It has been a long time since I posted a book review, but recently I finished reading a book that I think would appeal to people who enjoy historical fiction. The House of Special Purpose by John Boyne. The 469 page book published by Other Press is narrated by the main character, Georgy Daniilovich Jachmenev, and opens with him reminiscing from his home in London in 1981 near the end of his life.
Born in rural Russia, the son of a peasant farmer, Georgy’s life takes a dramatic turn after a bizarre incident that brings him to St. Petersburg to serve as a friend and bodyguard to the Tsar’s only son, Tsarevich Alexei. The narration vacillates between life in Russia and his emigration to London via Paris after escaping his home country with his wife, Zoya.
Beautifully written, I found it difficult to put the book down. Although the twist that Boyne slowly gives away is easy to figure out, it doesn’t diminish the tale. I found myself totally absorbed by his descriptions of what it was like growing up in Tsarist Russia and during the Bolshevik Revolution. Additionally, his description of what it was like living in London during World War II was hard to stop reading and kept me up very late reading for more than one night.
If you are looking for a book to read and this appeals to you, go to your local bookstore or you may purchase it here on Amazon.
Summer is in full swing in the United States and I’m taking full advantage of the beautiful weather. I love reading mindless but entertaining books sitting poolside or on the beach.
James Lear’s 2006 kinky mystery The Back Passage is the perfect book to bring with you. I can assure you the book’s racy cover had some unexpected benefits of nervous parents shooing their children away from you while you are reading (bonus!) and or should you be reading this some place like Provincetown or Fire Island – it is certain to initiate a few conversations with guys (double bonus!)
The Back Passage is dubbed a murder mystery à la Agatha Christie. No disrespect intended to Lear, but the book isn’t quite that caliber however that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth reading. The book is set on a country estate in England in 1925 and has so much sexual innuendo and trysts it probably would have to be rated X if ever made into a movie. While I found that distracting and overall a detractor, the book was filled with humorous settings and was a quick read making it perfect for the long weekend get away.
If intrigued you may read more about the book and purchase it online here.
Looking for summer reading to pass your time at the beach or pool? I’d suggest checking your local library or inquire at your favorite bookstore for Joe Gores 2009 novel Spade & Archer. Published by Knopf the hard cover is 337 pages but it’s a quick read thanks to Gores’ easy writing style and short chapters.
This prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s most famous novel, The Maltese Falcon, tells the story of Sam Spade and his detective agency in San Francisco. I do love mysteries and detective novels and Gores does a great job bringing Hammett’s fictional character, Sam Spade, to life. In addition to detective literature fans, the book will appeal to those who live in San Francisco since the book traces Spade’s every movement through the city’s streets.
A little about the book that inspired Gores’ novel, The Maltese Falcon is a famous American detective novel penned by Dashiell Hammett in 1930 that was made into a movie by the same name in 1941, which starred Humphrey Bogart.
A few weeks ago I wrote a book review of Pearl’s first novel, The Dante Club. I was so taken with the story that I picked up a copy of his latest mystery, The Last Dickens.
This historical fiction mystery takes place in 1870 and spans three nations: the colony of India, England and The United States. While the novel revolves around the Boston publisher, James Osgood, who travels to Charles Dickens home in Kent after learning of the authors untimely death, there are two related back stories that Pearl does a fantastic job weaving into the book. The first is about Charles Dickens much celebrated second visit to America in 1867 and the other is about the Opium trade then regulated by England in their colony of India.
While I preferred The Dante Club, this was still worth the read for those who enjoy this genre of literature. There is plenty of drama and plot twists to keep you glued to the book.
You can read more about the book and the local author, Matthew Pearl, who lives in Cambridge, MA on his website, www.matthewpearl.com.
Last weekend when I was over at Frenchie and the Yankee house dinner party I happened to notice this book. Graphic designer, Vharam Muratyan, playfully pits Paris and New York in a visual homage in page after page of images that offers a bit of whimsy and humor.
I loved this particular comparison. Like? You may buy Paris versus New York on Amazon, here.
Starting July 10, 2012 Other Press will be publishing The Absolutist, a novel by John Boyne. The book is worth putting on your summer reading list and a story I won’t soon forget.
The story opens in England in 1919 and revolves around Tristan Sadler a twenty-one year old who has seen more adversity and tragedy than anyone his age should know. His suffering (both physical and emotional) is touchingly told by Boyne who teases out a story about Tristan coming to terms with both who he is and the horrors he’s survived after serving on the front lines in The Great War.
The first pages of the book start with Tristan traveling to deliver personal letters to the sister of a fallen comrade who lives in Norwich. Really two stories unfold in this book; Tristan’s time in Norwich with Will Bancroft’s sister as well as his memories as a 17 year old kid enlisting, training and finally on the front lines in World War I.
The intensity of Tristan’s feelings for his comrade, Bancroft, become more apparent as the story unfolds, but Boyne does a great job of weaving Tristan’s emotions into a larger story which makes his suffering all the more human. I’m not normally a fan of war stories but Boyne’s easy to read writing style drew me in and made it difficult to put the book down, and I think you’ll feel the same. Readers will also appreciate how far the LGBT community has advanced over the past century.
Reserve a copy on Amazon today
The Dante Club is a must read for historical fiction and mystery fans. Set in Boston in 1865 its main characters include American literature giants Longfellow, Holmes, and Lowell. Pearl does an amazing job drawing in the reader, telling a tale about suspicious murders in Boston that have amazing parallels to those depicted in Dante’s Inferno, a book coincidentally being translated into English by these writers for the American public.
Pearl’s novel will ignite your imagination and have you up late reading. He does a brilliant job of bringing post-civil war Boston to life in this murder mystery that includes some of America’s most celebrated writers of the day. However, even if you are unfamiliar with these writers / poets you will lose none of the suspense. Don’t assume Pearl’s writing style and story is too cerebral, this national bestseller will be a page turner for anyone who enjoys a good story and likes mysteries.
You can read more about the book and the local author, Matthew Pearl, who lives in Cambridge, MA on his website, www.matthewpearl.com.
Call Me By Your Name is a coming of age story that is beautifully written by Andre Aciman. I first read this book a few years ago when the owner of Boston’s LGBT bookstore, Calamus Books, suggested it as a must read.
Talk about “Summer Lovin”… The setting of the story takes place on the Italian Riviera in the 1980s and the main character, Elio, is a curious teenager nearly 18 who falls hard for Oliver, a 24 year old postdoc teacher from Columbia who’s spending the summer at his home as a guest of Elio’s father.
What transpires is a summer romance of sort that is incredibly touching and beautifully written so much so that at times the book reads more like poetry than prose. Perhaps the book’s publisher describes the book best when they write, “André Aciman’s critically acclaimed debut novel is a frank, unsentimental, heartrending elegy to human passion. “
The hard cover copy of this book is nearly 250 pages so its perfect for a long weekend if you are an avid reader. I’m sure you’ll find this book difficult to put down. The interactions are so touchingly written and the intimacy so profound that you’ll feel as if the pages of the book are turning themselves. Your local LGBT bookstore will have this for certain, or you may buy the book online here.
Boy Meets Boy by David Leviathan is a quick and funny read about Paul, a high school sophomore and his friends in an unnamed small town. However, this is not your typical small town (although its one where most gay readers would love to have grown up). Here the high school cheerleading squad forgoes the use of pom poms opting to ride Harleys on the field, the star quarterback prefers to wear woman’s clothing and doubles as the home coming queen and the town’s local ice cream shop is called the “I Scream Parlor” and plays horror films for its patrons.
Leviathon’s book is a light read, probably best for high school and 20-somethings, but I enjoyed it; it’s the perfect mindless, vacation novel that is guaranteed to give you a chuckle. Here is an excerpt of what you can expect from this tale of high school drama that unfolds in this very special town.
“In 6th grade, Cody, Joni, a lesbian 4th grader named Laura and I formed our elementary school’s first gay-straight alliance. Quite honestly, we took one look around and figured the straight kids needed our help.”
I read this book awhile back and meant to write about it because it was such an entertaining read. The full title of M.V. Butler’s novel is actually, Heyday: That Shocking Novel of New York’s Lavender Underworld.
Heyday takes place in post war NYC (that is WWI) and prior to the crash of the stock market at the height of Prohibition. The story revolves around a charming protagonist (Mack Daly) who is surrounded by a family of friends that include several lovable but flawed personalities. Mack’s crumbling marriage of convenience and his blossoming romance to Joe Imperio, a New York City gangster, spells trouble from the outset but you cannot help but get caught up in these flawed relationships. Suspense is followed by hilarity as the ridiculous becomes the norm and I found myself reading the 200 page book in just a couple of days. If you are looking for a light read that will entertain, I’d suggest checking out this book.
Over the holidays I donated a lot of books that had been collecting dust at my place to my local library. In the process of cleaning house (so to speak), I stumbled upon my copy of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne with decorations by Ernest H. Shepard.
I used the down time this past week to read the book again, which can be read from cover-to-cover or as consecutive short stories about Christopher Robin, Pooh and all his friends. I forgot how much I loved the illustrations and the stories (okay – I’ll admit I skipped through a few of the stories deferring to some of my favorites like In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets Into a Tight Place). I can’t think of a better book to start the year reading and would strongly recommend adding this to your personal library. Apologies for those who have completely switched to eBooks because I’m not sure the nostalgia and appreciation for Milne’s famous bear will translate.
Land’s End by Pulitzer-Prize winning author, Michael Cunningham, is a quick read (172 pages) that was written a decade ago about Provincetown, MA.
Cunningham literally dissects the town into geographies with chapters like the West End and East End. Individual chapters describe the town and some of the more unique aspects of Provincetown like the dunes and wilderness. Through out the book he shares a loving (almost reverent) perspective of Ptown; talking about specific residents, locations and the many unique attributes of the city and the city’s history. For those familiar with Provincetown, you will find yourself nodding and smiling. And as was my case, often times thinking “next year I need to check that out.”
For those who have never been to this special place at the tip of the Cape, its still worth the read. Cunningham’s profound love for this place is obvious and will be endearing for you to read.
I love how Cunningham describes Provincetown near the start of the book: Provincetown stands on a finger of land at the tip of Cape Cod, the barb at the hook’s end, a fragile and low-lying geological assertion that was once knitted together by the roots of trees.
In truth, this is less of a review about Steven Saylor’s book, Empire: The Novel of Imperial Rome, published in 2010 by St. Martin’s Griffin than it is a recognition of this gay author who writes superb historical fiction novels at a mind-boggling rate.
For those fascinated by ancient Rome, his novels are compelling reads. Saylor is best known for his Roma Sub Rosa series, set in ancient Rome featuring a detective named “Gordianus the Finder” who lived during the time of Cicero, Julius Caesar and Cleopatra.
Empire is nearly 600-pages and opens in Rome in 14 AD with Lucius Pinarius, a young man born into a prominent Roman family. The novel traces the Pinarius family for the next 100+ years. With imperial Rome as a backdrop, Saylor weaves a story chalk full of intrigue, drama and action.
If you enjoy historical fiction or are fascinated with this era, I would recommend trying one of Saylor’s novels. He has an easy-t0-read writing style. Should you opt to buy one of Saylor’s books, I’d recommend Calamus Bookstore. Calamus is the last standing GLBT bookstore in Boston and you can purchase books online if you don’t live in the area.
Calamus Bookstore 92B South Street, Boston Tel: (617) 338-1931