If I were to choose a theme to characterise my reading year in 2012 it would be the year of the debut and independent author. The majority of books I read either for my own pleasure or specifically for review were by first time and/or predominantly self-published authors. While self-publishing tends to gets a bad rap in some reading circles, in general, my personal reading experience with self-published and independent press authors has been positive as I find that they are able to push creative boundaries not always readily achievable within the realm of more mainstream publishing. Works by several such authors have made the list of my reading best for 2012.
The list also features works by several favourite authors that have become staples in my reading life, they include Alex Jeffers, Erik Orrantia and Brandon Shire. Several new-to-me authors such as, Drake Braxton, Kergan-Edwards Stout, John Goode, Red Haircrow, Jeff Mann, Tom Schabarum, Lee Thomas and Arthur Wooten joined this list in 2012 and I look forward to reading their previously published and future books.
My reading best for 2012 includes a mix of novels, novellas, compilations and short stories across a variety of sub-genres and within the realm of LGBTQ fiction and non-fiction that were published in 2011 and 2012.
The Best in LGBTQ Literature for 2012:
* In his debut novel, Missing (Seventh Window Publications, August 2012), Drake Braxton has written a multi-layered story with an excellent plot twist, and through strong characterisation provides the reader with authentic glimpses into recovery from alcoholism, letting-go and second chances. Through the main protagonist Blaine’s journey the author shines light on the physiological and emotional effects of chronic alcoholism and the inherent self-destructive behaviours of addiction, as well as the difficulties and temptations of achieving and maintaining sobriety all the while exploring the complexities of this character. What I appreciated most is that the character of Blaine is presented as altogether human and one that was completely accessible to me as a reader. As a debut novel, Missing is a solidly good and promising beginning and I look forward to reading more of Mr. Braxton’s stories in the future. Review
*Kergan Edwards-Stout’s debut novel, Songs for the New Depression (Circumspect Press, October 2011) is the poignant and darkly humorous story of Gabriel Travers who is HIV positive and faced with his own mortality takes the reader on an emotional journey recounting his life experiences and relationships, while reflecting on the choices that he’s made along the way. It is a beautifully written, rich and resonant account of a man coming to terms with having AIDS and his eventual death from the disease, of redemption, and ultimately of both human fragility and enduring spirit. Review
John Goode’s Tales From Foster High (Tales #1) (Harmony Ink, July 2012) chronicles the continuing story of high schooler students Kyle Stilleno and Brad Graymark as they try to navigate their relationship while simultaneously dealing with the fallout from their coming out amidst the scrutiny of their peers and within the context of their respective abusive family life. It is the compilation of the first three novellas that kicked-off this well-written young adult series published by Dreampinner Press: Maybe With A Chance of Certainty (October 2011); The End of The Beginning (December 2011); and Raise Your Glass (May 2012). I initially read Maybe With A Chance of Certainty as a stand alone title and immediately fell in love with Mr. Goode’s writing and in particular his characterisation. What resonated most is the deference and care with which Mr. Goode has written these characters and their plight. Mr. Goode does not manufacture contrived teenage angst as a plot lever. What he does do through his honest and intelligent portrayal of Kyle and Brad is to capture and validate the feelings of these two young men, their pain, courage, mistakes, hopes and dreams. I very much look forward to reading the fourth instalment in the series End of Innocence released by Harmony Ink in November 2012. (Review pending)
Silence Is Multi-Colored In My World (Flying With Red Haircrow, May 2012) is a beautiful and moving collection of essays, diary and blog entries written by a young deaf man, whom the reader comes to know as G.Y.S. The collection was assembled and edited by author Red Haircrow, and is based on the writings and actual experiences of G.Y.S., as well as Mr. Haircrow’s personal memories, experiences and observations of this young man, who unfortunately passed away at the age of 31 years. I read this collection with a sense of wonder, humility and inspiration and the writing deeply touched me on a multitude of levels. The honesty with which the writing conveys the joys and sorrows, fears and pains, hopes and dreams of this man serves as a testament and reminder of the capacity of the human spirit to not only persist but also to thrive and to soar. Review
*The Abode of Bliss: Ten Stories for Adam by Alex Jeffers is a compilation of ten exquisitely written short stories that take the form of chapters. It is the story of Ziya, a Turkish national, explaining himself to himself and to Adam, the boy he loves, telling Adam the stories of his life. Ziya’s journey begins with his childhood memories of the fearful summer of 1974 in the seaside resort of Bodrum precipitated by Greek-Turkish skirmishes over Cyprus. Ziya continues with stories of his family life and relationships in his home city of Istanbul; of Turkish history, culture, language and religion; of his adolescence and growing awareness of his sexuality; of his eventual departure from Turkey and his travels west by ship through Europe and then by plane to the United States where he relocates to attend university in Boston; and of his experiences in his new home and the difficulties of integrating into American life as a Muslim man. The Abode of Bliss had been on my reading list since its release by Lethe Press in August 2011 and I was finally able to read it in 2012. The book was an incredibly personal reading experience for me as it transported me back to my own childhood and memories, both good and bad, of my paternal Turkish origins. It is incredible to me that Mr. Jeffers, who is not of Turkish descent, has written a story that so intimately captures the ethos and nuances of Turkish life and culture. I believe this is an innate talent that requires an intuitive sensitivity, understanding and ability to immerse oneself in a writing subject that no amount of research can achieve. Mr. Jeffers possesses these qualities in abundance. There are a handful of authors that transport me and in whose writing I can effortlessly loose myself, and Mr. Jeffers is one of these authors. I cannot recommend this book enough.
*Jeff Mann’s Fog: A Novel of Desire and Reprisal (Bear Bones Books, August 2011) is an exquisitely written, highly provocative and utterly dark tale of terror and protection, cruelty and tenderness, depravation and eroticism. As an act of vengeance the protagonists in this story, Jay and his partner Al, have kidnapped a young man named Rob, the son of the police officer who sent Jay to jail. Rob is bound and kept in an isolated cabin in the woods, where he is emotionally terrorized and physically brutalized and violated. As a submissive, Al does all of Jay’s bidding without question or hesitation. However, as Al begins to care for their hostage he is increasingly drawn to protect him, thereby shifting the dynamic of the fragile dance between the three men and increasing the threat to both Rob and Al’s safety. My impetus for reading this novel came by way of author ‘Nathan Burgoine’s excellent review and recommendation of the book. In his review Mr. Burgoine aptly summarizes the fundamental essence of this story: “that the balances between violence and compassion, eroticism and fear, assault and tenderness and an ever-present dance between destructiveness and hope are constantly tipping and shifting…” It is this imbalance that is most effective and impactful because the reader is continuously suspended on a knife’s edge, never certain of the outcome of the story, whether the ending will be one of horrific proportions, or whether there will be a level of salvation. Mr. Mann is a remarkable writing talent with the ability to delve into the darkest corners of the human psyche and behaviour through absolutely beautiful and poetic prose. (Review pending)
*Erik Orrantia’s third novel Taxi Rojo (Cheyenne Publishing, April 2012) is a multi-themed story set in Tijuana, Mexico’s renowned border city and gateway to the United States, about the life choices and changes of six strangers that become bound to one another after they survive an accident when the red taxi they share one evening plunges over a cliff. The journey of each of these characters is quite compelling and each is extremely well written and nuanced. Through these characters Mr. Orrantia explores issues relating to binary sex and gender stereotypes and societal-imposed attributes and expectations of female and male, as well as homosexuality, homophobia and HIV/AIDS against the backdrop of the realities of urban life in Tijuana. Review
The Narrows, Miles Deep: A Novella and Stories (Cascadia Publishing, February 2011) by Tom Schabarum consists of the title novella and three unrelated short stories: My Kid in Footlights, The Road to Alaska and Follow Me Through. The Narrows, Miles Deep, is the beautifully written and heartrending story of Eric Morris and Roy Bancroft, lovers who parted ways some four years ago and have arranged a reunion camping trip in The Narrows Zion National Park in the hopes of rekindling their relationship. Mr. Schabarum’s writing style is literary and poetic, but at the same time quite elemental in nature cutting to the heart of Eric and Roy and their hopes and fears as they navigate both their lives and relationships without melodrama or cliché. I was completely immersed in this story from the very first paragraph and read it in one sitting. Far from muting the emotional magnitude and impact of their story, the unassuming and introspective qualities of Mr. Schabarum’s writing achieve the opposite and provide for an extremely powerful reading experience. Although thematically multi-layered, the overarching theme of this novella is about the fragility of love and while unrelated, the three accompanying short stories are equally well written and carry with them similar themes as the novella. Review
On the heels of his acclaimed debut novel the Value of Rain (The Practical Group, July 2011), Brandon Shire gifted us with another exquisitely written story in 2012. Listening to Dust (TPG Books, March 2012) is set in England and the rural American south and traces the blossoming eight month relationship of lovers Stephen Dobbins and Dustin Earl until they are separated when Dustin returns home to the United States because of his responsibilities to his brother. Shattered, unable to function and unwilling to accept Dustin’s departure, Stephen flies to America to get Dustin back and rekindle what they had. But what he learns upon his arrival he could never have imagined. Listening to Dust is a devastatingly beautiful, emotionally powerful and tragically haunting love story of a magnitude that is not easily forgotten and cannot be recommended enough. Review
*The German by Lee Thomas (Lethe Press, March 2011) is another book that I was not able to get to until late 2012. As a long-time reader of the suspense/thriller and horror fiction, it’s been quite a while since I’ve read a story of this excellence and calibre. Set in 1944 at the height of the Second World War, the small town of Barnard, Texas is terrorized by a series of gruesome murders of it’s young men and boys. The only clues the killer leaves behind are painted snuffboxes containing notes written in German. The town’s German immigrant population immediately becomes suspect and one man in particular, Ernst Lang, because he is also gay. Once a brute, a soldier and a leader of the Nazi party, he has renounced violence and has embraced a peaceful obscurity only wanting to be left to his solitary pursuits of chair making. But his past haunts him and he is unsure if his memories are those of a man given a second life, or the delusions of a lunatic. The German is an exquisitely written chilling suspense thriller with elements of horror fiction that chronicles the unravelling of a town as a result of fear and paranoia. While the central plot is focussed on apprehending the serial killer, at the same time Mr. Thomas equally explores the evil and violence that lurks amongst the town’s people when some succumb to their baser instincts of fear, ignorance, prejudice and homophobia. I am thrilled to have discovered this author and plan on making my way through his backlist and look forward to reading his future releases. (Review pending)
*Arthur Wooten’s Shorts (Galaxias Productions, February 2012) is an intelligently humorous and often hysterically funny compilation of one short story and a novella. The witty and charming Stroke of Luck features the story of celebrity chef Chip Lowell who is on the verge of making it big with his first television cooking show. But in the matter of a sneeze life pulls the rug right out from under Chip and he’s forced to re-evaluate himself, his priorities and the people in his life. In the novella, The “Dear Henry” Letters, Mr. Wooten creatively addresses the challenges of gay courting in the twenty-first century through a series of letters to his fictitious and often exasperating lover “Henry” explaining the never-ending reasons why their relationship must end. With each letter, the degree of outrageousness of the situations in which Arthur finds himself as a result of Henry’s (mis)deeds incrementally increases, as does the laughter. Mr. Wooten’s writing is highly imaginative with a sharp sophistication and the Arthur-Henry situations had me laughing out-loud and unable to hold back my guffaws. Review