Tag Archives: Homosexuality

Incendiaries: A Novel by R. O. Kwon

When I was in college, my boyfriend, for some reason, had to miss one of his upper level advanced mathematics courses and asked me to tape the class and copy down the notes written on the chalkboard. (Obviously this was quite a few years ago). The teacher was Asian with a stilted accent, but even if he had been totally fluent in English, my year of Introductory Calculus was not enough background for me to make heads or tails of the subject matter which the professor was attempting to impart, so I just nodded and copied and pretended that I had an inkling of the topic under discussion, flipping the tape over as appropriate.

This sense of confusion is similar to my experience in reading Incendiaries: A Novel by R. O. Kwon. Flitting from character to character giving little to no reference point with statements which only at times resemble sentences, flipping back and forth with tenses and pronouns so I wasn’t sure who was speaking and when the event occurred, I waded through this book (which was fortunately a quick read) until I finally got the gist of what was happening and was able to confirm my suspicions by going back to the beginning and skimming the chapters after my first go around with the text.

Not a traditional narrative, this book is about a group of students attending Edwards College in Noxhurst, a city somewhere in New York State (I think). There are side trips to New York City with a visit to other locations in the Northeast, although the main characters are originally from California and think nothing about bopping home. Ultimately the story is about a cult started by John Liel which entraps Phoebe Lin and almost ensnares her boyfriend, Will Kendall. The main characters all have some Korean blood and have experienced a past which makes them vulnerable to brainwashing, taking advantage of their questions concerning faith and Christianity. The Pro Life contingent is also a theme which reoccurs throughout the book.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to be sympathetic to any of these protagonists who are all self absorbed, with personality flaws that makes them largely unlikeable. Their college education is alluded to, but for the majority is more a setting than an activity. Bars and other gathering places abound with drinking, drugs, and sex which seem to be the primary activities mixed in with religious allusions. It’s a very jaded view of the college scene.

While the majority of the narrative is disjointed, there is a brief glimpse of a book which I could have liked – the section describing Will’s job as a waiter at an upscale restaurant and the difficulty he had with one of the patrons. Unfortunately, this is a mean spirited episode with more than a touch of misogyny, but at least it was readable.

So, if you like a challenge and are in the mood for a negative plot line, go for it. I, for one, plan to find a book which will make me laugh so as to remove the bitter taste which is currently lingering, just as I decided to major in English and not in Math.

Two and a half stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

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Artemis by Andy Weir

It’s refreshing to read a true SF novel. Lately, unless you are reading a book featuring Star Wars or Star Trek, the focus seems to be on fantasy or dystopia. We won’t touch on vampires and werewolves, although if that is your pleasure you are in luck.

Artemis by Andy Weir, however, is about life in a man-made city on the moon. The author has created a realistic world with scientific explanations which seem realistic to my untrained mind. Jazz Bashara, the main character, is a true antihero, who at twenty eight is still acting like a rebellious teenager doing a little smuggling, along with her day job as a porter, to pay for her meager lifestyle. She manages though dreams of something better – a bigger bed, her own bathroom, better food choices – all beyond her financial means. Then the deal of a lifetime falls into her lap, a way to make some real money and maybe repair the broken relationship with her dad. This one requires quite a bit of planning and luckily she has a natural ability to pick up information on the fly along with some innate skills perfected at her father’s knee as well as the general knowledge necessary to nullify the safeguards surrounding the moon’s life support systems (without getting herself killed). Yet the relatively “simple” task of sabotage becomes a deadly game placing those she holds near and dear in danger. Time to call in all her favors, even if it means swallowing her pride and overriding her principles.

Add in a stoic father who wants what’s best for his only daughter, a former best friend who has the same taste in men, a geeky coworker willing to lend a hand, a security officer just looking for a reason to deport her back to earth, a childhood pen pal from Kenya who has some helpful connections, and a client who inadvertently bites off more than he can chew.

While I enjoyed the basic concept and liked the mystery tour Weir took us on, there was a bit too much technical detail for my taste. I like a bit of science to make it all seem doable, but my focus is always on the fiction. However, the action will translate into a great movie, since this novel has just as much big screen potential as The Martian. Creating a female main character seemed to be a bit of a challenge for Weir and she came off a little too juvenile at times, though her glib, wise cracking attitude along with all those smarts were a refreshing change of pace which lead to some clever, if somewhat cliched, dialogue.

I’m ready to purchase my ticket.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads. S

Heartland by Ana Simo

Our heroine was living for ten years off a grant to write a book, which she totally ignored until the last minute, when she began the process only to experience an oddity where she lost the ability to write words – from adjectives to adverbs to vowels and finally to nouns – leaving her unable to proceed. When her backers demanded proof that this book actually existed, she spread the word that she’d fled the country, hiding in her apartment disguised as an Asian gentleman until she finally decided to escape to her childhood retreat. The turning point was running into Mercy McCabe, the woman who stole away her beloved Bebe, the love of her life. Despite the fact that McCabe, after ten years, had broken up with their mutual love interest, our heroine is determined to exact revenge, murder to be exact.

The first step is to convince McCabe to come with her to Judge Wilkerson’s house, a swanky estate at the top of Round Hill in an affluent neighborhood of Elmira which is not too far from the Capital. It is here that our heroine spent her youth as her mother was the housekeeper for the Judge and his wife. Revisiting this haven and establishing a routine of caring for the home, reminiscent of her deceased mother’s tasks, doesn’t deter her from her ultimate plans, even as she comes to care for her companion. Since McCabe is a wealthy SoHo art dealer, she is established as the “owner” of this “rental” property with our heroine the servant, along with the cook/maid, a fellow Latina, who is hired to care for them. Eventually our heroine wants to visit her childhood home in Shangri La, a Hispanic community on the outskirts of Elmira, which isn’t important enough to be included on the area map. She gets caught in a blizzard, seeking inadequate protection from the elements, waking up back on the hill with bandaged frostbitten legs and feet. Unable to walk, McCabe, whose appearance and personality have changed due to an apparent illness, tenderly cares for the invalid over a period of weeks – lovingly washing and bandaging her wounds, emptying her bed pan, and feeding her healthy broths to build up her strength. Our heroine begins to develop positive feelings towards her Protector, but just as she starts to feel better, McCabe disappears without a trace. Frantic to find details of Mercy’s whereabouts, she goes to town visiting the library, “pumping” Mrs Crandall, the librarian, for information (while carrying on a torrid affair in off hours). Despite her desperate attempts to lure McCabe back to the Judge’s house, she still has plans for her execution, setting up a funeral pyre in the old ice house in preparation for the big event. Who shows up when the doorbell rings on Christmas Day is a unexpected climax where the events which unfold culminate in confusion and a less than satisfying ending to this saga.

Don’t worry, even though our heroine loses her ability to write, the author, Ana Simo, has pocketed all those verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and nouns and gone into overdrive as she wrote Heartland. When I describe her writing style as verbose and even over the top, I am referring to the act of wading through an excess of verbiage to figure out the plot. To make things even more confusing is the intermix of a dystopia starting with The Great Hunger in 1984 where the world as we know it has experienced some sort of trauma which has destroyed a whole swath of areas, leaving behind what is left of the major cities. None of this, or anything else for that matter, is explained, so the reader must come to their own conclusions. The heroine’s homosexual obsession with her former love interests, both childhood and adult sweethearts, as well as with the current well endowed librarian, seems to feed a mania which borders on insanity. Whether you want to read the ramblings of an unstable woman who rants crazy, racist expletives, depends on your stamina. Despite its relatively short length, this book is not a quick read and I’m not sure if there’s an audience for this psychopathic, violent tale of an imaginary version of our “heartland”. Not for the faint of heart.

Two stars and a thank you to Edelweiss, Restless Books, and the author for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

All the Dirty Parts by Daniel Handler

Pornography – a shortened up plot focusing on the sex and neglecting the actual story. All the Dirty Parts by Daniel Handler is just this sort of book, a XXX movie version of literature. Main character Cole is a randy high school student who has mastered the art of wooing the pants off his female classmates. His less successful friends want him to reveal his secrets, but he’s only willing to share the details with his best friend Alec while they jerk off watching “those kind of movies” on the Internet (perhaps one of the reasons the Internet was invented and definitely the cause behind the discovery of the VCR/video camera). Whether from his numerous one night stands or multiple girlfriends of the week, Cole gets a well deserved rep. Yet he doesn’t feel the need to force any of them, they seem to expect his attentions and he is more than happy to oblige, aiming to please and refusing to feel guilty when they express remorse for their lewd behaviors. When a dry spell hits and there’s no girl available willing to risk her reputation, Cole discovers relief with Alec, but ruins their relationship when he returns to pursuing females claiming he is not homosexual, not even bi. Then Grisaille enters his life and their amazing sexual escapades leads to his first actual experience with love. When she dumps him he is heartbroken and can finally empathize with the multitude of girls he’s left behind. As a friend quipped – “The Poetic Justice Series”.

Don’t expect much of a story since, as the title suggests, the content is mainly about carnal confrontations, with short, incomplete sentences and not much of a narrative despite an occasional mention of soccer, art, music, or homework. Unfortunately, I fear there is a limited audience for this sort of book. It’s not quite graphic enough for lovers of porn, but contains too little of a plot to qualify as a story (not even a romance). I’m sure horny teenage boys will find this book entertaining, but the rest of us would prefer to read something a bit more substantial. Someone thought this novel reminded her of a cruder version of Judy Blume’s Forever, but it’s a bit closer to her adult novel Wifey focusing on just the steamy, vulgar sexual encounters. Its “For Mature Audiences” content is not recommended for school libraries, despite Handler’s reputation as a children’s author with his Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events.

Two stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot in the Houses of Parliament by John Preston

While A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot in the Houses of Parliament by John Preston wasn’t exactly what I expected, despite my reluctance, I found myself sucked into the true story regarding the leadership of the Liberal Party in the British Parliament beginning in 1965. Jeremy Thorpe with his friends Peter Bessell and David Holmes wheel and deal their way throughout the book. If their strategies were limited to politics there wouldn’t have been much of a story, but Thorpe was an active, often indiscreet, homosexual whose affair with the handsome, unstable Norman Josiffe (also known as Norman Scott), led to many grief stricken moments of despair over the possibility of discovery. Out of desperation, Thorpe even plotted an unsuccessful attempt on Scott’s life which ended in his resignation and a major trial featuring barrister George Carman on the defense team. How this natural born, but flawed, leader was ruined makes a fascinating tale. Told through the viewpoints of the various players, the author has done an incredible amount of research to put their authentic voices in the forefront providing more than enough details to substantiate the events. There is even a final chapter describing what happened to the major players in this drama after the trial was over.

While this book is very readable, it is a tad too long and I wish some of the details could have been condensed or omitted although I realize the author wanted to be thorough.

What astonished me is that there were still laws on the books prior to 1967 which proclaimed homosexual acts between consenting adults a criminal offense and that even after that date such a tendency could result in the loss of a job. Due to this policy, blackmail became a very real threat for the numerous individuals mentioned who were secretly in the closet. In an era where Gay Marriage is legal (at least in the United States), it is hard to fathom the hardship faced for those who were not born heterosexual. Yet, even with laws protecting their rights as citizens, society still too often gangs up and harasses members of the LGBT community.

Preston includes a comprehensive index and a list of acknowledgements which reference the numerous titles he used in his research of the events surrounding this scandal.

Four stars and a thank you to Other Press and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Love Blind by Christa Desir and Jolene Perry

Shit happens, but it’s how ones deal with it that matters. Take Kyle and Hailey. Kyle is excessively shy, literally unable to express himself aloud (although he’s great at putting his thoughts down in his journal). He’s also carrying around a shitload of guilt for situations which aren’t really his fault. Then there’s Hailey who has the eyes of a geriatric patient, one who is gradually becoming more and more blind. Hailey’s created a list of things she’s scared to do, a bucket list of sorts with actions to be completed while she can still somewhat see. Her one main joy is her acoustical guitar and the ability to make music. This is where the two teens lives collide in the book Love Blind by Christa Desir and Jolene Perry. Kyle works the soundboard at the school’s radio station and Hailey, with her two best friends/back up singers, shows up to strut her stuff and promote their band. Hailey is amused and intrigued by Kyle’s mumbles and one word responses and goads him into an awkward semi-friendship which grows into something more over time. Yet even though they like each other, Kyle feels unworthy and Hailey thinks she’s hurting more than helping, so a potential hook up between the two morphs into an “on again, off again” relationship even though everyone thinks they are a good influence on one another. The miscommunications dominate the scenario and this book becomes a story of “what ifs” and “should have beens”. Hailey is head strong and forges ahead, often making questionable choices, while Kyle’s in-decisions and lack of confidence holds him back from living up to his full potential. Yet over the three plus year period this story takes place, there is a continuing hope towards some sort of positive resolution.

A relatable topic dealing with the process of overcoming life’s obstacles which crop up from time to time – some self inflicted, others due to the callousness of others, and the rest just part of the tragedy of day to day living. The authors, Desir and Perry, take turns with alternate chapters, writing the story from the viewpoint of each of the two main characters. An easy read with a lot to say on current topics including high school angst, teen sexuality, lesbian relationships, bullying, and drug abuse. That the conclusion, although abrupt, doesn’t wrap everything up with a nice, neat bow is a big plus. Four stars.

Thank you to Netgalley and Simon Pulse for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

A Whisper of Desire by Bronwen Evans (Disgraced Lord Series, Book 4)

Despite the contentious, destructive marriage of her now deceased parents, Lady Marissa Hawkstone, who once rejected true love, decides to seek it out after she sees the loving relationship her brother Sebastian, the Marquis of Coldstone, has with his new wife Beatrice. As her first season comes to a close, everyone anticipates her engagement to the attentive Lord Rutherford, but he is secretly only attracted to her dowry and an increased allowance from his father. Maitland Spencer, the fifth Duke of Lyttelton and one of the six Libertine Scholars accidentally overhears the cad bragging about his real motivations while making love to his mistress.

At one point Maitland considered Marisa as a possible mate, but his randy feelings towards her scares him off. Yet the choice is taken from him when at the same ball the two are drugged and end up naked together in one of the bedrooms in Lord Dunmire’s house. The Duke does the honorable thing and marries his best friend’s sister.

Maitland, also known as the Cold Duke, lives a very regimented life, especially in regards to his sexual relations which he only allows to occur once every three days. In this way he can keep his passions under control so he doesn’t end up like his deceased disease ridden monstrous father who resorted to rape in order to satisfy his needs. Unfortunately, Marisa, although a virgin, is not such an innocent having witnessed various acts by her rakish brother. While Maitland is content to leave his new bride alone on their wedding night, Marisa has other ideas and enters his room to seduce him into his husbandry duty. Maitland’s lustful reaction to her beauty horrifies him and the Duke vows to ignore her charms until an appropriate amount of time has passed. She doesn’t understand why he rejects her advances and thinks there must be something wrong with her. Both seek Sebastian for advice, although the Marquis feels uncomfortable discussing his sister’s sex life.

How the two come to terms with married life is complicated by the continued search for the woman seeking to destroy the lives of the six friends. While the villainess has been ultimately unsuccessful in the first three volumes of the Disgraced Lord Series, she is happy with her results in book four, A Whisper of Desire, envisioning further revenge against the two remaining bachelors.

If book one had too few plot details, this story is jammed full of twists and turns. Of the books thus far, this one really dwells on the seedier sides of life, and includes erotica usually reserved for a different genre. On the plus side, the reader gets to discover more about the six Libertine Scholars and their spouses as well as being introduced to some new characters who will play a role in future novels in the series. However, this book is not a happily ever after Regency Romance since it includes some unfortunate heart wretching events which threaten to mar the lives of those involved.

Despite the chock full plot, the author Bronwen Evans still has a tendency to repeat her message, first through thoughts then through repeated explanations to other characters. She also continues to gloss over the reality of the Regency era with modern dialogue and opinions which don’t fit the times. Not only are some of the events over the top, there is simply too much action for one book and it gets a bit overwhelming at times. Yet, despite the flaws, I think this is the best book so far. While the reader usually is safe in believing “alls well that ends well”, Evans leaves us with some doubts as to whether all the friends will survive through the end of the series. Three and a half stars.

Thank you to Netgalley and Loveswept for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.