some won't want to talk about it - perhaps the majority - whereas others might well be inclined to discuss it in appropriate circumstances. This author wrote a book about it for goodness sake!

The point that it's their choice, not mine, yours, or this author's, so do not expect that, just because they've had a "weird surgery" that it's up for grabs in the topics for discussion department. And ask only if you know them well, and know they will be receptive to discussing it. Remember they did not have a choice over which body they were born in, but they do have a choice whether to discuss what they did about it. Respect that choice and leave it with them to make!

There was one more thing which bothered me, and which the author made only one mention of in the entire book, and that was privilege. This memoir reeks of it. These operations cost literally thousands of dollars (I won't go so far as to say tens of thousands of life-saving dollars!), and this guy or his family could afford them. He could afford the best, and could fly across country at the drop of a hat to discuss a procedure with a doctor, and pick out the best surgeon to perform it.

I wouldn't wish what he went through on anyone, and I admire and salute him for having the 'balls' and stamina, and the courage to go after what he wanted, but the fact is that, as badly done-to as he felt from being trapped in the wrong body and having to suffer emotional stress, and humiliation, and painful, prolonged surgeries to get the right body, he did have the money and means, and opportunity to get it done.

He was extremely privileged in that regard, but from the way this was written, I got no sense of gratitude or of appreciation from this book of how lucky he was he was or how grateful he was to have been privileged enough to pursue his dream when scores of others in his position do not have the same access he did. In a just world, everyone would have this access if they needed it, yet he writes as though it's a right (which it ought to be, granted!) he enjoyed without any sense of humility that he had this access when scores of others are denied it.

It felt rather selfish and was exemplified in this comment late in the book: "After all I do for everyone else, nobody was helping me." This was after his family had paid for surgeries and accompanied him left, right, and center, and his friends had been amazingly and commendably supportive, and he has a great network of people rooting for him, and he's had the opportunity to get precisely what he wanted in life, and now he's discussing getting laid and this is his comment? As much as I wanted to like and commend a book like this, this is not the one I find I can in good faith, lend my support to. I'm sorry and I wish the author all the best in his new life, but I cannot recommend this account of it.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Out On Good Behavior by Dahlia Adler

Rating: WARTY!

This is a LGBTQIA story set on a college campus, where Francesca Annamaria Bellisario (who naturally goes by 'Frankie', because she's queer, of course), a self-described pansexual (which does not mean she only has sex with cooking pots), is leading a dangerously promiscuous life. While 'sex' is clearly in her sexicon in bold letters, 'safe' certainly is not. Why anyone would become involved with her is a mystery, but college students are not necessarily the smartest rats in the maze - which is why they're at a learning institution, after all, isn't it? The question is, are they going to get the education they expect, or something else entirely? The target of her lust, as she dallies with everything in between, is Samara Kazarian who rooms with one of her friends. This is the story of their "courtship" and it was a huge fail for me.

I know college students are supposed to have an improbably over-sized libido according to MTV and other jock mentalities, but only half of this couple was that kind of person, The other was supposedly a smart, conservative, closet lesbian who you would think would show a lot more common sense than she does. That was one of the problems, We were frequently told how things were, but never shown.

The story was, essentially, a lesbian wet-dream with zero characterization. If we're to go by these lights, all that queers in college ever think of is sex, sex, and more sex, and that's the entirety of it! They never think of homework, or coursework, or hobbies or interests. They never expend any time in conversation which doesn't involve going to sports games or having sex. For me it was completely ridiculous and wholly unrealistic.

Frankie is purportedly an artist and truly dedicated, yet we get none of that here. The closest we come is Sam's examination of one of Frankie's pictures at an exhibition, but then it's gone and we get nothing more. Why make her an art student at all? There is of course no reason except that if she's an artist or an actor, we can stereotype her more? The story felt inauthentic from top to bottom, especially with the inverse slut-shaming (what would you call that? Slut championing?!) that's indulged in with Frankie, who can do nothing wrong. Slut championing is equally as bad as slut-shaming itself is, especially when it seems to be dedicatedly mischaracterizing all queers as promiscuous and shameless. And the idea that a retiring virgin and a slut-champion can find common ground and do it so quickly and effortlessly had to be a joke.

The only relationship Frankie and Sam had was sex. The only value Sam offered for Frankie was, judged by the writing here, a sexual one. She was better than masturbating, it seems. Frankie cared only about the depth of Sam's skin, and her ass and legs, and how beautiful she was. We never got anything which suggested that she liked Sam as a person, much less as a companion, or truly valued her for anything other than lust. That's what turned me off, paradoxically, because that's all there was to this relationship. If that's all the consenting parties are looking for, then it's fine, but I don't particularly want to read about those people, and I certainly don't want to read a bait-and-switch-hitter novel which pretends it's offering a great romance, yet delivers only carnality and literally nothing else but trope.

The saddest thing is that for all her supposed smarts, Sam never once considered discussing venereal disease with Frankie, despite knowing full-well that Frankie would quite literally screw anything on two legs and human (although despite her proudly self-proclaimed pansexualism, all Frankie ever really did was go after or lust after girls). I didn't expect a pages-long dialog about sexual responsibility by any means, that would have been boring, but the fact that not once was it ever so much as even mentioned in the 60% of this novel that I read, was shamefully irresponsible.

There was literally no exposition either. The entire novel was pretty much conversation, all of which centered on Frankie's adulterated lust for Sam. It was truly sickening, and I could not continue reading it when I fully-realized that this story was never going to mature or change. I sure as hell cannot recommend it. If you want a dumb sex romp, then this might be for you, but don't go into this thinking there's anything loving or romantic about it, or that there's a great relationship story here. There isn't.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Girl Band: A Lesbian Adventure by Rory Hitch

Rating: WARTY!

The blurb reads: "Meet cute Holly, curvy Penny, passionate Roxy, cool Anna and teen Jade. Five beautiful girls, making music and making love. When young lovers Holly and Penny decide to form a band it's the beginning of a lesbian adventure full of fun flirtation, sexy seductions and erotic encounters!" Wrong! There is no love, no eroticism, no flirtation, and no seduction here. And certainly no safe sex! Not in the part I read, but note that this is a short (which I could not finish, it was so bad) introduction to a full-length novel. Maybe it gets better, but I can't believe it ever will. It does give a classic expository example of why I never read's al.

This is the second of two "lesbian" stories I read recently. They were both awful and for the same reason: they read like they were written by an inept male author, and the sad thing is that only one of them actually was. It's all juvenile, crude sex here. Eroticism plays no part, and neither does seduction, love or romance. Neither does music for that matter, not based on what I read. You'll be better off reading my novel about a girl band, which I was hoping to have out this year, but since there are two novels lined up before that, only one of which I'm near to completing at this point, I think a more realistic estimate is around Valentine's day next year! This one here though, I cannot recommend based on what I read. It just doesn't get it done.

One Night In Venice by Bella Donnis

Rating: WARTY!

This begins a pair of (very negative) reviews of short, appallingly badly-written "lesbian" stories!

I was having a little bit of trouble deciding on a good ebook to get into, which is sad, given how many are available to me! In fact, it's downright pathetic. We're spoiled rotten these days with the riptide of ebooks out there. But the plenitude is also the penury given how sorry some of these books are. Yet despite the rising tide of ebooks promising a bounty to anyone who casts a wide enough net, I still managed to haul in two really awful (or is that offal?) ones. This was the first.

This one, fortunately given how things turned out, was free on Amazon (and available on B&N which is where I got it - I always check alternates before I buy from Amazon). So I opened it to find it was only twenty eight pages! This was actually its best feature, but truth be told, I couldn't even finish that much, it was so bad! It felt more like it was one of those book teasers, which isn't a bad idea and which is eminently suited to ebooks. You know, one of those shorties that lures you in and persuades you to buy the full length version? I don't do that, but you can't blame an author for that when competition is so tough. This though, it turns out, is the whole thing - not an intro, but the entire "novel" (as far as I could tell).

It's about this woman whose boyfriend dumps her via a text message when she's in Venice, waiting for him to come out to join her. It was this idea - that she finds herself cruelly ditched and somehow falls into a relationship with a woman - which intrigued me and persuaded me to take a look. The trip was supposed to be a foursome; now it's a three's-a-crowd situation. She only became acquainted with this couple through her AWOL ex, so the other woman is someone she hardly knows, but she's kind to her, even though the guy - a friend of her ex - is ham-fistedly cruel.

The problem is that the writing is so clunky and the interpersonal dynamics so lacking in credibility that I quickly became convinced that I would not even be able to make it through twenty-eight pages of this. I was right! I quit on page twenty because it was awful. 'Subtle' and 'leisurely' are two words which have quite obviously been struck from this author's lexicon (always assuming they were ever present in the first place).

The unsuspecting reader is smashed brutally and repeatedly over the head with a hyper-sexed woman who seems to harbor absolutely zero grief for the demise of her relationship, and who is ogling the other girl like a dog in heat. I'm surprised there wasn't a description of her tongue lolling out dripping saliva. She's all-but humping her friend's leg. If a guy behaved like this it would be sen as entirely inappropriate and the guy would be rightfully termed a dick. So what does that make this woman? A clit? Somehow that doesn't seem to carry the same deprecative weight. Why is that? Because guys can be dicks but women can't be clits?! If that's not sexist, what is?!

Abandon hope (and seek hops!) all ye who enter here looking for romance! There is none to be found in these pages. Yes, we're seeing the friend be kind to the main character, but what she gets in return is pure, adulterated lust. It's all about how beautiful she is, how hot she is, how perfect her "tits" are, how sexy she is, how great her hair is. There's not a single solitary word about what's beneath that depth of skin. We really hear nothing of the kind of friend she is or might be, about whether she's reliable or trustworthy, or whether she has integrity, and would make a decent companion. Nope, it's all sex and only sex, which is nowhere near enough for me to want to read a novel, or even a short story such as this.

The blurb says, "Warning: This lesbian erotic romance story contains extreme graphic and sexual content, specifically lesbian sex and should not be read by those under the age of 18." Seriously? Lesbian sex is extreme? LOL! Like no young adult has ever has such thoughts - and even activities?! Besides, if it's aimed at adults, then why is it written at the level of young adult or even middle-grade in parts? And I take exception to the word "erotic"! There's no eroticism here; it's all crude, juvenile sexcapades and that's all there is. If that's your cup of tea, then by all means quaff deeply, but with lines like "I scrutinised her firm buttocks," it sure as hell ain't mine.

The real problem with this when you get right down to it, is that it's not a novel. It most closely resembles an old telegram, because everything is telegraphed. Everything is so glaringly obvious. There is no subtlety here. Obvious, that is, to everyone but the main character, who is so profoundly stupid that despite her leering, salivating, Shylock-like obsession with pounding the flesh of the only other female character in the entire book, she completely fails to realize that she's bisexual. I'm not a fan of novel in which the author goes out of her way to demonstrate how stupid her main character is. And yes, there's a difference between lesbian and bisexual which this author doesn't seem to get. However, since sexuality it not a binary scale but a sliding one, I'll let that...slide!

This stupidity and crudity is what turned me off the novel completely. What had attracted me was that this was a Brit language novel, which may cause some readers a headache or two unless they are British or at least an Anglophile, but that was nowhere near enough to offset the shabby writing. The panting, tongue-lolling dog into which the main character morphed was more reminiscent of a lame rip-off of Kafka than ever it was of Austen. There was nothing romantic, sensual or subtle here at all. I cannot recommend this. It read like a "lesbian" novel written by an inept male author, and I'm truly sorry if that's insulting, but I gotta call it like I read it!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Year of the Monsoon by Caren J Werlinger

Rating: WARTY!

"She looked at Leisa with a hunger that make Leisa’s insides tingle." - wrong verb tense.

When I began reading this one, I was truly favorably disposed towards it, but the author very successfully managed to turn me off pretty quickly. I made it to about forty percent and had to give up for a variety of reasons. The first of these was that this was yet another LGBTQIA novel which was claustrophobic in its obsessive lock-down. It felt like it was a queers only zone, with no heteros allowed! That's not strictly true, but it certainly felt like it was the spirit of the thing. I find this reprehensible in and era when hetero stories, both in print and on the screen are opening their arms (for better or for worse at times, I admit) to the queer community, it seems like a huge backward, bigoted and negative step to me to depict this as totally closed-off from hetero community. It's also totally unrealistic, since neither of those groups operates in a vacuum.

That wasn't even the biggest problem. For me the most obnoxious one of all was that the author was obsessed with larding her story with a massive volume of mini-flashbacks woven invisibly into the fabric of the novel. I detest flashbacks at the best of times and rarely find them readable, much less enjoyable. The fact that these were hidden in the text made it often impossible to know I was reading a flashback. The same symbol which was used to indicate a change of scene on the book was the one used to indicate a flashback, so you were in it and trying to figure out whether this was just a change of scene or a flashback and of course, missing the story because of this. It felt ham-fisted to me, and I can't help but believe that a more skilled author would have done a better job.

The story itself was where the other major problem lay. The big theme here was adoption, and rather than focus on one aspect of the theme, the author slammed in three adoption stories intertwined, which was frankly, a huge mess and which dissipated the impact of any one of the stories from the sheer volume. It detracted from the power of the tale, weakening it to the point where it was no longer interesting. It was also a bunch of trope: the adopted girl just has to know her birth mother! At first I thought the author was going to be smart enough to avoid this pitfall and make this more original by not having this character chasing after her bio-mom, but that soon changed and so did my commitment to pursuing the story for this and other reasons.

Talking of realism, my last problem with this is that we're presented with two women, only one of whom is really interesting, but who clearly love each other, yet who seem unable to talk about anything with each other! We're really offered no valid reason why they can't talk or why they're apparently drifting apart. One has a secret which the other discovers through the rather amateur and disturbing ploy of stalking her partner, and which put me off her as a character.

At one point I read, "She had been a beautiful woman." I don't get why female authors do this to their female characters. Yes, if this had been a novel about some female movie star or some fashion model, perhaps one who felt her looks were diminishing with age and consequently her 'career' - shallow as it was - was slipping away, then her looks might have played a part in the story, and a line like that might have had a place, but in this case none of this applied, so why does the ugly idea that once she had been beautiful have to do with anything? Would the attendant sentiment have been completely inapplicable if she had been "ordinary" or "plain" or "ugly"? The shallow mentality involved in writing like this is quite frankly disgusting: that a women's worth is skin-deep only? Screw you. I'm tired of reading crap like that and in particular, women who write like that ought to be especially ashamed of their writing.

I was already off the other one, so my passion for following this relationship was gone at that point. It seemed like whenever one of them was about to launch into a topic with the other, a death popped up in the family and then there was, unbelievably, simply no time at all to broach the topic which had been right on their lips just a moment before. This felt so amateur it was pathetic, but worse, it told me that these women were morons. So grandmother died. It's horrible, but did one of them have to get on a plane within a half hour and set off alone so that the important topic in a troubled relationship couldn't be dealt with? NO! Their behavior made no sense, and it robbed the story of both immediacy or authenticity for me.

Overall the story was less of a coherent narrative than it was a series of vignettes densely punctuated by a staccato blitz of flashbacks which contributed little in the grand scheme of things. The bottom line is 'THE END' - no, I'm just kidding. The bottom line is that it didn't work and was annoying. As I said, I simply gave up on it around forty percent, but this story had given up on entertaining the reader long before that. I can't recommend it.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Rating: WORTHY!

This is the first of two memoirs I shall be reviewing this month. The other was The Midwife by Jennifer Worth One is a regular chapter book, the other is this one: a graphic novel in which the artwork is rudimentary. It looks like pencil and crayon, and so it looks like a young kid did it, but the thing is that it works for the story and I enjoyed it. This is evidently a memoir about a summer girls camp which Maggie attended and developed a crush on one of the older girls. The story is by parts hilarious and tragic, fun and disturbing. The disturbing part is that anyone would send their young, impressionable daughter to such a psychotic place! But she survived and lived to tell the tale, and it was a most engrossing tale. It's over 260 pages, but it flew by, and I recommend this one.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Pants Project by Cat Clarke

Rating: WARTY!

Note that this is based on an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I really wanted to like this novel and rate it positively, because this genre is under-served and is nuanced with color and hue. These stories need to be told, but this one was so larded with flimsy black & white caricatures that ti could barely move without falling over itself, and it became impossible for me to continue reading it. I made it about halfway through and I could not bring myself to read on. I think middle graders need better and can handle a much more grown-up story than is presented here, and LGBTQIA deserves to be served better than a blue plate special.

The story is of Olivia, who insists upon being called Liv because for some considerable time she's felt like she's a boy, and not a girl. She's starting middle school and is offended by the fact that girls are not allowed to wear pants, but must wear skirts, and she rebels against it - hence the title. I found this to be unbelievable in a school that was purportedly as good and progressive as this one was supposed to be. It would have been far more rebellious had the main character been mtf transgender and wanted to wear a skirt, as The new Statesman pointed out back in March this year.

Liv had an important story to tell, but it was buried under the weight of caricature, cliché, and trope. The school is not populated with real students and teachers, but with cardboard stand-ins. There's the trope cool guy who befriends Liv; there's the caricature of a female school bully who was so far beyond belief as to be a joke. Not one of the teachers reins her in (once - it happened once in the half I read), which is absurd. The school principal is quite accurately described by the term "sexist pig." I find it incredible that he would be where he is and not one teacher has a problem with it. This is the twenty-teens not the 1950's.

The clichés run outside of school, too. Liv has to have two moms, one named Mom and the other named Mamma. Mamma is an Italian stereotype. The family dog not only has a pretentious name (Garibaldi) but also has three legs. In this brand of story, the moms will run either a bookstore or a delicatessen, and here it was the latter. I kept waiting to hear about the kitchen sink, because I knew that had to be in there somewhere.

This message is important, but here it was cheapened and ridiculed by the story and it deserved to thrive in a much more realistic milieu than ever it had here. I cannot in good faith recommend this.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Transformed: San Francisco by Suzanne Falter, Jack Harvey

Rating: WORTHY!

Well I have posted fifteen reviews today. That's a personal record for me and a warning never to get so far behind again! LOL! This was an amazing story set in the LGBTQIA world of San Francisco, and featuring four main characters, one of whom is a religious nut-job who is planning on unleashing a sarin attack on a gay event to teach all those sinners a lesson. How such a lesson would be internalized by dead people is a bit of a mystery, but religion is not big on logic, and the parallels with the nightclub slaughter down in Florida recently were both chilling and sobering for me.

There's no end of religious nut-jobs, and the hypocrisy of Christians who purportedly preach love, but actually spew hatred is as staggering as it is entirely unsurprising given the brutal content of the Bible and the bloody history of Christianity. if oyu don't believe me, check out this link on CNN's website: "Hey, are you sad that 50 pedophiles were killed today?" Sacramento, California, pastor Roger Jimenez said from the pulpit the Sunday of the shooting. "No, I think that's great. I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida is a little safer tonight ... The tragedy is more of 'em didn't die."

The main villain here is named, hilariously, Randy Peter Tytus. I had a hard time taking that seriously, I confess. Ego te absolvo. Thank you father! Randy hails from the loins of a psychotic religious dad who runs a church of hatred which is very possibly modeled on a certain "church" which delights in harassing gays, but Randy's problem is not that he's very likely homosexual; it's that he can't face this truth, and can't deal with his reality. His 'solution' is to poison others with chemicals, mirroring the way his own mind has been poisoned by his father and his religion.

Arrayed against him is a startling trio which consists of Charley, a CIA operative who is temporarily suspended from duty because of some irregularities with taxes and expenses. He's a female to male transgendered person who is rather anguishing over whether to pursue what several reviewers have termed "bottom surgery"! I find this term odd and misleading. He's not, of course contemplating surgery on his ass, but on exchanging his vagina for a penis. Charley meets two females and through this acquaintanceship, a vital trio is formed.

The first member is an ex-navy lesbian police sergeant named Frankie. The second is a pseudo celebrity known as "The Society Dominatrix." Pamela has moved to SF to get away from the publicity on the east coast, but seems hard-pressed to shed it, despite changing her name to Electra. Some reviewers have described her as professional dom, but in fact she was just having fun with the husbands of some of her acquaintances. She doesn't become a professional until she starts to embrace who she really is and become Elektra in more than just name.

I must say I found the character names a bit clichéd! Frankie and Charley? Elektra? That seemed a bit over the top for me, but all four of these main characters are in pain in one way or another. Frankie is mourning her deceased wife, and struggling with corruption in the SFPD, a struggle which has put her in the sights of the corrupt powers-that-be, so she's been benched on trumped-up 'charges'. Charley is struggling with the loss of his job and with his indecision about when or even whether to undergo further surgery. Elektra also suffers loss - her daughter won't speak to her, and she's away from her comfort zone. Randy is simply a dangerous mess. I've seen some reviewers complain that this story needed to be "punched-up" with intrigue and sub-plots and what-have-you, but for me, it was perfectly told exactly the way it is. This is not a movie, and trying to write it like it was a screenplay would have been entirely wrong and would have destroyed it for me.

I'm not averse to a good action-adventure, even one with clichéd slo-mo departures from explosions which always seem to have a disturbing (and polluting) amount of gasoline in them, but this is not that story. This is much better. Watching these people move and interact, and grow and coalesce was wonderful, and poetic in the way it came together. It was a real pleasure to read and I wouldn't change a thing about it, except maybe to have given Frankie more of a role. She really took a back seat to Charley and Elektra, but since this was named Transformed: San Francisco, I wonder if it's to be the start of a series of 'transformed' novels set in different cities.

It wasn't all plain sailing. There were some issues, such as sentences like, "In the meanwhile, the final glory hole of hell he would personally reap upon the blasphemers was nigh." That made no sense whatsoever! Maybe this is what oyu get when ytwo writers are editing the same novel! LOL! I think it would have been better worded: "In the meantime, the final Hell he would personally wreak upon the blasphemers was nigh." I wonder if the authors actually know what a 'glory hole' is - or more to the point, whether Randy knew what one was and would ever use that term, even in his own mind. At another point, I read, "Thy will be done, not mine, he incited." I think the authors meant 'recited', but these are minor considerations and every author trips up with the language now and then, so they didn't bother me.

Overall, this story was excellent, I loved it and read it with appreciation and warmth, and I recommend it.

Don't Bang the Barista by Leigh Matthews

Rating: WARTY!

We both put down out drinks, serious for a moment.

I loved the title of this novel, which was a LGBTQIA novel full of drinking, smoking, over-caffeination, shallow relationships, and irresponsible sex. I expected better, especially since one of the characters was vegan. Given everything else she was into it made her sound so fake. I certainly hoped for better, but it never came. Kate is a lesbian who is a year out of a five year relationship, and she's not dealing. In fact, given how she is, I strongly felt that she had been like this before the relationship broke up and that's why it broke up, so I was not on her side from the off, pretty much. She has this recent acquaintance named Cass, and it's pretty obvious from the start that this is nothing more than the trope girl-too-stupid-to-know-her-best friend-is-the-love-of-her-life, which has been done to death and this version offers nothing new, not even the LGBTQIAngle. What it does tell us is that Kate isn't really very smart or very deep.

She has this ridiculous idea that it takes a third the time to get over a relationship as you spent in the relationship, so after five years, she considers that the year she's spent alone isn't sufficient. She's a moron. You can't put a time limit on it as though everyone is exactly the same, and reacts in the same way, and has the same circle of friends. Some people have good support groups, others don't. Some people are resilient, others not so much. The bottom line is that it takes whatever time it takes, but you have to make an effort. Kate simply isn't. She's wallowing. How her friends - of whom she has many, put up with her is the real mystery here.

The barista is Hanna, and Kate hooks up with her and has sex without getting to know her, and without even having had a date with her (not to speak of). This whole scene (which is, be advised, quite detailed) felt completely fake and hollow to me, because on the one hand these two have made out and felt each other up on the dance floor without asking, for goodness sakes, yet here in the privacy of Kate's apartment, when they are both essentially mauling each other, Hanna is asking for permission every step of the way - to removing her sweater, her pants, her bra; then she's feeling her up again on the way to the bedroom without asking. It felt like it was written by (w)rote (hah!) instead of by means of the author really thinking this through. I didn't get this asking permission, and then letting a discussion of their sexual history simply slide right on by. Either they're responsible or they're not. They can't be both.

This thing with getting together with Cass completely undermined the "appropriate approach to sex" motif, too. Cass is, quite frankly, a stalker, who has designs on Kate, but for some reason despite her supposedly being open and direct and straight-forward, can't ever bring herself to tell Kate how she feels, or to show her. Instead, she decides she's going to break up Kate and Hanna before they're even an item, warning Kate off her, following Kate to the club when they have their first date, and then forcing herself onto Kate and kissing her in sight of Hanna, and thereby causing a rift between them. Kate needs to ditch Cass at once. This girl is a trouble-making creep and her behavior is unacceptable. And these 'girls' are in their thirties for goodness sakes! They should know better.

The really weird thing (like this wasn't bad enough already) is that this was in a lesbian bar, yet not one of the other women in there comes to Kate's aid (when Cass grabs her) to ask her if she's okay and if this attention from Cass is OK. Instead they laugh at her, like she's some bi-curious hetero who's strayed beyond her comfort zone, or she's a newbie and therefore deserves no better treatment? So much for a sisterhood. This was horrible. I sincerely hope the Vancouver queer scene isn't remotely like it's portrayed here. It would be truly a scary one if it were.

Kate's friends are really no better. Not one of them is really interested in advising Kate about finding a quality relationship. Every time they talk about Hanna, it's along these lines: "you have this hot barista who clearly likes you." I'm sorry but lust ≠ like. With friends like these, who needs enemas? But Kate is the real piece of work here. She is going to a movie with Hanna, then invites her friend Em along, then it becomes obvious Hanna is going to pair up with Em, but Kate is too stupid to see it, yet when she goes to the bathroom and (oh what another coincidence) encounters her ex, Janice in there, the two of them start making out in the bathroom. Seriously? At this point I can't stand Kate and really don't like anyone else in this group at all. "I really never had been the kind of woman to hook up with people in washrooms." Really? Look in the mirror, Kate. that perfidious puss you see looking back at you? It's nothing new and it's you all over, not a lover anyone with an ounce of integrity would want around them.

Kate is evidently not very smart. despite her many winters in Canada, she evidently owns no gloves, so we read, "It was freezing out this morning. I tried to keep my hands in my pockets as much as possible." We get oddball lines like, "Oh, I don't drink. Thanks. I've got some weed though." At one point we read of Kate and her ex, "We'd never used protection when we were together, having been tested and monogamous thereafter." Yet now she;s having potentially unsafe sex with Hanna and considering it with Cass, who herself sleeps around routinely?

The writing really left a lot to be desired. For example I read this: "So you're still shtupping her?" followed quickly by:

"And, what, you're trying to get a little of her inner peace are you?"
I contorted my face into an expression of disgust as Hanna apologised (sic).
"Too far, sorry.
What, asking about 'shtupping her' wasn't already going too far?

I really wanted to like this but I simply couldn't. it was badly written and unpleasant to read. I can't recommend it. I think this author has a good novel or two in her. It's just not this one.

The Miracle Girl by TB Markinson

Rating: WARTY!

"Have to!" when "Have too!" was required.
“You’re little spy has been busy. Is it Avery?” should have read "Your little spy..."

Not to be confused with The Miracle Girl by Andrew Roe, or Miracle Girl by Keith Scribner, or the Miracle Girls manga series, this novel is an LGBTQIA story about two women working in the dying newspaper business. JJ Cavendish, the woman of the title, is assigned to try and save the ailing newspaper in her home 'town' of Denver. She hasn’t been home in twenty years and has mixed feelings about it, especially when she discovers that her old love is working for the very newspaper she's now in charge of. Claire has evidently become the mother of a young child in the intervening years, as JJ discovers when they reconnect.

It seems pretty obvious that Claire and her 'husband' are separated, yet she doesn’t relay any of this to JJ, and the latter is evidently too dumb to figure it out or to even ask, which begs the question as to why she's in charge of anything, and especially why a news organization! I prefer stories about smarter women than these two, although this novel wasn't atrocious by any means. It does misrepresent itself somewhat in the blurb (but then what professionally published novel doesn’t?!).

Take this, for example: "Mid-afternoon office romps abound in this romantic comedy while also focusing on what it takes for a newspaper to remain relevant in this age of social media." It’s not a romantic comedy. There's no humor and no comedy unless you count a comedy of errors. And it does not remotely "focus" on the newspaper. It’s all about JJ and her physical pining for Claire. And it’s first person, which doesn’t help. As I read it I was constantly skirting along the border between, yeah it’s an okay read, and I detest this endlessly self-absorbed whiner! This should have been a third-person novel as should the majority of novels. This asinine addiction to first person stories is laughable, especially here.

The blurb asks, "Must JJ lose everything in order to gain a life more fully her own?" and I don't even know what that means. What she's risking is losing the woman she wants to be with, but she's managed perfectly fine without her for two decades. She's hardly risking everything. And how is her life to be fully her own if she's so utterly dependent upon Claire? The sentence made zero sense, but is typical of book blurb writers in the world of Big Publishing™.

JJ is inconsistent as a character. On the one hand she's used to taking charge, and running things, which means knowing how and when to delegate, yet when she wakes up one morning with a painfully stiff neck and back, and can’t reach up to the shelf in a pharmacy for a heating pad, she thinks, "There was no way I would ask a clerk for help. I never liked to ask for help." This again broadcasts how stupid she is. It’s not a good sign, especially when she's the main character and talking to you in first person.

Apart from the whining, the novel was written quite well and I thought I would enjoy it, but it became too much when these two women began behaving like clueless teenagers in each other's company and the whole story about saving the newspaper was effectively put on the back burner if not forgotten as these two pursued each other like rabbit sin high rutting season. The sex scenes were not even interesting or original, and it all became a joke, so I ditched it around forty percent in. No, I do not want to read another story about women who have nothing but sex on what passes for their mind any more than I want to read one about men who are in that same frame of mind. I cannot recommend this one.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Butch and the Beautiful by Kris Ripper

Rating: WORTHY!

This novel proved to be every bit what I'd hoped for. It was such a pleasure to read. Thanks to the publisher and author for a chance to get in on an advance review copy! That's not to say that it was all plain sailing. I had a couple of issues (when don't I?!), but overall it was fun, entertaining, well-written, and very engaging. I didn't even mind that the ending was entirely predictable, because that was kind of the point!

This novel is part of a loosely connected series known as "Queers of La Vista," and it's set in a fictional California town. I haven't read any others in the series since I was unaware the series existed until I encountered this volume. Given that we're told more than once in this novel that the gay community in La Vista is small, it's a bit of a stretch that we already have five novels in derived from it! Like Pianosa in the Joseph Heller classic Catch-22, is highly unlikely to be able to accommodate all of the activity depicted in the series, but it's no more of a stretch that a TV crime show has a murder rate that exceeds Chicago of the prohibition era, either, so I'm not going to worry about that!

All the volumes in the series twist their titles from US TV soap operas: As La Vista Turns, Gays of Our Lives, One life to Lose, The Queer and the Restless. As I said, I haven't read these, but only two of them, including the one I'm reviewing, are about female relationships if we're to judge a book by its cover (which I normally don't!). Jaq and not Jill, but Hannah, meet at a wedding and immediately get the hots for each other. Neither is looking for a deep entanglement, but they had no way of knowing where this would lead.

The fact is that they click immediately, but since Hannah is going through a divorce - and not a pretty one - the prospects for this interaction don't look too rosy. The story follows them as they navigate a slightly thorny path through the relationship, through the well-meaning intentions of close friends, and through issues which try to steal time from the relationship even though they are not a part of it: such as Jaq's teaching duties and high-school relationship issues, and Hannah and her ex's fight over selling their house.

There was a bit of a Nora Ephron vibe to this, but this isn't your parent's Nora Ephron as the next paragraph will confirm. It did have that upbeat, liberal, well-to-do aura about it, though: people who were well-off enough to not have a worry about where the next penny would come from. As I said, I've not read any other of the stories, so I can't say if they are all like this. I hope not, because it would be nice to find a story in this series about a less well-off couple, or one which doesn't have such an easy trajectory to follow. Maybe that's just me!

Issues? I mentioned them so let's look at one more (the first was the improbability that all of this was going on in such a small LGBTQ community). I was not happy with the fact that these two fell into bed after knowing each other for an hour and proceeded to have unprotected sex. Yes, reality isn't quite such a turn-on I know, but I would have expected that both of these people would have been more grown-up and responsible, and a bit more cautious than they were. They are not teenagers, after all. The problem for me was that they didn't even mention risks, let alone discuss them or take precautions! Yeah, not sexy, and sexy is what this novel aims at - and gets there, be warned. It's very graphic and explicit, and it does not pussy-foot around (so to speak). There is liberal use of four-letter words and depictions of lesbian sex, but I would have preferred a note of caution to be sounded at least, even if it wasn't satisfied.

Having just published my own LGBTQ novel, it was fun to read a different story - a contemporary one which was written so well, and with such good humor and a positive vibe. It was an easy read and a rewarding one. The characters were wonderful, and based on the overall story and the quality of the writing, I recommend this.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Princess Knight Vol 1 by Osamu Tezuka

Rating: WARTY!

This is the second of two different "Princess Knight" graphic novels I checked out of the library. I had never encountered this particular sub-genre before so it was odd I picked two out on the same trip. Sadly, neither of them was very impressive, so I guess I'm done with Princess Knight stories!

This one is actually titled Princess Knight and is the one, I believe, which gave rise to the genre, although the original Japanese title said no such thing. Ribbon no Kishi means 'Knight of Ribbons'. That title made less sense, however, since no ribbons were involved in this story! It's a gender-bending story which I typically love, but this one irritated me from the off. The story here wasn't very good and was larded-up with everything (I believe I may even have seen a kitchen sink in there somewhere).

The premise is that angels add a heart to genderless kids right before they're born, determining their gender, which immediately disrespects everyone who isn't bog-standard binary. That was cruel. I thought they might be using this 'gender assignment' as a target to take down, but that wasn't what happened. Note that while this particular candidate (referred to consistently as Princess Sapphire) was issued both a male and a female heart at birth by a mischievous "angel" unoriginally named "Tink" (Tinku), yet despite this, genderism was rife throughout this novel, with the princess side of Sapphire constantly being put in its place. At one point near the end, Sapphire is engaged in a sword fight when the 'boy' heart is ripped out, and immediately the remaining 'she' feels weak and useless, and cannot fight the dastardly villain. That was the last straw for me.

Note that this was written in the mid 1950's, so it was in some ways ground-breaking for its time, but it was still a traditional view. It wasn't like the rest of the story was that great either, and even after 350 pages, it was nowhere near resolution. The reader was invited to the conclusion in volume two! No thanks! I'd already read far too much to want to read another volume of this. I began liking it because the artwork - black and white line drawings - was charming and elegant, and the writing was fun for the most part, but it just dragged on and on without going anywhere and without doing anything with this great premise. Despite having both hearts, Sapphire was feminine no matter what guise he/she was in, and it was absurd to pretend that there was this big doubt about whether sapphire was male or female.

The prince who falls in love with her is categorically unable to recognize her when he sees her without a blonde wig. So much for the depth of his love! For me the story betrayed males, females, and everyone in between and beyond. That's not the only thing which is confused: despite the setting being medieval Europe, the currency is dollars! Another one of many annoyances. So overall, I can't recommend this. While I loved the artwork, the genderism - the very thing I had imagined a novel like this would completely negate - was nauseating.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Demon Girl’s Song by Susan Jane Bigelow

Rating: WORTHY!

This was an excellent novel which I fell in love with quickly and which I highly recommend. The main character is a lesbian who doesn't fully realize it to begin with, but this is not your typical LGBTQ novel. Nether is it an historical romance, although there is romance in it, nor your usual fantasy. If it had been, I probably wouldn't have liked it. It's not a ridiculous YA love triangle of a novel. Thankfully there are no triangles here! It's a novel about a woman who has an adventure, and she doesn't need to be validated in it by male or female. I was so pleased with that! Finally an author who gets it! This woman is my idea of a strong female character done to perfection. That doesn't mean she doesn't have moments of weakness or doubt. It doesn't mean she doesn't need friends or lovers. It means she can take it or leave it and she does just fine on on her own.

The story is set in the early twentieth century it would seem, but it's hard to tell because it's in a parallel world - one of magic and empires, and the world is nicely fleshed out. The main character, Andín is possessed by a demon - accidentally - or maybe not! (It's not remotely like "The Exorcist" as it happens!). This demon isn't outright evil - not in a psychotic fashion like in the Exorcist anyway. He's occupied the rulers of the empire for a thousand years, moving from father to son (or whoever is the heir) as the father dies, and expanding the empire with an iron fist, but now a wizard has tricked him into going into this peasant girl instead of into the emperor's son.

When the demon talks Andín into going to the capital and manages to wangle a meeting with the new emperor, he discovers he's been deliberately tricked by the palace wizard, and he's stuck inside this girl's mind. Even if the girl dies, he can't get back into the ruling family. But now the girl and her demon have been exiled from the entire empire, which meant a train journey of several days to cross the border into a mountain kingdom many miles from the capital. The oddest thing about this however is the weird empty shape they see in the wasteland as they cross the border - maybe it's a portal to somewhere. I have a feeling the girl is going to find out, and also going to meet the woman who sat beside her when the demon first occupied her. Yes, for the demons, it's occupy peasant week. They don't have a wall street, you see!

I loved the main character Andín - in a platonic way of course! She's only seventeen after all, but she's about to go on a life-altering quest, and she isn't the only one who will change. So, too, will the demon. Will she end up more like him, or will he become like her? Or will they meet in the middle? And if so, what then? Well, if this is any clue, here's how she responds to a noise in the night: "She checked around the bed and picked up the little pen she kept on her nightstand. If some strange man were to come at her, she could stab him in the eye with it." Shades of Jason Bourne!

The story is masterfully written! I'd say mistressfully, but that just doesn't sound right unfortunately! How sad is that? It's paced perfectly, relationships grow and change organically, it's very well-written, and the story never once got boring. There was always something new around the corner, and Andín's growth was perfectly reasonable.

On a technical level, and while this novel was well formatted for the Kindle app on my phone, there were a couple of issues with the chapter headers towards the end. It seemed like the intention was to use the possessive, but the titles ended up looking like this instead:
Chapter 20 Judyís Sword
Chapter 23 Shashalnikyaís Trail
Chapter 27 The Demon Girlís Song.

Overall, I couldn't have asked for a better fantasy novel, and I'm not really a fan of fantasy unless it's done really well. This one was. It was understated and nicely depicted. I was very pleased to have been granted a chance to read this advance review copy and I fully recommend it. I look forward to this author's next work. I hope it comes, like this one, with great expedition!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet by HP Wood

Rating: WORTHY!

The novel is copyrighted to Hilary Poole, which I assume is the HP part of the author's name, and of course that’s conjoined with the 'Wood' surname, a classic of fine literature (though I say so myself...!). How could I not want to read this? I was well rewarded for my self-serving gamble.

This novel (which I read in an advance review copy for which I was very grateful!) is evidently set in an alternate timeline, because there was no major outbreak of Bubonic plague on Coney island at the turn of the 20th century. That particular outbreak took place on the opposite coast, where the idiot governor was in denial and thereby exacerbated the disease outbreak dangerously. Here, the outbreak happens in and around Coney Island and in true human tradition, the "freaks" of the carny are deemed less than human and quarantined for it. It’s easy to see this as a class struggle, but in truth, the poor lived in (slightly) less hygienic conditions than the wealthy, and this is where the rats (and the fleas they carried) congregated, so in one small way it was rational, although it was clearly done for irrational reasons.

The story revolves around two axes which quickly come into alignment. The first of these is a seventeen-year-old girl named Kitty, who is living on the streets in New York despite, just a few days before, being resident at a nice hotel. it takes a while to discover how she came to be in such sorry straits. Another part of the story involves the eponymous curiosity cabinet, which is less of a cabinet (in the way we view it today) and more of a museum. The evil undercurrent of Bubonic plague provides the grease upon which this story slides, creating very much of an 'us against them' mentality, but it’s not quite that black and white, despite there being characters of both hues playing important roles. There are undercurrents all over, none of them in the ocean.

The characters are beautifully defined, and each makes for intriguing, entertaining, and enjoyable reading. There is Zeph, not a midget, but forced to live like one because of an accident. There is Archie, an aging con-man who, despite his complete lack of ethics and empathy, plays an important part. There is Timur, the frightening, dangerous, and reclusive inventor at the heart of Magruder's. There is P-Ray, who only Nazan figures out, and there is Nazan's gentleman friend Spencer, a rich boy who plays his own unexpected role.

The most fascinating characters for me, however, were the females, three of them, all strong, but not in a super-hero, kicking-butt way. They were strong in the way an arch is. Nazan is a frustrated scientist, self-taught and at odds with her family. Kitty is the young girl, cast adrift, but not without a rudder. Another, although lesser character is Mademoiselle Vivi Leveque, leopard trainer extraordinaire. My favorite however, is Rosalind, although not a female - or maybe that depends on which day of the week it is. (S)he definitely has some classic lines to speak. At a party when America's elite, including Theodore Roosevelt - are in attendance, we get two great lines, one of which is Rosalind's. She's interrupted in conversation with Henry Ford (who has no idea she is a he and vice-versa), and resumes it thus:

Rosalind bats his lashes at Ford. "As I was saying, Henry, is there really no other color than black for your cars?”
This is not the only amusing observation she makes. The other line is Spencer's at that same gig:
"Well, Roosevelt, let’s see how rough a rider you truly are."

At one point, Nazan effects an English accent in order to try to find someone, and the hotel guy to whom she's s speaking says,

“I’ll direct you to the laundry,” he says, “if you promise to stop speaking like that.”
which slayed me. An honorable mention must also be bestowed upon Vivi, who emits this fine epithet:
"Vil mécréant! Accapareur de merde d’abeille!”
never have bee droppings been put to finer use!

This story is told well and moves at a solid work-like pace which kept me swiping screens. The threat looming over Magruder's isn’t of the disease vector variety; it's about another disease entirely: the narrow-minded, money-grubbing, dehumanizing one. There's always something new and intriguing (or disturbing) going on. The unexpected should be expected often. The story is a very human one, endearing, warm, disturbing, and deeply engaging. I recommend this novel completely and without reservation (not even as the classy Hotel where Kitty had stayed).

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Language of Hoofbeats by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Rating: WARTY!

I got this novel from the library because it sounded interesting, but in the end it was far too caricatured and too deeply gouged into the page in stark black and white crayon to take seriously. I guess I should have known it was not for me when I couldn't remember the title properly. I kept thinking it was called "The Sound of Hoofbeats" but that actually makes little sense. Maybe I should have re-read The Sound of Thunder instead? Or was that "The Language of Thunder"?! LOL!

The novel is told in dual first person PoV, which is twice as bad as single 1PoV because it's two times as unrealistic. The two narrators were the most antagonistic of all the characters of course, but this dynamic simply didn't work because it was too extreme and there were no gray areas. It resulted in a very amateurish game of writing ping-pong which was laughably combative. The premise is that a lesbian couple with three children, one adopted the other two fostered, arrive in a small town where Paula is to become the new vet. They have a series of run-ins with their neighbor, Clementine, an older woman who is haunted by the suicide of her daughter.

Whether that idea - that a foster parent can up and move to an entirely new area while still retaining the children they're fostering is something with which I'm not familiar, but it seemed unlikely to me. I don't know, though. I've never fostered children, and maybe allowing this freedom to move is the done thing in a society as mobile as the USA. It was commendable that a gay couple were considered suitable, though, so I sincerely hope this part is true at least.

What I didn't get was why this author threw in everything but the kitchen sink: gay couple, small town, adopted kid, fostered kids, lots of pets, troubled children, cantankerous naysaying neighbor, cantankerous neighing horse.... Maybe she should just have written a story about the conflict in Afghanistan?! It just seemed odd that the conflict was so stark while the potential conflicts were so rich. The one thing which wasn't added was any issue with a couple consisting of two moms - at least not in the portion I read. That's how it needs to be, but it's not always how it is. Maybe that reared its ugly head later, or maybe not. I didn't read that far.

The only weird thing about the couple for me was that the children referred to their parents as J-mom and P-mom. This was for Jackie and Paula. I don't know how the author chose the names for the parents, but I found it interesting that they were both names which have a ready masculine counterpart: Jack and Paul. As a writer I think naming characters suitably for the particular story can make an important contribution, and even tell a small story in the name itself, so I couldn't help but wonder how much thought the author had put into these names. Maybe it was none. I don't know. Was it intended to send some sort of a message or just happenstance? These components of novels interest to me and can be important if they send the wrong message to a reader.

But I digress. Again. The bane of writing! I can see how J-mom and P-mom (I think I'd rather be J-mom!) would work when they were referring to a parent who was not present, but to directly address them as J-mom and P-mom sounded stupid to me. Why not just call them mom? Maybe it was such an ingrained habit they couldn't help themselves, but that would really depend upon how long these kids had been a part of the family, so for me it was something I felt could have been handled better. This was a minor point compared with the bigger issue of the conflict, however.

Clementine, the neighbor, cannot bear to go into the barn where her daughter died. The horse is neglected, but Clementine can't bear to sell it because it's the last link with her daughter. Naturally, the disaffected trope teen with the bizarre name of Star (the horse is called Comet, of course) bonds with the horse and Clementine bans her from the property, but Star doesn't listen. We all know how this is going to end, so the only mystery in this novel is how the author brings it to that foregone conclusion, and the only answer I could see looming was using trope and cliché, painted on in ham-fisted, broad black and white strokes. It was not entertaining to read.

Some of it made no sense at all, and this was due to poor writing. We're told early in the story that Star crossed the road to stand outside the fence which corrals Comet, yet Clementine accuses her of trespassing. I didn't get how that worked. If the fence is right by the road and Star is standing on the road-side of the fence, then she's not trespassing! If she had, for example, crossed the neighbor's lawn or yard, and then reached the corral, yes she'd be trespassing, but this isn't how the arrangement is described by the author - either that or she does a poor job of explaining the layout of the property.

This is a relatively minor point in itself, but what it told me (along with other instances of lax writing) was that not enough thought had been put into this story, and this weighted it down, making it a drag for me by about a quarter of the way through, which is when I gave up. Little things do matter - if there are enough of them and the overall story itself isn't very well done. I can't recommend this one.