PGN’s Holiday Gift Guide
by PGN Staff
Dec 06, 2012 | 770 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
With the holiday shopping frenzy upon us, you may be racking your brain, and scouring department and big-box stores, for the perfect gift or stocking stuffer for that special someone. Instead of grabbing another mind-numbing romantic comedy or run-of-the-mill candle set, how about expanding the reading horizon for your giftees? PGN got to reading some of the latest works by LGBT authors and about LGBT topics to give you the best of the best, and occasional not-so best of the best, in holiday gift-worthy books. But remember, shy away from online buying and patronize your local book stores.

“A Slice of Love”

By Andrew Grey

Romance


The setting is Carlisle, Pa., where Marcus Wilson’s newly opened bakery A Slice of Heaven is exhausting him and causing significant-enough worries that even paying the people who offered to help him get it started isn’t possible after several months. His stepmother comes in to help after a family dinner where Marcus’ father, the general, makes it pretty clear he isn’t as excited about his gay son having a bakery when the rest of the siblings are all in the military.

Enter Gregory Southland — an accountant who offers to help with the bookkeeping to give Marcus a little more free time, which they end up spending most of together.

A magnetic couple (Gregory is positive, Marcus negative), they work to promote and grow the little shop of baked goods.

They hear of a young boy who has tested HIV-positive and the local school has refused to allow him to attend. (Sound familiar?) Do they help raise money for the legal battle or will the business go under when the label “AIDS Bakery” starts rumoring around? Will the ex, one of those who knows how to show up when Marcus is most vulnerable, mess things up?

Grey gets things hot in the kitchen and the bedroom in this latest of his series. This is a great gift book for that sweetheart in your life.

— Scott A. Drake

“Bi-Curious George: An Unauthorized Parody”

By Andrew Simonian

Humor


From a nostalgia point of view, this gay take of the classic children’s character definitely remains faithful to the aesthetic of the original book. But, upon further inspection, we can easily see why this version is an unauthorized.

The gay version of the beloved monkey character gets into the kinds of mischief kids might not be ready to understand, which is why the book is meant for adults. Even though nothing too explicit is described or shown in the illustrations, the implications are easy to see.

This incarnation of the monkey has ditched the Man in the Yellow Hat for the Man in the Sassy Purple Beret and gets into misadventures involving randy sailors, firemen, jail and drug dealers.

Seeing George at times very drunk, vomiting, locked up, trying to avoid prison rape, stealing from a drug dealer and getting very high, all in the pursuit of some hot same-sex monkey love, might not send the best of messages. But is it is damn fun to read about. And if the exploits of a boozed-up, pill-popping, horny monkey is a blueprint for your life, you’re probably having too much fun to care either way.

For adults who want to see a childhood favorite through a decadent gay lens, “Bi-Curious George” is just the ticket.



— Larry Nichols

“The Evening Hour”

By Carter Sickels

Fiction


Trans author Sickels takes on a harrowing task in exploring the impact of environmental destruction on an impoverished Appalachian region, and does so brilliantly.

“The Evening Hour” centers on Cole Freeman, a 20-something nursing-home aide in his hometown of Dove Creek, W.Va., a small town where the men skip college for the coal mines and the women are left to tend bar and wait tables. Cole’s dreams of nursing school are foreign to most Dove Creek residents, but he does his part to fit into the fabric of the community with his lucrative side job — selling pills he steals from nursing-home residents and buys from willing seniors in the town’s flourishing drug market.

The depressed region is teetering on the brink of destruction as big-time coal companies strip away the greenery, displacing residents and causing rifts among those who flee and those who seek to preserve the once-vibrant mountainscape. Cole is forced to reconcile his ambition to break out of the town with his allegiance to the land and his steadfast grandmother, all the while haunted by an absent-yet-returned mother and a grandfather whose religious zeal instilled in him a wealth of self-doubt.

“The Evening Hour” boasts a sea of strengths — a good balance of dialogue and prose; a storyline rife with conflicts of all dimensions; and an unapologetic, realistic take on personal failings in light of societal challenges.

However, the complexity of Sickels’ characters is most impressive. Cole is a benevolent figure but one with a multitude of flaws — traits Sickels effectively roots throughout the book. Each character is an effective blend of good, bad and somewhere in the middle, making for a cast that executes the story — that trends toward uplifting at times and disheartening at others — perfectly.

“The Evening Hour” is an intriguing tale sure to captivate any reader on your holiday-shopping list.

— Jen Colletta

“The King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson”

By Michael Bush

Nonfiction


As a coffee-table book, “The King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson” is a must-have for fans of Jackson or his outrageous style. Written by Michael Bush, the longtime costume designer and personal friend of the late King of Pop, “The King of Style” is an art-driven book about the costumes, apparel, shoes and accessories created and worn by Jackson and includes hundreds of lavish photographs and a behind-the-scenes look into the process of collaborating with the legendary entertainer. The book includes personal stories from the author and never-before-seen photographs.

One interesting aspect of this book how fine is the line that divides which of Jackson’s clothes seem dated and which outfits still appear very hip by today’s standards. But which is which is in the eye of the beholder. Plus, with the exception of some stage costumes, Jackson never wore the same clothes twice in public, so unless you are some kind of super fan or stalker, you probably will see more than a few clothes in the book for the first time.

It’s hard to imagine any fan of pop music or over-the-top glitzy style not enjoying this book to some degree.

— L.N.

“The Legend of Bold Riley”

By Leia Weathington

Fantasy


Usually, lesbian characters in fantasy epic graphic novels end up being the personification of straight male erotic fantasies, which is why this graphic novel is a breath of fresh air.

With artistic nods to Indian folklore and Conan the Barbarian, “Bold Riley” keeps the focus on the character development, adventure and story, keeping things interesting visually and character-wise without venturing into gratuitous sex and violence usually associated with books in this genre. The artwork is spectacular, with five different artists lending their talents to different chapters in the book.

While this book might be too adult-oriented for younger readers, late teens and adults alike should enjoy the well-written stories of the titular adventurer as she travels the lands fighting, exploring and romancing whatever she might encounter along the way.

— L.N.

“The Man on the Third Floor”

By Anne Bernays

Fiction


Bernays’ compulsively readable novel concerns Walter Samson, a Jewish man in the 1950s who encounters a series of moral problems in his otherwise “wrinkle-free life.” For a man to whom success — in the publishing industry — comes easy, Walter not only hides his Judaism in the anti-Semitic postwar era, he also hides his sexuality. He maintains a clandestine extramarital affair with Barry, a handsome man he hires as his family’s driver. Walter even installs Barry on the third floor of his home to keep him nearby for covert meetings.

After Walter’s daughter Kate gets ill, however, she indicates that she knows about her father’s affair. Shortly thereafter, a member of his staff also makes similar hints, perhaps even blackmailing him. Meanwhile, a famous author Walter discovered gives him an ultimatum — one that reflects how he is handling his own secrets and shame.

“The Man on the Third Floor” is engrossing because Walter is deliberately trapped by his lies, doubts and actions; every dramatic twist prompts him to re-evaluate what he has and believes, and readers are caught up in his decisions.

While Barry’s character is something of an enigma, “The Man on the Third Floor” smartly showcases Walter’s personal and professional dilemmas. It is a particularly entertaining short novel.

— Gary M. Kramer

“Mom Knows: Reflections on Love, Gay Pride and Taking Action”

By Catherine Tuerk

Essay collection


“Mom Knows” traces one family’s journey to understand a son’s sexual orientation — from denial to rejection to tolerance to acceptance and finally to celebration, with all the bumps along the way.

Tuerk’s son showed signs of femininity from a young age, which she and her husband attempted to root out with therapy and behavior modification, to no avail. Once their son came out, the couple was forced to choose whether to continue denying his identity or ultimately affirm their son, and they thankfully chose the latter.

The collection is comprised of dozens of personal essays Tuerk wrote throughout a several-decade period, reflecting her own “coming-out” process as she becomes a staunch LGBT ally and goes on a crusade to educate family, friends and strangers across the globe about the realities of an LGBT identity. Her writings demonstrate the true power of storytelling — Tuerk is the prototypical proud mother and grandmother and talks about her gay son, his partner and, eventually, their two children, to anyone and everyone who will listen and, in many instances, her ability to put faces to concepts has a transforming impact on many people’s conceptions of the LGBT community.

For LGBTs, the book can offer valuable insight into the personal struggles their parents or other loved ones may have undergone, or are continuing to go through, after their coming-out. And it’s also ideal for families and friends of LGBT people, regardless of which phase they’re in in fully embracing their gay loved one — it’s not preachy, but rather can subtly remind those who are struggling what family truly means.

— J.C.

“On Being Different: What It Means to Be a Homosexual”

By Merle Miller

Essay


One of the defining works of writer-turned-activist Miller’s career gets brought out of the history books with this new printing.

The seminal “What It Means to Be a Homosexual” was first published in the New York Times Magazine in 1971 and later made into a book. The essay details Miller’s own struggles with his identity and shines a light on the then-growing energy in the LGBT community that was buoying people out of the closet, two years post-Stonewall.

“I dislike being despised, unless I have done something despicable, realizing that the simple fact of being homosexual is all by itself despicable to many people,” Miller writes.

His original essay shows an optimism that the growing LGBT-rights movement would soon see legislative results: “Laws discriminating against homosexuals will almost surely be changed. If not this year, in 1972; if not in 1972, in 1976; if not in 1976 ... ”

The changes that have taken place in the past four decades are delineated with the new foreword by Dan Savage and afterword by Charles Kaiser.

“It has gotten better. Not perfect. Better,” Savage says. The simple manner in which the book opens with details on Savage’s family vacation with his husband and children is a statement in and of itself.

Likewise, Kaiser’s piece was penned as news was breaking, literally, of a California appeals court striking down Proposition 8.

However, the new additions to the piece do a good job showing the wealth of changes that is still needed — and in illustrating that courageous steps like those of Miller are integral in bringing about progress.

— J.C

“The Passionate Attention of an Interesting Man”

By Ethan Mordden

Fiction/short stories


The alluring title and sexy cover suggest that Ethan Mordden’s “The Passionate Attention of an Interesting Man” might be an erotica collection. But this novella plus four stories offer more substance than sex. Despite some explicit encounters between sensualized men, the theme linking each story/relationship is how power and control are exercised.

The best stories feature two characters in a pas de deux. “The Flippety Flop” chronicles a dynamic, seductive encounter between two strangers, even if the twist ending is obvious.

The opening novella, “Tom,” also features an intriguing relationship. Here, two roommates form an unusually close bond. However, Mordden spends pages with curious supporting characters that detract from, rather than enhance, this story’s central relationship. Yet this entry does offer some keen observations on human behavior, along with some clever uses of language.

In contrast, the absorbing tale “The Suite” is much more effective in depicting the motivations for and consequences of an intense tryst between two very different roommates.

Mordden offers engaging exchanges through his book, and he makes all the men in his stories fascinating — especially when they are calculating or menacing. But despite these elements, most of the stories, while interesting, are somewhat unsatisfying.

— G.M.K.

“Strange Bedfellows”

Rob Byrnes

Fiction/humor


“Strange” is the operative word for this lively, entertaining take on amateur criminals, political plotters, underhanded underlings and a wild and wily blogger whose paths not only intersect, but sometimes crash headlong into each other. The “bedfellows” part refers to the criminals, who met on a B&E; they were both breaking into the same place the same night.

Of course, everyone knows that politics makes strange bedfellows. They are even stranger when the son of one popular older pol and son-in-law of another is expected to hit the campaign trail to fill a vacating seat, but on the trail tweets a penis picture to a non-wife female. The picture could be used for blackmail or for fodder to thwart his election. It might be a money-maker for criminals if they can obtain it from a blogger’s office. As well as her cell phone. And the backups at her home. Or, it could be, and is, all of the above.

The partners in crime and bed, Chase LaMarca and Grant Lambert, surround themselves in the final heist with the unlikeliest combination of scammers, car thieves, point men, drivers and a crazy kid who thinks that being a super-criminal means he gets to wear tights and a cape during the caper.

“Strange Bedfellows” is definitely a delight to read, with chuckles from the first fumble through the final fiasco.

— S.A.D.

“These Things Happen”

By Richard Kramer

Fiction


“These Things Happen,” the debut novel by TV-scribe Kramer (“Tales of the City,” “My So-Called Life”) would be better-suited for the stage, that it is for the page. The forced dialogue seems particularly scripted, and there are cues for characters to “enter,” laugh and crack wise. The chapters are even broken out into different characters’ voices, which further emphasizes its theatricality.

The story opens with Theo, a 16-year-old, coming out. His best friend Wesley, who is currently living with his gay father Kenny and Kenny’s partner George, has been asked by Theo to learn “when they knew” they were gay, and if they believe it is a “choice.” The answers, revealed over the course of the book, are perceptive and provide insights about self-discovery and sharing one’s self with others.

However, Kramer buries his important points under bad writing, as when a character claims, “I miss hats and furtiveness,” or when a grievance is described as “a sour smell ... like the inside of sneakers.”

“These Things Happen” also uses a gay-bashing crime to reveal how Wesley’s parents hide aspects of their lives that might make them look bad. But the book is too slight for this to be revelatory.

Alas, Kramer’s self-conscious writing makes “Things” look bad all by itself.

— G.M.K.

“Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders”

By Joy Ladin

Autobiography


Trans author Ladin retells a story that is both heartbreaking and inspirational.

In her autobiography, Ladin traces her journey as she transitions from male to female. Ladin, who was biologically born a male but felt female all her life, gives a tragic inside look on the struggles that brought her to the point of transition and the impact it had on both her and her family. Ladin, who worked at Yeshiva University, a fairly conservative institute, faced discrimination in academia. She gives the reader an inside look on her new discoveries — everything from clothes-shopping to progesterone and estrogen regimens to the painful coming-out to her parents and family.

Ladin’s book is perfect for those who are transitioning or heading in that direction, and for those who enjoy learning about transgender and gender-non-conforming experiences. With its wealth of information, the work could go a long way to educate readers on trans issues and could even save lives.

— A.T.

“Trevor: The Story That Inspired The Trevor Project”

By James Lecesne

Novella


“Trevor” tells the story of a boy who could not find his place in the world.

Lecesne’s main character — previously developed through storytelling and an award-winning film — inspired The Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis intervention and services for LGBT youth. The novella tells the story of Trevor, a young boy trying to adapt to his surroundings in middle school. Trevor, who is obsessed with Lady Gaga, theater and his friendship with athlete superstar Pinky Faraday, is discouraged after being taunted and bullied at school.

He slowly spirals downward into thoughts of suicide and death and, because of his parents’ worry over his emerging sexuality and his friends’ disapproval of it, Trevor decides to take his own life. The book, however, does not end tragically.

“Trevor” shows the effects of bullying and the stages of depression that a child can go through. It would be perfect for just about any reader, but especially for youth who are struggling with their identities. This gift could go a long way in comforting someone who may feel different.

— A.T.

“Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution”

By Linda Hirshman

Nonfiction


Get ready for knowledge overload with Hirshman’s “Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution.”

The book traces the history of the LGBT-rights movement and its many highs and lows over the past century, a play-by-play of the community’s growth.

“Victory” is not only perfect for those interested in history but for the entire LGBT community. If you go into the book with sparse information on the history of the LGBT movement, you will feel ultimately schooled by the end. This novel gives the reader a front-seat view of what it was like for some of our greatest and most inspiring LGBT pioneers.

The best part is that the work allows you to take a step back and be grateful for the progress the LGBT movement has achieved by 2012. Although the fight for marriage equality is far from over, at least you can’t (legally) be arrested for identifying as gay anymore in this country.

“Victory” is ideal for a history buff or anyone who is eager to learn the history of the LGBT movement.

— A.T.

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