Category Archives: Book Review

Book review: The Deviant’s War

The Boston Gay Men’s Book Club chose Eric Cervini’s 2020 book, The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. The United States of America for this month’s read. It was my first time joining a book club, and I really enjoyed listening to people share their thoughts. The organizers surprised everyone by having the author (shown below) join the MeetUp to answer questions about the book which was really kind of amazing.

The Boston Gay Men’s Book Club meets virtually due to COVID-19 and as a result is really open to anyone interested in joining a book club that focuses on gay literature. You can learn more or sign up to join here.

This is a book about the beginnings of the gay movement here in the United States, but focuses on Franklin Edward Kameny, a World War II veteran and gifted astronomer turned reluctant, gay activist and litigator after he was entrapped by the S.F.P.D. in 1957 and charged with “lewd conduct”. The charge would result in Kameny losing his certification to work for the Department of Defense just as his promising career was starting. He would be barred from employment with the Federal Government and agencies that served our government just as the Cold War’s space race between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. started.

After World War II, Homosexual arrests…occurred at the rate of one every ten minutes, each hour, each day for fifteen years. In sum one million citizens found themselves persecuted by the American state for sexual deviation.

Simply put, Cervini’s book is a page turner. We learn early on that Kameny is a gifted intellectual. He learned to read by age four. By age six he decided he would be an astronomer and at the age of 16 enrolled in college. He would serve in the military during WWII and went to Harvard after the war in 1948 to begin his PhD in astronomy. However, the career he cherished and had so much to offer would be denied to him, because our government would label him a deviant.

The personal struggles and obstacles Kameny faced were not unique. What was unique, was Kameny’s conclusion that homosexuality is “moral in a real and positive sense, and are good, right, and desireable, socially and personally”. This view was at odd with the U.S. government, the medical community and the public at-large which perceived homosexuality as a dangerous deviance. When Kameny approached the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1958 to ask for help he received the following response, “It was not within the province of the Union [ACLU] to evaluate the social validity of laws aimed at suppression or elimination of homosexuals.”, meaning if you were a homosexual the ACLU would not work with you or help you because you were considered a deviant.

In telling the story of Kameny’s extraordinary life, Cervini shares how self-respect and pride in one’s self emerged to become the cornerstone of the modern LGBTQ movement.

Facing this reality, Kameny used his intellect and tenacity to fight back in the courts. For years his efforts would be in vain, but homosexuals facing similar treatment sought him out. He would go on to found the Mattachine Society of Washington D.C., organize and participate in the first public demonstrations for gay rights, be among the first to ask politicians to support gay rights, run for Washington D.C.’s first congressional seat, and form an ongoing legal defense for victims through the 1960s and 1970s.

Aside from being a fascinating read, the book helped provide me with some much needed perspective on how much society has changed and helped me understand where and how the modern LGBTQ movement started. It begins more than a decade before the Stonewall Riots, introducing the controversial (and unethical) work done by sociologist Laud Humprhies as well as what Kameny and several others did in the 1950s and 1960s to help pave the way for the LGBTQ community to organize, self-actualize and speak up. This book introduced me to compatriots and contemporaries of Kameny who I had not heard of before. I hope because of the attention given to these activists, more will be revealed about their lives and contributions in future publications. I would love to see this included in U.S. History curriculum and as part of school reading lists.

Though Kameny did not have a term for it yet, by exposing the arbitrary logic of hte purges with his own, contrary logic, he formulated gay pride as a political tool of resistance, a weapon to be wielded for now [1961], only in the courts.”

If you’re interested in purchasing this book and open to supporting local bookstores, try one of the links I’ve shared. They will take you right to the book so you can order it online in just a couple of clicks. Alternatively, you can check your local library for a copy of this book. Here is a link to the BPL for The Deviant’s War.

Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square
Porter Square Bookstore in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe in Back Bay

Book review: Bunker Hill by Nathaniel Philbrick

Nathaniel Philbrick’s 2013 book, Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution, was difficult to put down. Philbrick paints a picture of pre-revolutionary Boston, the historic battle the book is named after and the siege of Boston until the British fled a year after the historic battle that will appeal to fans of American history.

Most Americans learn about colonial life and the American Revolution in school, but Philbrick provides much more detail than I ever recall learning. Chalk full of historical events, personalities and dates, the book reads as easily as any story but is all the more compelling because this is not the imagination of a talented author but are events that altered the trajectory of history. To quote Mark Twain, “truth is stranger than fiction”. Had Las Vegas existed, I can’t imagine what the odds would’ve been for this rag-tag group of disgruntled and disagreeable troublemakers a.k.a. “Patriots” to win on the battlefield against the British.

The Americans had lost 115 killed and had 305 wounded, with most of the casualties occurring during the retreat. Of the approximately 2,200 British soldiers in the battle, close to half — 1,054 — had been killed or wounded. The British had been victorious, but as Howe wrote, ‘The success is too dearly bought.’ “

Sometimes I refrain from reading a book if I already know the story so I’m glad I picked this up and would absolutely recommend it. It was fascinating to learn about the many people living in Boston at the time. A few that come to mind that I never heard of before reading this book include the poet Phillis Wheatley, born in 1753 in West Africa. She became a freed slave in Boston and bears the distinction of the first African-American author of a published book of poetry. The duplicitous traitor, Dr. Benjamin Church, was a contemporary of Benjamin Arnold. He did his best to undermine the efforts of colonialists after earning their trust and nearly succeeded. However, I was most surprised to learn about Dr. Joseph Warren who was the defacto leader of the resistance in Boston. If he had survived the Battle of Bunker Hill, he may very well have become the leader of the Continental Army in Boston and not George Washington.

If you’re interested in purchasing this book and open to supporting local bookstores, try one of the links I’ve shared below, which takes you right to the book so you can order it online in just a couple of clicks. Alternatively, you can check your local library for a copy of this New York Times Bestseller.

Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square
Porter Square Bookstore in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe in Back Bay (currently less than $10.00)

Book review: The Editor by Steven Rowley

Steven Rowley’s imaginative novel is about James Smale, an unpublished author who learns that his novel about his dysfunctional relationship with his mother is going to be published by Doubleday. Just as he is digesting this news he also learns his editor will be none other than Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis, which according to James she pronounces “somewhere between the French and American pronounciations… JACK-well-in? Zhak-LEEN.”

Jacqueline loves James’ novel but feels the ending is unresolved. Together they forge a professional relationship as he works furiously to finish the manuscript and address her comments which she writes neatly in all capital letters on his manuscripts. Still unfinished and struggling to provide the authentic ending Jacqueline feels the book is missing, she encourages him to go back home to find out what happened to his once strong relationship with his mother. James finally relents and their meeting results in an explosive discovery. Fireworks ensue, which only adds more color to the story.

I enjoyed reading this novel. Rowley brings the relationship between James Smale and his mother, father, partner and of course Jacqueline to life. His sense of humor and wit are sprinkled throughout and had me laughing late at night reading in bed. Below is one such scene about halfway through the book when the author, Smale, is racing to get his latest manuscript to Jacqueline’s office before the Thanksgiving holiday.

When I reached the building, my trailing scarf gets caught in the revolving door, and for a flickering second I imagine suffering the fate of that dancer from the 1920s (what was her name?) whose scarf caught in the open spokes of her car’s rear wheel. I can picture myself crumpled on the floor between revolving glass door partitions, maunscript pages raining down on me like prize money inside the cash booth on Beat the Clock. (Isadora Duncan! That was her name.)

This book can be purchased online at Amazon but you can also check with your local bookstore to see if they will order you a copy.

Book review: The Girl in the Boston Box by Chuck Latovich

I just finished reading local author, Chuck Latovich, debut novel, The Girl in the Boston Box. The 400+ page book published in Cambridge by Way We Live Publishers tells the story of two people living in Boston and Cambridge. One is a down-and-out gay man (Mark) who is estranged from his family and wallowing in self-pity after a break up and the other is a young woman (Caitlyn) studying architecture history at Harvard, who is intrigued by a rumor that some nineteenth century Boston architects may have built hidden rooms in homes of wealthy Bostonians called a “Boston Box”. Initially thinking these were part of the Underground Railroad, her research points to a far more salacious and disturbing reason for these hidden spaces. Mark and Caitlyn’s path ultimately cross as the result of a murder and an unexpected connection between the two and the victim.

This is an enjoayble read filled with short, punchy chapters that kept me reading late into the night. Murder mystery and detective literature fans will enjoy the twists and turns of this well written story. I loved how Latovich used Boston and Cambridge as the backdrop with much of the story taking place in the South End, Fenway and Harvard Square neighborhoods.

This book can be purchased online at Amazon but you can also check with your local bookstore to see if they will order you a copy.

Summer reading

books, summer readingWhile this summer may be unlike any other we’ve experienced before, it remains a great time to grab a book and lose yourself in a good story. Make plans to get away even if it is only in your imagination. Below are three very different novels for you to consider adding to your summer reading list. Below I’ve also included links to five local bookstores where you can purchase these books.

The Parting Gift, by Evan Fallenberg – published Sept 2018
Red, White & Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston – published May 2019
The Secret History, by Donna Tartt – published Sept. 1992

Evan Fallenberg

The Parting Gift by Evan Fallenberg is available in paperback starting June 2nd. The novel opens with the main character writing a letter to his friend, Adam, explaining why he showed up unexpectedly four months ago looking for a place to stay. Recounting what happened after he quit grad school and moved to Israel. What follows is a lurid description about his surprise, intense sexual attraction and all-consuming, obsessive relationship with Uzi, a hyper masculine and emotionally detached spice farmer on the coast of the Mediterranean. As the passion fizzles, unrequited love leads to jealousy and resentment.

Casey McQuistonRed, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston is a lighthearted beach novel that will appeal to RomCom lovers. The story revolves around a romance that ignites between Alex Claremont-Diaz (the son of the first female President) and Prince Henry – second in line in the British Monarchy. The scripted story line is as unrealistic as it is humorous with ridiculous scenarios playing out page after page. If you’re looking for a lighthearted romantic comedy to read while on vacation this summer – look no further – this book is for you.

Donna TarttThe Secret History by Donna Tartt opens with the murder of one of the character, Bunny, who is part of a group of  six classics students, attending a small, elite liberal arts college in Vermont (based upon Bennington College, where Tartt was a student in the 1980s). At times I found myself reviling all of these students but the writing is excellent and kept me reading to find out what becomes of this group of misfits. In some ways this story is the exact opposite of the light, RomCom-esque nature of Red, White & Royal Blue previously shared.

All of these books can be purchased online at major resellers but you may also buy this in person or online at local bookstores so buy local. Below are a handful of bookstores who would love to he

Brookline Booksmith 279 Harvard Street by Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore  1256 Mass Ave in Harvard Square
Papercuts JP 5 Green Street, Jamaica Plain
Porter Square Bookstore 25 White Street in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe 338 Newbury Street in Back Bay

Book review: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

gay literature, book reviewIt is rare that I read a book that has won as many accolades as Less by Andrew Sean Greer. The national best seller went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and even though I was initially questioning what all the hype was about, once Arthur Less starts his travels, I couldn’t help but get swept up in this story about a little known novelist, trying to live off the acclaim he received from his first book and past relationship with a famous, aging poet.

When Less Andrew’s on again / off again lover (who is much younger than him) sends him an invitation to his wedding, it proves to be more than he can handle. That news, combined with the realization that he will turn 50 in a few months results in a comical midlife crisis. Less decides to decline the wedding invitation and embark on an around the world trip first to NYC then Europe before heading to Morocco, India and finally Japan before settling back home in San Francisco. I think of the trip as a funnier and more relatable, Eat, Pray Love (gay men of a certain age are really going to enjoy).

Less is about a struggling gay author who suffers a spectacular midlife crisis which Greer details beautifully in his book.

Andrew Sean Greer makes a handful of literary references in each chapter, most of which go over my head, but in spite of those references, I found myself either smiling or laughing as I turned the pages. The book is also full of really beautiful insights like this conversation Less has with a friend late one night in Morocco after he learns his friend is splitting with his partner of 20 years. His friend, Lewis, refuses to think of his 20 year relationship as anything but a success.

But you broke up with him. Something’s wrong. Something failed.
       No! No, Arthur, no, it’s the opposite! I’m saying it’s a success. Twenty years of joy and support and friendship, that’s a success. Twenty years of anything with another person is a success… 
     You can’t do this, Lewis. You’re Lewis and Clark. Lewis and fucking Clark. It’s my only hope out their that gay men can last.
     Oh Arthur. This is lasting. Twenty years is lasting! And this has nothing to do with you.

This book can be purchased online at major resellers but you may also buy this in person or online at local bookstores. If you’re open to supporting local bookstores try one of these links, which will take you right to the book so you can make a quick purchase online if that is your preference.

Brookline Booksmith 279 Harvard Street by Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore  1256 Mass Ave in Harvard Square
Papercuts JP 5 Green Street, Jamaica Plain
Porter Square Bookstore 25 White Street in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe 338 Newbury Street in Back Bay

Book Review: Beijing Comrades

gay fiction, bei tong, scott e. myers, gay chinese fictionI had never heard of Beijing Comrades when I purchased the book but there was something about the novel’s description that caught my attention. Before I share with you what the story is about, let me give you some history because the way the story came to be known is slightly notorious. Bei Tong is the pseudonymous author whose real-world identity remains unknown since the story was first published in 1998 as an e-novel. The Translator’s Note in my copy said it is among mainland China’s earliest, best known and most influential contemporary gay novels and after finishing the nearly 400-page book I can believe it.

This may be one of my favorite gay novels of all-time

The love story – because that is what it is – opens in Beijing in 1987 and chronicles the on again, off again relationship between Chen Handong and Lan Yu. Handong is a narcissistic businessman from a well-connected family and Yu is a poor student who moves to Beijing to attend university. The novel is extremely sexually explicit and generally such books don’t capture my attention, but his novel is the exception to that rule. The story couldn’t exist without the sexual nature of their relationship. In many ways it is the glue that keeps these two together and provides fodder for the ups and downs, fights and making up.

The book’s opening lines read, “He’s been gone three years now. A thousand days and nights and each time I close my eyes there he is before me, the person I see in my dreams.“, so I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that the ending isn’t a happily ever after but it doesn’t matter because it touched me in a way that few stories ever have. A few times while I was reading the story, I thought to myself, here we go again – another fight or another make up sex scene – but now that the novel is over and I’ve put the book down I wish there was another hundred pages so I can continue to read about this complicated couple who so clearly loved each other but often times were their own worst enemies.

NOTE: If you decide to purchase this book, look for the cover I’ve shown above and the copy translated by Scott E. Myers. Over the years there have been several translations and some of the previous translations have watered down or edited the graphic sexual content. I can’t imagine this book having the same impact it did for me if I read such a redacted or toned down translation and for that reason I suggest you get this copy: Beijing Comrades by bei tong and translated by Scott E. Meyers.

Book Review: A Very English Scandal

Jeremy ThorpeGay Anglophiles may want to add this new hardcover to their reading list. I was sent a copy of A Very English Scandal by John Preston to review and while I’ve only just started I can tell you this is a page turner.

Preston’s novel is based on the true scandal that rocked all of the United Kingdom when Jeremy Thorpe a British politician who served as Member of Parliament  was tried at the Old Bailey in May 1979 on charges of conspiracy and incitement to murder, based on his earlier relationship with Norman Scott, a former model. The book may be based on real life, but it reads like a thriller filled with hypocrisy, deceit and betrayal.

Published by Other Press the story unfolds in 323 pages and  is available starting Monday, October 10th.

Book review: Idyll Threats

Thomas Lynch Novel, Stephanie GayleI recently finished reading an entertaining mystery that takes place in the fictional, New England town of Idyll, Connecticut.  The 280 page book published by Seventh Street Books and written by Massachusetts author, Stephanie Gayle was a quick and easy read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The story centers around the new Chief of Police who moved from NYC and is tasked with solving the town’s first murder in years. Complicating the investigation is the fact that the Police Chief, Thomas Lynch, meets the victim hours before her murder but cannot share that news without revealing his greatest secret: he’s gay.  A ghost from Chief Lynch’s past haunts him, while he tries to solve the town’s murder, but to do so he has to learn to avoid the advances of Donna Daniels, a middle aged waitress who has eyes for the Police Chief and an ever growing pile of paperwork, Mrs. Dunsmore, the town’s local busy body and precinct’s bureaucrat threatens to bury him under.

Idyll Threats is available for sale, starting September 8th.  You can pre-order or purchase this detective murder mystery on Amazon.com or locally at Porter Square Books in Porter Square, Cambridge.

Idyll Threats – Available on Amazon.com

Idyll Threats – Available at Porter Square Books

Summer reading

Next weekend – Memorial Day Weekend – is the official opening of prominent New England summer destinations like Provincetown, Ogunquit, Newport and the islands.  Traditionally, I share a few gay-themed book options for those looking to add to their summer reading.

Gay romance stories, CLEiS Press, Neil PlakcyMy first suggestion is Take This Man: Gay Romance Stories.  This 232 page paperback published by CLEiS Press is available starting on June 26th and can be pre-ordered at your local LGBT bookstore (here in Boston contact Calamus Bookstore in the Leather District).

This book is a compilation of sixteen romantic / erotic short stories.  The book opens with the 10-page short story, A Good Heart Is This Day Found, a very seductive and endearing story about two men who have just married by Rhidian Brenig Jones. The short stories make for easy summer reading and I enjoyed the naughty narratives, despite rarely reading this genre.

Michelangelo SignorileFor those who prefer non-fiction, I would strongly recommend Michelangelo Signorile’s latest book, It’s Not Overwhich is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and is currently on sale everywhere.

Signorile’s  259 page book is a wake up call of sorts. He warns the LGBT community not to take for granted the amazing progress we’ve made by assuming equality is inevitable. He makes a persuasive argument pointing to how the conservative movement is reorganizing and how groups the LGBT community often view as allies are sometimes without even realizing it becoming complacent and as he puts it “become a roadblock to progress.” Definitely worth the read if social justice and politics are your thing.

Joseph Olshan, gay fictionMy third and final suggestion is actually an older book that was first published by St. Martin’s Griffin in 2008 called The Conversion and is written by Joseph Olshan (author of the popular gay novel Nightswimmer).

The 278 page novel captured my imagination as it centers on Russell Todaro, a young American translator who wakes up one morning in Paris to find his lover dead. The story quickly relocates to Tuscany where you learn more about this conflicted man against the backdrop of one of my favorite places in the world, Italy.

As I mentioned previously, while all these books are available via sites like Amazon.com, I’d ask that you consider ordering / purchasing one or more of these books from your local LGBT bookstore.  If you don’t have a local LGBT bookstore, consider calling Boston’s last remaining store, Calamus Bookstore and having them ship you the book(s).

Happy Reading

Manifest by Blake Little

Gay, BearsEarlier this week I was pleasantly surprised when Blake Little’s book, Manifest, arrived at my house. The coffee table book has 100+ pages of men from coast to coast photographed by Blake Little. As Nick Offerman says in the foreward “These people look like men, like real men.”  Clearly my weekly Furry Friday posts have found new found inspiration in Blake’s collection.

Thank you very much for sending this to me. I have proudly placed it on my coffee table and will continue to peruse it. If you’d like to read more about this book or order a copy visit manifestbook.com.

Book review: The Conversion

LGBT literatureI don’t regularly share book reviews because I think there are a lot of great sites that do this far better than me.  However, every once in awhile I read a book that I really like and want to share with others.

Earlier this year, I paid a visit to Boston’s sole remaining LGBT Bookstore, Calamus Bookstore, and picked up a handful of books. One of those books was Joseph Olshan’s The Conversion. I thought this story about Russell Todaro – a young American translator who wakes up in a hotel in Paris to find his lover (a world renowned poet) has died in his sleep – hard to put down.

Russell’s story unfolds in a villa in Italy after he accepts an unexpected offer from a celebrated Italian author to recover from the shock. While in Italy, Joseph Olshan shares more about Russell’s quest for love and overcoming a persistent writer’s block that he (Russell) learns his former lover attributed in his yet unfinished memoir to his fixation on failed relationships – Ouch!

Joseph Olshan lives in Vermont and is perhaps best known for his books, Nightswimmer and Clara’s Heart.  You can learn more about the book and the author, here.

 

Not Sure Boys by Rick Bettencourt

Rick BettencourtRick Bettencourt has shared with me his first published work, an eBook collection of short stories that are available for purchase on Amazon.com entitled, Not Sure Boys.

Some of you may remember Rick who wrote the blog Bandit Talks (named after his adorable dog, Bandit).  He ultimately renamed and moved the blog to talk more about his writing and this book. You can follow Rick’s blog, here.

About the Author: Rick Bettencourt is a gay fiction writer from Greater Boston who happens to live with his husband and dog, Bandit.

Book review: The House of Special Purpose

John BoyneIt 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.

Book review: The Back Passage

James LearSummer 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.