Archive for the Summer Reading Category


Summer Reading: The Grave Soul by Ellen Hart

September 30th, 2015

GSELHJLOne of the most delightful things about the novel Maria-sama ga Miteru ~Ibara no Mori was the description of Sei, the compulsive reader, looking for stories that reflected what she was going through, this unspoken, confusing and many ways, distressing love of another girl. She found things about homosexuality, of course, that treated it as a pathology and, based on the descriptions of the stuff she read, she found herself staring down the Well of Loneliness and other dire lesbian classics.

I loved this section of the novel, because I too was young, and combing through the library, trying to find books that didn’t make me want to stab myself. I wasn’t, thank the gods, looking for confirmation…I just wanted to read a good book with lesbians.

I was lucky. I found Desert of the Heart, by Jane Rule and Beebo Brinker,  by Ann Bannon and I found lesbian mysteries. Murder at the Nightwood Bar by Katherine V. Forrest launched me into a 1990s full of volumes of lesbian-protagonist mysteries. Naiad Press was publishing them in droves and I was haunting Barnes and Noble, (this was so long ago Borders did not yet exist and B&N’s “Gay and Lesbian Fiction” shelves were a second home) buying them and borrowing them at the library, Dozens, maybe hundreds of lesbians with long-dead lovers, with drinking problems who weren’t out, who were out and suffering from institutional homophobia, being stalked and tortured and beaten and eventually catching the bad guy. So, so many mysteries. So many, in fact, I became absolutely sick to death of mysteries.

At then end of the decade, there were two authors left I could stand. Forrest kept writing, left Naiad for a major publisher and her character, Kate Delafield, out and comfortable at last, became more comfortable for me to read. And Ellen Hart, whose Jane Lawless mysteries scratched an itch for lesbian characters who were not suffering from homophobia, alcoholism, or trauma. Although Jane had the prerequisite long-dead lover, she ran a restaurant, had a female Oscar Wilde as a side-kick and was quite likable. I always liked Jane.

But, as I mention, I left mysteries behind me. And I had not realized that Ellen Hart was still writing them. Until last year, when I discovered Ellen Hart on Facebook,I also discovered Jane once more. And just after I had caught up to Hart’s last book, (the Fates must have found this hilarious, I swear I can hear them giggling,) it tuns out that her new publisher is an imprint of a large publisher and her editor is a friend of mine.  And so, with thanks to the publisher, I had a chance to make the last of my summer reads, Ellen Hart’s newest Jane Lawless mystery, The Grave Soul.

It was an excellent book.

The construction was turned inside out a bit, so we begin with the aftermath of the crisis, then work our way back in to it. We, the reader, always know that aftermath and so the tension is turned way up throughout the book without us actually having to go through the crisis itself. When all too many novels these days are merely prologues to violence, stalking and torture scenes in the name of “suspense,” this approach worked to create a lot more suspense without having to subject us to violence porn.

It was good to revisit Jane Lawless, the restaurateur who sleuths on the side, good that she broke up with her horrible girlfriend in the last novel, good that they did not get back together in this one. Cordelia, her side-kick, is always too much to be believable, but that is what we like about her. She’s the comedic relief in the Shakespearean sense of the word.

The story was tightly written. The mystery was a classic small-town murder, but one in which Miss Marple had to come from out of town in order to make sense of it. And the ending was appropriately Agatha-Christie-like as well.

All in all, an excellent revisit to an obsession of my youth, long before Yuri manga, and long before Jane (or I) was so comfortable with saying the word “gay.” In this case, I was able to come home again and find that what has changed, has changed for the better.

It was a good read, and I’m glad that Ellen Hart is still out there plugging away at it. ^_^

Ratings:

Overall – 8

Facebook is your friend. Ellen Hart, Katherine V. Forrest, Ann Bannon and many other lesbian writers of the past and present are there and you should totally take a look at their books. This is your literature.

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Summer Reading: Hilda and The Midnight Giant (English)

August 1st, 2014

hamgIt’s about midsummer here, and the weather has been unnaturally pleasant, so I’ve been outside playing, rather than curling up in the A/C. As a result I’m hugely behind on my reading, but…no regrets. Getting to take long walks in the Northeast woodlands of the USA is as good for my soul as reading comics. ^_^

But, when I get a chance to read a really unique, fun, kid-friendly,  girl-friendly comic, you just know I have to share it with you!  Thanks to the fantastic Tucker Stone at Nobrow Press, I had the chance to read the delightful Hilda and the Midnight Giant.

Hilda and her Mom live outside the town. They seem to have a comfortable relationship, and Hilda is studious and dedicated. When it turns out that she and her mother are living in the middle of a civilization of small, invisible people, Hilda has to figure out how to make peace between her and and entire race of beings that consider her their enemy.

As Hilda wrestles with the politics of her neighbors, she also discovers a giant occupying the same valley. Her inquiries take her from the mayor of the local town through which she and her mother have been walking to the king of the civilization, while she tracks down the giant who comes by at night.

The adventure is, in a word, strange.

You could make a case for it being an allegory about people sharing space on the planet, but that’s not really what it’s about at all. ^_^ Hilda learns about bureaucracy and how being in the right place at the right time is as good as dedicated effort. It’s a life lesson that would serve many a young person well and for that reason alone, I’m inclined to recommend this book. But more importantly, it’s a rollicking, rattingly tale of little people and giants and has a wholly unexpected end. Really unexpected.

Luke Pearson’s writing is great. Hilda is a smart kid, she asks a lot of questions, but mostly the right questions…and she really processes the answers, to  come up with well thought out solutions. Mom speaks to Hilda like she’s a smart kid, so there’s none of that creepy condescending tone with which adults so often address kids. The art is, for lack of a better word “cartoony.” The giant is a tall, hairy column, the little people are small capsule-shaped creatures.  There’s no complex artistic rendering here, just straightforward, simple comic art. It’s the story that carries you along.

If you know a young comics reader, or a a child that you’d like to turn into a comics reader – especially if they love fairy-tale-like stories – this would be a great place to start them. Hilda isn’t a superhero, but she sure saves the day.

Ratings:

Art – 6
Story – 9
Character – 8

Overall – A solid 8 and I hope to be able to read some of the other Hilda books in the future.

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Summer Reading: Chocolates for Breakfast (English)

October 20th, 2013

cfbWell into autumn as we are, I had one last Summer Reading choice on my plate.  Back in August, I mentioned the republishing of Pamela Moore’s mid-century novel about dissipated youth, Chocolates for Breakfast. AfterEllen.com discusses the author’s life and death and reprints the censored passages in which the main character thinks about her feelings for the  English teacher on which she has a crush. These passages are still not included in the text of the book as published, but Moore’s son discusses them in the afterword.

Despite those passages, perhaps because of them, I would not call this book a “lesbian” novel in any meaningful way. The crush is exactly that – a crush. It’s ephemeral, a fantasy of time and place, and lack of other stimulus.

However, in every way this book is something that should be read. In the same way we are asked to read The Great Gatsby or Catcher in the Rye, Chocolates for Breakfast stands as a piece of classic American literature, with insight to a time and place that was never quite real even when it was. For those of you still in school, being asked to read either of toese books, I’d suggest reading Chocolates for a unique subject for compare and contrast.

Trying to tell you what Chocolates is about is more challenging than you might expect. It’s a tale of dissipated privilege; the sex, drinking, and hopeless ennui than comes with having too much of everything and too little of anything with meaning. But don’t let that get in your way of enjoying it. ^_^ In fact, despite the fact that my childhood was nothing at all like Courtney’s, I was able to deeply sympathize with her disassociation and feelings of frustration at 15 that the adults around her were less mature than she. In many ways, we are all Courtney at some point, whether we were kids in the 00s or the 60s.

Ratings:

Overall – 8

My next “Summer reading” book will be Hild by Nicola Griffith. Feel free to read it as well and give your opinion in the comments! No deadline, I probably won’t get to it for a bit. ^_^

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Summer Reading Lesbian Novel: Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante

August 16th, 2013

MaxieMFrom Monica Nolan, the woman who brought you Bobbie Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher and Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary, comes the eagerly-awaited Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante.

While I had visions of a spoof of The Fourth Sex in my head, Nolan has put together a fairly taught mystery novel which is wholly unfair of her. I didn’t expect to have to pay attention! But about the point where we learn that the Swedish Mafia runs the gay bars in the town and the milk trade, I finally caught up with the idea that I was actually going to have to be a little more invested in this story than I originally expected. ^_^

Maxie Mainwaring, debutante and playgirl in Bay City, daughter of the dairy company Mainwarings, is cut off by her mother after a…small indiscretion at a meeting of the Daughter of the American Pioneers Luncheon and for the first time in her life, has to actual work. In between her not-terribly-successful attempts at budgeting and finding a job, Maxie finds herself following mysterious women, falling for a gangster, dealing with police raids at the local gay watering hole and learning who was responsible for stealing the children’s milk at the local youth center. And if all this wasn’t enough, Maxie finds herself at odds with her on-again off-again girlfriend, Pamela, and the drama of her fellow residents of the Magdalena Arms.

If this sounds like at lot for one book – it was. And most of it ties in pretty neatly at the end. There were a few zingers though, which I won’t spoil.

Unlike Bobbie and Lois, Maxie isn’t naive about love, or lesbian life. Her naivete was firmly about the “get a job  to pay the bills” life most people have, and this is strung out pretty far, as Lois’ and Bobby’s naivete were. They don’t grow ’em very sharp in Bay City, apparently. ^_^ But for a summer read with action, adventure, thrills and a lot of girls kissing and having pulp-y sex, this was a really fun book. The book equivalent of a County Fair, with lots of colors, sound, flavors and fireworks at the end, ^_^

Ratings:

Overall – 8

I’ve already asked Ms. Nolan about the possibility of a (vaguely alluded to) military story, but she commented that the next one in the series is probably going to be the secret life of the Bay City lesbian bartender. I can wait. These books are a blast.  And perfect for summer reading. ^_^

 

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Summer Reading – No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure

June 23rd, 2013

I picked up No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure at TCAF from the KidsCan Press Table. It is exactly what one would expect and hope from a book with such an epic title. ^_^

The books tells the tales of 7 women who dressed (and mostly, who passed) as men in their lifetimes. From well-known names as Egyptian Pharaoh Hatshepsut and the Chinese Warrior Mu Lan to 19th century doctor James Barry and escaped slave Ellen Craft. Each story is told simply by Susan Hughes and Willow Dawson. No judgements are made, no lessons taught (except the obvious – if women are allowed opportunity, they can excel).

This book is suitable for a young audience, I’d probably go as low as 8 or 9 depending on the child.* (War, death and slavery are topics surfaced in the telling of these tales.) Of course, you may end up in long conversations about human society, gender norms and privilege as well. ^_^

Dawson’s art is neat with a simple chiaroscuro aesthetic, Hughes’ prose is straightforward without much embellishment; narration sets the scene and dialogue allows the characters to participate in their own stories.

Ratings:

Art – 7 – Easy to follow, not “sophisticated” but it doesn’t need to be
Story – 9 Inspiring and depressing at once
Characters – 10 Inspiring, full stop

Overall – 9

An educational and entertaining book about some well-known and lesser-known hidden women’s stories – totally worth taking a look at.

*At 8, I had read Huckleberry Finn and at 9, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Nothing in this book would have shocked me, honestly, by 8.

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