Now go read!
By Georgia Beers
Romance and terrorism are a seeming ill-fitted match, but the intertwining of the two makes “96 Hours” a thought-provoking exploration of the potential of finding the good in bad and the love through heartache.
When the terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001, 39 planes were diverted to Gander International Airport in Newfoundland, a town of 10,000 whose population nearly doubled in size with the influx of stranded passengers, most of whom spent several days relying on the residents’ hospitality. Beers’ fictional account centers on two stranded passengers, Erica and Abby, who together experience the emotional rollercoaster of the attack.
The relationship between the two well-developed characters unfolds in a realistic and natural fashion, with the tragedy an ever-present elephant in the room that will remind many readers of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The book’s strength lies in the myriad dimensions of its characters, who are forced to question their own approaches to life in a post-9/11 world, relying upon their new friendships — and the town of Gander — to do so.
“96 Hours” provides a clever, poignant reminder of one of America’s darkest days with an intriguing, inspiring juxtaposition of newfound relationships.
— Jen Colletta
Ali and Ramazan
By Perihan Magden (translated by Ruth Whitehouse)
It’s apparent from the first chapter that this story is going to have a lot of dark corners and probably won’t end well. But Magden paints such a vivid picture of the titular characters and the world they have to survive in, you won’t mind.
Set in Istanbul, Ali and Ramazan meet in an orphanage at a young age and bond almost immediately, and despite Ramazan’s rather unfortunate position as the “favorite” of the orphanage’s master (yeah, it’s worse than you think). Once free of the orphanage, the two are ill-equipped for the real world or a real relationship despite their efforts and desire to make it work, especially for the damaged Ramazan, despite his devotion to Ali.
Luckily, Magden keeps the pace of the short novel brisk enough for to keep the readers interested in the story of these two characters without dwelling for too long in the dark places life takes them.
“Ali and Ramazan” isn’t a lighthearted read by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly is hard to put down.
— Larry Nichols
By Stephen Osborne
“Animal Instinct” opens with private detective Duncan Andrews chasing a vampire down an alley during the annual cement Christmas tree lighting event in downtown Indianapolis. He manages to shoot a wooden stake through its heart just in time with the help of his dead boyfriend. Yep. You read that right. Ten years dead.
This second book starring Duncan, his BF Robbie, BFF and witch Gina and zombie bulldog Daisy is another romp through suspended reality by Osborne that delights and excites. The new case involves a missing warlock’s skull that is providing someone with extraordinary ability to control animals, but the heart of the story is the continuing complexities of a relationship that crosses the threshold of life and death.
If you’re looking for another vampire book or something that will send chills down your spine, keep moving. But if you want a light, funny yet touching story for a weekend, you’ve found it.
By the way, you don’t necessarily need to read the introductory novel, “Pale as a Ghost,” but as entertaining as these books are, why not? It won’t kill you.
— Scott A. Drake
Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama
By Alison Bechdel
Bechdel’s first graphic memoir, “Fun Home,” focused with dark humor and candid introspection on the twin topics of her own coming-out and her father’s closeted life. Now it’s Mom’s turn to be the focus, but this second memoir-in-art-and-words is something quite different. For starters, Bechdel’s dad was dead when she plumbed her early years, but the cartoonist’s mother is still quite alive — and her potential reaction to her daughter’s revelations is woven through the book. So, too, are Bechdel’s years of analysis — her therapists are characters — as are her dreams, along with a textual immersion in the words of a pair of shrinks, Alice Miller (“The Drama of the Gifted Child”) and Donald Winnicott, whose writing focused on children and the concept of the “good-enough mother.” Throw in a bunch of lengthy quotes from Virginia Woolf, and the book’s surface look is intimidating. But there’s magic in Bechdel’s fluid artwork, panel after panel, that demands and deserves both a careful reading and a profound gaze, all the better to embrace this book’s affirmative complexity.
— Richard Labonte
Armed & Dangerous
By Abigail Roux
Roux keeps the battles going with Baltimore-based FBI agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett in the fifth installment of the “Cut & Run” series. This time, in addition to battling the bad guys and each other, they get to take on the CIA.
An agent has information regarding a high-placed CIA official who is using the agency assets for personal gain, including assassination. They are seeking some off-the-radar domestic help from the FBI in tracking him down and bringing him in. Enter Grady and Garrett.
Once their man (and his boyfriend) is in their hands, they head east by car from Chicago to deliver him to Washington, D.C. When they find out they are being tailed by the CIA, Grady and Garrett assume they are being targeted for removal and things get dicey. Whom they are helping, who is helping them, who is out to get them and why makes this an honest-to-goodness page-turner.
If you haven’t read any of the previous books in this series, this is still a great read. You can get a richer appreciation of the Grady/Garrett agent/lover relationship by scanning through the inaugural novel, “Cut & Run,” which is honestly more about how one by-the-book operative and one street operative get put together and battle through it all than it is about the crime they’re investigating. Reading book four, “Divide & Conquer,” will tell you where these guys are in their own lives to preface this book.
As for me, I’m going back to read books two and three. They’re that good.
By Rebecca Makkai
First-time novelist Makkai has written a story about an accidental children’s librarian and a young patron with whom she goes on the lam.
After college, Lucy accepted a job at a small library in Hannibal, Mo., expecting it to be a stepping stone to something bigger and better. A few years later, she’s 26 and still there, maneuvering around her alcoholic boss and living over a working performance theater owned by a gay couple.
When 10-year-old Ian’s mom sends in a preferred reading list, Lucy begins to help him sneak books home. But when his parents start sending him to antigay meetings — he’s 10! — it’s almost more than she can bear. So when Ian runs away to the library, Lucy does what any sensible adult would do: She goes on a road trip with him and doesn’t tell anyone.
“The Borrower” is a fun read about growing up, whether you are 10 or 26.
— Sarah Blazucki
By Tom Dolan
“Cherry Cheeks” is an exciting tale of one man’s lifelong journey toward self-acceptance.
The memoir examines Dolan’s struggle to first understand and, later, come to terms with his sexual identity. As a married father who identified as bisexual, Dolan found his life in upheaval when he began to be pulled to living as a gay man. “Cherry Cheeks” examines the ensuing spiral his life takes after he enters the gay world and strives to find the strength to upright himself.
The work is written in chronological order, dating back to the author’s youth, and the full look at his life adds layers of comprehension and completeness.
Once Dolan decided to live as a gay man, he was faced with rounds of relationship problems, drug issues and the ever-present specter of AIDS. However, the author doesn’t sugarcoat any of these issues, but rather recalls them with honesty and candor, lending to the credibility and relatability of the tale.
“Cherry Cheeks” is a humorous, straightforward look at self-actualization and the mistakes and triumphs that the process so often requires.
By Andrew E. Stoner and Peter A. Conway
In January 2007, porn producer Bryan Kocis, owner of Cobra Productions, was murdered in his Dallas Township home, stabbed some 28 times and his house set on fire. In less than four months, police arrested adult-film competitors Harlow Cuadra and Joe Kerekes in Virginia Beach for his murder.
In “Cobra Killer,” Stoner and Conway, a true crime writer and a man who reportedly once lived in the same apartment building as Cuadra and Kerekes, respectively, detail the rivalry between the two men and Kocis, essentially a dispute over a gay-porn star.
Despite the horrific subject matter — which has the potential to be a page-turner — the book tends to drag, likely due to a stilted narrative style and heavy citations taken from trial transcripts, published interviews and media reports. About half the book is dedicated to post-arrest events, focusing heavily on the trial itself.
“Cobra Killer” isn’t for the faint of heart. Nor is it for those looking for a fun summer read. For those who are looking for something more macabre, it may be hard to resist.
By Timothy Jay Smith
Cooper Chance is one of the good guys, despite being an Army sharpshooter, deserter and mercenary.
Stranded in Lalanga, a small African country where diamonds are the currency and children are sold into slavery and prostitution, Cooper takes a young girl, Lulay, under his wing. But he has no source of income for food, let alone extra to pay her enough to keep her from “working,” so he takes to the underground diamond trade. Through child diamond smuggler connections, Cooper gets into the racket and encounters children who have lost hands as punishment for stealing, as well as other butchering.
Enter the CIA, which wants to utilize his sharpshooter skills to assassinate the current leader of the country, and its means of persuasion include kidnapping and false arrest. Through it all, Cooper promises to keep Lulay safe long enough to get her away from the hostile environment.
The only bright spot is the gem buyer’s son Sardq, whom Cooper falls for at the Turkish baths. Their encounters in a country so against open homosexuality are suspenseful at the least.
The saddest note of all is that while the country in “Cooper’s Promise” is fictitious, the conditions are very real. Readers will quickly come to care about the characters and their story — which will linger long after the book is over.
The Difference Between You and Me
By Madeleine George
Emily, a pretty, blond, popular high-schooler, is the “You” and Jesse, an out lesbian activist, is the “Me” in George’s beguiling young-adult novel. Or maybe it’s the other way around. The story, told in alternating chapters narrated by the teens, is not a romance — though the girls meet clandestinely for make-out sessions. Nor is it a coming-out tale; rather, George chronicles how Jesse’s radical sensibilities are ignited when a Walmart-like corporation, engaged by Emily, natch, sponsors the high school’s dance. George scores points for delineating the two parts of Emily’s life: her perfect façade that masks queer desire. But the real strength of this enjoyable read is how Jesse struggles with her feelings for Emily while she also bonds with Esther, a radical teen who worships Joan of Arc, and may be a potential rival for Jesse’s affections.
— Gary M. Kramer
The Dirt Chronicles
By Kristyn Dunnion
The idea behind “The Dirt Chronicles” is sound but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
This collection of short stories features LGBT characters living in various stages of the underground or fringes of society and trying to survive the against either the machinations of “the man” or people who would prey or them, hold them down or try to make them conform to mainstream society.
This is a genre ripe for storytelling but, unfortunately, there is something very one-dimensional about the stories and the characters in this effort. It’s almost like watching movies and TV shows from the late 1970s and ’80s that were “Dirty Harry” and “Death Wish” knock-offs, blowing up the specter of urban blight and youth running amok to ridiculous proportions.
The result is a bunch of characters and stories that at best could be better fleshed out or, at worst, lack an authentic tone. For example, it’s easy buying into the idea of Dumpster diving, homeless and squatter punks at odds with the very piggish local cops. But making them vegan? We have yet to meet a starving, living hand-to-mouth, homeless individual who refuses to eat any and all animal products.
On the plus side, “The Dirt Chronicles” puts the relationships of the gay and lesbian characters at the heart of the story. If the characters weren’t painted in such broad strokes and there was a little more depth to the stories being told, it could make for a more interesting read.
Fangs and Stilettos
By Anthony DiFiore
At first glance, we were worried this novel would be an unholy fusion of two of the worst things to happen to entertainment in the last decade: “Twilight” and “Sex and the City.”
Silly us for wanting vampires, werewolves and other creatures of the night to be badass and not warm, fuzzy, likeable characters.
Here we have a novel about how the fashion industry, unbeknownst to the public at large, was started and continues to be run by the efforts of vampires, werewolves, zombies and other supernatural beings at every level of the game. And that secret is about to become public knowledge.
Cute. And in the wrong hands, a story like this could end up another pile of toothless pabulum.
But somehow, “Fangs and Stilettos” makes it work. Yeah, it’s tween-ish and plays it a little to safe for our sadistic tastes, but it has just enough of campy “The Devil Wears Prada” filtered-through-Anne Rice inspiration to keep things just this side of fun, fresh and interesting.
I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters
Edited by Michael G. Long
Bayard Rustin was an early civil-rights activist, born in West Chester in 1912. A close advisor to Martin Luther King Jr., Rustin organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Rustin actively pushed for nonviolence in the civil-rights movement, stemming from his Quaker upbringing. He was also openly gay.
Because of his sexual orientation — and his unwillingness to hide it — Rustin was often in the background of the civil-rights movement — and at odds with those who advocated for violent resistance. His letters — some 150 are collected here chronologically — reveal an eloquent, persuasive activist, unafraid to challenge so-called authority figures when he encountered injustice.
Rustin was sharp, tactical and politically astute, but he was also sensitive to others’ needs, evident in his letters to his lover, Davis Platt, while he was incarcerated as a conscientious objector.
This collection of letters sheds light on one of the great overlooked activists of the 20th century. Each letter is prefaced by a paragraph providing context, helpful for those who don’t have a deep knowledge of the events of that era.
In One Person
By John Irving
Irving’s “In One Person” is an absorbing story about Billy, a bisexual looking back on a life filled with fascinating characters — many of whom are more memorable than he is. A teenager at a Vermont boarding school in the 1950s, Billy grapples with his fetish for bras and crushes on “the wrong people,” including a small-breasted librarian, his mother’s new husband and a wrestler classmate. “In One Person” deftly chronicles Billy’s unapologetic sexuality and behavior — as when his teenage affair with a transsexual* is discovered — to tell the story of conflicted desires and conflicting attitudes. When a character accuses Billy, a celebrated author, of creating characters who are sexually different and expecting [readers] to sympathize with them, Irving firmly makes his point. Chock-full of literary references — Shakespeare, Flaubert! — cross-dressing and the tragedy of AIDS, “In One Person” is ambitious, and enjoyable, but mostly when it stays in Vermont.
*Note, the book and the character specifically use this word; transgender is introduced later in the novel, as the characters move into the 1980s; but even then, the transsexual character insists on this term to describe her.
The Harvey Milk Interviews
Edited by Vince Emery
While the biopic “Milk” resurrected the iconic activist Harvey Milk for moviegoers, “The Harvey Milk Interviews” gives a voice to the late pioneer that could never be fully captured on the silver screen.
The book is a compilation of nearly 40 interviews Milk participated in throughout his time as an activist and politician. The rarely seen ephemera range from such documents as a candidate questionnaire Milk completed during his 1973 run for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, interviews with LGBT and mainstream media outlets and lively debates between Milk and a virulently antigay California senator.
The work is a fascinating look at the personal beliefs and political ideals of Milk, illustrating how they were affected when he was elected to public office, but also provides an eye-opening account of the tenor of the times for LGBT folks in the mid-1970s.
While activists who came into their own during this time would enjoy “The Harvey Milk Interviews” for its reminiscent ability, it would also be especially powerful, and empowering, for younger generations.
Kyle’s Bed and Breakfast: A Second Helping of Serial
By Greg Fox
Fox started his long-running comic about a gay B&B owner, set in Northport, N.Y., in 1998. In his second collection of episodes, Fox continues his story of Kyle, closeted minor league baseball player Brad Steele, advertising exec Lance Powers, gossip Richard Rubin and student Eduardo Alvarez.
In this collection, the main characters — all drawn in Fox’s hunky-men style — survive relationship ups and downs, learning more about themselves and each other. Fox addresses topics such as HIV, gay adoption and dating with disabilities with sensitivity and tact. But it’s not all serious and heady: The characters frequently cavort in their underwear (or less) — it is a B&B after all!
Fox’s characters are multifaceted and engaging, as are his storylines. His latest collection is a perfect poolside companion.
By Mark Henderson
Pretty much every local guy knows where the picture books are in Giovanni’s Room, and flipping through the extensive variety of erotic photography hardbacks is practically a pastime for some. For those aficionados, the name Mark Henderson will certainly set off some happy bells. For the rest, it’s a sure bet that “Luminosity” will be a hit anyway.
Again using his own home as a studio, veteran erotic photographer Henderson opted for this collection to place his models in stark white settings punctuated with one or more objects in a single color or color palette: One is shot with a bright yellow towel, another with an emerald vase and another with green briefs and sheets. These images are beautifully crafted and carry the voyeur through over 100 pages of men in various states of exposure. If there is any drawback to the collection, it’s the repetition of some of the settings and the use of mirrors, which can be briefly distracting.
Unlike so many photography books that rely solely on men’s bodies and eschew unique poses, perspectives, creativity and a variety of body types à la Adam Raphael, Henderson produces stunning visuals that compel the viewer to pause and look longer but still urge moving on to the next photo. It’s a wonderful conundrum to be caught in.
By Robert Lennon
Life’s fits and starts and ups and downs are mirrored nicely in the racing-themed “The Miles.”
The novel centers on Liam Walker’s foray into a gay running club, which throws him onto a new path, fraught with relational and personal struggles and successes. Liam’s character is surrounded by an array of teammates and friends and, despite the wealth of supporting characters, all are well-defined and distinctive.
“The Miles” offers an effective balance of dialogue and exposition, which allows the reader to both live in- and outside of Liam’s fast-paced New York City life. While the work traces Liam’s journey toward numerous finish lines, ultimately the reader is able to glean that life’s goals cannot be as steadfast and unwavering as the endpoint of a race.
The book is a creative, original tale that communicates both the individual commitment and external support necessary for one’s individual growth and advancement.
The Ripple Effect
By Ken Coleman
Gay author Coleman has crafted a short, compelling story of relationships within a small North Carolina town with his novel “The Ripple Effect.” Simply put, Molly Little, 15-year-old honor-roll student and daughter of millionaire televangelist Larry Little, takes a gun to school and shoots her favorite teacher — one of her father’s closest friends — Fred Black.
Their life-long friend, Sterling Sharpe, is asked to defend Molly while Sharpe’s ex-wife Sarah aggressively campaigns to prosecute. Gloria Little works the media and public outcry to put the blame on Fred through radio personality Derrick Dane. (“Great DAAAAAAAAANE in the morning!”)
Most of the book explores how relationships change and the ripple effect through the population of this small town. Perceptions continue to change as Molly does interviews from her cell and the public learns she is teaching other people in prison to read, and helping with prison social programs as well as bringing hope and faith to them. The debate on her good deeds versus her one bad one grows past legal constructs into moral and societal ones as everyone wrestles with the question, what is the right thing to do when a minor admits guilt, refuses to explain her actions and yet is a compellingly good person?
Coleman could easily expand the depth and emotions of some scenes between these dynamic characters and make this story even more compelling, but as it is, there is just enough conflict to move the reader to contemplation.
The Survival Methods and Mating Rituals of Men and Marine Mammals
By Chris Kenry
The story would make a great workplace sitcom.
As far-fetched a tale about a soon-to-be-homeless and dysfunctional author who finds employment — albeit a job he isn’t very qualified for — and a place to live on a research vessel bound for Antarctica is, it could be played to farcical extremes.
But Kenry takes the high road, developing an inspirational plot among some interesting characters, who, as one would imagine in an environment that places a premium on smarts at the expense of social graces, turn out to have just as many issues as the main character. Those character flaws give the reader a welcome distraction from the scientific jargon and other workplace minutiae of the plot. Further in, the environmental issues become another plot hook.
“The Survival Methods and Mating Rituals of Men and Marine Mammals” probably isn’t the ideal read for carefree summer months, but then again, the story of employment misadventures and self-discovery at the frozen ends of the earth might cool some people down during the sweltering months of summer.
Twelve O’clock Tales
By Felice Picano
A baker’s dozen of intriguing short stories, “Twelve O’Clock Tales” focuses on the unexplained or unexpected. Ranging from a brief retelling of a biblical story to a lengthy tale about a scientist’s experiences with time travel, Picano provides vivid imagery in his provocative fiction. The best entry may be the queerest — “Room Nine” — in which a man checks into a hotel and thinks there is something “not quite right” with his accommodations. (He’s right, of course.) Showering at the local gym, he upsets an athlete, who swears revenge before the curious and satisfying denouement. Other notable stories concern interference with a character’s dream state and a painting so black it cuts into another dimension. If the collection as a whole is uneven — one tale is pure science fiction, two others are offbeat riffs on the detective genre — each gives Picano and readers a chance to experiment.
Note: Felice Picano will read from “Twelve O’Clock Tales” 5:30 p.m. June 2 at Giovanni’s Room.
By Meredith Baxter
Baxter, best known for playing Elyse Keaton on the TV sitcom “Family Ties,” bares it all in her memoir, now out in paperback. The actor, who came out in December 2009, writes candidly about her childhood, three husbands, five children, acting, abuse, alcoholism and breast cancer. Her charming prose is easy to read, despite the often-weighty subject matter.
Starting with her distant mother — who insisted she call her Whitney, not mother — Baxter details her life story, glossing over little. Judging by the matter-of-fact way she delves into her difficult relationships, it’s obvious that her life was far from fairytale, but that she’s happy now. (Contributing factors likely include sobriety, years of therapy and coming out.)
Baxter’s life may not have been charmed, but it certainly has been interesting. For instance, who else do you know who has started acting because they needed to pay the bills (her Tupperware sales weren’t cutting it)?
Readers expecting focus on her coming-out story will be disappointed: She practically glosses over it, waiting until the last 25 pages in the book to tell that story.
Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?: A Modern Guide to Manners
By Henry Alford
Alford, queer contributor to “Vanity Fair,” has written an etiquette book that is both practical and hysterical. His tested advice includes common sense about bequeathing toilet seats, but Alford also addresses good manners for sending business emails (“Never send any message … that you’d be embarrassed to have the whole company read,” he warns.) Alford consults Tim Gunn about giving criticism that is helpful, not rude, and in the book’s weakest section, he gives back — offering advice (online) to others. Yet what may be the most eye-opening information in “Would It Kill You …” is not the sections on Japan, where sneezing is considered dirty — and something to avoid in public if possible — but the passage where Alford learns that everyone in prison is a germaphobe. Alford’s guide is enlightening and entertaining, even if his amusing-sounding game “Touch the Waiter” is something readers may blanch at playing.