“Names Can Never Hurt Me” by Wade Kelly— Nick Jones, Unaware

names can never hurt me

Kelly, Wade. “Names Can Never Hurt Me”, Dreamspinner Press, 2014.

Nick Jones, Unaware

Amos Lassen

Nick Jones is a slacker who has been moving through life without thinking about who he is or what he wants. He has no pretenses and is happy with what he has and he does not think about how he looks to others. He just can’t be bothered with complexities and that includes sex. His goal always seems to be that of self-gratification and if someone else enjoy have sex with him that is fine. He does not want the hassle of intimacy. He is a shallow person living a shallow life and his friends are shallow as well—-they think that good looks and sex are the greatest things on earth. But all that changed for Nick when he met RC.

Nick had never really thought about his sexuality. He has slept with all the girls in his elite class of people and he likes women so he must be straight. But then he was at a party where he was dared to kiss Corey, an out and somewhat flamboyant gay guy. This led to an affair between the two guys but Nick will simply not admit to being gay. He was not ready for any kind of commitment or emotional ties to someone else. When he does think about his sexuality, he is quick to have sex with a girl to prove to himself that he is straight.

However his feelings for RC become more intense and Nick cannot really deny that he is gay—after all, he is having sex with another guy. He knows that I he is to continue his affair with RC, he has to do some self-examination and then change how he has been dealing with life. He realizes that those he thought were his friends are really not and that they have never cared for him. This hurts him and he understands that he is indeed with RC who has made some very strong rules to which Nick must agree if he wants to be in a relationship. These rules will prove that he is indeed interested in a relationship with RC.

RC is a complex person who has had quite a hard life. He was teased about being heavy and he has become distrustful of others. At about the time he was finally being able to deal with his own issues, along came Nick and RC is immediately attracted to him. RC soon learns that Nick has been slacking with his life and that he has little if any self-respect and does not really know how to stand up for himself. He sees Nick as a kind-hearted individual worthy of knowing. As RC gets more glances at Nick’s life, he realizes that Nick is not living up to his potential; he has little self-respect and a hard time standing up for himself. Whatever is convenient is how he runs his life and he finds his way into strange and dangerous situations. He wants Nick to be more than he is and it angers RC to see Nick’s disregard for so much.

When Nick tells RC that he’s interested, RC isn’t so sure he wants to be that close to Nick he confides in Nick how he feels about him. This hurts Nick but knows that what RC says is true.

RC Nick an ultimatum— that if he’s serious about being in a real relationship with RC, he will have to prove himself worthy. Nick has to put sex aside and learn to focus on life. RC is determined not to have sex with Nick becomes the kind of person that others like to be around.Nick learns to face his fears, to let go of a past that was destructive at best and look to the future with a new outlook. RC learns to love and trust again and this gives him a sense of self-acceptance.

The themes of knowing oneself and maturation are evident here and even though Nick comes across as somewhat irritable, by the end of the book we really begin to like him and believe in him. It only took one kiss for Nick to begin to change even though he did not actually realize that. This is a different coming of age story in that Nick has to also find himself. There is a lot of emotion here and we see clearly that it is trust and communication that are the basis of a relationship. This is both a romantic and sexy story that reminded me of someone I once knew and I an quite sure it will do the same for other readers.

“Water Music” by Georgette Gouveia— Daniel and Dylan, Alex and Ali

water music

Gouveia, Georgette. “Water Music”, River Grove Books, 2014.

Daniel and Dylan, Alex and Ali

Amos Lassen

Two sets of team partners— Daniel and Dylan are the top swimmers in the world, Alex and Alí, the top tennis player play for God, country, family, and the need to escape their troubled pasts. They also have secrets; each is in love with his rival. Their stories are told from their alternating viewpoints and the themes of power, jealousy, dominance, and submission come together to bring us this story of how the choices made by nations, our families, and ourselves make up our lives. This is a story of how “we come to accept those choices and learn to live with loss through love.”

We have four points of view from four different men, each with his own story of love and loss. Swimmers Dylan and Daniel met at training camp in their late teens and became roommates. Dylan has had great loss in his life— his mother suffered from early onset dementia; his father became abusive in his frustration. Dylan took the worst of the abuse before his mom committed suicide and Dylan and his younger brothers were then taken care for by their aunt. Dylan comes from a wealthy family but he will not take anything from it for support. He uses his swimming endorsements to supplement his brothers’ care, and eventual college tuition. Daniel’s parents had divorced years ago and this caused a split between Daniel from his twin sister, Aniri, who was later killed in a horseback riding accident. Daniel feels less than worthy. When he and Dylan become friends, they experience the first real affection they’ve had since childhood. Daniel insists on being in the closet and compels Dylan to do so as well. In their relationship, Daniel is physically and emotionally abusive to Dylan and this continues, as Dylan becomes the better swimmer of the two.

Alex and Ali are professional tennis players. They are both in the closet and Ali has had a horrific life. He learned to play tennis in Iraq during the American “occupation” when a soldier and he became friends. For years he played in Iraq but when his friend was killed he was adopted by a pedophile, a defense contractor. It was through this man’s connections that Ali and family were granted asylum with relatives in France. However, this whole period he was molested and the pedophile’s family hated him. There was nothing he could do about it because he was afraid he would lose his visa. When the contractor died, his wife kicked him out but gave him hush money and told him that she would ruin him if he ever spoke about what he had been through. Ali invested that money in training for tennis because he really wanted to be a great player. He met Alex who was the number one pro tennis player. Alex was attracted to him and the feeling was mutual. All was great until Ali began his rise in the sport and it did not take him long to become even better than Alex.

The four came together at the Olympics and they became very friendly. This was a new beginning for all four men. Dylan soon sees that Daniel can’t be the man he needs and Ali and Dylan become closer however both receive unwelcome health news that shatters one life and cripples the other. We see that just when Daniel realizes that he can’t live without Dylan is exactly when he learns he’ll have to. At the same time Alex, loses the biggest competition of his life and does so with his own ego.

This is an absolutely amazing story of discovery and self-realization. It takes you on an emotional journey, and breaks your heart at times. The characters are incredibly strong and determined. Author Gouveia pulls is into the story from the moment we start to read. As the characters develop throughout the book, there are angst and heartbreak but there are also many moments of happiness and steamy romance. “This story and the emotions it evokes, prove that love is love – regardless of gender combination.” Gender does not change the kind of emotions that we have or the heartache that it sometimes brings.

“Murder on the Down-low” by Jay Asher— A Psychological Thriller

murder on the down low

Asher, Jay. Murder on the Down-low”, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.

A Psychological Thriller

Amos Lassen

While the term down-low is fairly new, there have always been men who have cheated on themselves, their wives and their communities by having sex with other men and keeping that part of their lives secret. This is the story of a handsome dancer, a New York City detective, and a host of murder victims. The novel sheds light on a world that is generally kept hidden. Author Jay Asher has taken this lifestyle and brings us an exciting and thrilling mystery. Here we learn about an aspect of gay life that is rarely, if ever, discussed.

“The Protector” [Unabridged] [Audible Audio Edition—narrated by Paul Morey] by Cooper West— Ho Hum

the protector audio

West, Cooper. “The Protector” [Unabridged] [Audible Audio Edition—narrated by Paul Morey], Audiobook Dreamspinner, 2014.

Ho Hum

Amos Lassen

I never learn. I guess that is because I always like to give a second chance but I will never understand why anyone who writes a really poorly written novel would want to have it made into an audio book—especially one that plays for over 8 hours. But then this is by Cooper West and I must say she is tenaciously trying to prove she can write but always comes up short. The story is banal, the characters are unreal and the dialogue…well, if you want to go it dialogue. There is no character development and we have this plot in several other books and it just does not gel. It all occurs in an alternate reality which I wish would stay so alternate that I will never have to look at it again.

This is a story filled with angst and this anger probably is due to the angry and unstable personality of the writer. This seems to be a characteristic of her writing.

“Teacher Accused: When Homophobia Explodes in a Texas Town” by Alvin Granowsky— Interrupted Idealism

teacher accused

Granowsky, Alvin. “Teacher Accused: When Homophobia Explodes in a Texas Town”, iUniverse, 2009.

Interrupted Idealism

Amos Lassen

Glen McLean loves and is proud of being a teacher just as he is proud of being a gay man. He moves from New York to Texas and is ready to live an authentic life but the idealism that he had was soon disrupted when the Texas Sodomy Statute was overturned by “activist” judges and religious conservatives are paranoid about the “homosexual agenda” and its impact on their children’s lives. Danny Anderson is bullied when his father forces him to admit that he is gay to his church congregation. Yet even with these two heartbreaking instances,

Glen’s classroom lessons focus on respect and acceptance for all, including homosexuals. As essay assignment that he gave cased an outcry of homophobic hatred. Editorials appeared in the local newspaper against a homosexual teacher promoting tolerance of homosexuality in his classroom. Then, Glen was accused of sodomizing Danny, the 15 year-old boy he had tried so hard to protect.

Glen is strong is his feelings and stands firm, refusing to live a life of lies…and the intolerance of the few collides with the compassion and respect of the many as they stand behind their beloved teacher.

Author Granowsky gives us characters that are believable, dialogue that rings true, and a moving plot line keeps with just enough twists and surprises to keep the reader turning pages. While the issues raised are serious, but the does not preach and the story tells itself.

 It was only when Glen came to the aid of a student who was being tormented by bullies because he is gay, did he realize that the town has more than its share of “ole” Texans who hold onto old prejudices against gays, and consider them to be threats to their Christian lives. Despite warnings from a guy he is dating, a closeted attorney who cautioned him that he should not get involved in the boy’s problems, Glen finds himself the target of Danny’s abusive father who filed charges that Glen molested his son.

 While this is a work of fiction, it isn’t much of a stretch to believe that something like this could have easily happened and still can happen. Times and people have changed but not everywhere and we must remember that none of us are free until all of us are free and that included gay men and women in Poplarville, Mississippi and Blytheville, Arkansas. The path towards tolerance and acceptance is never easily achieved. “Teacher Accused” confronts the prejudices that obviously still threaten gay teenagers today. Yet this novel is not just a shallow polemic against the Bible-Belt mentality, small-town fears, and the insensitivity of the educational bureaucracy. The situations are all too plausible.

“The Illustrated Tales of Yazh” by Mike Yachnik— A Collaboration

the illustrated tales of Yazh

Yachnik, Mike. “The Illustrated Tales of Yazh”, blurb, 2014.

A Collaboration

Amos Lassen

 Mike Yachnik brings us this collaboration between himself and 12 international artist-illustrators that seek to bring back the spirit of the fifteen-century where people worked together to produce something regarded as worthwhile. It was a time when illustrations were essential to making a project whole. Each illustration here was suggested to the artist by his/her muse, rather than directed by the author, and developed organically as artist used interpretive skill and technical expertise. Some of these stories have appeared previously in literary journals and magazines while some are new. They have a multicultural and tend to relate to the LGBT community. The theme of them all is that humor is survival.

We get a diverse and wide range of work in both writing styles and illustrations. The humor is everywhere and this is just a fun book.

“Arresting Dress: Cross-Dressing, Law, and Fascination in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco” by Clare Sears— The Law and Cross-dressing

arresting dress

Sears, Clare. “Arresting Dress: Cross-Dressing, Law, and Fascination in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco”, (Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe), Duke University Press, 2014.

The Law

Amos Lassen

Many of us are aware that in 1863, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors passed a law that criminalized appearing in public in “a dress not belonging to his or her sex.” It was adopted as part of a broader anti-indecency campaign, the cross-dressing law became a useful and flexible tool for policing multiple gender transgressions and by the end of the century there had been over one hundred arrests. Other U.S. cities (some forty) passed similar laws during this time, yet we know little about their emergence, operations, or effects. The book contains archival material that looks at anti-cross-dressing laws that were handed down in municipal courts and codebooks, newspaper scandals, the theater of vaudeville, freak and side-show performances and other venues and shows that “the law did not simply police normative gender but actively produced it by creating new definitions of gender normality and abnormality.”

We also get the story of those who dared defy the law and spoke out when they were sentenced and spoke about variations of gender and various gender possibilities.

Author Clare Sears offers a fresh look into how individuals targeted by cross-dressing law manipulated gender boundary logics to make public claims or evade unwelcome scrutiny. The volume is written clearly, extensively documented, and intelligently and vigorously argued as it explores how policing gender conformity has had quite far-reaching impacts.

The subtitle is bit misleading in that this book looks at more than San Francisco and contains many large ideas about various places and what is considered the norm and we get generative and the disciplinary function of the law as well as the historical “transience of gender categories as well as the persistence of transgendering practices”. Sears connects the exclusion of gender non-conformers “from the public sphere with similar exclusions of raced and disabled bodies.

“BODY LANGUAGE”— Getting Carried Away

bl

“Body Language”

 Getting Carried Away 

 “We’ve all been there before. As you enter the club, there’s something in the air tonight. You feel open; ready for whatever. A sexy stranger catches your eye. Next, you’re grinding with him on the dance floor, your hands exploring his body for the first time.

‘You get a little carried away. Maybe you drink a little too much. Your lips lock and you don’t care who sees. You lose yourself in the pulsing music under the flashing neon lights. What began as an ordinary night out turns into a wild ride full of uninhibited fun and unforgettable sex, from what you can remember.

Filmed at the legendary Rich’s night club in San Diego, Helix Studios presents “Body Language”, our ode to getting lost in the moment.”

It is about the rush and the pulse, but it also (perhaps inadvertently) makes a few interesting points about the more hedonistic end of gay culture.

“HATUFIM” (“PRISONERS OF WAR)— The Inspiration for “Homeland”

prisoners of war dvd poster

“Hatufim”(“Prisoners of War”)

The Inspiration for “Homeland”

Amos Lassen

After 17 years in captivity, Israeli soldiers Nimrode Klein and Uri Zach return home to the country that made them national icons. They work to overcome the trauma of torture and captivity while settling back into their interrupted family lives. Both are bothered heavily by the fact that the third member of the trio who were captured, Amiel Ben Horin did not come home with them. However, what many think is his corpse did return. Meanwhile, the military psychiatrist assigned to them finds discrepancies in the soldiers’ testimonies, and launches an investigation to discover what they are hiding.

This is the acclaimed Israeli drama series that was the inspiration for the American series, “Homeland” and we can now see all of the episodes of episodes the first and second season on seven DVDs that including behind the scenes interviews and scenes that were edited down. Writer/director Gideon Raff and cast conclude more than two months of intense photographs all over the country.

“Prisoners of War” is really a drama more than a thriller. It is about the trials and tribulations of family, friends and the prisoners themselves. The main theme throughout is guilt— every character has done something, to a more or lesser degree, wrong. Some try to make amends but for others amends are an impossibility. A lot of the characters have something to hide but, as they struggle under the strain, they only end up making things worse for themselves and those around them. There is tension from the very beginning and I found that just as I thought I knew what was coming, I really did not.

hatufim1

The two POWs that come home are shocked by the changes they encounter off the plane, with the feeling being mutual from their respective loved ones. Nimrode, runs headlong back into everyday life, trying to ignore his troubles from the past seventeen years as a captive. He, his wife and children must play happy families, despite the fact his teenage son hasn’t met him before. Amiel’s, the prisoner who didn’t make it, sister Yael, must struggle with the fact the brother she thought was alive is now dead, and can only seem to do this by seeing visions of him around the house. Uri’s wife didn’t wait around like Nimrode’s. She married his brother and had a son.

However, it is not all gloomy. There is humor found in the series that helps the series from becoming too dark and depressing. The situations are made all the more human for it and I was drawn into the situations with a lot more emotion than if everything just kept getting worse and everyone remained sad and unable to deal with the new realities that they found.

A basic set entraps two or more people as they must talk through their differences. All the characters have friction with each other and the realism plays out through the revealing of motives and the reasons behind their decisions. The actors are all good and there are no show off performances. Everyone does their best in developing their characters; meaning already good writing is helped along.

Each character is at times unlikeable. It is through flashbacks and back stories that we understand why they do what they do. Mostly everyone has three dimensions, no character is more important than another. There isn’t the traditional protagonist-antagonist relationship besides the occasional interjection from Haim Cohen, the psychiatrist interviewing the soldiers, who in his quest to find the truth behind the suspicious prisoners’ behavior, is perhaps the only character we do not totally understand until later.

Because of this focus on characters and relationships, the series moves at a slow pace. Tension builds, both in Cohen’s pursuit and the prisoner’s struggle with everyday life. The way the characters are balanced against each other is one of the finest aspects of the series. It flows from one character to another, even if they have no relation to each other. We want to find out what happens to everyone. What will happen with Uri and his ex-wife? Will Nimrode be able to survive trying to live out his pre-war dreams? Will Amiel’s dogs get walked each and everyday?

There are some aspects to the plot that we see coming and this, for me, is the only minus of the series. Some elements are a mystery, though. We’re introduced to Ilan who helps the prisoners get back on their feet. But his concentration falls fully on Yael after a few episodes. We’re supposed to see him as selfless and commendable, but really he’s too busy getting busy with Yael to help out the guys who have been prisoners of war for the past seventeen years and the character who’s supposed to be most sympathetic is, actually, the least sympathetic of all.

hatufim2

The scenes that jump back to the imprisonment of the three soldiers work well and are realistic enough (These flashbacks are gradually extended, slowly revealing important plot points or character motivations and it is constantly a fresh approach to telling the story. We all get turned around at the end and realize that the series is more about real emotion and situations than chases and stark reveals. The tension that’s most built up is a psychological one within the prisoners. The slow pace benefits the series that it takes its time and slowly shows the audience every intricacy of a character as opposed to going too quickly at first and leaving nothing for the ending.

The family and friends’ relationships and responses feel as real as the torture scenes. The series is a gripping, moving character based drama, examining a situation that most of us cannot begin to imagine the reality of, yet it somehow manages to be relatable. What this series has “Homeland” does not is heart.

While ‘Hatufim’ is definitely worth being judged on its own merits, it probably will, for some time, always be compared to the US series that was based on this Israeli original but ‘Hatufim’ doesn’t have to shy away from the comparison. In fact, I think it is the superior show of the two. Whereas ‘Homeland’ is clearly in the same vein as other US shows and boosts a fast pace, twists and turns and lots of action, ‘Hatufim’ is much more of a psychological thriller. On the surface much less happens than does in ‘Homeland’, but ‘Hatufim’ involves a lot more subtleties as well as realism and character study.

One petty note—because I am fluent in Hebrew I found, several times  that the subtitles were not true translations and they often bothered me. This was also the first time that I have seen the name “Nimrode” spelled with a final “e” which makes it rhyme with toad when in reality it rhymes with sod. But that is minor and a personal quibble.

“Adaptation” by Melinda Little Lo— A Young Adult Novel

adaptation

Lo, Malinda Little. “Adaptation”, Brown and Company, 2012.

A Young Adult Novel

Amos Lassen

Something is happening to the birds of North America. Flocks hurl themselves into airplanes, causing at least a dozen to crash. Thousands of people die. There is fear of terrorism and the American government grounds all flights and millions are stranded. One such person who is stranded is Reese who is on a debate trip in Arizona with David who has a crush on her. On their way home to San Francisco as they were on a lonely highway, a bird flew into their headlights and the car flipped over. When the two travelers woke up, they were in a military hospital and when they came to a month later, the doctor will not tell them what happened or how have healed so miraculously. Reese and David are told that they have received experimental medical treatments and that they must sign confidentiality agreements before they can return to their families. Reese discovers that she heals incredibly quickly and that she has strange dreams and sensory experiences. Given the location of their crash, their friend from back home wonders if the two may have been treated at Area 51.

Things even became stranger when Reese got home to San Francisco—there is a police enforced curfew, teams collecting dead birds and she feels that she is being followed by a strange presence. She accidentally and unexpectedly runs into Amber Gray, a beautiful girl and she sees her search for the truth take a different direction and could possibly threaten to expose a vast global conspiracy that the government has worked for decades to keep secret. She realizes that she is falling in love with Amber. This lesbian relationship seems to come out of the blue for both Reese and for us, the readers. Amber’s significance is later revealed. Reese is not sure what it means that she is attracted to a girl but still yearning for David? Soon Reese and David find themselves caught in a web of conspiracies that shatter her world. As secrets of universal proportions are revealed, things get exciting and build up to a cliffhanger of an ending.

I really do not like science fiction and rarely read it but this book just so interesting that I had to read it. The story is intense, and fast-paced. I could not help myself but like Reese as she comes to terms with her feelings. The whole idea of the birds pulls us in, as does the idea of a conspiracy theory and a young adult novel, this is one of the best that I have read.