“A Heart Well Traveled – Vol. 2: Tales of Erotica, Fantasy and Sci-Fi Love Affairs and Unlikely Outcomes” edited by Sallyanne Monti— Fourteen Unique and Compelling Stories

Monti, Sallyanne (editor). “A Heart Well Traveled – Vol. 2: Tales of Erotica, Fantasy and Sci-Fi Love Affairs and Unlikely Outcomes”, Sapphire Books, 2017.

Fourteen Unique and Compelling Stories

Amos Lassen

Sallyanne Monti’s collection of short stories take us into the supernatural and allows us to escape into unknown territories We have a plethora of different styles of erotica, science fiction and fantasy and while personally this is not the kind of literature I usually read, I was taken away to places I have never been to read about new situations and it was great fun. I realized long ago when I first began reviewing that anthologies by several authors are the most difficult books to review because there are really only two options. I can say something about each story or I can review the work as a whole. If I tried to say something about each of the fourteen stories here this review would be way too long and to difficult to manage so I have decided to look at the collection as a whole.

For any anthology to be successful it must have variety and diversity and we certainly have these here. Below is a list of the stories and their authors:

  1. Living in Her Memories by Vickie L. Adams
  2. Crossroads by Shannon M. Harris
  3. The New Muse by T.L. Hayes
  4. If The Time is Right, Do It Over Skype by Lisa Blush
  5. Peter Brady by Sallyanne Monti
  6. The Daughter of War by K.A. Masters
  7. The Encounter by Sandy Duggar
  8. Who’s Afraid Of The Pink Fairy by Gabriela Martins
  9. Perchance to Dream by Lea Daley
  10. The Pull by Tara Wentz
  11. Pouncing by Genta Sebastian
  12. The Real Thing by L.K. Early
  13. The Most Powerful Connection by Katelyn Cameron
  14. Geekily Yours by Samantha Luce

“Crimes of the Father” by Thomas Keneally— Sin and Sacrament

Keneally, Thomas. “Crimes of the Father: A Novel”, Atria Books, 2017.

Sin and Sacrament

Amos Lassen

Father Frank Docherty was sent away from his native Australia to Canada because of his radical preachings against the Vietnam War, apartheid, and other of the time. He had had a satisfying career as a psychologist and monk. Later when he returns to Australia to lecture on the future of celibacy and the Catholic Church, he becomes that they been sexually abused by a prominent monsignor. Docherty was

a member of the commission investigating sex abuse within the Church, and because he is a man of character and conscience, he decides he must confront each party and try to bring the matter to the attention of both the Church and the secular authorities.

The book explores what it is to be a person of faith in the modern world, and Docherty’s courage to face the truth about an institution he loves. Keneally has a clear and of a culture that has been deeply wounded. We see here the “cynical casuistry of a church determined to fight critics down to ‘its last lawyer’, an institution that puts its survival above its soul.”

On his arrival in Sydney, his taxi driver abuses him when she realizes that he’s a priest, and he suspects that she was a victim of sex abuse by a priest so he gives her hid card and tells her to call him if needed. He then discovers that the son of a family friend committed suicide with a drug overdose, naming a priest as abusing him in a suicide letter. A bit later, the taxi driver contacts him naming the same priest as her abuser. This same priest is a prominent member of a church commission set up to conceal sex abuse by the priesthood and pays victims small amounts of money to sign confidential agreements.

Docherty feels legally and morally obliged to report the allegations to the Archbishop of Sydney, even though he knows that it isn’t going to help his application to return to Sydney. The Archbishop also refuses to give any credence to the allegations. He learns that the very same Archbishop was being transferred to the Vatican.

Set in the 1990s, this is a story about sexual abuse by Catholic priests and brothers and contains some thinly disguised portraits of current figures in the Church. This is a well-written (as we have come to expect from Keneally) and powerful novel that takes on a volatile subject.

“THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE”— A Meditation on Power

“The Madness of King George”

A Meditation on Power

Amos Lassen

“The Madness of King George” by Alan Bennett, based on his stage play of the same name is a meditation on power and the metaphor of the body of state, Bennett uses the real episode of dementia experienced by George III (now suspected as a victim of porphyria, a blood disorder) to show this. As he loses his senses, he becomes both more alive, and more politically marginalized while his Lieutenants adapt the rules to avoid a challenge to regal authority, raising the question of who is really in charge.

This is both a funny and oddly poignant play about the British monarch who lost America (and quite possibly his mind). Nigel Hawthorne, who originated the role of George on stage repeats it brilliantly in the film with a subtly calibrated performance. He undergoes emotional rages, bouts of dementia and sudden attacks of lucidity and these give the film it’s most amusing and touching moments (and an Oscar nomination for Hawthorne).

It was at the very end of the 18th century that George III sent his court and country into a whirl over his sudden, strange behavior. He raged, yelled obscenities, rambled endlessly, attacked his mistress (Amanda Donohoe) and was unable to control his bowels. While quack doctors took his pulse, observed his stools and induced hideous heat blisters all over his body, the king’s courtiers and associates split into two factions. The king’s supporters included Prime Minister William Pitt (Julian Wadham), who needed to reassure the House of Commons that all was well with the royals, and George’s protective, loving wife, Queen Charlotte (Helen Mirren). On the opposing side were the indolent, ambitious Prince of Wales (Rupert Everett) plotting with Pitt’s political adversaries to have himself declared Regent.

Hope for George’s recovery was with visiting doctor Willis (Ian Holm), a physician with innovative, pre-Freudian ideas about psychotherapy, who restrained the king and treated him like a child. We have questions about whether Willis’s method would work and if the king was indeed mad and they remain with us until the end of the film. However, what matters most in this satire, directed by Nicholas Hytner is the marvelous dialogue. Hawthorne gives the whole movie both a nutty and tender authority.

The prince, who had not counted on this recovery, pretended to have great concern and relief for his father’s condition and the king promised his wife he would be gracious to his son and think loving, noble thoughts but, of course, that does not happen.

In 1788, after fathering 15 children and looking after England’s best interests for years, the monarch was hit with a mysterious malady that played with his digestive system and resulted in some aberrant behavior. King George’s loyal supporters were quite shaken by his incoherent babbling, the loss of his regal bearing, and some unseemly fondling of the queen’s lady in waiting. He confided to his long-suffering wife, “I hear the words and I have to speak them. I have to empty my head of words. Something is not right.” Eventually, the king was handed over to Willis.

King George valiantly tried to handle the indignities of his malady and what he called “paradise lost” — the American colonies. Helen Mirren is affective as his loyal wife, and Rupert Everett is well suited to be the Prince of Wales who schemed to be declared regent during his father’s descent into madness.

We see how illness can turn one’s world upside down and test us. Thanks to Dr. Willis, the king returned to the throne and regained his old self. We feel that because of an illness, he became more soulful and a little bit wiser. 

“SUBMERGED QUEER SPACES”— Our History Through an Architectural Slant

“Submerged Queer Spaces”

Our History Through an Architectural Slant

Amos Lassen

Jack Curtis Dubowsky’s documentary “Submerged Queer Spaces” is a documentary that looks at queer history through an approach of urban archeology concentrating on San Francisco. As the city grew and gentrified, communities changed, shifted, and were displaced. Places such as bars, restaurants, parks, alleys, bathhouses, and other sites where gay people came together were remodeled, rebuilt, destroyed or changed their reasons for being. The film examines what is left of these historic sites and buildings. in San Francisco. Eight people are interviewed and give firsthand experiences of these sites. Gerald Fabien experienced gay San Francisco before WWII, and tells stories about sailors, mariners, and the dangers of Union Square cruising. Guy Clark and Jae Whitaker speak about the unexpected racism they felt in a city that was supposedly liberal. We gain a historical look into those places that are gone but that were once very popular.

Through voiceover narrations by former patrons of places like The Black Cat and one-time cruisers in Union Square, we learn of places that once enjoyed had a strong gay community that has been lost because of gentrification and social displacement. This is a friendly study for everyone but especially for San Francisco natives.

Dubowsky found some of the people he interviews at a group called San Francisco Prime Timers and by word of mouth. We hear Gerald Fabien’s story about cruising a sailor who ended up being a murderer and are reminded that when being openly gay or actively sexual included risks. Doug Hilsinger speaks about The Eagle Tavern, and how its architecture affected the vibe and socialization there. The physical and social space of the Eagle Tavern played a very large role in its original creation and success.

Visiting some of these sites and finding architectural remains was like unearthing an ancient tomb. At the Blue and Gold and the Club Baths, there are still bits of tile that are decades old. There were also many mysteries but a lot of street numbers had been changed, so a documented address might no longer exist.

“Numinosity: A Fractured Memoir”, by Linda Morganstein— Family History as Fiction

Morganstein, Linda. “Numinosity: A Fractured Memoir”, Linda Morganstein, 2017.

Family History as Fiction

Amos Lassen

As a reviewer I am often asked who my favorite writers are and because I actually know many of the people whose works I review, I always claim that I have no favorites. Rather, I have writers that I always look forward to hearing from especially when they tell me that have a new book and would like me to review it. One of those writers is Linda Morganstein, a writer who never ceases to surprise me. Last week I got an email from Morganstein telling me that she had a new book out and she said a few a words about it and then let a UTube video say the most. She did not ask me if I would review it; she simply announced that she had a new book. She may have assumed that I would ask her to send me a copy and I loved that there was no pressure put on me. Of course I wanted to review it and answered her immediately with a request for a copy. It arrived yesterday and I have been with the book ever since. (Linda, you never have to ask—just send the books). As both a fiction and mystery writer, Morganstein has drawn fascinating and real characters. In one of my reviews of another of her books, I wrote “that [her characters] are well defined and real. When I say real I mean that we can see ourselves in them.” In her new book, “Numinosity”, her characters are drawn from her family and herself and that is about as real as one can get. This is Morganstein’s family history as a fictionalized memoir and the entire book is very clever. Morganstein has thrown traditional formatting out of the window and gives us a book modeled on the old “Life” magazine. Size wise it is about half the size of a coffee table book but certainly not the size of books that we are used to reading. It is filled with photographs and blurbs and I soon found myself tearing up about some of the memories it raises.

The content comes from Morganstein’s “eccentric family history” but written as a fictionalized memoir. Divided into six chapters, we have articles written by invented personalities (all of whom are the author herself). Like a magazine, there are ads on many pages but what is advertised are products of the author’s mind (and great fun). Morganstein parodies consumerism with ads for “NYX Ballbuster” cigarettes and “Nadir” televisions. There is something special on every page making this one of the “funnest” books I have ever read or even held in my hands.

It does not tale long to realize that this is a book about “the relationship of humor and tragedy in art” and that if we are going to leave the past behind us we must take a look at what was and fashion it into its own story which will be a tragicomedy. By consciously laughing and crying about the past, we liberate ourselves from it.

I was reminded when I was a young religious school student at my synagogue in New Orleans and we began to read the Hebrew bible. One of the major Jewish publishing houses put out a comic book edition of the Five Books of Moses and we were all given a copy. The rabbi knew that the best way to get his students to understand was to make the read fun for them and this was the age of Archie and Veronica who we soon saw as Samson and Delilah. This is how we learned— reading a comic book about the patriarchs (for us there were not yet matriarchs back then) and I grew to love the Bible stories in the comic book that I kept next to my bed. In effect, that is what Linda Morganstein has done here. She gives us an illustrated biography that is fun to read and like those Bible stories, I am not likely to forget it. She has torn down the barriers between genres, stood literature on its head and shows us how to have fun as we read. Here is “visual/verbal” art that has a message of seriousness. I now will replace my own Bible comic book with “Numinosity” on the bed table next to where I sleep and I am pretty sure that I will read it as many times as I read about Moses parting the sea.

 

 

 

“Carnivore” by Jonathan Lyon— A New Kind of Thriller

Lyon, Jonathan. “Carnivore”, HarperCollins 360, 2017.

A New Kind of Thriller

Amos Lassen

Leander suffers from fibromyalgia and lives in constant pain and his personal therapy is very strange. He manipulates, tortures and emotionally devastates his ‘victims’ as he tries to deal with his own physical and emotional situation. While his pain his chronic, he uses sex, control and class A drugs to try to cover it up.

At times, the plot becomes quite violent as Leander tries to become high and disguise what he feels. He intentionally and constantly puts himself into dangerous and sadistic situations that he describes in great detail. This is a disturbing story that is written in gorgeous prose with vivid imagery and a lot of brutality that is upsetting, unsettling and overwhelmingly sadistic; not the kind of book you read before bed.

Leander is wise, manipulative, intelligent and totally without morals. He is drawn to the most notorious, violent criminal in London and soon the loves of the two men are intertwined to the detriment of all who become involved with the pair. Drugs, murder, anal rape and sex seems to become a way of life for the two. They are detached emotionally from the violence they partake in and while it is disturbing to read, it is never gratuitous, salacious or pornographic.

I am not sure how to describe or even summarize the plot because this is one of those books that pulls you in and keeps you reading without, at first, understanding what is going on. We are simply pulled into a world that is much unlike our own yet we dare not leave.

The prose is of such horror, beauty and madness that it is difficult to dwell on them. Almost all of the characters are unlikeable but have been drawn in a way that makes us look at them. Leander makes us totally aware that he is a messed up person who is seductive who sells himself so that he can buy heroin to ease his physical pain. He is handsome, insane and totally dysfunctional yet I could not turn away from him.

Leander pulls us along with him as he manipulates the lives of others. His internal monologues are twisted rantings and he is both strong and weak because of his ailment. I do not yet know why I really liked this book; I suppose as it settles into my mind I will find that out.

I had to look away from the text several times so it is important to realize that this is not a book for everyone.

“After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images” by Avram Finklestein— Never Forgetting

Finklestein, Avram. “After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images”, University of California Press, 2017.

Never Forgetting

Amos Lassen

The AIDS epidemic is our Holocaust and we are beginning now to look back, albeit with tears in our eyes, and remember how things once were. In the last couple of years, there have been some wonderful writing about the terrible time and now we have a visual remembrance. In the 1980s when the epidemic was in its early years, one of the most important, iconic and lasting image was created by six gay activists, the pink triangle with the words “Silence=Death” below it came to symbolize our movement and the way we felt. I still have the same sensation today that I had back then when I see this. Avram Finklestein was back then co-founder and a member of the collective Silence = Death and member of the art collective Gran Fury. In “After Silence”, he shares the story of how his work and other protest artwork associated with the early years of the pandemic came to be. He gives us a different view of the traditional HIV/AIDS history and he does so by writing about “art and AIDS activism, the formation of collectives, and the political process”. It is a little over 25 years later and he uses the AIDS epidemic as a way to give us “ a creative toolbox for those who want to learn how to save lives through activism and making art”.

Finklestein’s story is personal as he sees what happened through the eyes “of a key designer of a crucial political movement and [he]demystifies how design decisions are made amidst political crisis.”

This is a first-hand account of the beginnings and the use of the Silence = Death graphic and Finklestein shows how it was used by the AIDS Action Committee (that later became ACT UP). We also get a look inside of the collective Gran Fury and the various strategies and challenges that formed and informed their most successful campaigns such as “Read My Lips” and “Kissing Doesn’t Kill”. By reading this book, we better understand the politics of resistance and the impact of ACT UP in building a movement.

Avram Finkelstein was a central figure in the image strategies that were developed and used by ACT UP and he is able to provide insights for the next generation of artist-activists who hope to transform our political landscape. This is an honesty and heartfelt look at defining our history with all of the complexities that are found in social movements.

After the threat of AIDS began to subside, many writer were unable to write about it and didn’t. It is only now that those writers have decided to use their voices to tell how it was. This is a “one-of-a-kind book about the history of AIDS through its images that the world needs and has waited for.”

“In the Direction of the Sun” by Lucy J. Madison— Two Women

Madison, Lucy J. “In the Direction of the Sun”, Sapphire Books, 2017.

Two Women

Amos Lassen

Alex McKenzie has lived a comfortably settled life in her hometown of Stockbridge, Massachusetts but that all changes when Cate Conrad comes to town. Cate is a free spirited sailor and artist with whom Alex falls madly in love. The only problem (and it’s a big one) is that Cate has demons in her past that do not let her live comfortably with her present so falling in love is not really an option for her. She runs away from the possibility of love rather than face it. Of course, Alex is hurt by this and takes to nature to heal her aching heart. She decides to hike the Appalachian Trail. Cate goes to the artist colony in Provincetown where she is free to sail and be on the water. Both women become very aware of the fragility of life yet they must learn that love really matters in life.

If you love nature and you love the concept of love this is just the book you want to read. Aside from the wonderful descriptions of nature, we meet two fascinating women who learn how to live with each other despite the setbacks against doing so. We learn about the pasts of Alex and Cate and we understand the part that romance has played in their past lives and how they understand why it did not work for them. We then see them as they change to accommodate their feelings for each other. We  sense how each was affected by the romance, and how the time spent afterwards, combined with their analyses of what was special and what went wrong, contribute to their transformations into their best selves. We definitely sense the hurt and frustration that Alex feels by being rejected by Cate and we feel Cate’s fear of being rejected and understand that is why she fears being involved and in love with someone else. Both women are aware that life might be passing them by without their being able to experience a loving relationship. As a gay male, I was totally surprised at how invested I was in these two women and how much I wanted them to find ways to love each other. I do not remember ever being so frustrated and upset over a character as I was over Cate.

Writer Lucy Madison has done a wonderful job of bringing nature and the possibility of love together in her novel. Both women are on a journey and need to deal with themselves before they can deal with each other and I am sure that we all know people like both of these women. I was amazed at how Madison has the ability to make us feel what her character feel and we realize that we are on their journeys with them.

“The Resilience Anthology”— A Journey

Heart, Amy, Sugi Pyrrophyta and Larissa Glasser, editors. “The Resilience Anthology”, Heartspark Press., 2017.

A Journey

Amos Lassen

I just received an announcement about “The Resilience Anthology” so I am passing it on to you.

“Take a journey through the worlds of over thirty (C)AMAB* trans writers in what is currently the largest collection of poetry and prose made for and by us. Featuring new work by Luna Merbruja, Magpie Leibowitz, Moss Angel, KOKUMO, Joss Barton, Ariel Howland, Casey Plett, Sascha Hamilton, A.K. Blue, Oti Onum, Rahne Alexander, Tobi Hill-Meyer, Lawrence Walker, Connifer Candlewood, Serafima Mintz, Talia Johnson, Tyler Vile, Lina Corvus, Bridget Liang, CHRYSALISAMIDST, Ana Valens, Larissa Glasser, Lilith Dawn, AR Rushet and more, including an introduction by Julia Serano!”

“Our writers featured in this book exist across the gender spectrum, but do not identify with their birth assignment. Many are trans women, but some are genderqueer, non-binary, agender, or all of the above.”

“Death and Love at the Old “Summer Camp” by Dolores Maggiore— The Summer of ’59

Maggiore, Dolores. “Death and Love at the Old Summer Camp”, Sapphire Books, 2017.

The Summer of ‘59

Amos Lassen

Sixteen-year-old Pina was not looking forward to the summer of 1959 because she had experiences so many boring summers in Maine with her parents at Owl Lake Lodge. She did, however, look want to see Katie again even though she did not really care for hanging with her in the cabins of the old boys’ camp. This changed when she saw Katie who seemed to be so much cuter than previous summers but she could not figure out why she felt this way. Whenever the two girls were together, Pina became both nervous and excited. Lately Pina found herself daydreaming a lot and in them her dead seemed to be telling her things that had to do with love and… with Katie. But these dreams were also about death.

As the summer moved forward so did Pina’s feelings for Katie and there was even more excitement when Doc, Katie’s dad and his friend Joe began with stories about camp and death. Something very strange was going on.

We are taken back in time to that year where Pina and Katie became adolescents and faced the typical teen issues of insecurities and fears along side of the senses of hope and young love and a very mysterious ghost story. Delores Maggiore beautifully brings together mystery and adolescence and has us turning pages as quickly as possible. What a wonderful combination— coming out and coming of age and a real mystery.

The discovery of a mystery, along with her new paranormal feelings and sense of a buried sexuality make this a new kind of summer for Pina. I was so reminded of the summers I spent at camp and the wonderful stories that came out of those times. Maggiore’s sense of detail permeates the entire story and every once in a while I had to pinch myself in order to realize that I was reading and not a part of the story.

Katie and Pina feel that she knows that something terrible happened when their parents were kids at camp and Pina relives some of this through her dreams. Katie becomes her support and her lover although she does not know how to deal with that.

I do not want to ruin the read but I will add that when the girls learn that Katie’s father had a homosexual encounter when he attended camp. Then there was an unreported murder and as the girls find clues to what happened that summer, they also find each other as past and present come together.