Category Archives: GLBT fiction

“Alan Cole is Not a Coward” by Eric Bell— Coming Out in Middle School

Bell, Eric. “Alan Cole Is Not a Coward”, Katherine Teen Books, 2017.

Coming Out in Middle School

Amos Lassen

Alan Cole can’t let the cute boy across the cafeteria know he has a crush on him. When his brother Nathan discovers Alan’s secret, he announces a high-stakes round of Cole vs. Cole. Each brother must complete seven nearly impossible tasks; whoever finishes the most wins the game. If Alan doesn’t want to be outed to all of Evergreen Middle School, he’s got to become the most well-known kid in school, get his first kiss, and stand up to his Dad. Alan’s determined to prove himself to Nathan, to the world, and to himself.

We get to know Alan by what he wants to be, what he’s afraid of, and ultimately how he changes during his challenge to prove himself. The reader cannot help but fall in love with Alan. We love his courage and the larger-than-life characters and events that he deals with.

All Alan has ever wanted is to fir in. He takes care not to let his cafeteria tablemates, Zack and Madison, become his friends and stays quiet at the dinner table so as not to upset his father. He tries to avoid his brother, Nathan, who relentlessly bullies him. One day Nathan forces Alan to play a round of Cole vs. Cole, in which each brother must attempt to accomplish as many of Nathan’s proposed seven assignments as possible within a week. The tasks are tough and include learning how to swim, retrieving a slip of paper from inside a broken vending machine, and receiving a first kiss. If Alan loses, Nathan will reveal that Alan is gay and has a crush on one of his male classmates. There are moments that will make you angry and there are moments that will make you happy.

Alan Cole starts out as a coward but doesn’t end as one. He and his band of misfits give us a story that’s as important as it is entertaining and as thought-provoking as heartfelt.

 

 

“The Vampire’s Protégé” by Damian Serbu— Playing the Game

Serbu, Damian. “The Vampire’s Protégé”, Nine Star Press, 2017.

Playing the Game

Amos Lassen

It has been a long time since I have heard from Damian Serbu and the odd thing here is that I just getting ready to drop him a note when I got one from him telling me that he has a new book out. Serbu always gives us an interesting read and even though I am not really a fan of the paranormal, I always look forward to his novels.

Charon is our main character here and he has trouble maintaining any kind of non-sexual relationship and he understands that the only kind of relationship he will ever have is one that takes place in bed. He does not trust others and is lonely, afraid of falling in love because that could possibly hurt him if a relationship ends. This feeling probably comes from his being raised as a foster child and never having experienced true love. Therefore one-night stands serve his purpose well…. until…. he meets a guy who will change his life forever.

I am quite sure that you are waiting for me to tell you that Charon falls in love but you should have already surmised from the book’s title that the change he experiences is more that life long. Charon is offered the chance to play a game with him in which the winner is granted eternal life and riches forever. The winner becomes a vampire. Charon thinks that this is the greatest thing he has ever heard or that could ever happen to him and he quickly embraces the vampire lifestyle. He finds himself willing to do whatever his mentor and maker needs. In fact, he becomes quite “the sexy” vampire who feel that he is above basic vampire laws and eventually becomes evil, doing what he wants. Things are quite different for him now and he is no longer, surrounding himself with sexy and handsome young men. Then he is stalked by a vampire as good-looking as himself who threatens Charon saying that he will expose him and his misdeeds tothe Vampire Council if he does help with an impossible task thus forcing him to make a very difficult decision.

In order to know what happens, you will have to read the book and that is a good thing. I have learned to expect good writing from Damian Serbu and he does not disappoint.

“Murder Under a Fig Tree: A Palestine Mystery” by Jessica Kate Raphael— A Mystery

Raphael, Kate Jessica. “Murder Under the Fig Tree: A Palestine Mystery”, She Writes, 2017.

A Mystery

Amos Lassen

Hamas has taken power in Palestine thus causing the Israeli government to round up threats. Palestinian policewoman Rania Bakara is thrown in prison even though she has never been part of Hamas. Her friend Chloe flies in from San Francisco to help get her out of jail. Chloe asks an Israeli policeman named Benny for help and Benny offers Rania a way out—she can get out if she agrees to investigate the death of a young man in a village near her own. The young man’s neighbors believe the Israeli army killed him; Benny believes his death might not have been so honorable.

At first, Rania refuses to help since it would meet turning her back on her own people to help Israel. Nonetheless, she is released but when she gets home, she learns that she is suspected of being a traitor and so she lost her job with the police force. As she tries to find some kind of redemption, she decides to investigate the young man’s death and this pulls her into a Palestinian gay scene she never knew existed.

Along with Chloe and Chloe’s Palestinian Australian lover as guides, Rania explores a Jerusalem gay bar, meets with a lesbian support group, and goes deep into the victim’s world. This makes her question her beliefs about love, justice, and cultural identity.

Just as I suspected, the book is filled with political themes. But then how could a novel with a Palestinian main character not be? We do read of the difficulties being gay and in Palestinian society. Author Rafael does a good job highlighting the issues

between the Palestinians and the Israelis on the West Bank and we see how internal politics are always at play. When Raina is released, I thought that she would be recruited by Israel to be an informer especially since she lost her job. She begins investigating the death of the young male that was murdered and she learns a great deal about

an entire underworld network of gay and lesbian people about which she had no knowledge. It seems that Daoud, the young dead was gay and worked as a female impersonator in a club. This was the reason for his murder. Non-acceptance and lack of tolerance can be killers in their own ways and we certainly see that here.

 

 

“Willem of the Tafel” by Hans M. Hirschi— Survival, Second Chances, Hope and Love

Hirschi, Hans M. “Willem of the Tafel”, Beaten Track, 2015.

Survival, Second Chances, Hope and Love

Amos Lassen

Willem is struggling to survive in a world that has been destroyed by ignorance and greed. We are centuries after the apocalypse and not many survived the Great War that took place and those that did have taken refuge very deep inside a mountain. One of those is Willem who has now been exiled. He is alone and struggling as he begins an epic journey during which he discovers something that could yet change the world one again.

I think it is my obligation to say here that this is not the kind of book I would usually read and if I had not agreed to review it, it would remain unopened. I really dislike science fiction and fantasy fiction. Now with that said, let’s look at the book.

We see here what can happen to the world if there is some major catastrophic event so the book is based on a real possibility. However, it is the characters that kept me reading. By nature, we cannot call Willem a leader but he does become a symbol since he manages to find sages to be around him. This new world that exists is one in which skin color, sexuality, etc. are of no importance and hopefully this is a sign of what we can expect in the future (although that is doubtful).

Until he was exiled, Willem was a ghost living in a society that believed the rest of the Earth is uninhabitable. When he is exiled, he discovers a New World awaits and it is a world of hope and love. Before his exile, he lived in a technologically advanced sci-fi underworld in a mountain that was called the Tafel and in that world, racism is everywhere and Willem is the butt of a lot of it. He was blamed for a murder he did not commit and was sentenced to exile.

Willem thrived did fine for himself as he explored a new world where technology is forbidden. He met people who knew what love is and who had relationships and families. He was privy to new foods and he found love with Hery, someone who was in need of love. If one he experienced was a sign of what can possibly come, then there is hope that there is a better world for all of us.

Willem and Hery meet by chance and they immediately discovered that they shared strong feelings for each other, only to be torn apart by fate. Whether they get back together is for you to discover on your own.

“When Skies Have Fallen” by Debbie McGowan— Love in the Time of War

McGowan. “When Skies Have Fallen”, Beaten Track, 2015.

Love in the Time of War

Amos Lassen

Debbie McGowan’s “When Skies Have Fallen” won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Romance. I read the book back then when it first came out and I have decided to have another look. Set in 1944, we meet

British airman Arty Clarke is no exception, a thinker and a dreamer. While dancing with his best female friend, Jen, his gaze hits upon American Technical Sergeant Jim Johnson, Arty and he dares to imagine a different dance. They meet and fall in love but that love was forbidden both by the law and by the armed forces. With the help of Jean, the two men attempt to find true love with each other, even though disaster might ensue. Jim and Arty know that it will not be easy and they manage to get through the rough times, the war and their separation. This was at a time when the world was torn asunder by the Second World War. They continued to hope when there seemed to be no hope.

When the war was over both men could not wait to get home and even thought they knew that there was a chance that they would not be accepted, they had made up their minds that they were going to live as a couple.

Debbie McGowan has written quite a book here. She explores how people deal with discrimination, their own selves and the prejudices of society. This is a story about love and it is quite an emotional read.

There are times I felt myself smiling as I read and other times that my eyes filled with tears. I became angry and I became satisfied and I loved Arty and Jim. We also are privy to the guys’ relationships with others. They are strugglers and they are survivors but above all else they stay true to each other.

We see just how far we have come as gay people but we must never forget that there will always be injustices.

 

 

“The Making of Us” by Debbie McGowan— Balancing Work and Play

McGowan, Debbie. “The Making Of Us”, (Checking Him Out Book 4), Beaten Track 2017,

Balancing work and Play

Amos Lassen

Two years ago, Jesse Thomas, who is straight, joined Pride, his university’s LGBT group as a sign of support for his best friend Noah, and Noah’s boyfriend, Matty. Leigh Hunter is Noah and Matty’s new housemate. He was born with what is known as intersex and he identifies as queer. Born with a life-threatening congenital condition, Leigh is intersex and identifies as queer.

Jesse and Leigh get to know each other with the new academic year and they both have to figure our how to balance study and play., a new academic year begins in earnest, bringing with it the usual challenge of balancing work and play. He and Leigh agreed to spend a week’s holiday in Cornwall with Noah and Matty and the Jesse and Leigh got to know each other better then.

This is a story of love and relationships and is full of surprises. Jesse is a totally likable guy but also has issues to deal with. It is easy to see why Jesse is smitten with Leigh. Their relationship is sweet and they seem just right for each other. Jesse uses the support that he gains from Leigh to better know himself and perhaps come out of the shell he has put himself in. He gains confidence since he knows that

Leigh adores him and his friends have his back. Jesse’s feelings about his body and his weight are an important part of the story and these are the issues that caused him to withdraw. The whole story comes together beautifully and I believe that anyone reading this book will have an easier time getting to know himself.

 

 

“Vampire Rising” by Larry Benjamin— To Be A Vampire…

Benjamin, Larry. “Vampire Rising”, Beaten Track Publishing. 2015.

To Be a Vampire…

Amos Lassen

What is it about gay literature and vampires? This is the question you should keep in mind while you read Larry Benjamin’s “Vampire Rising”. Set in mid

” twenty-first century, there is no longer anti-Semitism, racism, sexism and homophobia to deal with as they have all been eschewed. The world is now run by “the state,” headed by Christian zealots, who use the of fear and oppression to govern. Vampires are despised, and feared, and must deal with discrimination and unspeakable violence. Because they are the undead ands unholy, they have no basic human rights. We meet Gatsby Calloway who lives on the fringes of society and avoids humanity. , But then he meets Barnabas, a young painter. When Barnabas is mortally wounded during an anti-Vampire attack, Gatsby must forget everything he has known, and learn to trust.

While Gatsby Calloway is a vampire, he is far from the Hollywood “Dracula” stereotype. He is a professor, a concert pianist, a debonair party host, and a really nice guy who is unable to resist his attraction to a handsome former student, Barnabas who is now an artist. However, Barnabas has a good deal of self-loathing and guilt over “turning” a dying human he had feelings for many years ago.

In this novel, “vampirism” is caused by the “Human Vampire Virus” that only infects gay men. With straight men and women, the disease fails to replicate. We see that only a small percentage of the population are victims of the disease and they are easily marginalized, discriminated against, and even persecuted. They don’t kill people, and actually only feed on each other and when they do, they gain a supplement that increases the virus’ strength in their system. People are suspicious of them and they re hated so there are not many of their kind left. Nonetheless, they cause suspicion and hatred (mainly from fundamentalist religious groups). What vampires still posses, however, is immortality and great super-human strength., mainly — that they’d have been wiped out entirely if it weren’t for helpful side-effects like immortality & super-human strength.

Even with this much negativity, Barnabas wants Gatsby to turn him but Gatsby refuses to take on that kind of responsibility. Yet, as the two become more involved, Barnabas studies vampire culture and learns about all the difficulties and prejudices facing them. He discovers a grassroots movement by vampires that is demanding equal rights and secretly plans to attend a big vampire rally where the featured speaker is the dynamic and controversial vampire speaker Malcolm V. Unfortunately the rally does not come off as planned and there is bloodshed and death. I am not about to reveal what the result of this was but I can tell you that if you regard the vampires and their society as allegory, you will find you have learned something here. We begin to understand what happens when a group in society is denied basic rights.

Writer Larry Benjamin successfully brings together the future and the gothic in this very short novel. This is also a story about the battle between what Barnabas feels is unrequited love and what Gatsby feels is forbidden love. We get a great mixture of social commentary and how love stands against intolerance.

“Caught Inside” by Jamie Deacon— A Beautiful Story

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

A Beautiful Story

Amos Lassen

Luke is seventeen-years-old is pretty sure that he has figured out his life and he knows what is going on. But this all changes when he meets Theo. He had planned to have a simple summer with his girlfriend Zara at her family’s summer cottage in Cornwall and really all that he could think about were surfing and sunbathing on he private beach there. Love, simply, does not interest him… or so he thought. He has no plans for falling for someone so he was totally unprepared to meet Theo, an undergrad at Oxford who is Zara’s cousin as well as her best friend. Luke suddenly questions everything he thought he knew about himself. He wants to make sure that no one, especially Zara, find out about his new relationship with Theo but things do not always work out according to wishes.

This is a beautiful book with wonderfully realistic characters and what they do is very real making it easy for the reader to empathize with them. Theo was having a rough time; he was in the middle of dealing with his own broken heart and his new desire for Luke. Luke also had some self-discovery to take care of.

From the moment Luke meets Theo, he has to deal with new feelings and this scares him. However, what he feels is unyielding, undeniable and no matter how much he tries to ignore how he feels, he realizes that this is not just a phase. Of course, as Luke and Theo become closer, the more Luke’s relationship with Zara becomes a problem. He doesn’t want to cheat on her and he does not know how Zara and the rest of the world will feel about his being gay. Regardless how anyone feels about this new romance, there is no denying that it is beautifully rendered here. The prose is gorgeous and the scene where Luke is confronted by his own feelings and dealing with how others react is an emotional tear jerker. He thinks that he will not only lose all of his friends but that people will laugh at and abandon him. We really understand what he was going through. Writer Jamie Deacon takes us on a raw emotional journey filled with risk and regret, betrayal and self-discovery.

.

 

“Last Winter’s Snow” by Hans S. Hirschi— Navigating Life

Hirschi, Hans S. “Last Winter’s Snow”, Beaten Track, 2017.

Navigating Life

Amos Lassen

Hans Hirschi introduces us to Nilas and for several decades we are with him as he and his partner and Swedish husband, Casper, build a life while dealing with t bigotry, discrimination, and the onset of the AIDS crisis. We go back in time to when being gay was considered a “mental disorder” and then move forward to the present and today’s newly guaranteed freedoms as the world movies towards equality. While this is one couple’s story, it could also be any of our story. We all try to live good lives.

Nilas and Casper share a beautiful love and no matter what they are always there for each other. They learned to adapt to each other and to society when there was nothing they do about discriminated against as gay men They are two men from different cultures and we are with them when they meet for the first time to the death of Casper and the end of a beautiful marriage.

We read of the gay history of Sweden from the 80’s to 2017 and while at times it was very difficult , the two men kept hope alive as they faced the traumatic events and the struggle for freedom. Hirschi gives us believable and engaging characters who face discrimination and oppression as members of oppressed minority. I had never heard of the

Sami community or their land, Sápmi before I read this. The story begins when Nilas wakes up and finds Casper dead in bed next to him. The rest of the book is in chronological order taking up by his memories of his relationship with Casper, in chronological order. We go back to 1982 when Nilas, a native Sami, goes to study in Stockholm. He knows he’s gay but within his community, he has not really had the opportunity to really understand what that means. He had already told his parents that he was gay and they were shocked but are accepting. He meets Casper, a Swedish student in a bar in Stockholm,

. Casper has not shared his sexuality with his parents even though he was living in a cosmopolitan community. We learn that Casper’s parents are very religious and intolerant of anything other than what they see as the natural order. Their relationship is a microcosm of the gay experience and history in Sweden. The two men are deeply in love with each other and totally exclusive and faithful. However, “they are discriminated against at work and face the AIDS crisis, family hostility, assaults, put downs, incomprehension, insults, frustrations” yet they find people who accept them and love them for who they are.

Nilas is the narrator of the story and he gives us beautiful descriptions of the places that he and Casper visited. He also shares his reflections on “nature, landscape, the importance of tradition, and what makes a place home and a people, our family and our community”. We clearly see here that it takes time and work to learn who we really are and where we belong.

 

“Option Four” by Jon Eliot Keane— Coming Out

 

Keane, Jon Eliot. “Option Four”, Beaten Track, 2017.

Coming Out

Amos Lassen

Seventeen-year-old Donn Carhart wants to come out. But it is 1997 and we have still not reached the freedom we have today. He knows that are four options— “reject, tolerate, accept, or they’ll say “me too!” Donn’s parents do not like gay people, and Donn doesn’t know any other gay kids. But then he meets Alex, an openly gay transfer student, and after learning a little bit about gay history in the United States, Donn starts the Acceptance Project club at school. The club’s purpose is to address discrimination, and it draws a lot of student members, including Thad, the most popular guy in his class and the object of Don’s lust.

When Donn does come out, a group of parents try to shut down the group as a “gay club” and a danger to their children and the community. With all this pressure, Donn has decisions to make.

What an amazing character there is in Donn. He is personality and sweetness personified. It was not easy for him—he had to deal with his parents and family secrets, coming-out, the club and the two guys in his life, Alex and Thad. We watch him as he gains confidence and we see his as even more mature than his parents. I love that this is written as a journal thus almost making us feel like we are reading someone else’s thoughts.

There are so many sweet, funny, and charming moments in the story but there is also heartbreak and serious issues. The students, themselves, shed light on discrimination and homophobia through the Acceptance Project and that was very brave to do back then. A book like this is a blessing for young people dealing with their sexuality.