Category Archives: GLBT fiction

“An Asian Minor: The True Story of Ganymede” by Felice Picano— Meet Ganymede Anew

Picano, Felice. “An Asian Minor: The True Story of Ganymede”, Lethe Reprint, 2017, originally published 1981.

Meet Ganymede Anew

Amos Lassen

Felice Picano’s novella about Ganymede was originally published in 1981 and has long been out-of-print. It tells the life story of Ganymede unapologetically and with the in its ribald details of Greek gods in disguise as they try to seduce “the most beautiful youth in the Ancient world”. thirteen-year-old boy who discovers that he is “the most beautiful mortal ever born.”

Picano sees Ganymede as a young man who was given immortality at age fourteen, who has aged mentally with the earth and sees and knows the world. Ganymede relates the true story of his life because he sees that others are intent on making him “a symbolic victim of an old pervert’s lust; and contrarily, by others saying that the perversion is fine.” He wants everyone to know the truth that t his human rights had not been violated and that he is not an unwilling victim who was raped and abducted without his permission. Ganymede, being the nice guy that he is also tells us in the prologue that he wants to give us modern guys some ideas on how to find the right kind of sugar daddy.

We see that Ganymede is sneaky and cheeky but he has good reason for that; he is the most beautiful young man to ever have lived. He learns that being so beautiful is both a blessing and a curse. His father shows proudly exhibits him off as one of the wonders of Troy but Ganymede is exiled because his father does not want the gods misbehaving as they try to win him over. This is where his adventures begin and he rejects both Apollo and Hermes because he does not want to settle for a minor god when he knows that he can do better. It took humbling him so that he could fulfill his dreams. humbled that he gets the chance to fulfill his destiny.

Ganymede tells his story as if he was living in the world of today. His language is contemporary and filled with idioms. He tells us what really went on in his life and corrects the “mistakes” that others have made telling his story. Here he claims that he knew nothing about the powers that were given to him at birth. He also is not aware of his perfect beauty until others tell him about it and he realizes that he can use it for his own advantage. We see that he is searching for his destiny and that it was just not handed to him. He is a very smart kid who is unwilling to settle for anything or anyone when he can have the very best. This is a read that is just fun. Ganymede goes wit to wit against the biggest gods remaining always convinced that there is always one better than the god he is with. You will never read mythology the same way again.

“Nights in Berlin” by Janice Law— Love in Weimar Berlin

Law, Janice. “Nights in Berlin”, (The Francis Bacon Mysteries), Mysterious Press, 2016.

Love in Weimar Berlin

Amos Lassen

When Francis Bacon’s father sends him to Berlin because of his flirting with other boys at his school, he is very happy. Going to school in the country had been a bore for him and in Berlin there are many opportunities to enjoy. Francis begins enjoying them all. He loves the cabarets that are outrageous and he fits right into his uncle Lasting’s bed. After the First World War, Berlin enjoyed a good deal of growth and openness even as Hitler began his rise to power.

As the atmosphere becomes more and more tense, Francis’s uncle welcomes all kinds of men to share his bed. Some of these men are there just for sexual pleasure while others have been invited to help fight the rising tide of Bolshevism. Then when the Nazis send Lastings running for his life, Francis remains in Berlin alone with only his sense of hedonism to distract him from a city that becomes more dangerous every night.

We meet Francis Bacon when he is aiding his uncle in a political shooting, after which he is forced into hiding as a hatcheck “girl” in a Berlin drag bar under the auspices of the British embassy.

There’s intrigue, peril, politics, history, humor and romance in the story. Having been repressed by his father, Francis finds Weimar-era Berlin to be a wonderland of fun. There is a snag, however, and that is that his uncle is not what he seems, and seems and appears to be involved in either spying or some criminal intrigue with the right-wing. Francis has a series of dangerous encounters as he works in a gay nightclub while dodging his uncle’s creditors and enemies. He finds help from unexpected friends.

Francis uses his natural resources to survive in a place that is filled with danger, especially for gay men. Even though Bacon is a flamboyantly and sexually active, there is no explicit sex.

Based on British artist Francis Bacon, author Janice Law—like many current authors—has recreated a real person into a fictional amateur sleuth with her Francis Bacon Mysteries. “Nights In Berlin” is the fourth in the series, yet is a prequel to the others as it deals with the 17-year-old Bacon’s adventures in gay Berlin.

This is writer Janice Law’s fourth book in the Francis Bacon series and while it is not necessary to have read the others, it might help to understand Bacon. We do know that while still a teen, he was thrown out of his home when he was found admiring himself while wearing his mother’s underwear. Bacon said that his father sent him to a friend who was known for his “manliness” with the idea that this friend would make a man out of him. This friend was his Bacon’s so-called “uncle” who bedded him in Berlin.

 

“Bitter Legacy” by Dal Maclean— No Ordinary Policeman

Maclean, Dal. “Bitter Legacy”, Blind Eye Books, 2016.

No Ordinary Policeman

Amos Lassen

Detective Sergeant James Henderson (Jamie) of London’s Metropolitan Police Murder Investigation Team is no ordinary cop. He has amazing gut instincts and is a non-stop detective and this what got him on a three-year fast track to becoming an inspector.

When he was assigned to the murder case of barrister Maria Curzon-Whyte lands in his lap, Henderson is taken back into world of London’s privileged elite. This is the world he came out of. His father was wonderfully wealthy and had so much power that he was able to hold the law in contempt. As James moves among the promiscuous, secretive and corrupt spheres of the rich, the murderer strikes once again. James fears that these crimes lead very close to his own home and he risks losing everything he’s made of his life unless he can expose the truths that have brought about this “bitter legacy”.

Jamie knows that he is gay even though he has never been with a man. That changes when he meets Ben who is extremely handsome and very flirtatious. It seems that other men are incredibly drawn to him and once he’s entrapped them they are powerless to resist. Jamie is like the others in this regard. Jamie’s investigation takes him to the apartments Ben lives in and there Jamie is instantly captivated by Ben. He learns that Ben is looking for a flatmate and since Jamie is looking for a new apartment so they soon find themselves living together. However, Ben is very promiscuous and is very open about it. The more Jamie is around Ben his common sense leaves him and he is lost to resist Ben. When they become an item Jamie expects monogamy even though he knows exactly what Ben is like.

Ben was totally upfront about his sexuality and never made any promises about being exclusive, but when he cheated on Jamie, my heart went out to him. This is not just a mystery but also a look at the two men’s relationship.

I am really not much of a mystery reader but I must say that I found myself deeply involved in the story here; so much so that I read the book in one sitting. The plot is complex and involves a series of murders in London investigated by Jamie whose personal life takes place alongside the investigation. He deals with his first relationship as a gay male as well as the first time he has sex with another guy. As for the investigation, I can’t tell you more about it except to say that it leaves the reader feeling positive that you know what is transpiring at times and then stunned that you don’t know at other times.

The mystery is solid and the investigation drags on, through false leads and twists, and maybe another linked death. But while his professional life is frustrating and murky, James thinks he finally has a shot at a real personal life with Ben. Unfortunately, Ben has different ideas about what is going on between them, and what a gay man’s life should look like. Thus forces Janie’s dreams to collide and when he finally understands how it all comes together, he realizes that not everything is as it appears to be.

 As we watch Jamie as the lead investigator on the case, we see  who he is and that is more than just a bright young detective on the fast-track to promotion. We see that he is a man whose uncompromising instincts on the job run at complete odds with the compromises he is willing to make in his personal life (keeping Ben Morgan in his bed—even if it means sharing Ben with other men). We see Jamie operate and as he does, he is grappling with a lifeline that begins to drag him under. His relationship with Ben is in opposition to his professional life. He suffers a conflict of lust and principles when his investigation when he meets Ben. The reality of Jamie’s losing his heart is somewhat depressing especially when he realizes that he is just a convenient sex object. Ben is both possessive and contemptuous of James’s feelings. Both Jamie and the reader have to figure out who this enigma named Ben really is.

“Speakers of the Dead: A Walt Whitman Mystery” by J. Aaron Sanders— Walt Whitman, Detective

Sanders, J. Aaron. “Speakers of the Dead: A Walt Whitman Mystery”, Plume, 2016.

Walt Whitman, Detective

Amos Lassen

“Speakers of the Dead” is a mystery novel about the investigative exploits of a young Walt Whitman who explores the seedy underbelly of New York City’s body-snatching industry in order to exonerate his friend of a wrongful murder charge. Set in New York in 1843, young Whitman goes to the Tombs prison to visit Lena Stowe, a friend, who is to hang for the murder of Abraham Stowe, her husband. It is Walt’s plan to present evidence for Lena’s good but he is turned away by the sheriff. Lena hangs and Walt promises that he will exonerate her posthumously.

 

Walt’s boyfriend, Henry Saunders, from whom he has been estranged, returns to New York, and the two men discover a link between body-snatching and Abraham’s murder: a man named Samuel Clement. To get to Clement, Walt and Henry must go into the dangerous underworld where resurrection men steal the bodies of the recently deceased and sell them to medical colleges. Since there are no legal means to acquire cadavers, medical students rely on these criminals, and Abraham’s involvement with the Bone Bill (legislation that would put the resurrection men out of business) is what seems to have led to his and Lena’s deaths.

Reporter Whitman became involved in the case because the victims were close friends of his. Abraham and Lena Stowe are doctors who have dedicated their careers to furthering science and the role that women have in it by running a medical school for women to train to become doctors. When Abraham is killed for the murder of his supposed lover, his wife Lena is his supposed killer and she dies for it. However, the facts do not add up and Whitman decides to dig deeper into the mystery surrounding their deaths. He finds a link between his friends’ deaths and the graveyard body snatching in Samuel Clement.

The narrative is an interesting take on a young Walt Whitman as he develops and finds his voice. As he becomes involved with crime bosses who run the government and do not let the common people find justice, the story begins to move forward at a rapid pace. The plot follows some decent and some indecent surprising developments in the case.

This is a more than a mystery in which a young Walt Whitman helps to solve the case; it is also a historical novel. During the 19th century there was a lot said about medical schools using cadavers for dissection and education. Christians were against dissection as they felt that the bodies needed to be intact for “resurrection” to take place “at the end of time”. There were already medical schools and anatomy labs which had been burned in other states. Since there were no legal means of acquiring cadavers, medical students and their instructors had to rely on the illegal body trade which were controlled by those known as “resurrection men”. These businessmen would follow the obituaries and then dig up the recently deceased and sell them to medical schools. One of the characters here is Elizabeth Blackwell who is fighting to keep her medical school open and to further the cause for anatomical dissection as a value to furthering science. She later becomes the first woman to receive a medical license in the United States. The

mystery tries to uncover the actual public figures who are behind the “executions”. Whitman reveals clues as he continues to write special articles for the newspaper and he even manages to raise money to offer a reward to those who know who is behind the executions. More than that I cannot say.

The novel is written in polished prose that provides a great read. Author J. Aaron Sanders is great with detail and he balances history and murder wonderfully. I love his imagination and it is great fun to see so many literary characters together at one time. The portrait that we get of the young Walt Whitman is brilliant (and obviously well researched). Not only do we read about the young poet but also about his familial and romantic relationships and his ideas about life, religion, and the role of science. We see Whitman as a complex character that struggled with many of the same themes and ideas present in our society today. Here is a Walt Whitman who is young and ambitious, a reporter who risks his life for truth.

“Rented Heart” by Leigh Garrett— Finding Love

Leigh, Garrett. “Rented Heart”, Riptide Publishing, 2016.

Finding Love

Amos Lassen

Liam Mallaney moved back to Holkham, Norfolk, to mourn the loss of his husband. His grief and loneliness has kept him as a solitary figure, and he seems to like it that way.

Rentboy Zac Payne left London and only knows one way to make a living. When he sees Liam in a club one night, he feels that he has found what he is looking for. However, Liam is so nice and the two soon have a connection more than either man had planned on having. However, things become too complicated for Zac since he is also dealing with Jamie, his best friend and flatmate, Jamie. Zac owes Jamie everything, and even as Jamie’s drug addiction destroys all they have, Zac won’t leave him behind.

Liam knows nothing of Zac’s home life but when Zac’s life is suddenly put in danger, Liam understands that he must push his own feelings of grief to the side and help him. Liam is no kid; he is thirty-four-years-old and is really having a hard time dealing with the death of his lover, Cory, and business partner a little over a year ago. He is simply existing, going through life a day at a time. He has kept the business afloat and it is doing very well and he is proud of that. Yet, his loneliness convinces Liam to get out and have some fun. By snap decision, he goes home with Zac thinking that it would be nothing more than a hook up and not knowing that Zac is a rent boy.

Zac is only 23 and has never had a day that was some kind of struggle. He survived a heroin overdose six months before, thanks to being saved by his best friend and fellow rent boy Jamie and he took that second chance at life and moved away from the people and temptations of London to Norfolk and King’s Lynn.

Jamie and Zac are best friends who have taken comfort in each other. Jamie came with Zac to King’s Lynn but still loves and desires the oblivion and numbness the drugs give him. He will not give them up and he is quite a sad character.

Liam is good man who really cares about the people in his life and wants the best for them. The age gap between Liam and Zac is no problem because Zac is fierce and strong and has had to be to survive. He is vulnerable, however.

The chemistry between Liam and Zac is great right from the start, and it bothers both of them for different reasons. Zac has been hooking for a long time and he’s never felt any attraction to any of his other johns but Liam becomes important to him and rather quickly. Because of Cory, the only man he had ever had sex with, Liam feels a sense of guilt when he is with Zac and he begins to really enjoy his life once again. It is hard for him to deal with the fact that what the two share is a “business transaction”. Since both men have so much baggage from their pasts, they have a hard time seeing themselves as they see each other.

This is “a second chance” novel and the writing is excellent. The characters are wonderfully drawn. I wasn’t prepared to read the entire book in one sitting but I became so involved with the characters that I could not stop reading. I believe many will feel the same way.

 

 

“Caught Inside” by Jamie Deacon— Changing Paths

Deacon, Jamie. “Caught Inside”, Beaten Track Publishing, 2016

Changing Paths

Amos Lassen

Luke Savage is seventeen-years-old and a very clever guy who thinks that he has his life figured out but that changes when he meets Theo. He had planned on having a fun summer with his girlfriend Zara at her family’s holiday cottage in Cornwall. In his mind’s eye, he saw himself on the beach and surfing. Love was the farthest thing from his thoughts and he is really not interested in love and he was totally unprepared for the way he reacted to Theo, Zara’s cousin who is an undergrad at Oxford and Zara’s best friend. He finds himself feeling desire and has him questioning everything about his life as he discovers that he does not really know himself. He and Theo develop a fragile relationship and Luke makes sure that no one finds out about it. However…

This is a very clever coming-of-age story with characters who are lovable. Jamie Deacon has written a wonderful story with very real characters who pull us into the story in the first few pages.

Luke’s struggle to come to turns with his own feelings and his undeniable attraction to Theo is a struggle that many of us have had to face in our lives. Both Theo and Luke have to deal with emotions that they had not been used to having as well as reconcile the desire they feel for each other. The story is told from Luke’s perspective of Luke, thus letting us feel what he is going through. Because this is the first time that Luke has ever felt anything more than friendship for a boy, his need for Theo is quite strong. It is fun to read about their feelings for each other and the deep conversations they share lets us really get to know them. As Theo and Luke become closer, Luke’s relationship with Zara becomes more and more of a problem. He is really afraid of hurting her. He also worries about how others will react when the secret is out. He realizes that he might lose friends but he also realizes how much he loves Theo.

“Pansies” by Alexis Hall— Love and Life

Hall, Alexis. “Pansies” (A Spires Story: Volume 4), Riptide, 2016

Love and Life

Amos Lassen

Alfie Bell has a six-figure salary, a penthouse in Canary Wharf, a great car and a group of fancy London friends. He was raised in South Shields and going back there is difficult for him now that he is “a fully paid-up pansy”. But Fen is there and he is beautiful with his “pink-tipped hair and hipster glasses”. Fen has the kind of courage that Alfie has never had and always wanted. It should have been a one-night date but Alfie hadn’t met anyone like Fen before even though they had been in school together. Alfie remembers him as the stubborn little gay boy who wouldn’t keep his head down.

Alexis Hall’s prose is almost lyrical poetry and he is amazing with description. His sense of humor keeps us laughing. There are several themes here including coming home, bullying, forgiveness, and grief, longing, learning growing up and becoming who one is meant to be even if it disappoints people you love. Fen and Alfie are very real in their insecurities, prejudices, and ultimately in their love and therefore there is also a sense of realism here.

As we read, we feel as if we are in the South Shields in northeast England. Alfie Bell and Fen O’Donaghue are great characters that are wonderfully drawn. They alternatively come together and fall apart, as secrets are revealed and hidden wounds are reopened and ultimately heal.

At first they seem to be not a good match but somehow they find the happiness they both seek. They both ran away from for different reasons (or so they thought) but in fact each left to get away from he life they lived in the small town. Yet they are both drawn back to the town and to each other even though they both remember all to well the unhappiness that had to live with. Now they are still trying to move forward as they deal with sorrow from family situations and personal fears.

We learn that Alfie and Fen are much more than what they seem to be and I feel that the reader learns this the same time that the characters do. I could not help but wonder if Alfie was actually a straight guy who is looking for the gay self inside and Fen who comes across as a stereotypical gay guy is actually not as gay as Alfie (Bear with me). If that is really the case then we can see this as a book about knowing oneself and ignoring what others think about you. With this in mind the story moves in different directions than just a gay romance. We all, I believe, want to be happy but so many of us are unsure of what happiness is and that is, I believe, because we are not sure who we really are trying to live down what others think you are when all you really want is to be yourself. Because it is not just about sexual inclinations or personal mannerisms, it’s about the very nature of happiness and what that means to each of us. Another aspect here is deciding if it is worthwhile trying to control what we are unable to control.

Alfie wants to correct the mistakes he made in the past and he wants his family to accept his life and he wants to be loved in a real relationship. However, he has no idea how to reach these goals. It seems that Fen is hard on Alfie but at first, he had reasons to be so. He challenges Alfie on everything and Alfie takes this and we see the lack of balance between the two and it hurt probably because I saw a bit of myself in the story. The two men love each other and I cannot imagine their not being together even with the way things became. While we might not understand why the characters feel the way that they do, we realize that there were times in our lives that we had similar if not the same feelings. I realize that I just might have opened a Pandora’s box with what I have said here but I have read the book twice trying to understand my own feelings about the characters and to understand how they feel about each other. I certainly had no idea that the book would affect me the way it and this is actually the first book by Alexis Hall that I have read. It is certainly not the last and in fact I am getting ready to order the others now.

“At the Edge of the Universe” by Shaun David Hutchinson— Our Shrinking Universe

Hutchinson, Shaun David. “At the Edge of the Universe”, Simon Pulse, 2017.

Our Shrinking Universe

Amos Lassen

Tommy and Ozzie have been best friends since the second grade, and they have been boyfriends since eighth. They spent almost all of their days together dreaming about getting away their small town—and then, suddenly, Tommy vanished. Actually, Tommy no longer existed and was no longer in the minds of people who know him and they also had no memories of him. The only person that did was Ozzie.

Ozzie has no idea of how to live Tommy and suspects that something else is going on. He believes that the universe is shrinking. Then when Ozzie is paired with new student Calvin on a physics project, he begins to wonder if Calvin could somehow be involved. However, the more time that the two spend together, the harder it is for him to deny the feelings that they have for each other despite the fact that he still loves Tommy. Ozzie senses that there isn’t much time left to find Tommy and he’s determined to get his boyfriend back.

This is not a read with a lot of action; rather it is a novel of ideas that propels readers to wonder about their place in a world that often seems to be uncaring and meaningless. We read of the confusion of young love and loss and explore themes of dementia, abuse, sexuality, and suicide as influence young people who are growing up.

Ozzie is obsessive about Tommy and has the idea that the universe is shrinking and that Tommy is a casualty of restricting astral girth. Ozzie tracks the solar system’s diminishing size. He is forced to consider his loyalty to Tommy while at the same time becoming attracted to Calvin. We get quite a cast of characters including a genderqueer girl who prefers masculine pronouns, a black boyfriend, an Asian/Jewish student as well as a student body with last names that represent the salad bowl that America is. Ozzie is called out because he underestimates the privilege he enjoys as a white male.

Ozzie narrates the story in the past tense and we get flashbacks in the present tense that show the beautiful and intimate history of Ozzie’s relationship with Tommy. Ozzie is the only one who remembers Tommy, his best friend since childhood and boyfriend since the eighth grade. As graduation comes nigh, Ozzie’s world becomes literally smaller and he struggles to find Tommy even as he grows closer to Calvin.

We read of strong friendships and relationships that are always changing and as the universe shrunk, so did Ozzie’s world. This is a story that reminds us to be aware of the people we know and love and it is about the end of the universe as we know it. For Ozzie, losing Tommy meant being alone.

While the plot may seem fantastic, it is actually about the reality of life and it takes a writer like Shaun Hutchinson to be able to convince us that the story we read here is a real possibility.

“Ernesto” by Umberto Saba— A Classic of Gay Literature

Saba, Umberto. “Ernesto”, NYRB, 2017.

A Classic of Gay Literature

Amos Lassen

Umberto Saba was a distinguished Italian poet who was widely known in this country. He was a gay man who wrote an autobiographical novella of first love that he would not allow to be published during his lifetime. We meet Ernesto when he had not turned sixteen-years-old. At the turn of the century, he met a day laborer who praised his beauty and for a month after that the two have a wonderful affair However, the difference in their classes, the affair could not last. We then meet him again with a new friend, Ilio, who, like himself, plays the violin and who, we are given to understand, will make music for Ernesto for the rest of his life.

“Ernesto” is a tender and complex tale of a sixteen-year-old boy from an educated family who lives with his mother in Trieste. His mother wants him to get ahead and has asked a local businessman to give him some workplace experience in his warehouse. It was then that one of workers makes advances to him and to whom Ernesto responds with curiosity. A month of tryst follows and then Ernesto grows a bit bored with the relationship and manages to quit his job (the only job he ever had). He is changed by what transpired and begins a new relationship with Ilio. It is here that Saba’s unfinished, autobiographical stops.

Originally written in 1953, “Ernesto” was not published until 1975, long after the author’s death. It is set at the beginning of the 20th century and takes us into the mind of a teenager in small-town Trieste, Italy. Ernesto lives at home with his mother and aunt and is apprenticed to become a flour merchant. As a worker, he is frustrated, angry, and hungry for love. The story was written in three episodes and follows Ernesto’s involvement with an older co-worker (“The Man”) to the point of jeopardizing his job, his relationship with his mother, and his own sanity. The times he had sex with “the man” make his life complicated, hurt his relationship with his mother and makes him feel guilty about what has occurred (and keeps occurring). Interspersed through these scenes are the author’s thoughts as if he is justifying his text by providing more depth to his characters. It is very clear that Saba poured his heart out in creating the character of Ernesto. On this new edition translated by Estelle Gibson, we see the deep relationship the author developed with Ernesto and this sense of love is complicated and punctuates Ernesto’s thoughts and whims.

We follow the themes of the cruelty of youth, the shock of adulthood and how we are humanized by love. The story is deeply beautiful. We do not get chances to red many books of this kind and we can only hope that this publication will bring more and more classics to the reading public.

New in April from Bruno Gmunder

New from Bruno Gmunder

 

Underage is an award-winning photographic documentation aimed at understanding the minds of underage male prostitutes in Thailand in a most candid and visceral way. Photographer Ohm Phanphiroj uncovers the life, choice, and consequences that these young boys are experiencing. Underage prostitution results from several reasons, from being molested by family members and/or relatives, poverty, being a runaway, and drug addiction.

For many years, Ernest Montgomery has photographed men of the Dominican Republic. His first photo book, Dominicanos, is a best-seller. Now follows a second volume of his most erotic works: Hermoso.
The title of the book alludes to what awaits us inside: the most beautiful men of the Dominican Republic, photographed by an outstanding artist.

Sly features the adventures of a hyper-sexy, cat-suited super-spy … and the men he sleeps with when saving the world from threats to world peace! First, he goes on a “Smooth Extraction”, the rescue operation of a beardy scientist kidnapped by an evil international paramilitary criminal organization … The mission goes hot when the glasses come off, the zippers unzipped, and no asset’s left unstirred!

In this all-action-packed sequel to The Wrath of Seth young lovers Quintus and Rufio are plunged into the dangerously murky world of match-fixing when Quintus falls for the young gladiator they are both sponsoring. The boys will need all their wits about them to survive the corrupt machinations within the World Gladiator Federation. Blood in the arena, tested love, naked ambition—all fuse into a twisting, hot, illustrated tale of gay passion amid the splendor and squalor that is Rome at the apex of its power.