Showing posts with label 2AABCGHILOPQSTU. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2AABCGHILOPQSTU. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Femme by Mette Bach


Rating: WARTY!

After having a somewhat disappointing experience with another volume by this author, which I read in an advance review copy, I decided to try again with a print volume of an earlier novel which I found in my local lovable library. I'm sorry to report that this earlier effort was equally disappointing, so while I still have faith that this author has it in her to write a good story, I haven't seen it yet and I have now lost any interest in going looking for it any more!

The problems with this story were the same as her more recent one, which is not a good sign. Again, the characters were one-dimensional and juvenile, if not outright spastic, for their age. The main character, telling this story in first person unfortunately, was only marginally smarter than the one in the more recent book, which means the main characters are getting dumber, not smarter! This isn’t a good sign.

The story here is that a student named Sofie Nussbaum who we’re told, not shown, is smart (as in like reading poetry equals smart, for example), is head-over heels for her boyfriend Paul, and then inexplicably does a 180 and becomes gay. I am by no means saying that a woman cannot arrive at the knowledge that she's not hetero after all, any more than someone who has been interested in only her own gender cannot end up loving a guy. It's a two-way street full of traffic in both directions. Sexual preference is very fluid and even gender is becoming a lot more so lately now that people are a lot freer to be who they really are.

It was the way this story was presented which made it lack credibility. For the one character, it was telegraphed way too loudly, while for the other, it wasn't demonstrated at all! And I get that this is a sort of special needs book - more of which anon - but that's no excuse to write down to your reader, no matter what reading level they're at.

Much of the story wasn't thought through. The main character was supposedly of limited means, yet she has everything she ever wanted, including clothes galore and so much make-up that it was all-but falling off the shelves. The telling that she was relatively poor and the showing that she had more than anyone who actually was poor would ever have made the story false and the character along with it.

For example, she's not well-off, but can drop everything and take off for a trip to the USA? The story was set in Canada, so it was a only drive over the border, but it's not exactly cost-free to spend several days driving and eating out! And there was no mention of her getting a passport, which she was unlikely to have already had if she were poor with little prospect of leaving the town in which she lived, let alone traveling internationally!

I think the problem here is that the novel was far too short to contain the story the author wanted to tell, which resulted in everything having a sadly cursory treatment instead of being related to the reader intelligently and naturally. It didn’t work. Why the author confines herself to such small books is a mystery to me, but this book is tiny. With dimensions of 4.25" (10.8cm) by 7" (17.8cm), it’s smaller than the usual paperback size, while the margins are quite broad (1/2" -1.3cm- on the long side, and almost one inch -2.5cm- top and bottom) and the text is spaced maybe 1.5 lines.

The book was 175 pages (of which I gave up after 150 out of sheer disappointment and frustration). If it had been single-spaced and the margins made narrower, and a standard paperback format used, this would have made a much slimmer volume and saved a few trees in the print version. The author unfortunately doesn't have any say in how the book is formatted. That's all on the publisher, which is why I self-publish.

As to the content, it was pretty much the same as the other volume I read by this author, which is to say that there was zero depth to any of it. Characters are undeveloped, and abruptly change their feelings, and in this case, even orientation on a dime and so did not occur naturally, organically, or believably.

All of the main characters were manic depressives, flying off the handle for no reason, changing as abruptly as the wind, and going from loving to vindictive on a whim and it simply wasn't credible. Whereas the main character's change of orientation was telegraphed, the feelings of her love interest, Clea, were completely obscure, so the relationship seemed completely one-sided as it was in the other book I read! It was overdone on the one character and not done at all on the other. There was zero indication from her PoV, which is a dire failing for first person novels, which is one reason why I detest them so, but this bias made Clea's attraction (it's far too early to call it love) for Sofie a complete blank.

Frankly, this book read like it had been written by a pre-teen. I know it's a so-called 'Hi-Lo' novel - one written for younger readers who have low interest in reading and high interest in romance - but this felt like it insulted such people rather than being intent upon seriously drawing them in. It’s like the author is confusing low interest in reading with low IQ, and the two are not the same at all. I wish this author would write a longer book, and take her time with it, establishing solid, believable ordinary characters, and then letting them tell the story instead of dictating to them how it should go and having the whole thing fall apart under its own weight instead of soaring elegantly. You're not going to generate any interest in reading by writing boring or silly books. JK Rowling understood this. Why does this author not?

Again, as with the ARC I read, there was a point at which the book became very choppy and devolved into a series of vignettes rather than facilitating a flowing story which naturally sweeps the reader along with it. I cannot recommend this one.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Journey to a Woman by Ann Bannon


Rating: WARTY!

Ann Bannon strikes out for me in this, the third of her novels I've read, but the fourth in her opera. The problem with it was that it was the same story I'd already read twice before from this same author in different volumes! Here, in a nutshell, is why I don't read series. There was nothing new or original here. It added nothing to her oeuvre. it read like she had taken a template used in the two other novels of this author's that I've reviewed, shuffled the name cards, and re-dealt the pack, letting those names fall where they may. All she succeeded in doing was to present her main character, Beth, the college love interest of Laura, as one more in in a long line of Beebo Brinker's disposable bitches.

Beth's sitch is that having conveniently disposed of her cake in college, and married Charlie, she now whats to eat said cake. In her frustration, she's pretty much whoring around and abandoning both husband and children. She's supposed to be some sort of heroic figure for this? The sorry fact is that she's a whiny piece of trash.

She has no self-respect and she chases after a dance teacher named Vega, which is exactly what happened in one of the other two volumes (but with the name changed to something equally exotic). Beth lusts after Vega's ethereal beauty until she discovers that Vega is physically scarred from surgery, whereupon Beth can't ditch her fast enough - and this after declaring her undying love for Vega. What a complete jerk.

Failing there, she eventually throws over her husband and goes sniffing after Laura - the woman she rejected in college in favor of Charlie! When she's rejected by Laura, she takes up with - you got it - Beebo - the lesbian garbage pick-up of Greenwich Village. The whole story is insane, pathetic, lousily-written, and a disgrace to lesbian literature.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? by Heath Fogg Davis


Rating: WORTHY!

In a seemingly radical, but ultimately common-sense challenge to status quo, this author asks whether it's ever necessary to require someone to have their gender flagged on something like a birth certificate or a driver's license. He examines four areas where a true unisex environment is called for - not just to not use a binary sex-marker, but to dispense with sex-markers altogether. These areas are (from the blurb): "sex-marked identity documents such as birth certificates, driver's licenses and passports; sex-segregated public restrooms; single-sex colleges; and sex-segregated sports." A section of the book is devoted to each of the four topics.

While I support this agenda as a general principle - there are far too many areas where gender is irrelevant, but where it's made into an issue of one kind or another - I'd take some small issue with the way this argument is presented in some areas. I felt it didn't make as good of a case as it ought to have, and I felt it was a somewhat biased case - there wasn't much of a serious effort to look at the opposite side of the argument or to seek out opposing views and present them - and argue against them.

Yes, there were some objections raised and summarily overruled, but it felt more like the author was trying to steamroll his case through in preference to offering a completely calm and rational approach. Not that he was raving or ranting, but it felt a little bit like a high pressure salesperson, and I have little time for those!

One example of this was in the section where the author is talking about how long a person has to live as a woman before they're considered fully a woman. It's more complicated than that, and you'd have to read the book to get the full scoop on the issues and arguments, but for my purposes, this fell into the gripe I made about too little use of studies to back arguments and more reliance on personal opinion and anecdote than was healthy to make a solid case.

The author says, "...does it matter that some transgender women will have been socialized as boys and/or men for certain periods of their lives?" The problem with this is the inherent assumption it carries that they have indeed been fully socialized as their biological gender as opposed to their desired or self-identified gender.

I could see my argument being irrelevant if a need for a gender-switch was triggered from a head injury or by a sudden whim or need for attention, but this is flatly not the case. One thing I learned early in my reading about transgender people is that they had lived all their life feeling like they were the gender they eventually (hopefully!) were able to migrate to. So why would they honestly be socialized as boys/men or as girls/women necessarily?

It felt presumptive and patronizing to leap to the conclusion that they had or likely had. We had no evidence presented to support (or refute) this - it was just out there like it was self-evident, and this felt like the author had fallen into the same trap he was arguing against: if it's always been this way, why should we change?

Of course we haven't always been this way. Binary gender is just a convenient convention we fell into because historically we were too ignorant and blinkered to think it through. Maybe a biological male who has always felt female might be rather less acclimatized to male patterns of behavior and thinking than we should feel comfortable assuming, and so might a female in inverse circumstances. This is what I mean when I talk about making better arguments.

So one issue I had with the book was that it felt like it relied too much on anecdote - some of which was personal - which left some holes where a wider survey or study would have filled the gap. Some studies are quoted, but the inline references in this book are not actually links, which is a problem in this day and age for an ebook. In a print book you can flip through pages to get to end notes. It's a lot harder in an ebook, which is why actual links would have been a big help.

That said, the anecdotes were engrossing, saddening, disturbing, and downright horrifying at times, and this is the main reason people need to read this book, because the hit is still shitting the fan, even after all these years, and it needs to stop now. If getting rid of sex markers is guaranteed to do that, then I'm pretty well on-board! But I have some qualms about the arguments, mainly because of the area the book did not cover, which is medical care.

You can argue all you want about men and women and everyone between and on both sides being treated equally in areas of sports, rest rooms, college admissions, and state and government documents, but being treated in hospital is another issue because the fundamental fact is that men and women are anatomically and biochemically different and sometimes it genuinely matters what gender you are.

Let me give a simple example:- a traffic accident victim is brought into an ER unconscious, and xrays need to be taken. if this is a man, there's usually no problem, because men never get pregnant, but if this is a woman, the doctors need to be sure they're not harming a fetus.

Often, it's easy (or at least seems easy!) to tell what gender the patient, but also often it's not and it's downright foolish to make assumptions, as this author has pointed out often! If the woman is a mtf individual, then short of religious miracles, there's going to be no fetus, but if the doctors do not know, then there's potentially a problem.

I'd argue this is a case where gender does indeed matter and more importantly, knowing the gender matters, and while this is a simple demonstrative example, it's not the only medical instance where the gender (or sex if you like - I don't like to use that term because it's so loaded with baggage) of the patient matters. Men and women react differently to some medications, so knowing the gender of the patient can be vitally important.

Now you can no doubt press arguments against my simplistic example, and maybe against medical treatment and knowing the birth sex of the patient, but that's just the problem: since this critical topic wasn't covered in this book, none of this was ever addressed. Having a sex-marker on the driver's license could be in some cases, the difference between life and death here. So maybe we should not argue to eliminate the sex-marker at least on driver's licenses or state ID cards, but to make it voluntary? It's just a thought.

I don't typically comment on book covers because my blog is about authoring, not fa├žades and lures, but in this case I have to say that this cover was quite a stunner. The ambiguity and charm in it were remarkable! It's a credit to the book and a pity the publisher rarely sees fit to give some credit to the model.

One curious personal comment I found was when the author volunteered, "For example, my birth mother was white and my birth father African American. I identify as either biracial or black" but he never went on to explain why he doesn't ever identify as white. It seems to me he has an equal case for either or both. It's not a big deal to me, but I just found it interesting and curious that someone with one black and one white parent had to be (at least historically), considered black instead of white!

To me, that's just as screwed-up as the gender issues discussed here, but I guess it's none of my business; however, it was one of several times things were tossed into the mix which I found curious. Another was his reference to the 2013 movie Identity Thief. The author cites this as an exemplar of the inadequacy of sex verification as fraud protection.

I thought it was an inappropriate reference in a book that rightly tries to set a more scholarly tone, but the objection here was that, as the author explains, "...the fact that many people have gender-neutral or 'unisex' names, Sandy being just one of many examples." I get that this is irrelevant when credit card fraud is perpetrated over the phone,or the internet, but it does prevent some abuse in person when a woman might try to use a credit card which clearly has a male name on it. It's not foolproof, especially in these days of fast everything, but it does offer some preventive opportunities! The real question to ask is: is it worth the hassle some people might get for the prevention it offers in other cases?

But that's not the reason I thought the example of the movie was a poor one; it's that, in the movie (which I have not seen I have to say), the man whose identity has been stolen, Sandy, seems like a sad sack of an example to offer since he apparently never thought to report his card stolen and thereby avoid all of the issues he was subject to in the movie! Hollywood is not real life and I think it was a mistake to cite what seems to be a rather slapstick comedy movie in support of a serious topic like this.

That said, I recommend this because it needs to be read - it's that simple. It has important issues in it about an ongoing problem that needs to be cut off summarily at the ankles, and it makes some good arguments, especially in sports, which has long been a pet peeve of my own. Some of the sports anecdotes are truly upsetting, as indeed are the anecdotes in other areas. Read them and weep - seriously. I felt like it after reading what some of these people - including the author - have had to endure.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Love is Love by Mette Bach


Rating: WARTY!

This is another short "love" story in a similar vein to Same Love which I reviewed positively a day or so ago, but I was not able to give this the same rating for a variety of reasons. I liked the idea behind the story, and I appreciated the diversity it exhibited, but it felt far too trite, simplistic and shallow, and the characters far too caricatured for me to rate it as a worthy read.

I'm not a cover-lover, so I normally don't talk about book covers because they have nothing to do with the book's content and my reviews are about writing, not about bells and whistles, or glitz, or bait and switch. That said, I have a couple of observations about this cover. The first is that the person depicted in the cover image is gorgeous in the ambiguity and androgyny they represent, and I loved it for that. I'd like to read a story about that character, fictional or otherwise! The second observation is actually the problem: this cover has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with anybody or anything in this entire book! So why was this cover used?!

I know that authors (unless they self-publish) have no say in the cover they get stuck with. I'm truly sorry about that, but this is a price you pay when you go the traditional publishing route, so this cover problem isn't a factor in my review. This is just an observation. I don't know how publishers can get it so wrong so often, and I'm forced to speculate on motive here, because whatever that is, it's certainly nothing to do with what the author is saying or trying to do with what they wrote!

I just wish publishers were more sensitive to a book's content than they all-too-often prove themselves to be when they slap a random cover on it. I know some people, particularly YA fans, get orgasmic over covers, but mature readers (and by that I don't mean old, nor do I exclude YA readers) do not. While many of them may appreciate a well-done cover, the bottom line there is that they're all about content. I'd rather have a lousy cover with a brilliant story than ever I would a gorgeous cover with a poor story. Reference The Beatles 'white album' (so-called) for sustaining argument!

As far as content is concerned, I was frequently disappointed in the story-telling, and this is where the real problems lay with this work. It was too simplistic, and the main character, Emmy, was not a likeable one (nor did she look anything like the character on the cover, so no match there). She wasn't strong, nor did she become strong. She showed zero growth, which is sad because she was sickeningly immature. Instead of a girl turning into a young woman with purpose and drive, all we got was an unchanging, needy, whiny, and self-pitying mess.

The worst part about all of this was that she knew exactly what her problems were, but never once did she exhibit the strength to try changing herself, or even evince signs of some development of a will to change. She was a weak and uninteresting character who did not remotely deserve the reward she got. There was no justice in this book, and this was a problem.

I don't typically care about genre any more than I care about gender. A person is a person, and a main character is a main character, but what this book most reminded me of is a genre of novels that I do detest, which is the one where the woman runs away from a bad relationship back to her home town where she meets the love of her life. I despise that kind of a story, and while this novel was not quite that bad, it had a lot of the hallmarks of such a story.

Emmy is so desperate to be popular that we meet her blowing the school hot guy, Ty, in some disgusting stairwell one night, just in hopes that from this she will become popular. How that thinking ever made sense is a mystery. All it told me was that she was profoundly stupid. I didn't mind that. I can work with that, because my hope was that she would wise-up and grow a pair, but she never did.

Emmy is 'overweight'. That's never actually defined, but that's not necessarily a problem, especially not in a society where anorexic actors and models are perversely considered the standard of beauty. 'Overweight' is not a problem unless you're unhealthy with it, and Emmy is, because she's overweight from binging on junk food for emotional comfort.

She knows this perfectly well, but never once does she even consider stopping the rot. Instead, she hangs around like a maiden trussed to a tree, awaiting her shining knight to come shield her from the dragon of life. This is why I did not like her. Throughout this whole story she never initiated a single thing; she was never the actor, always the one acted upon, and her inertia, passivity and complete lack of metaphorical balls was sickening to read about.

The Saint George in this story is Jude the somewhat obscure, the artist formerly known as Judy, who is a guy who was unfortunately born in a woman's body. Again, he looked nothing like the character on the cover, so no match there, either. Other than that, we never really get to know him.

Jude is living as a guy but has had no surgery yet. He's trying to save money for it, but is of limited means, so it's taking a while. He's a barista, and Emmy meets him when she visits his establishment with her cousin, Paige, whose parents Emmy is now staying with in Vancouver, having fled Winnipeg fit to be Ty-ed. Paige also looks nothing like the character on the cover, and she's such a caricature and a non-entity, it made me wonder why she was even in the story at all.

The story-telling effectively ends here, and instead of a flowing tale, what we get is a series of vignettes from this point onward. Emmy, who writes poetry that we never get to read, is all but forced onto the stage at the coffee shop on poetry night. She's laughed off the stage, but we never learn if the laughter was at her, or in enjoyment of the poem she read. We're left to surmise it was at her, but this incident never goes anywhere else. She never comes roaring back. Instead, her poetry drops out of sight after this. In the same vein, she starts cycling, but paradoxically goes nowhere. The poetry felt like it ought to have been an overture to her regaining some confidence, and the cycling a lead-in to her getting fit, but the cycling disappears as well!

Another vanishing act is her father's notebooks. Her father is dead and her mother has married a guy Emmy doesn't like. Those issues are never resolved either, but in staying with her uncle, she discovers that he has one or two of her dad's notebooks from when he was Emmy's age. She takes possession of them, but she never reads them - or if she does, we're not party to it, so it's yet another dead end street. Her stay in Vancouver seems full of them.

Emmy begins fantasizing about Jude, gazing at him simperingly whenever he's around, and the attraction seems to be entirely physical - at least that's the most common part that's shared with us: that he looks like he ought to be on stage or on the big screen.

Although some token attempts to broaden his appeal are made, they're too few and too shallow to be believable. Consequently, the elephant in the room here is not Emmy despite her lackluster attempts to convince us otherwise. The problem is the complete lack of any viable reason why Jude is interested in Emmy, because we're never offered a glimpse of any such reason. He just falls into line with her fantasies and is won effortlessly. She doesn't deserve him and we're never given any reason why she should.

I could see a great story here, but it's not the one we got, and the title was wrong. This was far too fast to be love. 'Infatuation is Lust' might have been a better title. I found myself more interested in Jude's sweet-hearted friend, Clarisse. A story about her might have been a lot more engrossing than this one was. I wish this author all the best; her heart is in the right place, but this particular story is one I can't get behind at all, and I'm sorry for that.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Same Love by Tony Correia


Rating: WORTHY!

Set in Canada, this was a short but sweet story that I fell in love with just from the blurb. The idea is that a young Christian guy, Adam Lethbridge, with religiously strict parents, is suspected of being homosexual - it's true, but the condemnation is based on the flimsiest of evidence - he was seen shopping in the mall with a "known gay"! Clearly this 'raving pooftah' needs to be saved from Hell, so he's promptly dispatched to a Christian summer camp to be 'deprogrammed', aka saved by Baby Jesu, but there he meets another guy, a Korean-Canadian named Paul, who is questioning his own sexuality, and the two fall for each other!

I thought that was hilarious, but the story isn't a romantic comedy by any means. There is humor in it, but it's a story which is told seriously and thoughtfully. I really enjoyed it.

There's nothing explicit in it - nothing more than a kiss and holding hands - so it's a safe read for anyone who is bothered by a lot of overt physical affection. The funniest thing about it was highlighted by controversial comedian Lenny Bruce many years ago: how do you punish homosexuals for breaking the law? Lock 'em up with a bunch of guys! The same thing happens here, and the lack of straight-thinking behind that kind of philosophy boggles the mind.

Of course this seems like it was always worse for men because the white male authorities behind this asinine approach to relationships were not only horrified by, but scared of homosexual men, while they never took homosexual women seriously. As queen Victoria was supposed to have said, "women simply don't do that sport of thing!" That doesn't mean women had it so much easier, by any means. In some ways they had it worse.

I confess I had a bit of a time getting into this at first because the story seemed so full of conversational prose and very little descriptive prose, but after Adam arrived at camp, the reading became very easy and comfortable. He's bunking with three other guys including Paul: a depressed guy named Martin, and a weirdo named Randall. The dynamic between these four was fascinating. Adam also meets Rhonda on the bus up to the mountain retreat. She's being sent to the camp to be have the 'slu't removed from her - and she and Adam bond quickly.

I loved that the author pointed out the hypocrisy and cluelessness in these approaches, although I would have loved it more had there been a complete deconstruction of Biblical teachings, but the thrust of this novel was not in that direction, so that was fine. The point was clearly made that there's a difference - and sometimes a huge one - between what's in the Bible and what people claim is in the Bible. I loved that bit!

Speaking of which, as is often the case in novel for me, one of the more minor characters was the most interesting. Rhonda intrigued me and was the outstanding character. I loved how feisty, confident, and outspoken she was, and would have liked to have read more about her, especially taking the camp religious teachers to task over their poor understanding of the bible, but of course the focus was on Adam and Paul, and his other roommates.

If there was a weak spot, for me it was Randall, who didn't quite ring true at times, but other than that, the story was great, well-written, instructive, and it had a beautiful ending. I recommend this one.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Women in the Shadows by Ann Bannon


Rating: WORTHY!

Funny - I thought The Shadows was an all-male band! (That's a Brit joke). Frankly this novel came close to being a warty read, but in the end, it saved itself and I consider, while the main character is not likeable - not to me anyway - her story is worth reading, if only from an historical perspective.

I'd also like to note that while these stories have been praised for their realism, this realism extends only so far. Sexual promiscuity, whether hetero- or homo-, carries with it potential health costs, which were just as much of a problem in the sixties (even though AIDs had not reared its ugly head yet) as they have been in every other decade. This novel, though, is very much a summer of love novel (lots of sex and zero consequences), even though the summer of love was a long way in the future when these were written.

So for me, the strength of the novel was not in the realism per se, but in the graphic depiction of relationship problems as being precisely the same for the queer population as they are for everyone else. I think this was Bannon's real strength, showing that gays and lesbians (and everyone in between) are no different from anyone else, and this was in an era where they were widely (and legally) considered deviants and predators by the population at large.

Worse than this, and something these novels also show, is that anyone else doesn't have to deal with also being shamed and made into pariahs for who they love. This is a grotesque fear which has not been dispensed with even now, as we approach the diamond jubilee of these novels. That's the saddest thing about all of this.

There is one more thing: in an era where appallingly misnamed 'honor' killings are still the things which need to be killed-off, but which, instead of dying out as they must, are threatening to spread along with all those who are immature, insecure, and clueless enough to consider women to be property at best and inconveniences at worst, this novel unashamedly shows an interracial relationship exactly as it ought to be shown: where it's about the relationship, and not the skin color of those who are involved in the relationship.

In celebration of Gay Pride Month (which may be June or July - no one seems to agree on it!), I'm reviewing several LGBTQIA novels, of which this is one of three Ann Bannon books I got from my local - and very excellent! - library. Excellent as they are, though, they did not have the first three of her hexalogy, only three of the last four: Women in the Shadows, Journey to a Woman, and Beebo Brinker. The other books are Odd Girl Out, I Am a Woman, and The Marriage.

Ann Weldy, who wrote as Ann Bannon, completed the so-called 'Beebo Brinker Chronicles' in the late fifties and early sixties as a means of giving vent to lesbian feelings which she felt constrained from letting loose in any other way. Like this way wasn't brave enough?! Good god! She was married to a guy who didn't approve of these 'sordid little tales', and yet she went ahead and did it anyway and the novels were very well received for their realism in a world of sadly cheap 'pulp' sex novels. She had no idea of how influential these books had been until twenty years later when she separated from a husband with whom she had had two children in a marriage that must otherwise have been barely endurable for her.

Laura first appeared as a student in the very first book, where she was involved in a lesbian relationship with another student - mirroring a somewhat similar but unrequited relationship Ann knew of in real life. In this book, Laura is coming to the end of a two year-long relationship with Betty Jean "Beebo" Brinker - a classical butch lesbian. The relationship is diseased and co-dependent, and it's highly destructive, but Laura doesn't seem to have the strength to get out of it, and Beebo doesn't want to get out of it. She claims to love Laura, but in reality, she's a jealous, manipulative, rather psychotic alcoholic, who will do almost literally anything to hold on to Laura.

Laura goes from one bad relationship to another because she doesn't seem capable of recognizing it when she gets a good one. She starts an affair with a woman who calls herself Tris, but who uses Laura just as cruelly as Beebo does. Eventually, and feeling rejected by Tris and fearful of Beebo, Laura agrees to marry Jack, who is gay, but who is tired of "chasing boys" as the author unfortunately describes it. No, he's not a pedophile, but he calls young men boys and he's sworn off them.

In many ways, Jack and Laura are mirror images. He's had it just as bad as she has. He's also an alcoholic, but in order to get over being dumped by Terry, his young stud of a lover, he proposes to Laura who eventually feels weak enough to accept it, and they marry and move in together, and Jack quits the booze. Theirs is a loving but asexual relationship since neither finds the other sexually attractive, although they are quite affectionate.

Laura becomes pregnant through artificial insemination with sperm from Jack, who is a sweet guy when he's not bemoaning Terry or getting drunk. Actually he's even sweet when he's drunk, but can Laura see what a good thing she has going? Not really. The problem is that Terry isn't done with Jack and Laura isn't done with Beebo, so things get bad for a while, but the ending turns it around enough for me to rate this a worthy read despite Laura's pathetic, limp rag character. It does tell an interesting story although some readers might be put off by the rather twisted actions, particularly those engineered by Beebo, during some of it.


Friday, June 9, 2017

Transphobia by J Wallace Skelton, Nick Johnson


Rating: WARTY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I would have really liked to have given a passing grade to a book with the aims this one has, but the presentation was inexcusably lousy and the book was literally unreadable on my phone, and practically unreadable on a tablet computer, which is to say that it was useless in two of the three media on which I tried it.

The reason for this once again seems to be, ironically, discrimination! The book was designed as a print book and yet it goes out to reviewers as a Kindle format ebook! The problem with that is the crappy Kindle app cannot handle a book presented and formatted like this one is, and the book should either have been thoroughly reformatted for Kindle and Kindle apps, or not offered in this format at all, which would severely restrict the distribution it can enjoy. It's poor attention to quality on the part of the publisher, and worse, no-one seems to have been bothered with actually looking at the resulting ebook. If they had, they'd see it was unacceptable.

For a book about inclusivity, the print-book snobbery here is laughable. The fact that this book is actively excluding various common reading formats would have been hilarious if it were not so hypocritical. The only format in which the ebook was readable was PDF format on my desktop computer, but even there, some of the print was so small that it was hard to read, and any medium with a smaller screen - even a tablet - would have made parts of it pretty nigh illegible.

In terms of content, the book doesn't do too bad of a job, but it's really not offering anything that will win converts to the side of tolerance and acceptance unless those 'converts' are largely converted already. In terms of offering help to those who need it, it doesn't do too bad of a job, but it was hard for me to determine what kind of an audience it was aiming for in terms of age and maturity.

But overall, I cannot recommend a book which so single-mindedly disrecommends itself. And if the publisher and authors evidently don't care about this, why should I? I had further confirmation of this after I submitted the review. The publisher contacted me and offered a print version, but never once did they take responsibility for the fact that neither they nor the author had taken a look at this book in various formats to see how (or even whether!) it worked! They tried to blame me, they tried to blame the applications, but never once did they say they screwed-up by failing to verify that the output was readable in the most common formats and devices reviewers (and more importantly, end-users) might read it in! I rest my case!


Things I Should Have Known by Claire Lazebnik


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was an awesome book by an author with a mouth-twisting last name - which happens to be the Arabic word (zebnik) for zebra as far as I know (but that's only as far as I know)! It's also a book where things could have gone sadly and badly wrong, but the author picked her way carefully through this maze and the result was amaze! For me she put a foot wrong on only a couple of occasions, missteps which I was happy to let slide because the rest of the novel was totally awesome.

Having read so many (far too many, in fact) YA novels which have timidly, like a lamb, followed the rest of the herd along the path most traveled (usually into bland oblivion or itchy annoyance), I live for novels like this, which strike out on their own path, tell their own story, and make it real.

The differences are clear from the start. Contrary to far too many YA novels, instead of starting out as the outcast and the underdog, Chloe Mitchell is a popular girl who is well-liked and dating the school's hottest guy (so she says), so that's a welcome reversal of the usual YA trope right there. In another departure, Chloe's sister, Ivy, is autistic, quite highly functioning, but nonetheless decidedly on the spectrum. What Chloe doesn't know to begin with though, is that the guy she most detests in school, David, also has an autistic sibling, Ethan, and he attends the same school Ivy does.

Chloe is truly torn between wanting to have a life for herself, and feeling responsible for Ivy, and facilitating her having a life, and she manages it well despite feeling put-upon and abused at times. It comes to pass that when Ivy expresses some interest in Ethan, Chloe decides maybe the two could date. Despite being four years younger than her sister, Chloe is very much the older sibling in this relationship, and she nudges Ivy along and arranges for them to meet at a yogurt shop downtown.

When she and Ivy show up, there is Ethan, and with him most unexpectedly, is David. Chloe is confused and annoyed at his presence until she discovers David is Ethan's brother, and has the same relationship with him that Chloe does with Ivy. Suddenly she not only has something in common with the guy she detests, but it's also something of vital importance.

A lesser author might have left it at that, but this author doesn't. She keeps on ramping it up. Ivy, while enjoying, in her own way, her visits with Ethan. has much more interest in a girl at her school named Diana, and rather belatedly, Chloe realizes her sister is gay.

Here was the first misstep in the writing, for me, which is that Chloe then refocuses on finding Ivy a "young, gay woman with autism" which is wrong-headed. Ivy's partner needs to be someone who can be with Ivy and appreciate her for who she is. The partner is required to be neither 'young' nor autistic herself!

Chloe makes a lot of mistakes and typically learns from them, but she never seemed to learn from this one. That she was so wrong about Ivy's sexuality ought to have taught her that she should be more cautious in who she tried to "line up" for her sister in future.

Of course it's obvious what was going to happen, because this novel still has the trope of the girl falling for the guy she initially hates, but here's it's done sensitively and not at all like a Meg Ryan romantic comedy, which was very much appreciated.

The relationship between David and Chloe grows naturally and organically, and there's no miraculous transformation. The relationship is troubled and thorny, because David is, but it's easy to see how the two of them are learning to accommodate to each other's ofttimes uncomfortable shape and demeanor as they grow to know each other. That kind of maturity in a relationship is rare in YA novels which are all-too-often puke-inducing, instadore-laden disasters.

This brings me to the second misstep, which is that David, at one point, is described by Chloe as having yellow flecks in his eyes. This is the biggest, most annoying cliche in all of YA-dom. Usually it's gold flecks, but yellow is hardly any better. I despair of YA writers who employ this because I have read it so often it's nauseating, and it smacks of a complete lack of imagination and inventiveness on the part of the YA author.

In the unintentional humor department, I have to quote the opening few words from chapter six which are: "A little before seven" which I thought was hilarious because chapter six is indeed a little before seven. But that's just my truly, hopelessly warped mind. In the intentional humor department, of which there were many sly instances, this line was a standout: "The indoor tables are all occupied by unshaven guys writing movie dialogue on their MacBook Airs, so we sit outside." The novel takes place in LA, so this was perfect and made me LOL.

My two minor gripes aside, I truly loved this novel and I fully recommend it. It was a welcome breath of life in a YA world which has become glutted with the rotting corpses of an endless parade of YA clone novels marching lock-step towards oblivion. The formatting of the ebook needs some work, but I assume that will be taken care of before it's released. In case it isn't, this needs to be fixed: "wish she could stay in in high school forever." (An 'in' too many!). But other than that, this book was about as near to perfect as you can humanly get it.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher


Rating: WARTY!

This book was obnoxious, and I DNF'd it about a third of the way through it, because the main character, Logan, was totally ridiculous. If I'd known that Kirkus Reviews liked it, I would have avoided it like the plague. I don't think Kirkus ever met a book it didn't adore, so those reviews are utterly meaningless. If I'd known it had won an award, I would likewise have shunned it. Books which win medals and awards rarely meet my approval. They're far too pretentious and "literary" for my taste. This one wasn't really either, but it was still a disaster, well worthy of some literary medal or award. I'm unlikely to ever be offered one, but I promise you if I ever am, I shall flatly refuse it.

If this novel had been published thirty years ago, then some of it might have made a little sense (but still have been unforgivable), but to publish in 2009 and take the trope route main character Logan Witherspoon "just didn't know" is farcical. Any author who does this these days is clueless. The term 'gender dysphoria' was coined in the early seventies and while it took it's time entering the lexicon, other terms applicable to this situation were in wide use. Even people living in podunk towns know something of the LGBTQIA community, so Logan's extreme ignorance was a joke, and not even a funny one.

At any time there are always plenty of jerks and dicks who aren't fit to be anywhere near, let alone in the company of, the LGBTQIA community, but allowing this, Logan's complete ignorance about the topic simply wasn't believable. His 'extreme prejudice' reaction when he learned how Sage came to be the person she is was just plain stupid. It's not possible for the character we had been introduced to at the beginning of the novel to have become that extreme so precipitately by a third the way in, and even if we swallow his ejaculations for what they were, then it's simply not possible to believe that he could ever have erected himself from the sad depths in which he'd so comfortably wallowed. Logan was a dick, and that's all there is to him.

He was also a manic depressive going from high to low at a speed too fast to measure accurately with the technology we have today. Everything was extremes for him, and his behavior was entirely ridiculous and quite literally not credible. The way he behaved towards Sage was obnoxious, and his constant 'I' this and 'me' that made him seem even more self-obsessed and inflated than he would have been in third person. It was depressing to listen to his constant juvenile whining in an audiobook read by Kirby Heyborne, whose voice was way too John Green for my taste, which made the novel even worse.

Sage Hendricks wasn't much better, frankly. It's perfectly understandable that she'd be nervous at best and terrified at worst of her secret getting out, and to her credit she does try to steer Logan away from it, but at the same time, instead of adhering to their agreement to be friends, she proves something of a tease, and definitely leads him on. In some ways I can understand her behavior, but in other ways, it was inexcusable.

On the one hand, you have to allow that it's her business and no one else's, and if he truly cares for her he should accept her for whoever she is, but on the other, we don't yet live in a society where a mtf transgendered person is the equivalent of a biological female. Apart from the issue of pure acceptance (by society as well as by any given individual), there's also the issue of why people form relationships, and one reason is to have children. Clearly (until our medical profession advances dramatically), it's problematical to enter into a relationship with a guy when he doesn't have all the facts at his disposal. there are biological females who cannot have children either, so this situation is no different. If a couple are getting serious, then it's important to be completely honest with each other about what can be expected.

That said, this was another high school story and I cannot take high-school romance stories seriously for the most part. Or any YA romance for that matter. Very few of them are remotely realistic and most are so badly-written as to be a sorry joke. While there are some people in that age range who are commendably mature and who can realistically enter into a serious relationship with a reasonable expectation of it working out in the long term, most people the age of Sage are not sage and those like Logan are hollow at best and clueless at worst.

The rather tired premise for this story is really ripped off from Romeo and Juliet. Logan is pining over his lost love Rosaline, er Brenda (Brenda, really?), but then is suddenly overcome by his lust for new girls Sage. Admittedly, she plays a lot harder to get than does Juliet, whose morals I've always suspected, quite frankly. In this case, he's the Capulet and she's the mountebank. When she finally comes clean and reveals that she started out life with a Y chromosome in place of the other X, his reaction is laughable. The fact that he does take off like this, thinking the most horrid things about her, almost punching her, and using the most unforgivable names about her made me only realize that even if he were to come around later to her point of view, it would be such a pile of fiction that it wouldn't be worth the reading. That's when I gave up on this worthless piece of pretentious (I changed my mind!) trash of a book. And what's with the frigging title? Almost Perfect? Not by a long chromosome. And what's the betting that the cover model isn't remotely transgender?


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo


Rating: WORTHY!

If I Was Your Girl is a novel about a mtf transgender character, written by a mtf author, and amazingly featuring a mtf cover model, Kira Conley. Now there's a trifecta. Normally I pay little attention to the cover because they're all glitz and no substance, and they have nothing to do with the writing or the author unless she or he self-publishes, but in this case I have to shout-out for the model, and the photographer, and the publisher! Way. To. Go!

The novel tells the story of a teenage boy Andrew's decidedly bumpy transition to a teenage girl coolly named Amanda Hardy. There is a lot of controversy over the author who (as Travis Lee Stroud) was accused of rape and abuse by his partner. I was aware of none of this when reading (actually listening to since this was audio) the novel, and at the time of posting this, I am not aware of any judgment on those charges, so for me the author remains innocent until proven guilty.

Let's not forget either, as many seem to have, that even guilty people can change! The author's note at the end of this book - read in her own voice on the audio book - would seem to suggest she's not as bad as she's been painted in some quarters, and also offers a slightly mitigating perspective if these accusation are true. Besides all that though, my reviews are about writing, and about whether a read is worth my time or not, and based on these precepts, this review goes ahead as planned! To do less would be to refuse to read or review, for example, Mein Kampf because Hitler was a psychopath, or any other such book. The US, it seems, thrives on worshiping books written by bad people while ignoring too many of those written by saints, but since this was a library audiobook, I don't have to worry if my money went to the wrong person!

Amanda is, in true YA trope tradition, the new girl in school. She's nervous, with her transgender secret and having been abused in her/his previous existence, which accounts for a lot of her current personality traits. All she wants to do is get through her senior year quietly, graduate, and get out of the south altogether. She fails in this endeavor (at least by the time the book ends) because she falls for Grant, one of the jocks on the school team. Here's where my first problem came along, and it wasn't because high school romances are largely juvenile and meaningless.

Sometimes a person does end up marrying their "high school sweetheart" but such cases are rare because a person that young can't typically make intelligent choices with something which will so intimately affect their life, and the sad thing is that they do not realize it! No, the problem was that Amanda doesn't appear too smart. She rejects her own best advice about not getting involved, and she welcomes the attention from Grant.

They start dating, despite Grant throwing-out warning signals because of his unexpected and unpredictable coldness at times towards her. Worse than this though, is that she tells him nothing of her history. To me, this was a betrayal of someone she supposedly was developing strong feelings about, but that wasn't the biggest problem. You can argue, for example, that he had a right to know that she cannot have children, but the problem here was not what her history was, but what has the potential to happen if she isn't straight with him from the start. And yes, she's straight, she's not gay! Gender and sexuality have nothing to do with one another! She never seems to think for a minute that this southern boy might react negatively to what she has to reveal or that others might treat him differently when they discover he's dating someone who was not born a biological female. That seemed selfish to me.

The story is written in a way that makes her father out to be a hero, and there are some tear-jerk moments here, but the fact that he hits a kid - a full on punch in the face, too - is what turned me right off him. He didn't even hit the right kid, which would still not have reprieved him, but it was also the circumstances of the punch which made me feel this could have been written better. Amanda was there before it happened and the most natural thing in the world is to yell "Dad, it wasn't him!" but she never does this, and that, to me felt completely unrealistic. This is one reason I didn't quite buy her dad's complete turn-around at the end of the book. It felt false.

But I'm no more judging the book on one or two events in it than I'd judge an author on one negative report no matter how much currency it's garnered for itself, so overall I consider this book a worthy read, and for me one of the best features about it was the audio version read by the talented Samia Mounts (who I understand is also a member of the LGBTQIA community! Quadfecta!). She did a spot-on job of delivering this story and made it all the more listenable. I recommend it.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Trans-Sister Radio by Chris Bohjalian


Rating: WARTY!

This is the second of a disappointing pair of transgender books I'm reviewing today, both written by guys named Chris! This one was an audiobook, which for me is more experimental and therefore more likely to fail. This one sounded really promising, but in the end it turned out to be boring, slow-moving like you wouldn't believe, and with apparently no intention of ever going anywhere.

The attraction of this story for me was of the same variety that moved me to write Tears in Time which I published earlier this year. Is this love lost? If so, can you find it? If you find it will you recognize it? If you recognize it, what will you do about it?

Allison Banks, divorced and in her forties, finds herself attracted to Dana Stevens. The cover blurb says, "develops a crush on" like she's some teen-aged fluff-head, but I don't blame the author for the sheer incompetence and rank stupidity of book blurb writers! Not unless they self-publish! What Allison doesn't know, and doesn't learn right away is that Dana is a transgender male to female, about to start on that painful and lengthy journey. She's attracted to Allison, too, but she can't stay male. When she transitions, what is going to happen to their relationship? I thought this was a choice topic for a novel, but the execution of it failed for me.

One big mistake writers make is laziness. Make a girl a book-reader and she's intelligent. That way you don't have to do the work of showing she's intelligent. Make a person work in a bookstore or in this case, for public radio, and you pigeon-hole that person, telling to avoid having to show. I'm not a fan of epistolary or 'dear diary' novels either, but this was one, in effect.

It featured "transcripts" from a national public radio show about transgender people, and worse than this, it split the story between two perspectives, Allison's and Dana's. It didn't commit the final sin of making those perspectives first person, so I have to commend it for that, but really it was too much. The novel staggered along under all this lard, ponderously crawling, and it was stuffed with horsehair (that's the closest I can get without being foul-mouthed).

Judith Ivey's Boston-accented reading voice failed to help as well. It was awful to listen to, and I found myself tuning it out from time to time, and missing the story. After twenty percent, I gave up on it, so based on the short exposure I had, I can't recommend it. Your frequency may differ!


BALLS It Takes Some to Get Some by Chris Edwards


Rating: WARTY!

This is a review of a book for which I was allowed a review copy, for which thank the publisher!

This is the first of a disappointing pair of transgender books I'm reviewing today, both written by guys named Chris! The blurb for this book is as misleading as they get. You can't blame the author (Chris Edwards, not to be confused with author Christopher Edwards) for this because they have nothing to do with their blurb unless they self publish, but I did want to mention it as a point of order, and because it's something out of the author's hands that can seriously and negatively impact the very book the author has written.

The blurb says "At a time when the term transgender didn't exist...Chris Edwards endured 28 surgeries to become the person he always knew he was meant to be." The problem with this is that this book covers the author's experiences in changing gender largely during the nineties and into the early oughts (although it references some time before), whereas the term 'transgender' was coined in 1965, which was, I'm roughly estimating, about five years before the author was born) and was in common use by the seventies. So common had it become by the nineties that in 1992, the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy had codified a definition of it! So no, the blurb is outright wrong here.

I really wanted to like this book because I loved the title. It was when I began reading the first chapter that I began to realize I should not have loved the title so much. I really didn't like the first chapter, but it improved after that, and so I had mixed feelings as I read on. Although it continued quite strongly from there on, it seriously deteriorated the further I read, and by the end, I didn't even want to read the epilogue and that's where I stopped.

For me the book was at it's best when it described the struggle the author went through to get where he needed to go, which was from the fabulously-named Kristin Eskandarian, to the end goal of Chris Edwards. Determined he was and suffer he did, and I suffered with him (after a fashion!) but enjoyed the experience while it lasted. Every fundamentalist who thinks being gay or transgender is a "choice" needs to read books like this to get themselves an education. No one chooses this ostracism, punishment, struggle, emotional overload and physical pain. No one wants it. No one wishes for it, but some must endure it, and amongst those are people who cannot do right by themselves until they have corrected, to the best of their ability, a heartless trick of nature. This author is one of those people.

Religion just pisses me off, frankly, which is why I had a hard time reading, towards the end of the book, this musing: "I always wondered why God made me transgender." This blind belief imposed by society on everyone from birth (well they try) that some magical being has a plan for all of us is delusional. It is also a burden no one should have to endure, because it makes life harder and inexplicable when you have to accommodate a big bearded giant in the sky. It forces questioning statements like this out of people because when you let god in, you let rationality out. I can't prove this, but the evidence is all on my side: no god had anything to do with this. It's just nature, screwing-up. Fortunately, albeit clumsy as yet, science has the power to go a long way towards correcting nature's mistakes of one sort or another. No god can help, and anyone who worships a god who would purposefully do this kind of thing to people is worshiping an evil, capricious god not worthy of human intellect or attention in my opinion.

The early strength of this book was in its unflinching reportage of the physical struggle: the inconvenience at best, and pain and suffering at worst. The weakness of it was that there seemed to be no "emotional content" as Bruce Lee so cutely phrased it in his movie Enter the dragon There needs to be emotional content in a story like this and I wasn't feeling it. And while this is a memoir and so is expected to be about the author, the problem was that it was all about him, with very little time or room for anyone else, least of all other people in his position.

We have mention of family and friends frequently, but they are always bit players and they seem to disappear completely in the latter portion of the book. We never really get a feel for what they went through because the author is so intently focused on what he's going through. This really came to a head (if you'll forgive the unintended pun) in the last few chapters where the focus was not on his life in general, his liberation, what he experienced in general as a man, and and how he felt about everything. Instead of that, which would have been wonderful, the sole focus was on his desperate quest to get laid!

This really soured me on the entire book, and cheapened the experience of reading it considerably. While I was hoping for more of the post-surgery story, all I got was this endless quest to find a female and this is when it really brought it home to me that the author was very much a guy. His story was all about balls, but it was balls in the sense of testosterone, and not in the sense of guts. In short, it was the opposite of what I'd hoped for when I first saw this title.

I'd wanted a before-and-after story and in a sense, there wasn't one because for the author, there was only after. There never was a before because he never was a woman except in the most superficial sense. I get that, I do, but there is still a story there, and I kept getting hints of it here and there which were disappointingly brief: about how he felt and how he was treated when he was perceived as a woman as compared with when he brought out the man who had always been subsumed under a female exterior.

I'd hoped for more of a general story of post-op life along those lines, but all we really got was the op. There was no 'post' other than what I just mentioned, which sadly was all about his new "post" if I can put it that way, and it sounded rather desperate and of an entirely frat-boy mentality, which turned me right off. It was this kind of thing which made me dislike that first chapter, too.

There's a sick genderist joke that a man's brains are in his penis, and this memoir played right into its hands. In fact the author indulges himself in this kind of genderism when he writes, "Luckily the testosterone had yet to override the female part of my brain that has no qualms about asking for directions." Seriously? There were several such Whisky-Tango-Foxtrot statements such as: "I wanted my first time to be with someone I really cared about—who cared about me" which felt so hypocritical coming as it did at the end of bunch of chapters which talked only about getting laid - and with not a single mention of sexual diseases and risks. I found myself wondering, more than once, what happened to the woman? And the answer was always there: there never was a woman, not in any sense in this book! It was always a guy!

That kind of thing would have made more sense had it not come after statements like this one: "He then informed me that if I’m with a woman at a revolving door, the gentlemanly thing to do is to enter first and get it going so she doesn’t have to exert any effort. This guy was a true gentleman in every sense of the word, which is exactly what I intended to be." To me that's sheer sexism. A 'true gentleman' may well be what he was, but he didn't give me that impression having read those last few chapters, where it was all about sex, never about relationships, companionship, building trust, shared interests, or getting to know someone before diving headlong into them. Again, these are things guys are known for doing - and juvenile guys at that. There is no feminine side to this.

That quote harbors another issue, too. Are men and women supposed to be treated equally or not? If we are, then women don't get to have doors opened for them, unless you happen to be going out first, and hold it for the next person coming right behind, but in that case, the gender of either person is irrelevant. It's just the polite thing to do. But equality means precisely that - equal treatment for all. You don't get get to have the car door opened, or for men to stand up when you enter the room, or for you keep your purse closed while the man's wallet is perennially open on your date. Otherwise it's not equality, it's privilege, class, and special treatment which is precisely what the suffragists accused men of. Do we really want to go back to that? More on privilege anon.

It felt very hypocritical reading a statement like that above from someone who is, in this very memoir, talking of equality in the extreme: of the right of those who are gender dysphoric to be allowed to equalize themselves as this author was allowed, and to be allowed to be treated as all other men and women when the surgeries are over. That's what equality means. But as long as you're talking about wanting to be "a true gentleman", then you're missing the point! This is not to say men should be allowed to be dicks and jerks. We can still be polite, considerate, and well-behaved, but this behavior should not be considered the sole preserve of the male gender, especially since (some would argue and upon very solid grounds!) men are not even there yet! There's no reason at all these days why a woman should not open a car door for a guy, or why she should not go down on one knee and propose marriage!

The author's family, which had played an important role in the early chapters, were pretty much banished from the second half of the book. No longer was this thirty-year-old guy traveling with his mom for consultations. Family was out, which frankly felt a bit odd to me. Traveling with family for post op help I could see, but for a consultation? It felt more like fiction than memoir, but in the end it was his choice.

The fictional shadow grew darker when I read a statement like this: "Dr. Laub had made it his mission to travel to underdeveloped countries and provide life-changing plastic surgeries to tens of thousands of people." Now I don't doubt that a surgeon could perform tens of thousands of operations over a long career. But I just did a calculation, and over a career of forty years, starting from age 28 (four years of university, four years of medical school, and two years of residency minimum, would put him at 28), a doctor could perform ten thousand operations if he did five per week, fifty weeks per year.

That's not a heavy load by any means, but remember that what we're talking about here is charitable surgery in third world countries, and he wasn't doing those at the rate of five per week for fifty weeks of the year over forty years. He was doing those on trips away from his regular work. Hundreds I can see, maybe even thousands of such operations, but tens of thousands, all of them life saving? No. Just no! Doing such work is commendable and worthy, but let's be realistic about what he does instead of inflating it. We're not Donald Trump after all. To do otherwise is to do Dr Laud a disservice. If he supervised or worked with teams of surgeons doing these surgeries, then I can see tens of thousands over an extended period. But not one man. In fact, working with teams is what he did if you read about his work. Wikipedia describes it as "tens of thousands of life-altering operations gratis." That sounds more like it and does indeed make him a super-hero in my book!

It was slips like this that made me distrust the author setting himself up as a sort of spokesperson for the gender dysphoric. Quite often throughout this book there were directives like this: "You should never ask someone who is transgender if they have had or plan to have surgery."

I didn't grow up in the US so it's not my nature to ask personal questions of people I just met. I wouldn't advise it whether they're transsexual or anything else. I don't even ask such questions of people I know well unless it's relevant and I know they will not mind. This is why I have to wonder if the author is really talking on behalf of all who share his experience, or if this is just how he feels, and he's projecting it onto everyone else.

I don't trust it. That's not to say I'm advising asking the first transgender person you encounter all manner of personal questions. Far from it! It's just that I don't believe that all transgender people are the same (except in that they're transgender!) I believe they're like everyone else: some won't want to talk about it - perhaps the majority - whereas others might well be inclined to discuss it in appropriate circumstances. This author wrote a book about it for goodness sake!

The point that it's their choice, not mine, yours, or this author's, so do not expect that, just because they've had a "weird surgery" that it's up for grabs in the topics for discussion department. And ask only if you know them well, and know they will be receptive to discussing it. Remember they did not have a choice over which body they were born in, but they do have a choice whether to discuss what they did about it. Respect that choice and leave it with them to make!

There was one more thing which bothered me, and which the author made only one mention of in the entire book, and that was privilege. This memoir reeks of it. These operations cost literally thousands of dollars (I won't go so far as to say tens of thousands of life-saving dollars!), and this guy or his family could afford them. He could afford the best, and could fly across country at the drop of a hat to discuss a procedure with a doctor, and pick out the best surgeon to perform it.

I wouldn't wish what he went through on anyone, and I admire and salute him for having the 'balls' and stamina, and the courage to go after what he wanted, but the fact is that, as badly done-to as he felt from being trapped in the wrong body and having to suffer emotional stress, and humiliation, and painful, prolonged surgeries to get the right body, he did have the money and means, and opportunity to get it done.

He was extremely privileged in that regard, but from the way this was written, I got no sense of gratitude or of appreciation from this book of how lucky he was he was or how grateful he was to have been privileged enough to pursue his dream when scores of others in his position do not have the same access he did. In a just world, everyone would have this access if they needed it, yet he writes as though it's a right (which it ought to be, granted!) he enjoyed without any sense of humility that he had this access when scores of others are denied it.

It felt rather selfish and was exemplified in this comment late in the book: "After all I do for everyone else, nobody was helping me." This was after his family had paid for surgeries and accompanied him left, right, and center, and his friends had been amazingly and commendably supportive, and he has a great network of people rooting for him, and he's had the opportunity to get precisely what he wanted in life, and now he's discussing getting laid and this is his comment? As much as I wanted to like and commend a book like this, this is not the one I find I can in good faith, lend my support to. I'm sorry and I wish the author all the best in his new life, but I cannot recommend this account of it.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Out On Good Behavior by Dahlia Adler


Rating: WARTY!

This is a LGBTQIA story set on a college campus, where Francesca Annamaria Bellisario (who naturally goes by 'Frankie', because she's queer, of course), a self-described pansexual (which does not mean she only has sex with cooking pots), is leading a dangerously promiscuous life. While 'sex' is clearly in her sexicon in bold letters, 'safe' certainly is not. Why anyone would become involved with her is a mystery, but college students are not necessarily the smartest rats in the maze - which is why they're at a learning institution, after all, isn't it? The question is, are they going to get the education they expect, or something else entirely? The target of her lust, as she dallies with everything in between, is Samara Kazarian who rooms with one of her friends. This is the story of their "courtship" and it was a huge fail for me.

I know college students are supposed to have an improbably over-sized libido according to MTV and other jock mentalities, but only half of this couple was that kind of person, The other was supposedly a smart, conservative, closet lesbian who you would think would show a lot more common sense than she does. That was one of the problems, We were frequently told how things were, but never shown.

The story was, essentially, a lesbian wet-dream with zero characterization. If we're to go by these lights, all that queers in college ever think of is sex, sex, and more sex, and that's the entirety of it! They never think of homework, or coursework, or hobbies or interests. They never expend any time in conversation which doesn't involve going to sports games or having sex. For me it was completely ridiculous and wholly unrealistic.

Frankie is purportedly an artist and truly dedicated, yet we get none of that here. The closest we come is Sam's examination of one of Frankie's pictures at an exhibition, but then it's gone and we get nothing more. Why make her an art student at all? There is of course no reason except that if she's an artist or an actor, we can stereotype her more? The story felt inauthentic from top to bottom, especially with the inverse slut-shaming (what would you call that? Slut championing?!) that's indulged in with Frankie, who can do nothing wrong. Slut championing is equally as bad as slut-shaming itself is, especially when it seems to be dedicatedly mischaracterizing all queers as promiscuous and shameless. And the idea that a retiring virgin and a slut-champion can find common ground and do it so quickly and effortlessly had to be a joke.

The only relationship Frankie and Sam had was sex. The only value Sam offered for Frankie was, judged by the writing here, a sexual one. She was better than masturbating, it seems. Frankie cared only about the depth of Sam's skin, and her ass and legs, and how beautiful she was. We never got anything which suggested that she liked Sam as a person, much less as a companion, or truly valued her for anything other than lust. That's what turned me off, paradoxically, because that's all there was to this relationship. If that's all the consenting parties are looking for, then it's fine, but I don't particularly want to read about those people, and I certainly don't want to read a bait-and-switch-hitter novel which pretends it's offering a great romance, yet delivers only carnality and literally nothing else but trope.

The saddest thing is that for all her supposed smarts, Sam never once considered discussing venereal disease with Frankie, despite knowing full-well that Frankie would quite literally screw anything on two legs and human (although despite her proudly self-proclaimed pansexualism, all Frankie ever really did was go after or lust after girls). I didn't expect a pages-long dialog about sexual responsibility by any means, that would have been boring, but the fact that not once was it ever so much as even mentioned in the 60% of this novel that I read, was shamefully irresponsible.

There was literally no exposition either. The entire novel was pretty much conversation, all of which centered on Frankie's adulterated lust for Sam. It was truly sickening, and I could not continue reading it when I fully-realized that this story was never going to mature or change. I sure as hell cannot recommend it. If you want a dumb sex romp, then this might be for you, but don't go into this thinking there's anything loving or romantic about it, or that there's a great relationship story here. There isn't.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Girl Band: A Lesbian Adventure by Rory Hitch


Rating: WARTY!

The blurb reads: "Meet cute Holly, curvy Penny, passionate Roxy, cool Anna and teen Jade. Five beautiful girls, making music and making love. When young lovers Holly and Penny decide to form a band it's the beginning of a lesbian adventure full of fun flirtation, sexy seductions and erotic encounters!" Wrong! There is no love, no eroticism, no flirtation, and no seduction here. And certainly no safe sex! Not in the part I read, but note that this is a short (which I could not finish, it was so bad) introduction to a full-length novel. Maybe it gets better, but I can't believe it ever will. It does give a classic expository example of why I never read introductions...forewords...author's notes...prefaces...et al.

This is the second of two "lesbian" stories I read recently. They were both awful and for the same reason: they read like they were written by an inept male author, and the sad thing is that only one of them actually was. It's all juvenile, crude sex here. Eroticism plays no part, and neither does seduction, love or romance. Neither does music for that matter, not based on what I read. You'll be better off reading my novel about a girl band, which I was hoping to have out this year, but since there are two novels lined up before that, only one of which I'm near to completing at this point, I think a more realistic estimate is around Valentine's day next year! This one here though, I cannot recommend based on what I read. It just doesn't get it done.


One Night In Venice by Bella Donnis


Rating: WARTY!

This begins a pair of (very negative) reviews of short, appallingly badly-written "lesbian" stories!

I was having a little bit of trouble deciding on a good ebook to get into, which is sad, given how many are available to me! In fact, it's downright pathetic. We're spoiled rotten these days with the riptide of ebooks out there. But the plenitude is also the penury given how sorry some of these books are. Yet despite the rising tide of ebooks promising a bounty to anyone who casts a wide enough net, I still managed to haul in two really awful (or is that offal?) ones. This was the first.

This one, fortunately given how things turned out, was free on Amazon (and available on B&N which is where I got it - I always check alternates before I buy from Amazon). So I opened it to find it was only twenty eight pages! This was actually its best feature, but truth be told, I couldn't even finish that much, it was so bad! It felt more like it was one of those book teasers, which isn't a bad idea and which is eminently suited to ebooks. You know, one of those shorties that lures you in and persuades you to buy the full length version? I don't do that, but you can't blame an author for that when competition is so tough. This though, it turns out, is the whole thing - not an intro, but the entire "novel" (as far as I could tell).

It's about this woman whose boyfriend dumps her via a text message when she's in Venice, waiting for him to come out to join her. It was this idea - that she finds herself cruelly ditched and somehow falls into a relationship with a woman - which intrigued me and persuaded me to take a look. The trip was supposed to be a foursome; now it's a three's-a-crowd situation. She only became acquainted with this couple through her AWOL ex, so the other woman is someone she hardly knows, but she's kind to her, even though the guy - a friend of her ex - is ham-fistedly cruel.

The problem is that the writing is so clunky and the interpersonal dynamics so lacking in credibility that I quickly became convinced that I would not even be able to make it through twenty-eight pages of this. I was right! I quit on page twenty because it was awful. 'Subtle' and 'leisurely' are two words which have quite obviously been struck from this author's lexicon (always assuming they were ever present in the first place).

The unsuspecting reader is smashed brutally and repeatedly over the head with a hyper-sexed woman who seems to harbor absolutely zero grief for the demise of her relationship, and who is ogling the other girl like a dog in heat. I'm surprised there wasn't a description of her tongue lolling out dripping saliva. She's all-but humping her friend's leg. If a guy behaved like this it would be sen as entirely inappropriate and the guy would be rightfully termed a dick. So what does that make this woman? A clit? Somehow that doesn't seem to carry the same deprecative weight. Why is that? Because guys can be dicks but women can't be clits?! If that's not sexist, what is?!

Abandon hope (and seek hops!) all ye who enter here looking for romance! There is none to be found in these pages. Yes, we're seeing the friend be kind to the main character, but what she gets in return is pure, adulterated lust. It's all about how beautiful she is, how hot she is, how perfect her "tits" are, how sexy she is, how great her hair is. There's not a single solitary word about what's beneath that depth of skin. We really hear nothing of the kind of friend she is or might be, about whether she's reliable or trustworthy, or whether she has integrity, and would make a decent companion. Nope, it's all sex and only sex, which is nowhere near enough for me to want to read a novel, or even a short story such as this.

The blurb says, "Warning: This lesbian erotic romance story contains extreme graphic and sexual content, specifically lesbian sex and should not be read by those under the age of 18." Seriously? Lesbian sex is extreme? LOL! Like no young adult has ever has such thoughts - and even activities?! Besides, if it's aimed at adults, then why is it written at the level of young adult or even middle-grade in parts? And I take exception to the word "erotic"! There's no eroticism here; it's all crude, juvenile sexcapades and that's all there is. If that's your cup of tea, then by all means quaff deeply, but with lines like "I scrutinised her firm buttocks," it sure as hell ain't mine.

The real problem with this when you get right down to it, is that it's not a novel. It most closely resembles an old telegram, because everything is telegraphed. Everything is so glaringly obvious. There is no subtlety here. Obvious, that is, to everyone but the main character, who is so profoundly stupid that despite her leering, salivating, Shylock-like obsession with pounding the flesh of the only other female character in the entire book, she completely fails to realize that she's bisexual. I'm not a fan of novel in which the author goes out of her way to demonstrate how stupid her main character is. And yes, there's a difference between lesbian and bisexual which this author doesn't seem to get. However, since sexuality it not a binary scale but a sliding one, I'll let that...slide!

This stupidity and crudity is what turned me off the novel completely. What had attracted me was that this was a Brit language novel, which may cause some readers a headache or two unless they are British or at least an Anglophile, but that was nowhere near enough to offset the shabby writing. The panting, tongue-lolling dog into which the main character morphed was more reminiscent of a lame rip-off of Kafka than ever it was of Austen. There was nothing romantic, sensual or subtle here at all. I cannot recommend this. It read like a "lesbian" novel written by an inept male author, and I'm truly sorry if that's insulting, but I gotta call it like I read it!


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Year of the Monsoon by Caren J Werlinger


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum:
"She looked at Leisa with a hunger that make Leisa’s insides tingle." - wrong verb tense.

When I began reading this one, I was truly favorably disposed towards it, but the author very successfully managed to turn me off pretty quickly. I made it to about forty percent and had to give up for a variety of reasons. The first of these was that this was yet another LGBTQIA novel which was claustrophobic in its obsessive lock-down. It felt like it was a queers only zone, with no heteros allowed! That's not strictly true, but it certainly felt like it was the spirit of the thing. I find this reprehensible in and era when hetero stories, both in print and on the screen are opening their arms (for better or for worse at times, I admit) to the queer community, it seems like a huge backward, bigoted and negative step to me to depict this as totally closed-off from hetero community. It's also totally unrealistic, since neither of those groups operates in a vacuum.

That wasn't even the biggest problem. For me the most obnoxious one of all was that the author was obsessed with larding her story with a massive volume of mini-flashbacks woven invisibly into the fabric of the novel. I detest flashbacks at the best of times and rarely find them readable, much less enjoyable. The fact that these were hidden in the text made it often impossible to know I was reading a flashback. The same symbol which was used to indicate a change of scene on the book was the one used to indicate a flashback, so you were in it and trying to figure out whether this was just a change of scene or a flashback and of course, missing the story because of this. It felt ham-fisted to me, and I can't help but believe that a more skilled author would have done a better job.

The story itself was where the other major problem lay. The big theme here was adoption, and rather than focus on one aspect of the theme, the author slammed in three adoption stories intertwined, which was frankly, a huge mess and which dissipated the impact of any one of the stories from the sheer volume. It detracted from the power of the tale, weakening it to the point where it was no longer interesting. It was also a bunch of trope: the adopted girl just has to know her birth mother! At first I thought the author was going to be smart enough to avoid this pitfall and make this more original by not having this character chasing after her bio-mom, but that soon changed and so did my commitment to pursuing the story for this and other reasons.

Talking of realism, my last problem with this is that we're presented with two women, only one of whom is really interesting, but who clearly love each other, yet who seem unable to talk about anything with each other! We're really offered no valid reason why they can't talk or why they're apparently drifting apart. One has a secret which the other discovers through the rather amateur and disturbing ploy of stalking her partner, and which put me off her as a character.

At one point I read, "She had been a beautiful woman." I don't get why female authors do this to their female characters. Yes, if this had been a novel about some female movie star or some fashion model, perhaps one who felt her looks were diminishing with age and consequently her 'career' - shallow as it was - was slipping away, then her looks might have played a part in the story, and a line like that might have had a place, but in this case none of this applied, so why does the ugly idea that once she had been beautiful have to do with anything? Would the attendant sentiment have been completely inapplicable if she had been "ordinary" or "plain" or "ugly"? The shallow mentality involved in writing like this is quite frankly disgusting: that a women's worth is skin-deep only? Screw you. I'm tired of reading crap like that and in particular, women who write like that ought to be especially ashamed of their writing.

I was already off the other one, so my passion for following this relationship was gone at that point. It seemed like whenever one of them was about to launch into a topic with the other, a death popped up in the family and then there was, unbelievably, simply no time at all to broach the topic which had been right on their lips just a moment before. This felt so amateur it was pathetic, but worse, it told me that these women were morons. So grandmother died. It's horrible, but did one of them have to get on a plane within a half hour and set off alone so that the important topic in a troubled relationship couldn't be dealt with? NO! Their behavior made no sense, and it robbed the story of both immediacy or authenticity for me.

Overall the story was less of a coherent narrative than it was a series of vignettes densely punctuated by a staccato blitz of flashbacks which contributed little in the grand scheme of things. The bottom line is 'THE END' - no, I'm just kidding. The bottom line is that it didn't work and was annoying. As I said, I simply gave up on it around forty percent, but this story had given up on entertaining the reader long before that. I can't recommend it.