Category Archives: GLBT fiction

“The Lurid Sea” by Tom Cardamone— Literary Smut (And That’s a Good Thing!)

Cardamone, Tom. “The Lurid Sea”, Bold Strokes Books, 2018

Literary Smut (And That’s a Good Thing!)

Amos Lassen

I always look forward to a new book by Tom Cardamone because he always surprises. This time with “The Lurid Sea”, he brings us erotica but it is unique erotica— what I usually refer to as literary smut. However, it is not as “blue” as some may think because the prose is both poetic and lyrical yet racy and off-color at the same time. We got back to the age of mythology and read a story about a lesser god who is trapped in time and trapped by time. There is really no plot but that’s fine because this is a novel of ideas and a story of time and all the elements that make up time including love and death, desire and yearning, hunger and sin.

But the plot isn’t the focus here. It is also a novel about knowledge. And yes, it is vulgarly crass but it is also written in glorious prose. It is an orgy that takes us through space and time in a world where there are many men creatures and gods. We meet the godling Nerites who has dwelled for centuries in a shifting sexual paradise and who has jumped from one sexual encounter to the next and from one time and one place to other times and other places. His dark half-brother Obsidio kisses and kills his victims forcing Nerites to become defender of the places where men meet other men for fun and sex. What had once been so pleasurable now has become a race across time and history. Here is ancient Rome like we have never seen it before.

Cardamone gives some very bold descriptions of both oral sex and the male body (he has done his research well) allowing us to see depravity and decadence as well as unbridled happiness between men who love men.

Neptune, the father of Nerites cursed him by making him roam among bathhouse all over the world and in all times (a great curse but a very tiring one). Nerites is a champion at giving oral sex using the skills he learned as a young man through curiosity, exploration and abuse from Obsidio, the son of Pluto and his own half-brother. Not all is fun and sex here and we get a very strong allegory about the AIDS epidemic with Obsidio killing everyone with fatal ebony sperm. This metaphor is so powerful that we are brought back to the world of today with this metaphor. I have stated several times that I do not really enjoy reading erotica (and I have my reasons why) but aside from the actions of Obsidio, I had a great time reading this. The dose of reality that comes with Obsidio knocks us back into the real world and if this story has a moral, we would find it here.

“A Boy at the Edge of the World” by David Kingston Yeh— Meet Daniel Gurneau

Yeh, David Kingston. “A Boy at the Edge of the World”, Guernica Editions, 2018.

Meet Daniel Gurneau

Amos Lassen

The Garneau boys are triplets from small-town Ontario. One of the three, Daniel, moves to Toronto with his best friend Karen to go to college. We are with Daniel as he explores sea, love and intimacy over a five-year period. Daniel is the narrator of the story and we see things the way he does (or doesn’t). I understand that the character of Daniel is based on the author’s own experiences in Toronto and keeping in mind that Daniel is just 18, his life seems to lack any organization. Daniel seems to have no purpose yet in life but then who does at that young age?

The focus of the book is on how Daniel, an openly gay young mat who struggles to define himself as a gay man in his relationships –regardless of whether there or romantic relationships or not. He deals with serious questions such as the meaning of love and how to express it and how does a relationship work?

This is look at a young man’s ups and downs with relationships, dating and family. There is not really a main plot. Instead we follow various themes keeping in mind that we are following a life. This is a character driven novel and even though there are times that Daniel does not come across as a likeable guy, we continue on with him. Could it be that he is a sort of “everyman” or better-put “everyqueer”? Do we not, even if we do not want to admit so, see something of ourselves in him?

We are with Daniel as he explores the LGBT community in Toronto and we see that he has the support of friends and family yet we also see that he is self-conscious about his feelings about sex.

I must admit that I cheated a bit and read some other reviews of this book and this is something that I rarely do. I was surprised to see that others thought the book to be chaotic and meandering. As I said earlier, at 18 our lives are chaotic and meandering; we are not sure what we are looking for (even if we find it). Keep in mind that chaotic and episodic are not the same and Daniel’s life is rendered to us in episodes. I believe the book was written as it is so that other young people can see themselves in it. Hence the chaos and the episodes. When we are young, things don’t always come together in a linear fashion and we certainly do not think that way. Looking at “A Boy At the Edge of the World” in this manner, we see a brave book that tells us about a time without reinforcement (but that is another story).

I believe that David Kingston Yeh tells it to us as it is and we do not always want to admit that. The language is quite strong but it is the language of the young. We do see growth and change in our characters and I see the beginnings of maturity and self-acceptance. After all, isn’t that what we really want from life?



“Dangerous Waters” by Radclyffe— Home in the Storm

Radclyffe. “Dangerous Waters”, (First Responders #7), Bold Strokes Books, 2018.

Home in the Storm

Amos Lassen

After having been in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, I have discovered that I enjoy reading about storms so after reading the blurb of “Dangerous Waters”, I was ready to sink into Radclyffe’s new book “Dangerous Waters”. First off, we meet Army National Guard Colonel Sawyer Kincaid who has returned from the deserts of Africa and now only wants to see the sand of the South Florida beaches. There is a problem and that goes by the name of Tropical Storm Leo and it is gaining strength out over the Atlantic. What Sawyer does not yet know is that she has yet another war to fight hear at home but with an unexpected bonus, is about to draw her in to another life or death war, this time on home soil. That bonus is Dr. Dara Sims who has too many critical patients in the intensive care units at Miami Memorial to consider evacuation, no matter how determined the military is to make her do so. When a state of emergency becomes a state of siege because of Leo, all Dara can do is hope the rising waters recede before she loses everyone including herself.

I have not read as much of Radclyffe as I should but what I have read, I’ve enjoyed and this book is no exception. Dara did not expect to be visited by someone from the National Guard much less someone like Saywer. Sawyer is in charge of the rescue operations for Miami and the surrounding areas. Because both Dara and Sawyer are used to being in charge and leading, it might be a problem for them to work together especially considering that Dara feels that evacuation of her patients is the same as abandoning them. Radcylffe gives us too strong and unforgettable characters here and we sense that there is going to be some kind of romance between the two women. We immediately feel the chemistry between them and early on we find that what we hoped for is what we got. It is so nice to read a story with no angst and with lots of excitement.

Radclyffe’s own medical background is plenty evident in the story making this really sound authentic.(My mother always said that it is good to have a doctor in the family and that she really hoped that I would find one and bring him home). If you have ever been in a storm and waited for its arrival, you know how tense this can be and that is captured wonderfully here. The storm and the intensity that it brought are the focus of the story but the romance is still there. We sense the urgency and danger that the storm brings throughout the story. Some may feel that the romance takes a back seat to the storm and perhaps it does but the story is still an excellent read. We read of Dara and Sawyer as they do their jobs and make decisions as they terrific odds. Both women have spent their lives worrying about others and have never really been able to see their feelings of loneliness and now they do. While this is book number 7 of Radclyffe’s “First Responders” series it can be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone novel.


“History of Violence: A Novel” by Edouard Louis— An Autobiographical Novel

Louis, Edouard. “History of Violence: A Novel”, translated by Lorin Stein, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018.

An Autobiographical Novel

Amos Lassen

  1. Edouard Louis’s “History of Violence” autobiographical novel about surviving a shocking sexual assault and coping with the post-traumatic stress disorder of its aftermath has been an international bestseller and now is available in English.

On Christmas Eve 2012, in Paris, the novelist Louis was raped and almost murdered by a man he had just met. For Louis that was a shattering act of violence that made him a stranger to himself, so much so that it caused his return to the village, the family, and the past he had sworn to leave behind.

The story moves back and forth between past and present and between Louis’s voice and the voice of an imagined narrator. We read of the casual racism and homophobia of French society and the subtle effects these have on lovers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. We see the suffering that cones f from exclusion, domination, and poverty. Having grown up in poverty, we are taken back to the first book that Louis wrote, “The End of Eddy” in which he described growing up gay in a working class village in the north of France. We read of the harassing incidents that followed the rape as the novel examines guilt, homophobia and racism and we get a close look at the nature of violence and the dynamics that bring about an escalation of such violence. At times, it as if we are reading a police report. Louis is a masterful writer and an emotional force. We see that when one is confronted with violence, it is usually then reproduced against others and that the cult of masculinity often arises because of it.

This is not an easy book to read because it is so real yet it is an important book and a wonderful addition to the canon of LGBT literature and literature in general. The novel gives a give a voice to those affected by violence and reveals the sentiment of invisibility that strikes the dispossessed as well as critiques the values of the culture of violence.

“The Athiest in the Attic” by Samuel R. Delany— Finally!!!

Delany, Samuel R. “The Atheist in the Attic”, PM Press, 2018.


Amos Lassen

“The Atheist in the Attic”  appears for the first time in book form for the first time. It is a narrative that is filled with suspense while at the same time giving us a vivid historical narrative that recreates the top-secret meeting between the mathematical genius Leibniz and the philosopher Spinoza. Both were caught between the horrors of the cannibalistic Dutch Rampjaar and the brilliant “big bang” of the Enlightenment. This is a meditation on class and ethnic antipathies in the overlapping territories of poetry and philosophy. Multiple readings add much more to this.

Included is Delany’s “Racism and Science Fiction”, an essay written in 1998 that combines scholarly research and personal experience in the unique true story of the first major African-American author in the genre. The essay combines anecdote and analysis in a well-measured, original, and historically insightful look at black authorship and reception in science fiction and its progenitors.

Finally there is an original interview between Delany and the editor of the Outspoken Authors series, Terry Bisson. The interview is a bit unfocused but gives a good overview of Delany’s recent and major engagements, projects, etc. and looks at biographical inaccuracies.


“In the Ring” by James Lear— Corruption, Power and Passion

Lear, James. “In the Ring: A Dan Stagg Novel”, Cleis Press, 2018.

Corruption, Power and Passion

Amos Lassen

Most of you know that I do not read much erotica but I never miss a James Lear tale because he rises over what I call “trashy porn. Lear writes literary smut. Not only does he arouse the reader sexually but also literarily so if you have not read him than I suggest you do. “In the Ring” is a volume in his Dan Stagg series and here Stagg becomes involved in a world of concealed identities, double agents (some of whom are quite beautiful) and as the tile of this review says corruption, power, and passion.

The world thinks that Stagg is dead having been killed in Baghdad by a bomb. Now with a new identity and high-tech gadgets, our tough Marine officer goes deep undercover (and under covers) to penetrate an extreme right-wing group of terrorists. While he is on loan from the CIA and MI6, Stagg goes to England to investigate a corrupt boxing promoter and “his stable of vulnerable, sexually compliant, young athletes.” Stagg has no idea yet of what fun and muscle awaits him.

Using the disguise of a martial arts instructor, Stagg is soon drawn into a dark world of blackmail, prostitution, and pornography; a world where sex and money are always available. He needs to be able to hide who he really is to fulfill the mission. On the other hand he might find this to be a new life if he works for Alan Vaughan, the mastermind behind this terrorist plot.

The more involved Stagg becomes the greater the erotic, romantic and deadly adventures become his. He actually faces the politics and the criminal activity that lies beneath the seductive cover of the life he is forced to pursue. It does not seem to be a bad life at all but he needs a good deal of willpower to keep him from drowning in it.

James Lear really knows how to tell a story and he knows just how much erotica is necessary to keep us reading.

“Trenton Makes: A Novel” by Tadzio Koebl— A New American Dream

Koebl, Tadzio. “Trenton Makes: A Novel”, Doubleday, 2018.

A New American Dream

Amos Lassen

In 1946 in Trenton, New Jersey a woman kills her husband (an army vet) in a domestic argument, gets rid of his body and becomes Abe Kunstler, the person she killed. As Abe Kunstler, he gets a job in a wire rope factory, buys a car, and successfully romances Inez, an alcoholic dime dancer and creates a home with her. However, Abe felt that this was not enough: to complete his transformation, he needs a son. We then move forward to 1971 and Trenton is no longer the town it once was. Abe’s family life is falling apart yet he is desperate to keep going and searches Trenton for solutions.

“Trenton Makes” is an exploration of identity as well as a look at desperation. I must admit that I was immediately drawn in by the idea of a woman living as a man at such an early point in history and then to jump forward 25 years and revisit him. Unfortunately, the good idea did not work as expected. I expected to see some kind of change in Abe and I didn’t. In fact, his character is undeveloped (but then this is a short book). How this story ends is also unclear to me and when I reaches that point I tried t remember what I had read until then.

In the first half of the book I liked Abe (or who had become Abe)but when the timeline jumps forward significantly, the book becomes less coherent and does not explain what is going on. Abe Kunstler’s change in the second half I drastic and he becomes unlikeable. Something happened in the developmental stages of the novel causing something to be lost. The perspective changes to mostly focus on the son, who has no idea his father was ever a different person and thus cannot expand on why things are the way they are.

This is a book about a strong woman who defends herself when her husband beats her and accidentally killing him and assumes his identity so she can find a sort of freedom. However the strength that was gained in the first half of the story is negated in the second half, almost as if we are reading about two different people.

I really do not care for the way a gay, trans character is shown here. Abe rises in strength to overcome horrible abuse only to fall later. Tadzio Koelb’s writing style is unique and it takes getting used to.

The story unfolds in two haves with the first taking place 25 years before the second half Questions of identity are the heart of the story and there are inferences to the horrors of postwar women whose dreams were replaced by subservience. There is so much here that could have been better developed but was not even with the author throwing out the traditional ways of drawing readers into a story. We have wonderful ideas about power, desperation, identity, creation, and destruction and the story looks at the end of traditional masculinity, and the possibilities and limitations of what can be built for oneself.

Abe’s internal conflicts come to us in italicized passages that are almost stream of consciousness flashbacks. As he is trapped in masculine conformity, Abe denies himself any peace or genuine connection and this gives us a great deal to think about.

“Most Precious Blood” by Vince Sgambati— A Declining Italian-American Neighborhood

 Sgambati, Vince. “Most Precious Blood”, Guernica Editions (Guernica World Editions), 2018.

A Declining Italian-American Neighborhood

Amos Lassen

Vince Sgambati’s ”Most Precious Blood” is set in a declining Italian-American neighborhood in today’s Queens where loyalties are complex and often cause harm and destruction. As in many ethnic neighborhoods, the past is very important because to know who we are we must know from where we came. Community and family are of utmost importance. We meet the Lasante’s—Lenny, the father and Frankie, the son. Lenny’s dreams were shattered when he was young and he does not want that happening to Frankie. Lenny and Frankie love each other but they do not share the same ideas about religion and their Italian ethnicity. Frankie is still young; a senior in high school and at that age where it is popular to be different. I think we all go through a phase like that.

Sgambati gives us a look at Italian-American life in modern Queens where the past is more important than the present. The timing of the release of this novel is ideal since here in American we are dealing with immigration issues and we need to be reminded that our history is the history of immigration. What we see here, in effect, is the various attitudes toward immigrants and immigration and we see how many kept to their own in developing neighborhoods. Lenny’s family has Lasante’s Grocery Store and it is through the store that we see both pride and friction as to how the people see traditions and how they assimilate into the great melting pot of America. Family and heredity are the prime dictators of expectations and with that comes pressure from within and from without,. It was impossible to hide from those sexual orientation; these communities did not have expectations and two of the primary examples are gender expectations and where one fits in the order of birth. Needless to say, there was no talk about “people like that”. Naturally to be a non-conformist meant that there was a heavy price to pay and even though we hear the characters engage in dialogue about acceptance and respect that is based upon merit, we also see that family is more important.

While this is, on one hand, a coming-of-age novel, it is also a novel about identity. Identity depends on so many different factors and we really see that in “Most Precious Blood”. Our identities come from many places and while we are born with certain attributes to who we are—skin color, name and ethnicity, much of who we are comes from others. So here we are more than through my review and I have not said anything about what happens in the plot although I have thrown out some very strong hints. I am not going to share the plot with you because I want you to love this book as much as I do and that is not just the plot but Sgambati’s lyrical and gorgeous prose. (I knew I had heard the author’s name somewhere but could not remember where until I received some mail from the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival and I realized that he had been included in at least two of their anthologies. I was also reminded that I will be attending this year.

We are taught early on that God accepts us all until he doesn’t and this we usually learn from family that does not accept or make us feel welcome. Blood ties that were once very strong become diluted for many reasons. It is also through the family that we see the themes of familial strife and tension, the difference between the generations, secrets and lies. We also see these through the narrations of father and son, of Lenny and Frankie.

There is a lot going on in “Most Precious Blood” but this is not a “busy” read. There was also a great deal that I could identify with even though I did not grow up in an Italian neighborhood. I grew up in a section of my city that was known as “Jewville” and I have always been many similarities between Italian and Jewish family lives. Most of the “Jewvilles” and other ethnic neighborhoods today are gone and we have all become neighbors and that is just fine.

“Avi Cantor Has Six Months to Live” by Sacha Lamb— A Fairy Tale

Lamb, Sacha. “Avi Cantor Has Six Months to Live”, Book Smugglers Publishing , 2017.

A Fairy Tale

Amos Lassen

When Avi sees that he has only six months to live written on a bathroom mirror, he is confused. He does not understand what these words could mean and whether this is the work of the bullies at school and meant to be a prediction of what is to come. I hesitate to call this a novel since it is only 70 pages long, yet in those 70 pages are the makings of a novel.

Avi is having a difficult time but things begin to look better with the arrival of Ian, the new guy at school who seems to notice Avi and pay attention to him. All of us either know someone like Avi or actually see ourselves in him. Anyone who has ever been bullied or been depressed will recognize in Avi some of what they also went through. However, there is something else and that is that Avi is transgender. We are very aware of the he feels. Avi does not want us to see the sad side of his life and he comes across as an optimist despite what he has to deal with. He feels these issues inside and sees Ian as the bright side of his days. He is so well adjusted and accepted by all.

To tackle a subject such as this is risky but Sacha Lamb also brings is religion by sharing Avi’s Jewishness and also shows us Ian as a young man raised by two moms. We rarely get stories that include experiences of trans boyhood that are unobtrusive and natural and, for me, that is what makes this such a good read.

Avi Cantor is a high-school student in mid-transition. We read about a new bullying technique that is complicated and difficult to deal with. But this is not a story about bullying but about self-loathing. It’s both heartbreaking and life- affirming. Avi’s relationship with Ian and his family might not fix everything but it gives hope. The prose is beautiful and the story is important.

We see how as class, religion, and society make us who we are and while I cannot share much of the plot with you for fearing of ruining what the story has to say, let me just mention that this is a powerful little book that needs to be read. It is genuine and sincere with likeable characters and gay trans boys in love and choosing life and love when despair and alienation are the alternatives.

“Death’s Echoes” by Penny Micklebury— Book #5 of the Gianna Maglione/Mimi Patterson Mystery Series

Micklebury, Penny. “Death’s Echoes”, Bywater Books, 2018.

Book #5 of the Gianna Maglione/Mimi Patterson Mystery Series

Amos Lassen

As much as we do not like to admit it, we live in a society that is filled with racism, sexism, homophobia, misogyny, and religious intolerance. All of us are aware of how powerful hatred can be and finally in this country, there is punishment for hate crimes but unfortunately not enough. We meet Gianna and Mimi who understand that they must deal with their personal commitments to their jobs and to each other especially as violence comes close to them.

Police Lieutenant Gianna Maglione is the police lieutenant that leads the Washington DC Police Department’s Hate Crimes Unit. It is her job to investigate who are guilty of committing acts of hatred. As she hunts them down, she infiltrates their habitats, finds out where they live and work and who their friends are. In this way, she can learn what they are planning and who they are after. With this information at hand, she then must stop whatever violence they plan. However, things hit a bit too close to home when one of her officers is a victim

And her girlfriend, Mimi, is also scheduled to be hit. Mimi Patterson is the lead investigative reporter for the number one Washington DC newspaper. She is known for digging deep into a story and she asks the questions that need to be asked as she looks for facts and truth and this often comes at quite a price. Now Giianna and Mimi are teamed up to find out who murdered three Muslim women on their way to prayers and bring them to justice. It is not the first time they have done this but this time it is personal.