Category Archives: GLBT fiction

“The Blade Between” by Sam J. Miller— A Restless Gay Photographer

Miller, Sam J. “The Blade Between”, Ecco, 2020.

A Restless Gay Photographer

Amos Lassen

In Sam J. Miller’s “The Blade Between”, Ronan Szepessy returns where his father is ill. He swore that he would never return but and New York City has become a distraction and too much for him. Perhaps a quick visit will help him recharge. 

He reconnects with two friends from high school: Dom, his first love, and Dom’s wife, Attalah. The three are unhappy about what their town has become with gentrification and corporate interests. Friends and neighbors are being evicted and with a mayoral election coming up, Ronan and Attalah have a plan to upset the newcomers and expose their real motives. In doing so, they unleash mysterious and uncontainable feelings. 

The real estate developers aren’t the only forces threatening the well-being of Hudson. Ronan’s activities have overlapped with growing hate and violence among friends and neighbors. Everything is spiraling out of control and Ronan has to find the very best of himself to save the city that he once hated.

Ronan is selfish, damaged, and hateful. He doesn’t know why he is going home. This is a novel of ideas that don’t come together— “homophobia, open marriages, drug abuse, bullying, hidden history, suicide, health problems, police brutality, corruption, social change, online manipulation, race, poverty, anger, social services, and the complicated love/hate relationship of hometowns and family.” In other words issues of life as we know it. Then there is magic, horror, dreams, gods and ghosts.

What happens to Ronan is no surprise and there are other loose ends as well.  A lot of this story seems partially inspired by the author’s life  that I read in his biography on his website. 

Miller moves easily between fantasy and horror and the story is well written but…… I got lost several times and had to make myself keep reading.

“Prodigal” by Charles Lambert— Siblings and Their Flaws

Lambert, Charles. “Prodigal”, Gallic, 2019.

Siblings and Their Flaws

Amos Lassen

When Rachel, Jeremy Eldritch’s sister lets him know that his father is dying, he returns to the family home on the English countryside and has to once again face the life that he thought he had escaped. He starts out on an emotional journey into his family’s past going back to the death of his mother years ago and then even further back to when his family fell to pieces. In “Prodigal”, writer Charles Lambert has us rethink what we known of the nature of trust, death and love in this bold queer coming-of-age story. It is honest and it is raw with characters filled with conflict and inconsistencies. This is a real look at humans and their flaws.

We follow the story of Jeremy and his sister Rachel who faced the deaths of both their parents. Rachel is dealing with divorce while Jeremy is finally able to live the free gay life that he could not have at home. Jeremy was close to his mother although after her death he ended up feeling that he did not understand her. Rachel was hostile to their mother and close to her father. Yet after his death, we realize that Rachel’s understanding of him was inaccurate. She lived with many illusions but is blind to them. Jeremy and Rachel didn’t get along either but after both deaths they finally find a tentative connection. What we see are the many ways that families can be broken and fail to live up to connection, support and comfort that they should share with each other.

The siblings spend much of their lives struggling to connect with others and making poor relationship decisions. It seems that the closed nature of both of their parents and their damaged relationship and subsequent divorce damaged both of them. Jeremy comes across as a “petulant child” who lusts after handsome men like an adolescent. Rachel is naïve and conservative in her thought processes and is uncomfortable with her brother’s sexuality. She lives in a social world where homosexuality is seen as shameful and we see how Jeremy grew up with neuroses because his family did not support who he is.

This is the story of the Eldritch family and the secrets and resentments that led to the adult children’s estrangement. Jeremy and Rachel are unattractive; self-centered, self-pitying and filled with resentment. Reading about them is not easy but the beautiful prose saves that.

“The Wasteland” by Jameson Harper and W.A.W. Parker— T.S. Eliot: A Life

Jameson, Harper and W.A.W Parker. “The Wasteland”, Level 4 Press, 2021.

T.S. Eliot: A Life

Amos Lassen

T.S. Eliot works at a bank and has the same routine, day after day. He walks past life, seeing it only through cracks or around corners. However, he has a vivid imagination. One day he meets the out and proud Jack as we was being beaten and Eliot intervenes changing his life forever. After recovering, Jack shows him the gay underground and introduces him to feelings that Eliot had locked way. Now feeling free, Eliot expresses himself through poetry, probably becomes he feels freed for the first time.

The people of London love his poetry and he becomes known—but at a price. He must conform to society’s expectations as the world faces religious intolerance and the expectations to adhere to traditional values. His new success forces him to make a decision and that decision could once again change his life with devastating consequences.

This is the untold story of T.S. Eliot, his secret struggle with being gay, those people who were left in the wake of his career trajectory as well as the madness that allowed him to create his greatest work. We are taken into the places to which homosexuals had to be during the

Jazz Age in London T. S. Eliot has a tumultuous life, struggling to fit in society and reach his potential as an artist at a time when poets were highly regarded and his private life was condemned. We get a look at the Modernist movement and the history of homosexual persecution. 

If you love poetry, reading this is a plus but not necessary. We read of Eliot getting swept up in the wasteland of his mind as he struggled with his insecurity, his desire for fame, and his quest for self in 1920s London.  While he was in the limelight, he moved further and further away from who he really was. This is an absolutely fascinating read.

 

 

“The Prophets” by Robert Jones Jr.— A Forbidden Love

Jones Jr. Robert. “The Prophets”, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021.

A Forbidden Love

Amos Lassen

“The Prophets” by Robert Jones Jr. is the story of the forbidden union between Isaiah and Samuel, two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation and the solace and refuge they find in each other and a betrayal that threatens their very beings. 

In the barn the two took care of the animals and each other. The barn became their place of refuge where they could be intimate away from their hard masters. However, when an older man who was also a slave tries to gain favor by preaching the master’s gospel on the plantation, the two young men begin to turn on their own. Their love, which was once so simple becomes sinful and a danger to the harmony of the plantation.

Through the voices of slaver and enslaved and from the women that surround them, author Jones tells the story. As tensions build, a climactic reckoning ensues and we read about “the pain and suffering of inheritance” alongside of hope, beauty, and truth allowing us to better understand the power of love.

We read of the brutality and cruelty of slavery and colonialism, abuse, the beauty of two black gay men in love, the l treatment for both men and women and religiosity. It is hard not to weep while reading.

Halifax plantation was surrounded by wilderness and treacherous waters. Many people died on the plantation. It is difficult to share the story of the two gay teens who were slaves there and the book is so much more than their story. We see how their relationship affected the other characters while at the same reading of slavery.  This isn’t an easy read and it is a total experience.

Here is a look at Black queerness as well as an account of slavery in the antebellum South that highlights lives over plantation life and the humanity of the slaves over the inhumanity of slavery. Jones gives us a look at the evils of white supremacy and fanaticism yet with hope and heroism and humanity.The prose is lyrical in his debut novel. The characters are wonderfully drawn and haunting.

“The Unicorn, the Mystery: A Novel” by Janet Mason— The Seven Tapestries

Mason, Janet. “The Unicorn, the Mystery: A Novel”, Adelaide Books, 2020.

The Seven Tapestries

Amos Lassen

A Unicorn shares the story of the seven tapestries in Janet Mason’s “The Unicorn, the Mystery”. The tapestries are known as“The Hunt of the Unicorn” and date back to the 1500s and can be seen in “the Unicorn Room” in The Cloister in Manhattan, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Together they tell the story of an “unsolved mystery” that occurred in an abbey in France near the place where the tapestries were discovered. The unicorn while being pursued by hunters spends its time observing birds, smelling and eating the abbey flowers and fruits including  fermented pomegranates. It chases chaste maidens and even speaks to other animals. A monk shares the unicorn’s story with the mystical animal.

The basic theme, it seems to me, is the nature of wisdom and how to use it. Both the monk and the unicorn see themselves as wise yet are filled with inconsistencies as we all are. As the unicorn views the tapestries, we see a reflection on life during different periods yet time demarcations are not noted. We also get a discussion about the church through the views of two nuns. They are a couple who feel that their religion sees their relationship as sinful. Through then we become more aware of how Christianity sees morality and truth giving us a lot to think about. To me, this is the purpose of literature—- thinking about what we have read after we close the covers of a book.

Mason very cleverly brings together questions of religion and theology with some wonderfully drawn characters that deal with issues that we all face in our lives. Her prose is gorgeous and her storytelling had me turning pages as quickly as possible once the plot began. I have always loved the medieval period but it had been a while before I read a book about the period. The union of myth and history is spellbinding and I really loved looking at the emotions of redemption and love and lust and insecurity. I have been a fan of Janet Mason since I read her book “Tea Leaves” and my respect for her writing is firmly cemented by “The Unicorn, The Mystery”.

“You Can’t Die But Once” by Penny Mickelbury— Coming Together

Mickelbury, Penny. “You Can’t Die But Once”,  (A Gianna Maglione/Mimi Patterson Mystery), Bywater Books, 2020.

Coming Together

Amos Lassen

Police Lieutenant Gianna Maglione is a new Captain in the Hate Crimes Unit and is recovering from a life-threatening gunshot injury. The unit has just been assigned a new boss, and a new squad—the Special Intelligence Mobile and Tactical Unit, of which hate crimes is a part. Gianna’s colleagues in the group are a team that is diverse and loyal. Mimi Patterson quit her job as the lead investigative reporter for the top newspaper in Washington DC’s top newspaper is persuaded to back to work. She quit because she did not want to apologize to a racist, sexist homophobe. The editor  that ordered her to do so is now gone, and coworkers are glad to have her back but on the condition that  she will not write about corrupt government officials and politicians as was her style and passion. They want her to focus stories that help people in the community.

The novel is set at a time when hatred is everywhere and seemingly become worse all of the time. Both Mimi and Gianna have no hope and certainly realize that women are those that receive most of this hate, especially young girls. When the two women get a tip that there is a group of men and women that are dealing in the sex trade reporter and the Captain are tipped off about a depraved ring of men and women by buying and selling young girls for profit, Mimi writes the story and opens the door for Gianna and her team to destroy the group. They become focused on helping the girls while at the same time working with themselves to get over past traumas.

This is not an easy read because of the subject it is about. It is, however, important for us to be aware of such things that happen in our world.

Mimi and Gianna are lovers who are self-forced into dealing with the situation and we are with them as they grow together. They have made mistakes and have continued to do so and by working together, their relationship becomes stronger as they learn more about each other and themselves. Their two storylines come together beautifully and this is the kind of book that, heavy as it is, does not let the reader rest while reading (and even afterwards).

 

“Night Tide” by Anna Burke— The New Vet

Burke, Anna. “Night Tide”, Bywater Books, 2021.

The New Vet

Amos Lassen

Ivy Holden, the new vet at the Seal Cove Veterinary Clinic, works with Lillian Lee who was someone she really disliked when they were in veterinary school, hatred pulsing between them at first sight. Lillian felt that she had found a safe place in Seal’s Cove but Ivy seems to harm that feeling. She is dealing with a recent breakup and although though Ivy seems to have changed since they graduated, Lillian just does not trust her. in the six years since graduation, Lillian can’t bring herself to trust her.

The mutual feelings the two women share for each other is compounded but Lillian despising Ivy’s coming from privilege and wealth and she finds her arrogance to be unbearable. But more than that, this hatred forces Lillian to look at herself and her life. Lillian was raised by two mothers, one Black and one white. She saw how her Black mother (who was not her biological mother but her mother’s partner) faced racism. While Lillian’s life had not been easy, she always had the love that her mothers provided her with. Ivy never had to worry about anything and relishes how she grew up. However, she also understands that she has to deal with the pressures of being the best she can be and even though she comes from a family where she always felt love, her moving from her home to Maine, weighs on her. Even more interesting is that she feels something for Lillian and suffers from pain due to a condition that she will not disclose. She does not want to be pitied.

The two women have not seen each other since their school days. It was her medical condition that brought Ivy To Maine. It puts her close to her parents’ summer home and the opportunity to use what she learned at school. But, Lillian is there. Lillian and Ivy have to find a way to work together while at the same time dealing with the way they feel about each other.They cannot allow the tension between. them affect their colleagues.

As you might suspect, this is the story of how former enemies become lovers. It is a multi-layered story of flawed characters who somehow manage to become adults with regards to their feelings. It is also a novel about chronic illness and privilege that causes us to examine our own feelings.  Anna Burke is an amazing writer and I cannot wait to see what comes next.

“Blue” by Abigail Padgett— A Detective Thriller

Padgett, Abigail. “Blue” (A Blue McCarron Mystery Book 1), Bywater Books, 2020.

A Detective Thriller

Amos Lassen

Blue who is a social phycologist who has been hired to evaluate an elderly woman who was arrested for murder when a man’s body is found in the woman’s rented food locker. Filled with subplots, twists and turns and fascinating characters, we get an interesting look at the way male culture affects females.

Blue McCarron is a Ph.D. in social psychology who teaches and writes. She is something of a recluse, living in an  abandoned motel in the California desert with her Doberman, Bronte. Her  twin brother is in jail for a felony and she is distraught about her  breakup of her relationship with her former lover, Misha. A body is found in a public freezer and widow Muffin Crandall says that she killed an intruder and then froze the body for five years. Crandall’s brother Dan hires Blue to analyze her and between Blue and forensic psychiatrist Rox, Muffin’s story is totally untrue. It seems that Muffin is protecting someone.

Blue has the ability to analyze unprofitable businesses and give advice on how to succeed and this provides her with a good income. Her doctoral dissertation was on how humans go back to an innate primate behavior when necessary and she uses this to analyze the understand the people who enter her life. When Dan Crandall asks for her help in proving that his sister is innocent of killing a man, her investigation as well as her analysis of human versus primate behavior is what assures her that the sister, who confessed to the crime, is hiding something.

One of the problems with reviewing a mystery is not giving something away that spoils the read for others. Here the mystery, indeed, is mysterious so while I cannot say more about the plot, I can that the characters are wonderfully drawn and, in turn, draw us in. Blue, especially is fascinating with all that she deals with including her past relationship with Misha, her twin brother and the people that the meets. I must admit that it took me a while to get through the beginning of the story before the plot actually begins. However, once I did, I could not stop reading. “Blue” is well written and has quite good humor and the plot is exciting as well as psychological.

“Flower of Iowa” by Lance Ringel— War and Romance

Ringel, Lance. “Flower of Iowa”, Lance Ringel, 2020.

War and Romance

Amos Lassen

Set in the four years that wrecked Europe and brought about the end of an era, Lance Ringel’s “Flower of Iowa” is a story of war and romance during the First World War. We are taken to France during the last months of World War I and meet idealistic American soldier Tommy Flowers from Iowa who struggles to become a good soldier in the trenches. He meets Nicole Lacroix, a French barmaid and becomes involved with both her and his Australian lieutenant, Jamie Colbeck. Tommy also becomes best friends with a young British soldier, David Pearson with whom that friendship becomes sexually intimate. Both men are confused with how they feel for one another. They do everything but then David is wounded and sent to England to recover.

Filled with wonderful detail, we get a look at a time when two men in love suffered in the eyes of society as well as a look at World War I that we have not really seen before. Homophobia was rampant at the time. Written in stunning prose and deeply researched, I felt the gamut of emotions as I read especially the lack of feeling to belong as seen in the two soldiers. There was not just the fear of war but the fear of ostracism that accompanied them as they grew together. Even though their love gave them a sense of solace when they were together, they were well aware of societal pressure surrounding them.

This is a gorgeous character study of two men who leap to life from the pages of the book. We read as Tommy changes from the naive youth to a man who sees war as an adventure. David is both shy and strong and is not sure how to deal with his feelings for Tommy yet the love between the two is strong. We get a look at two men in love that is very real and that reminds us of how lucky we are to have the freedoms that we have today.

Tommy had never really faced his sexuality and this was probably due to his youth and the way he was raised in rural America. He really knew nothing about homosexuality aside from it being condemned (and we are not really sure if he even knew that). The focus, however, is not on the physical relationship between him and David but on the way homosexuality was regarded.

The relationship developed slowly yet once it became part of the two men, it becomes an affirmation of love (and not sex). I love that Tommy remained the same kind of innocent man he had been before he met David. Tommy, on the other hand, willingly came into the relationship without feelings of regret or fear. He is aware of societal pressure but he is also very aware of his own feelings of love for Tommy. Because they came together
during a war, their hardships are compounded yet they never lose their feelings for one another. Their love for each other, got them through whatever they faced in battle and in life.

We have many characters for whom we develop intense feelings and as we move toward the final pages of this epic novel, I found myself loathe to see it end.

“Revenge is Necessary” by Bill Mathis— A Thriller

Mathis, Bill. “Revenge is Necessary”, Rogue Phoenix Press, 2020.

A Thriller

Amos Lassen

I spent New Year’s Day, 2020 on the edge of my chair reading Bill Mathis’s new novel, “Revenge is Necessary”. It took me into a world far away from Covid-19 and that would have been reason enough to become involved in this story of revenge. But it is also one of the best thrillers I have read in a long time, so much so that I did not move until after I read the last page.

We meet Shaw Skogman, a successful farmer who “loses it” and tries to kill his wife and son by firing a shotgun at them. Shaw suffers a severe leg wound and chooses to die rather than have his leg amputated and his family becomes privy to secrets of the man’s life. There was Melvin, his nervous right-hand man and the fact that Shaw’s first wife committed suicide—or so we thought. Then there is gay undertaker, a sheriff in the closet and two gay teens. There were also secrets about his second wife.

We begin with Shaw learning a secret about his own mother. Shaw’s wife, Connie, fought her husband to gain control of the rifle that he was wielding and his left leg is blown off. Choosing to die unleashes Shaw’s mother’s secret and the man’s own hidden life. Truth flies out of the window as the secrets of others are also exposed. The Shaw that others thought they knew was far from the man that he really was. To say that he and his family were dysfunctional is an understatement.

Because the story is based on the uncovering of secrets, limits what I can say about the plot that is filled with twists and turns and will keep you guessing and turning pages quickly. You either love or hate the characters and my feelings about them were in flux during the entire read. We do not usually read about rural settings such as this one where all kinds of love situations exist along side of abuse, deception, love and care for one another. It is great fun uncovering the various layers of the characters we meet here. Mixing gay characters into issues of mental dysfunction and societal problems works beautifully to give us a very different look at a Midwestern farm community. This is a story about family and how rage devastates and is not one you will forget anytime soon.