REVIEW: The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths and Magic by F T Lukens

The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths and Magic by F. T. Lukens (September 7, 2017); 256 pages. Available from Interlude Press here.

If I were a gawky teenage boy and had to climb the side of a house to get a job working for a weirdo Buffy-the-Vampire-Slayer-Watcher-Type-Guy who got smelly-slimed by trolls frequently and had a 1960s-ish nutjob secretary and a couple of junk-food-obsessed pixies living with him, and this job put me in situations in which I was chased by gore-furious unicorns and nearly killed by unfriendly mermaids, then… I don’t know what. I guess I’d be the star of this book and my name would be Bridger. Unlike the star of this book, I probably wouldn’t have the fortitude and determination to press on after that first mermaid attack.

But Bridger, like many a hero of young adult novels, is stronger and more determined than I. He bumbles into a job helping someone who’s charged with ensuring the world’s myths (like the Loch Ness Monster and a unicorn and a manticore) remain in their proper places (that is, hidden from “regular” folks) and the world’s humans are safe from their magic. Lovely enough for the reader, but unfortunately for poor Bridger, those mermaids, that manticore and all the other myths are pretty dangerous—that unicorn is definitely NOT a My Little Pony hearts and rainbows sort. Bridger discovers there’s magic in the world, but it’s not the fantasy magic he read in storybooks—it’s real, terrifying, and the only way the “normal” world stays in balance is if it remains ignorant of it.

This is an adventure story (Bridger, and many of the other characters, have quests and Joseph Campbell-like arcs to complete) and a love story (Bridger falls for football hero Leo) and a tale of chivalry (Bridger must rescue not only the world, but Leo, so that he may ride off happily into the sunset with him, and the two rescues are in direct conflict). The novel is knowing, and softly humorous at the same time that it’s gripping and tense. It puts me in mind of Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time quintet—believably weird, starring outsider teens who come into their own through intrigue with odd creatures and helpful-but-strange mentors.

 

 

Advertisements

Go on, get it.

Friends, my second book, Olympia Knife, is available for pre-order. Though you won’t get your book until it’s officially released on November 2, you will be guaranteed the price and the immediate copy. Because reading a magical-realist novel about a lesbian in an early 20C travelling American circus from which acts are mysteriously disappearing cannot wait.

(I am actually being half serious, since the repressive thumb under which the United States is currently being squished could potentially make The Art of the Deal and Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America the only books one can legally read.

You can pre=order the book straight from the publisher here (if you pre-order the hardcopy book before its release on November 2, you’ll get the e-book package free).

Or from Amazon here.

It’s Heeeeere!

Friends, I am very happy to announce that my new novel, Olympia Knife, is now available for pre-order at Interlude Press!

The novel will be released on November 2, but if you order a hard copy before Nov 2, you will get a free e-copy (multiformat package: Kindle format, EPUB file for all manner of e-readers, and a PDF for other kinds of computers… or, I suppose, you can stare at the thumb drive you put it on, but that won’t do much for you).

(My first novel, Sweet, is also available at Interlude Press–check out their great catalog when you visit the site!)

To get in on it, please go to Interlude Press website here.

OK_front (online only)

(PS, I adore this cover design by Choi Messer.)

REVIEW: Blended Notes by Lilah Suzanne

REVIEW: Blended Notes by Lilah Suzanne (August 17, 2017); 275 pages. Available from Interlude Press here.

Nico and Grady are back at the center of the narrative in the third book of the Spotlight series, and they’re getting maaaaarried. If you haven’t read Broken Records or Burning Tracks, you can still read Blended Notes and understand everything going on, but why would you skip those other two books? Broken started us off with Nico, a stylist to the stars, meeting Grady, a star country singer, and, well, hitting it off. Burning moved the focus to Nico’s business partner Gwen and her life with her wife Flora, and added focus on famous country singer Clementine, who reminds me a bit of a young Lucinda Williams (at least I picture her that way—smart and feisty and full of everything). Blended swings back to Nico and Grady, but Clementine is there, and Flora and Gwen are there, along with their wee son Cayo, who’s there with all of his drool and joy.

(I should make a special note here: Cayo’s in it, but it’s not a fawning, baby-focused thing in which even his diapers are cute. He’s there for realness.)

Lest you think Blended Notes is only about the fantasy of getting married, there is much more to be had (I’ve written about this before—not all gay folk, or folk in general, burn only for a straight-style wedding and marriage or care much about it, except for the significant financial and legal equality it delivers in many parts of the world… in short, a wedding alone is not enough to sustain an interesting narrative in my opinion). (And I recognize that this, on the heels of my “a baby is not all cuteness” thing probably makes me seem like the bitterest old lesbian ever, but I swear that’s not it. I like both weddings and babies, but I also recognize there’s more in a person’s life, or at least there should be, and those two elements are usually cheap and easy story devices to lend motive and pathos to characters. But that isn’t the case here.) The wedding here is neither central (I mean, who wants to read about picking out napkins for more than a paragraph?) nor is it the point. It’s there, but only as an impetus for other things to happen. Also going on: Grady comes out about his love for Nico (well, “him”) in a song, his record company censors him, and he must make the decision about whether to sing from inside or outside the closet, and Nico must figure out how to support him.

The writing is well-paced as usual—and perhaps in this book, even better than before. It might have something to do with the tension created when wedding plans and homophobic record labels and snooping press all begin to make things go awry and one’s never sure whether the wedding—or Nico and Grady’s relationship–will go forward or not. Grady sees Nico sneaking around with some guy, and then Nico wants to cancel the wedding, and it just can’t be what it seems to be, right? (One more page, one more page, I kept saying, which is how I found myself still reading at 2:30 AM more than once.)

All in all, it’s a really satisfying way to wrap up a series of books which follows the lives of some very likeable, interesting characters. I, for one, am particularly partial to Clementine, Grady’s compatriot country singer—she’s been by turns vain, compassionate, weird, complex and interesting in this and past books, and I want to be her friend. On the whole, these characters are not, by any means, perfect, but they are all people you root for despite that (or maybe because of it).

 

 

REVIEW: Absolutely, Almost Perfect by Lissa Reed

Absolutely Almost Perfect by Lissa Reed (August 3. 2017); 256 pages. Available from Interlude Press here.
 
The third book of Reed’s charming Sucre Couer series, Absolutely Almost Perfect returns to the love story of Alex Scheff, a nervous and acerbic American photographer, and Craig Oliver, a level-headed British ex-pat baker, though this installment leaves behind all the previous settings (the Sucre Couer bakery, Seattle) for the Oliver household in England when Craig brings Alex home to meet his family and celebrate the wedding of his brother.
 
But things, as they often will do when family is involved, do not go perfectly. (You know this; the title hints at this.) To start with, Alex must deal with meeting the family of his love. Anyone who has done this knows how terrifying it can be—probably more so when visiting that family also means having to navigate a foreign culture. Plus, Craig’s very attractive ex is floating around, still in the family’s good graces, and Alex is going to have to contend with meeting him, too. But wait, there’s more! Craig gets along with all his family (his feisty mother, his steadfast father, even the younger twin girls who, like most teenagers, are, well teenagers) with the glaring exception of his oblivious-to-mean-spirited prankster older brother. They’ve had a contentious, bitter relationship since Craig was born, one that has only gotten worse with time.
 
To top it all off, there’s a wedding in the mix, with all the stress and family weirdness that tends to bring on.
 
As I began by saying, the books in this series are charming. The characters—especially, but not only, Alex and Craig—are completely realized and so well-drawn I feel as though I know what they’ll say and do next (I usually don’t, but the feeling itself is significant to me). Craig himself is charming (Alex more closely harmonizes with my taste for the acerbic and sweetly bitter—being a native of the US East Coast will make a person distrustful of the effusiveness or polite restraint preferred in other regions… put that way, I now see that our taste in coffee (strong to the point of bitterness) reflects our social tastes as well).
 
Great characters aside, what really grabs one about this book is the plot—once I started, I was heroin-level hooked by the drama and urgency of the goings-on. At the heart of this book is love, with dose of reconciliation. Though Alex and Craig are certainly the center of gravity here, it is how a family comes to fit together that matters: anger, jealousy, forgiveness, joy, care and protectiveness all wrap around them and sometimes, as it often is, it’s an ill fit, but it still manages to hold.
 

REVIEW: Grrrls on the Side by Carrie Pack

Grrls on the Side by Carrie Pack (June 8, 2017); 230 pages. Available from Duet Books/Interlude Press here.

Back when Riot Grrrls were active, I no longer qualified as a girl, except perhaps to a certain breed of older person who would probably still call me a girl at 46. Still, I remember the movement and the excitement and hope that went with it. It was a good time, with particularly good music.

Grrrls on the Side takes place in the 1990s in the US, at the height of the Riot Grrrl movement. It follows the growth from girl to grrrl of Tabitha, who finds her bisexuality, and then finds Riot Grrrl. She’s fat (as a fat woman myself, boy, howdy, do I hate the word “chubby” or other euphemisms like “of size”… I’m going to use “fat” here, because it’s what I call myself), she’s white, she’s sheltered, and she’s a teenager still in high school. Life, in other words, is a combination of tough and easy, which all changes when she finds a Riot Grrrl group—the tough stuff gets easier and the easy stuff gets tougher. She finds support, but also must figure out how to support others (along the way, confronting the implacable whiteness of much of the mainstream feminist movement). When her support system—her friends and new girlfriend—hit the road to tour as a new band, Tabitha is left to figure out how to be independent while still depending on support from others.

The novel’s focus isn’t politics, per se, though if one understands “politics” to refer to the workings of power, politics are certainly sewn in there. Instead, it focuses on the experience of Tabitha, learning to accept herself, find her own power, and work it out with others. (In other words, it’s a very apt story for a young person, since that’s what most of us spend our youth doing.)

Told in the first person present tense, Grrrls on the Side is interspersed (epistle-style) with short excerpts from the various zines the Riot Grrrls write, and as a result, there are several narrations represented here—in other words, the novel wants to bring together all these different voices and let speak everyone who usually doesn’t get to do so.

 

REVIEW: Cherry Pie Cure by M. Jane Colette

Cherry Pie Cure by M. Jane Colette (June 15, 2017); 291 pages. Available as either ebook or paperback at Amazon here.  And from Kobo books here. (See the author’s website at https://mjanecolette.com/ for more buying options.)

Susan is a mid-divorce, middle-aged woman with a petty, selfish and unfaithful estranged husband John and a couple very loving fully-grown sons, plus a small cadre of other supporters (the fiercely loyal girlfriend of one son, a local bestie, and several online supporters). At the advice of her bestie, as a kind of therapy she begins a blog about her experiences with said petty, selfish and unfaithful estranged husband and her search for self. While blogging, she picks up several followers who support her, sometimes challenge her, and form a sort of unharmonious Greek chorus to her narrative. Cherry Pie Cure is told entirely through Susan’s online essays and the resulting online comments of this chorus (actually part Greek chorus, part peanut gallery).

The story begins in Susan’s struggle to be okay and to process her husband’s actions, which include dating “Jewel of the Not-So-Spectacular Boobs” and trying to turn her adult sons against her, but quickly moves into Susan’s infatuation and courtship with Reza, a dreamy stockboy at the local grocery store who pitches woo like… well, like something that pitches amazing woo. But this story doesn’t merely revolve around whether or not the girl gets the guy: Susan also develops a deepening relationship with her son’s girlfriend, Nika; is pushed and stretched by her friend Marcella (I think of her as a door-opener here); is encouraged to love herself (in more ways than one) by her sex toy-selling online friend FemmeFataleFun (who sends care packages), and is challenged, encouraged and supported by a couple seemingly-on-the-prowl younger men online. In there, she also starts baking cherry pies as a kind of therapy, but those pies wind up garnering her loyalty, interest and love.

This is more about those friendships than the love affair—though there’s the central narrative of falling in love (tenuous flirtation, insecure interest, deepening romance) for those who want it, there’s more to be had. For me, the story is about the ways in which Susan’s friends support her, the ways in which Susan supports other people, the ways in which love is a community event as much as it is a private thing.

Plus, you know, the story is funny, too. Ha-ha funny, I mean. Susan’s clever, and hearing the tale through her voice makes it all the more fun. She’s wry and smart and afraid-but-brave. The story itself hooks you in—a good narrative, told in pieces like this (we don’t see the action directly, but only hear what Susan will tell us about after the fact), can be (and is here) so addictive.

 

REVIEW: And It Came to Pass by Laura Stone

And It Came to Pass by Laura Stone (May 18, 2017); 222 pages. Available from Interlude Press here:

The title of this novel, And It Came to Pass, occurs frequently in the Bible, and is usually understood to mean “it happened.” But we American-English-speakers also use “pass” in the sense that it came and went (like a storm), and “it came to” to mean that was the intent all along—it appeared in order to rise up, make trouble, and then go away.

That little language musing (from someone who generally can’t help herself on such things) is my way of getting to the point that, in the case of this novel, both meanings work: the novel is about a stormy situation that happens, but also the point of the novel is that the storm happens and then there’s life on the other side. What goes up must come down, They say. It’s a story full of hope, I say.

And It Came to Pass is the story of Adam and Brendan, two young Mormon men who meet each other when they are paired as missionaries during a 2-year assignment in Spain. They fall in love, but this is especially bad for contemporary LDS folk, who are not generally accepted by the LDS church for being gay (or acting on SSA, “same sex attraction”). As missionaries, if they are discovered in their love, Adam and Brendan run the risk of being dishonorably discharged from their service, sent home early in shame and excommunicated from the LDS Church. This is complicated by the fact that Adam’s father and mother practice an unyielding, dour form of their faith which compels them to cut off contact with their own son if they discover he is gay. So Adam and Brendan, as so many of us queer folk tend to be, are strung between faith/family and love/personal fulfillment, and must figure out a way to live.

What’s really gratifying here is that this is a loving, generous portrait of the struggle—this does not present the easy situation (evil LDS folk who hate the Innocent Gay Victims nor Selfish Hedonistic Gays and Innocent Well-Meaning LDS folk), but a complex portrait of two deeply faithful men who must struggle between two poles (love and faith). It’s also gratifying that the LDS followers are not shown as universally dour and unyielding as Adam’s parents—it’s not a bloc, one comes to understand; there are many ways of practicing and believing.

At its heart, this is a true romance—two folks meet, fall in love, are faced with a seemingly-insurmountable challenge and must figure out a way to surmount it or go their separate ways.

Due to time constraints, I read this novel in little bursts over the course of more than a week, but between bursts, my mind kept wandering back to the characters and wanting to return. It grips, in other words, but subtly, a kind grip; friendly, but no less compelling for its friendliness. In part, I think this is because of its evenness, its kindness, its resistance to easy villains and black-white divisions.

No solution is without sacrifice here, but no sacrifice is total—loss comes to feel, as it so often does, inevitable, even a relief, a gentle winnowing. The implicit criticism here is of stasis, of clinging to what is wrong or cruel just because someone tells you to do so. At the heart of this love story is the idea that one can know truth and right—some people call that God—for oneself better than anyone else can.

Like I said, it’s a true romance.

 

 

REVIEW: Of Cats and Men by Sam Kalda

Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers and Statemen by Sam Kalda (Ten Speed Press, April 18, 2017); 112 pages.

This is a smart, quirky, feminist and fun collection of brief biographies of famous men who’ve bucked gender constraints and loved them some cats. Right up this queer girl’s alley.

First, the writing is great. The biographies are smart and just telling enough to sate the uncurious and whet the appetites of more interested folks. But most importantly, the illustrations here are gorgeous–distinctly styled but not gimmicky, clever but not MERELY clever. As a cat-lover (who is, however, not a “crazy cat lady”… this is my only book about cats) and a lover of redemptive history, this is one of my new favorite books. I show it to everyone. What, perhaps, I love most about its aim is that it cares about and redeems the cat-loving man. With the possible exception of that grisly sea-captain Hemmingway with his famous 6-toed cats, cat affection has been cast as distinctly feminine and, thus, in men, a sign of queerness. It makes me happy that this book doesn’t address that with homophobic denials (“no, no, real men can like cats, too!”), but simply presses forward with profiles of men—all kinds of men—who love cats.  It’s a quietly-great answer to the requirements for gender conformity: one can legitimately be a femme man or a butch man (or any kind of man, really), and all kinds of men can do things we used to think of as too femme (as the kids used to say, “so gay”).

But that’s a quiet benefit of this book, not its outward aim. What it does, quite simply, is present interesting portraits of interesting men who were famous and to whom cats were important.

Finally, I’m not a qualified art critic, though I’ve written my share of criticism anyway, but I will say that I absolutely LOVE the illustrations here. They remind my uneducated eye a bit of a 1950s style of illustration, as does the color palette, which, coupled with the subject matter, only adds to the redemptive and smart feeling of this collection. I’d say that the illustrations are the point—that’s how wonderful they are—but I’d be shortchanging the biographies, which also feel like the point.

As I said, I show everyone this book. I love this book. Sam Kalda, your next book should be profiles of fat old ladies who read books and write reviews of them and live in New York and have two dogs and a cane and wear glasses. Go!