Background Reading for My Novel: “Just Between Us” by J. H. Trumble

17214420

Just Between Us is the third book by J.H. Trumble that I have read in the past seven months and just like her first two she has scored another clear winner with this one. Since  my own book deals with a young gay man in his late teens, I have sought to read books with a similar theme in hopes of learning from others what for me at least works and what does not. It was this mindset that led me to read her first novel Don’t Let Me Go. Having enjoyed that so much I then read Where You Are which I enjoyed even more. Just Between Us is her most recent work. While each of her novels has a common thread of young gay men in love, the author successfully tackles very different topics in each. Don’t Let Me Go focuses on issues of gay-bashing and the challenges of trying to keep alive a relationship when two people are living more than a thousand miles apart. Where You Are dares to take on the explosive issue of student/teacher intimacy. Just Between Us chronicles the hurdles of two people being attracted to each other and then having one of them learn that he is HIV positive.

The main characters of this work are Luke Chesser and Curtis Cameron, ages 17 and 19 respectively. Luke was a major secondary character in Don’t Let Me Go. He is a high school junior and is still recovering from having his heart broken in his first romantic fling. Having an abusive, homophobic father does not help matters any. Fortunately for him his physician mom and younger brother are loving and supportive. He is a member of the school’s marching band which is a big part of his life and that helps to fill in some of life’s blank spaces. Curtis is in college but attended the same high school as Luke. After spending a good portion of his time partying in his college freshmen year he returns home and helps out as a field tech in Luke’s marching band. Unlike Luke, Curtis’ widowed dad is very accepting of his being gay as is his twin sister. The two young men soon become attracted to one another and start spending time together while postponing any sexual intimacy.

The proverbial you-know-what hits the fan when Curtis learns he is HIV positive. By now he cares deeply about Luke and is terrified that he may infect him if they have sex. The remainder of the story focuses on how these conflicted lovers and others around them deal with the news. Having been a sexually active gay man before and during the Age of AIDS and having watched scores of friends succumb to the disease, I fully appreciate what devastating news this normally is for someone. While HIV/AIDS is today not the death sentence that thirty years ago most people viewed it to be, it is a terrifying and life-altering experience for those who contract it and the people who love them. The author does a superior job depicting Curtis’ coping with the news and the stages of grief he experiences: denial, anger, depression and eventual acceptance. The reaction of Luke and others is likewise very believable. The author once again tackles a difficult issue and avoids creating clichéd characters and situations. This is a very moving, at times heart-breaking and at other times triumphal story. Just as she did in Where You Are, the story is told from the perspective of the two main characters and the technique works as effectively in this book as it did in the earlier one.

Rereading my review of her previous works, I see that what impressed me about those stories is much of what I so enjoyed reading this one. Of Don’t Let Me Go I wrote: “a very sweet, tender coming-of-age novel but not one that is overly sweet, throwing in enough drama and darkness to make it all seem very real. All of the characters have their flaws… He is impulsive and foolish at times and certainly does his share of dumb things. There are times when I wanted to kick him in the butt and other times when I wanted to tell him to stop being so insecure.” Of Where You Are I commented: “He is tormented trying to figure out what is the right thing to do, struggling with the collision course of wanting to be there for Robert, the growing sexual attraction he and Robert are feeling for one another, and his terror of where all of this may lead.”  Except for proper names, the comments are just as  true about this work. That in no way suggests the author is somehow using a cookie-cutter approach to her writing but rather that she has the rare gift to make her stories and characters appealing and believable. Not wanting to spoil too much of the plot I will simply say there were several times when I became very choked up reading this book and my eyes started filling with tears. That does not happen often when I am reading and I can only say thank you ever so much Ms. Trumble for your incredible writing talent and for giving me hours of enjoyable reading. You are a true inspiration for me in my efforts. For anyone who has not read any of her books put all three at or near the top of your To Read list. You are in for some phenomenal works. And please, please another book soon I hope!

Advertisements

Background Reading for My Novel: “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

5297

Attempting to review a novel as legendary as The Picture of Dorian Gray is challenging to say the least but I will do my best to do just that. Noted more for his plays and poems, this work by Oscar Wilde was his only novel. When first published in 1890 in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, the story sent shock waves through the literary world and was viciously attacked as immoral most notably for its homoerotic and hedonistic themes. Wilde attempted to quiet the attacks by substantially revising the story and adding more background, expanding the original work from thirteen to twenty chapters before its 1891 book publication. The revisions did little though to quiet the outrage. The edition I read was the one published in 1891 which is the most widely read version.

The general storyline of course is well-known. It follows the life of a handsome young man who has his Faustian wish fulfilled that a recent painting of him will age while he himself remains physically young and attractive. As Gray’s life slides further and further into debauchery and crime, the portrait becomes increasingly grotesque while he remains eternally beautiful. It does not take much imagination to realize that the artist Basil Hallward is clearly infatuated with Dorian although there is no sexual contact between the two in the novel. It is through Basil that Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton who advocates a hedonistic lifestyle to Dorian, suggesting to the impressionable young man that beauty and satisfying one’s desires are the only things really worth pursuing in life. This is the trigger that changes Dorian’s attitude and behavior. The two become close friends and remain so throughout the story.

Wilde once commented that the novel’s three main characters contain much of himself: Basil is the person Wilde perceived himself to be, Lord Henry represents the public view of him and “Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.” The story itself is incredibly fascinating and Wilde does a superb job playing with the age-old fantasy of eternal youth. Some of the best lines in the book are the pithy, cynical reflections of Lord Henry. Two excellent examples: “Never marry at all, Dorian. Men marry because they are tired; women, because they are curious: both are disappointed.” Also: “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

The one criticism I have of the book is that at times I found the prose to be a bit too flowery but in part I am sure that is a reflection of the writing style of the era. Chapter 11 for example is almost entirely a long, drawn-out recounting of all the excesses to which Dorian indulges himself describing endlessly the colors and textures of the objects with which he surrounds himself. Eventually I found myself simply skimming through this chapter because I started thinking “OK Oscar, I get the picture. Can we now get on with the story?” My guess is that this was a part of expanded background Wilde felt necessary to add to the 1891 publication to quiet his critics. It has been suggested by scholars that Wilde would probably want us to read the work as it was originally written since we are in a more permissive forward-looking time than the repressive Victorian world in which he himself lived. Since the original unedited version is now available I may do just that.

Eventually of course Wilde was subjected to a very public trial for his immoral homosexual lifestyle and sentenced to two years’ hard labor for his “crimes”, a sentence that would break him physically and emotionally and contribute to his early death. This is an important novel and one very well-written. It is a classic example of Gothic fiction, much as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the works of Edgar Allan Poe are. Thank you Oscar for this work. I am so sorry I did not get to stop by and pay my respects to you during my recent visit to Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/.a/6a00d8341c630a53ef0162fd1648fb970d-600wi

Background Reading for My Novel: “The Lost Language of Cranes” by David Leavitt

The Lost Language of Cranes

What an incredible book to launch my 2014 reading! First published in 1986, The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt is an intense, powerful, well-written study of an intellectual middle-age couple and their grown son. Set in Manhattan in the 1980’s, each of the three main characters has kept secrets from one another for a long time, and the story traces the need to finally reveal those secrets and the consequences each faces for doing that.

Rose and Owen Benjamin have been married for twenty-seven years and live quiet, mundane lives on Manhattan’s East Side. Rose is a copy editor for a small NYC publishing house. She is a very structured person and her work is the centerpiece of her life since her home life is so passionless. Her secret is that of a five-year affair she had in the distant past with a co-worker. Owen had a promising academic career long ago but gave it up and settled for a drab position as the director of a private Manhattan boy’s school, a position that leaves him unfulfilled. The boredom of his professional and home life is relieved only by his visit every Sunday afternoon to a gay porno theater which he has frequented for many years. The couple’s lives are further complicated by the fact that they soon may be forced to leave their apartment of many years due to a proposed condo-conversion.

Their only child and twenty-five year old son Philip has his own apartment on the West Side and works midtown as an editor of romance novels. He has fallen in love with Elliott Abrams whom he has known for about a month. Philip is painfully insecure and since Elliot is his first love in a long time he is overly eager to cling to him which alienates Elliot. Phillip is also captivated by the fact that Elliot was raised by two gay men in a literary and bohemian world, an environment totally alien from his own experience. While he is out as a gay man to his friends and co-workers, Philip has never revealed his sexuality to either of his parents even though he has known since a young teenager that he was gay. Now he feels a need to tell them since he has finally fallen in love. His decision to come out to his parents has unforeseen consequences, most acutely his father’s need to finally acknowledge that he too is gay.

This is a book to be enjoyed on many levels. Leavitt’s rich and rewarding story draws the reader into the hearts and minds of its characters. It is an excellent portrayal of different relationships: lovers, parent/child, husband/wife, friends, roommates. The story is also an engrossing account of keeping secrets and the terrible toll that can have on a person physically and emotionally. The author raises valid questions. Is it always best to tell the truth or should some things be left unspoken?  Is the burden lifted from the bearer of the secret simply transferred to the person learning the secret? Leavitt does not answer these questions but raises them in the reader’s mind for consideration. He also shows what a horrible price one pays for living in the closet. Reading and understanding Owen’s many years of secrecy, shame and guilt is painful and his desire to touch and be touched by someone for whom he feels passion is very poignant. Additionally throughout the story there is an overriding theme of loneliness and what one can or should do to try to overcome it that goes beyond just the three main characters.

The specter of AIDS looms through the story. Written at the time of the introduction of the cataclysmic AIDS era there is the fear and dread of contracting the disease running through the minds of many of the characters, a sense they are being forced into monogamy to simply survive. “Now monogamy was in fashion, but it had taken on the status of a safety tactic, an unappetizing but necessary catastrophic measure, like one of those World War II recipes for stretching precious rationed meat. ‘Find ten buddies and agree to fuck only with them,’ Phillip had read in a porn magazine early in the crisis. Then ten was reduced to five, five to two…fear became an indirect route to monogamy and, sometimes, to happiness.”

Before reading the novel I was intrigued by its unusual title and assumed it was a reference to the long-legged and long-necked birds. Instead though it is a reference to research being conducted by Elliot’s roommate Jerene, clearly the strongest and most powerfully drawn of the secondary characters. A black lesbian who was coldly rejected by her adoptive parents once they learned of her sexuality, she is busy doing research on lost languages. She stumbles upon the bizarre story of a neglected two-year old boy who related to and imitated the movement and sound of the mechanical cranes he saw from his tenement window rather than that of his biological single mom. The boy becomes the Crane-Child and when he is removed from them what he shared is forever lost.

This is a perfectly slow-paced novel, just the right tempo to paint incredible characters and draw the reader into their lives. Never did I feel it was moving too slowly; it held my interest throughout. As I am writing this it has dawned on me that the story in some ways reminds me of Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which like this novel dealt with dark secrets and the consequences of revealing those secrets. I was totally captivated by this book and plan to read more by this talented author.

One final comment. The book was adapted by the BBC into a made-for-TV movie in 1991. The one significant change was the setting, London rather than New York. I caught a glimpse of it on YouTube and from what I saw other than the setting it appeared very faithful to the book.

 

Background Reading for My Novel: “Remembrance of Things I Forgot” by Bob Smith

Remembrance of Things I Forgot: A Novel

Last summer I read Remembrance of Things I Forgot by Bob Smith and am now finally getting around to reviewing it. The opening line from the book sums up the essence of the story very well. “It’s safe to say your relationship is in trouble if the only way you can imagine solving your problems is by borrowing a time machine.” The year is 2006 and comic book dealer John Sherkston has just broken up with Taylor Esgard, his boyfriend of fifteen years. The two are political opposites: John a liberal Democrat and Taylor a Log Cabin Republican. Taylor is a physicist and on the same day as their breakup he has announced that he has invented a time machine for the U.S. government. As the two are meeting with Vice President Cheney whom John despises and Taylor admires, John enters the time machine and accidentally transports himself back to 1986. John realizes he may actually have the chance to change history while there and quickly launches a whirlwind of activities to do just that. First he connects with his younger somewhat naive self  “Junior”.  Junior begins flirting with the older John who promptly tells him “I’m you, only with less hair and problems you can’t imagine.” He and Junior then meet a younger Taylor and John hopes he can intervene to ensure that the two young men have a happier future together. His most challenging goals though are to save his sister and father from their downward spirals as well as take steps to prevent Bush and Cheney from ascending to power. As the plot progresses John and the reader learn that given the opportunity to change history one has a good chance of just finding a new way to mess things up. The story is a comical, edgy, entertaining and fast-paced tale of time travel that for the most part succeeds.

Smith first attained recognition as a stand-up comedian and was the first openly gay comedian to appear on The Tonight Show. As my brief summary suggests this satirical novel is a showcase for the author’s comedic talent.  He peppers his story with a steady stream of funny lines and incidents. A good example of that involves John’s first meeting with Cheney, the story’s arch-villain, who after being introduced by Taylor, extends his hand to John. “There was an awkward moment as I decided what to do. I shook his hand. This is how people end up accomplices to murder, I thought. They just wanted to be supportive or they’re overly polite and don’t want to cause a scene.”

I found the humor very strong through the first half of the book and quickly became absorbed in the novel. But as the story progressed I found myself less entertained by it. Perhaps this was because it was fresh and new at the start and then seemed repetitive after a while. I think where this story works best is the personal story of John’s efforts to save his sister and father from self-destruction and his hopes to make the John/Taylor relationship survive. As someone who regards the eight year era of inept Bush and evil Cheney as one of the bleakest times in American history, I was initially amused and chuckled at the jokes being made at their expense. Eventually though Dubya and Darth Vader became too cartoon-like and as much as I loathe the two and enjoy seeing them skewered, the over-emphasis of their characters drags down the overall success of the book. The plot itself got weaker and even for a farcical science-fiction tale it got a bit too outlandish by the book’s end. Overall my impression of the book was positive but I did not feel it lived up to its full potential.

Background Reading for My Novel: “Last Summer” by Michael Thomas Ford

Last Summer

Earlier this year I read Changing Tides by Michael Thomas Ford which I found very enjoyable. I found out that he has written or co-authored a large number of books covering a variety of genres over a twenty year period and added a couple of them to my To Read list. Last Summer was the one that most intrigued me in part I think because it takes place in Provincetown.  I came out as a gay man while living in Boston oh so many years ago; since P-Town was an easy two-hour drive from Boston and also has a sizable gay population I often went there over a three-year period to relax, enjoy the sun and surf, and be a bit mischievous.

The story takes place from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Rather than focusing on just a few main characters, the reader is introduced to an ensemble of individuals who find themselves there for the summer. Some are long-time residents, some are people looking to simply relax and have a good time and some are there trying to escape their past. The story begins with Josh Felling who has left his apartment in Boston after finding out his long-time boyfriend has been sleeping with someone from his gym. He goes to Provincetown with the notion of having a long weekend by himself to sort out his feelings and winds up spending the summer there. Toby Evans is a somewhat naive seventeen year-old who has traveled by bus from Missouri to escape the condemnation of his parents for being gay. Emmeline also came here to escape parental rejection many years earlier. He/she performs in a drag show and is working to save enough money to have a sex change operation. Jackie has lived in town for 20 years, owns a popular restaurant/bar/nightclub and has recently ended a relationship with her long-time partner Karla. She is also about to turn forty and questioning where her life is headed. Reilly Brennan comes from a family that has lived in P-town for generations. He and his fiancée will soon be getting married but he finds his fantasies are disturbingly about members of his same sex. Ty Rusk is one of the hottest new stars in Hollywood and is fantasized as husband material by millions of adoring fans. What they don’t know is that he is a long-term relationship with his producer, Reid Truman. Devin Lowens is a local who has aspirations of making it big-time in New York or Hollywood but has begrudgingly moved back from NYC into her family’s home. She has an enormous student loan to pay off and feels bitterly beaten and defeated by having to live with her parents again. Marly Prentis is the successful director of the Arts House, married and with one child, who is now finding her life dull and hoping to find something or someone to re-energize it.

It is these characters and others who populate this well-written book. The story is told from the third person POV. Each chapter is brief, typically ten pages or less, and each chapter changes its focus from one of these characters to another. Ford executes this process very skillfully; in the hands of someone else the shifting emphasis of character might be confusing but I found it flowed very smoothly. The book in some ways reminded me of two other works, one a movie, the other another novel. The movie I have in mind is the 2004 award-winning Crash, the book or more correctly books of which this reminds me is the Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin. The analogy is that all of these have an ensemble cast, not merely two or three main characters, and their lives are on a collision course with one another.

While I enjoyed Ford’s 2007 work Changing Tides, I feel this earlier work is superior. Last Summer won the Lambda Literary Award in 2004 for Best Romance Novel. If I had to find one fault with the book I would say that it has a little bit too much of a happily ever after ending. I think that’s a pretty minor criticism though. Ford wrote this book to entertain and he does a top-notch job at that. The story moves quickly and the characters are well-developed and believable. I’m surprised the story has not been adapted for either the big or small screen although maybe even in 2013 it has too much of a gay theme to make that happen. If they ever did do it though Joseph Gordon-Levitt would be perfect-casting for the role of Josh.

Even though I read the book right before Christmas, I would say put this on your summer reading list, preferably reading it on the beach or on a chaise lounge sipping one of those silly summer drinks with an umbrella in it.

Favorite Books That I Read in 2013

I’ve had the good fortune to have read some incredible books these past twelve months. Earlier this week I posted a rant here about the books that appear on a goodreads thread titled Best Books Ever, a list to which I took strong exception. So for the record the works I mention below are the ones I read this past year that I most enjoyed and which I believe have helped to make me a better writer; each of them I found truly outstanding. I will not attempt to rank these; each was superb in its own special way. Thus they are arranged in alphabetical order by title. These authors have all truly inspired me as I work to complete and get published my own first novel. I have also included my Honorable Mention List. A number of the books on both lists were the author’s first published work, wonderful encouragement for those of us who hope to see our own first book in print. The date following the author’s name is where you will find a more detailed review of each of these works in the Archive section to the right. Happy Holiday Reading!

A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham: (May 2013) One of my new favorite authors, the story centers around the relationship between two people who meet as young boys, experiment sexually with each other, move apart and reconnect later in life. Beautiful, heartwarming, funny and sad. This book preceded his Pulitzer Prize winner, The Hours.

Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman: (Feb. 2013) Set in the Italian Riviera and viewed from the perspective of someone looking back on events that happened in the distant past. Aciman creates an erotic energy between two young men that is not consummated until late in the book. Rarely have I ever seen such a beautiful mastery of language and images. I was in complete awe by the time I finished this brilliant literary novel.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: (Feb. 2013) The tragic, heart-breaking story of doomed love set in 1950’s Paris. One of the great breakthroughs of 20th century literature and one perfectly executed.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: (Aug. 2013) What can I possibly say that has not been said ad infinitum about one of the greatest pieces of American fiction? How did I ever get this far into life without having already read it? A masterpiece without question.

Where You Are by J.H. Trumble: (Nov. 2013) I read two books this year by this incredibly gifted author. This one dares to take head-on the taboo subject of teacher/student intimacy forcing the reader to not think in black & white terms. She creates a beautiful, complex and thoughtful work in the process.

Winter Birds: A Novel by Jim Grimsley: (Dec. 2013) A grim, painful and frightening novel set in a poor rural North Carolina home dealing with an abusive and alcoholic man who terrorizes his wife and five children. 

Honorable Mention List

Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette: (May 2013) This memoir is so painful, so poignant, so beautifully written and deals with the author’s struggle for the first half of his life to accept himself as a gay man. So sad that this great author died way too soon.

Don’t Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble: (June 2013) The other novel I read by this talented author this year and her first. The story centers on two young men deeply in love who face serious challenges and jealousies when circumstances force them to live far apart from one another. This author has really impressed me.

Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley: (Aug 2013) One of three books I read by Grimsley this year. A disturbing, powerful and moving story of forbidden and unspoken love in the rural South.

Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez: (Sept. 2013) This book focuses on the lives of three high school seniors, whose lives are interconnected, each of whom is in a different state of gay self-acceptance. At times quite humorous, at other times fairly serious.

Three Junes by Julia Glass: (Aug. 2013) The 2002 National Book Award Winner. Three separate but interconnected stories taking place in Greece, Scotland and New York during three Junes over a ten-year period. Fascinating work!

 

 

Background Reading for My Novel: “Boy Meets Boy” by David Levithan

Boy Meets Boy

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan was somewhat of a departure for me from what I have been reading of late. This was not because of the subject matter; most of the books I have recently read have had a gay and/or coming-of-age theme to them since the novel on which I am working deals with both of those issues. Levithan’s novel is a celebration of being gay and it is that celebratory mood that sets this book apart from most of what I have been reading. The story’s main character Paul is a high school sophomore who lives in an incredibly gay-friendly small town. Just how gay-friendly is it? A couple of examples will demonstrate my point. The homecoming queen is six-foot four Infinite Darlene; she used to be a guy named Daryl and also happens to be the star quarterback of the school’s football team. A gay-straight alliance was organized at the school so the straight kids could learn to dance and how to dress better. There are other examples of the unusually relaxed attitudes of students, teachers and parents in this fantasy small town but these are two of the most hilarious ones.

The story is told through the eyes of Paul who has known he was gay ever since kindergarten; yes I did say kindergarten. He, his parents and brother are all very comfortable with his being gay as is practically everyone else in the community. Paul is popular at school; his two closest friends are Joni, whom he has known since second grade and who is brutally blunt about her feelings, and Tony who lives in a nearby town. Tony’s home life is the complete opposite of Paul’s. His parents are feverishly religious and keep him on a short leash so that he won’t be corrupted by Paul or others of his ilk. Tony also is gay but closeted because of his parents’ beliefs and attitudes. The struggle Tony must endure to break loose from his parents’ control is the dark side of what is otherwise a very light, quirky and humorous story.

The heart of the story though is Paul’s meeting a new kid in school named Noah and falling for him big time. The two teenagers begin spending a lot of time together and a romance starts developing. When I say romance I’m talking about nothing more risqué than simple sweet kissing; the book is aimed at a YA audience and the author does a stellar job of maintaining a PG quality to his writing. Paul and Noah’s romance though is seriously jeopardized by the reintroduction of Paul’s ex-boyfriend Kyle into his life. Not wanting to spoil the plot, I will refrain from commenting further about this complication.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is the following: “Tony and I figure the best thing a straight boy with religious, intolerant parents can do for his love life is tell his parents he’s gay. Before Tony’s parents discovered he was gay, they wouldn’t let him shake hands with a girl. Now if he mentions he’s doing something with a girl – any girl – they practically pimp him out the door.” The lighthearted, whimsical nature of those three sentences should give you a good sense what a joyfully playful book this is to read.

This was Levithan’s debut novel and won him the 2004 Lambda Literary Award in the Children’s/Young Adult category. We know that places like Paul’s town sadly do not exist but how much fun was it to think that such a world is possible even for the short time it takes to read this book. I plan to read more by this talented and entertaining author in 2014.

Goodreads “Best Books Ever”

I’m a big fan of goodreads. It’s my Go-To Place to fill my bucket list for my To Read List and has provided me some excellent suggestions for quite some time now. Currently I have 82 books on that list, nearly all of which I added as a result of reviews and suggestions on goodreads based on my past reading habits.

Recently on the site I saw that someone had posted a thread titled simply “Best Books Ever” that apparently was started in 2008. When I last checked, more than 107,000 people had voted and more than 3,300 people had left comments. Out of curiosity I checked out the voting…the results were nothing less than shocking. Before discussing the specifics of the 10 books that topped that list, I want to articulate what for me represents a Best Books Ever list.

Ever is a long time and certainly works going back thousands of years like Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey come to mind as likely candidates for such a list. Writers like Plato, Aristotle, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Bacon, Rousseau, Voltaire, Dickens, Darwin, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Twain, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Proust, Shaw, Joyce, Steinbeck, Faulkner are the sort of names I would expect to see on such a list. There are way too many authors of similar stature and my not mentioning them by name does not mean their works would not be serious candidates for such a list. I think you get the picture of what I’m suggesting. I will shamefully acknowledge that I have read a pitifully small percentage of works by the authors I have cited but I recognize that it is the words of writers like these that have left a significant mark on the civilized and literate world. Such a list is always subject to heated debate, and far greater minds than mine or dare I say that of anyone reading my blog have expressed strong opinions on the subject.

So getting back to the goodreads list: what were the 10 books to top the list? Six of the top nine were Harry Potter books. Really?  With all due respect to J.K. Rowling, I think even she would take strong exception to the absurdity of such results. Popular, entertaining, well-written – I will grant all that but give me a break. I doubt if she is going to be winning a Pulitzer or Nobel prize for her efforts. Top vote getter by a wide margin was…drum roll…The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Same comments I made about Ms. Rowling apply here as well. Most irritating on the list was # 3 rated Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. WTF???? I will refrain from any further comment. Oh and for the record before anyone starts accusing me of being misogynistic, mercifully the remaining two books rounding out the Top 10 were To Kill a Mockingbird and Pride and Prejudice, rated seven and ten respectively. I probably would not include them in my own Top Ten List but definitely can see a strong argument for their being there. Both easily dwarf the others in that upper tier.

The simple problem with this query was the originator’s posing it as a “Best Books Ever” List rather than “Books I Have Most Enjoyed” List, which is how I presume most people were responding when they entered their choices. In the latter case, all bets are off and anything goes. People are entitled to like what they like. There are many books I have enjoyed but would never dream of listing as Best Books Ever. The perfect examples of that for me are Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire and the Vampire Lestat, probably my two favorite books of all time. I totally delighted in both and have read each several times but fully recognize neither deserves to be put on Mount Olympus. I’m in the process of compiling my own list of My Favorite Books I Read This Year which I’ll soon be posting here. The ones I will be including I totally loved and would enjoy reading again but except for perhaps one I would not consider putting any on a Best Books Ever list.

I realize any such list is very subjective. Some of the comments did make me chuckle. “This list is a joke!”  “This list has some of the same books as the worst books list. lol”  “Wow, some of these folks need to read more. Or age more. Or go to school, or something. I mean, really.” “I hope my novel doesn’t end up on this list.” The last was probably my favorite. I left a comment that I refused to vote and give any validity to such a preposterous list. Someone wrote back that I was being a snob. I really do not think that is the case but if that is what anyone wants to think just because I try to have high standards so be it. I was going to respond to her but saw no point in getting in a food fight. Instead I thought I would vent my feelings here. I’d love to hear back from you on the subject. And once I do get my own manuscript completed and published I will echo the earlier comment. “I hope my novel doesn’t end up on this list.”

Background Reading for My Novel: “Changing Tides” by Michael Thomas Ford

Changing Tides

I am currently in the process of reading Last Summer by Michael Thomas Ford and enjoying it very much. About 3 months earlier I read Ford’s Changing Tides and somehow never got around to writing a review of it so my post today deals with that book. I try to review books shortly after I have read them so my impressions are clear in my mind and not clouded by plots and characters of stories I have read since. Hopefully I will do the author justice.

This story takes place in Monterey, CA and is told from the POV of three individuals. Hudson Jones, a young gay man, comes to Monterey to complete research that was begun by a deceased lover on an unpublished manuscript possibly authored by Monterey’s favorite son, John Steinbeck. If Hudson’s research proves accurate it would be an eye-opening revelation about the famous author that would bring Hudson instant fame. Ben Ransome is a divorced marine biologist living in Monterey who is totally absorbed in his work and who has a virtually non-existent personal life. His life is turned upside down when his sixteen year-old daughter Caddie, much to her dismay, is uprooted from her Southern California home by her mother to spend the summer with her estranged dad in hopes of re-establishing a connection between the two. She is very angry at her father, feeling he is a deadbeat dad, and goes out of her way to aggravate him. On a personal note I unfortunately can relate only too well to the bad karma since I have an adult daughter who feels the same way about me. Ben and Hudson meet, enjoy each other’s company despite the significant age difference, soon become friends and start spending time together in a platonic way. Carrie quickly detects the flirtation going on between her dad and Hudson even before they realize it. She is not repelled by it; in fact she becomes jealous of Hudson, a somewhat surprising attitude considering her animosity towards her dad.

There is a good story here although the going is a bit slow at first. The book is 352 pages long and as I recall it took about 100 or so pages before the pace picked up. Hang in there would be my suggestion if you are finding the book dragging; it is well worth reading. The tension between Ben and Carrie I felt was the most well-developed of the relationships and Carrie’s bite off her nose to spite her face attitude has near tragic consequences. The shifting point of view of the story reflecting the thoughts of the three main characters works very well as the reader is able to get inside the head of each of them.

Unlike the last work I most recently reviewed here on my blog, the sex scenes in this book both gay and straight have a PG-13 quality to them. That’s not a criticism of either book but merely an observation. Both books were quite enjoyable. My major reservation about Changing Tides was that the author got into what I saw as too much detail about marine biology. Obviously Ford knows the subject well or did an incredible amount of research to prepare for his writing and I respect him for that. I just think that for most readers the detail is overkill. I did not lose interest in the book because of this; the characters and storyline were both very good and kept me wanting to read more. If you happen to enjoy marine biology and a well-written book you will probably love this work. Obviously I enjoyed this book enough to want to read more by the author since that is in fact what I am doing now.

Background Reading for My Novel: “An Intoxicating Crush” by E.M. Lynley

An Intoxicating Crush (Delectable, #3)

This is the first book by E.M. Lynley that I have read but after finishing it I doubt it will be the last. The story takes place in modern-day Napa, the heart of California wine country, and centers around the relationship of Simon Ford and Austin Kelvin. The two men come from entirely different backgrounds and have very different personalities.

Simon is a native of Napa who has a deep resentment of the nouveau riche who have moved to Napa and spoiled his birthplace by opening boutique wineries that are squeezing many of the locals out of business. He never knew his dad; his working-class mom raised him entirely on her own. Simon is bright and ambitious and has recently started working at a firm headed by the ruthless Mr. Tuchman. Due to his strong work ethic he is quickly making a name for himself there.

Austin comes from the opposite side of the railroad tracks. His father made a fortune on Wall Street and then moved the family to Napa where he opened a winery, just the sort of family Simon so deeply resents. His dad and older brother have lost interest in Kelvin Cellars but Austin has turned it into an award-winning venture. On the surface Austin lives the privileged lifestyle Simon resents but secretly craves. Austin’s lack of business savvy though threatens the future of the business and he is struggling to keep it afloat while doing his best to keep his struggle a secret to everyone including his family.

Simon’s boss sends him on a covert mission to check out Kelvin Cellars to explore the possibly of a buyout of the business. Simon views the assignment as a golden opportunity to advance himself at the firm and improve his lot in life. While there Simon and Austin are almost instantly attracted to one another and soon become involved in a very passionate relationship. Their relationship is threatened when Austin learns of the covert mission, making him seriously question Simon’s intentions.

The author clearly has a great wealth of knowledge of the wine industry and weaves that knowledge through a fascinating and very believable story. This was a very enjoyable and quick read. It also had some of the steamiest sex scenes in it of any book I have read in a long time. As a gay man, I am in awe that the author who is a woman was so capable of depicting in such graphic, erotic detail the intimacies these two men share. At a writer’s conference I attended earlier this year, one of the speakers noted that writing sex scenes can be tricky, something I have discovered in the course of writing my own first novel. The issue becomes how to raise the temperature and increase the heart rate of the reader without sounding ridiculous or silly. There are books, blogs and classes dedicated to this very issue and so I do not intend to write at length on the matter. Certainly the author did an incredible job of raising my temperature and increasing my heart rate while reading the descriptions of Simon and Austin’s love-making. Reading this review you might get the impression that this is a work of pornography and if so that is entirely inaccurate. This is a very well written story that just happens to have some steamy sex scenes in it.

I could see myself going on a binge reading a lot more books by this author. This is one of her newer works and there are quite a few others that involve erotic M/M themes. I regard this as my guilty pleasure novel of the year and will keep her in mind after I have read something dry and/or disappointing and need a little pick-me-up to entertain myself.