Monday, August 21, 2006

Review: Confessions of a Male Nurse

Richard S. Ferri. Confessions of a Male Nurse.
Published by Haworth Press
Reviewed by Michael Gellings

Richard S. Ferri has filled a gap in the gay book market with his sometimes funny, sometimes angry hospital novel, Confessions of a Male Nurse. It is a vivid mix of sex, work, death, and romance. Ferri is an HIV/AIDS nurse, and while his insights into the conveyor-belt mentality of modern medicine can be quite devastating, he also tells a story of friendship, compassion, and the quest for love.

The central character is Richard Steele, who likes what he sees in the mirror, but hasn't really got a clue what to do in life. In four parts the book charts Steels's career from nursing school in the American provinces to being a cruising nurse in New York's Gay Village in the 1970s. His best girlfriend is called Carmella, his favourite bar Glory Hole, and his first boy-friend dumped him for Jesus.

A great read for anybody who takes a secret pleasure in other people's tribulations.

Michael Gellings is a freelance translator and historian. He's currently working on the history of a local hospital in Germany.


Review: Diary of an Emotional Idiot

Maggie Estep. Diary of an Emotional Idiot
Published by Soft Skull Press
Reviewed by Sally Fildes-Moss

On the back cover, Rick Moody declares that Diary of an Emotional Idiot “should infuriate nine out of ten lovers of heartfelt, carefully wrought novels about rural life.” I was prepared to hate the book, and expected an exercise in studied slacker chic, along with spurious defiance which would try too hard not to try too hard. But Diary of an Emotional Idiot is not that. It’s a quality write.

It’s all about the screwy beginnings, screwings, scorings and purgings in protagonist Zoe’s sizeable back-catalogue of self-sabotage. But Zoe is no idiot after all, not if emotional intelligence is proportionate to the size of the truth you can tell. And while the narrative style is always casual, and ripe with humour and arresting imagery, precision and pace are not compromised. There is barely a false note in 180 pages and I found myself developing crushes on the best lines.

Diary of an Emotional Idiot turns out to be a heartfelt, carefully wrought novel about human nature.

Sally Fildes-Moss has worked as a teacher, trainer, recycler and peace librarian, and is currently pondering what to do next.


Review: Blood Moon's Guide to Gay and Lesbian Film

Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince. Blood Moon’s Guide to Gay and Lesbian Film
Published by Blood Moon Productions
Reviewed by James Dufficy

The laddish film mag, Hot Dog, accused Blood Moon’s guide of being obsessed with “the size of Heath Ledger’s penis” - and then only gave it two stars?!

Still, there are more than 20 pages devoted to Brokeback Mountain, Porter and Prince's choice for Best Picture. Didn’t think much of it myself, but I did like the music. I prefer my westerns camp (a la Sergio Leone) rather than gay. There are some good quotes about the film, though, from Nathan Lane’s “Get a room!” to a Frank Rich eulogy “A John Ford epic”.

In an essay on The Aviator, Howard Hughes is outed, with claims he bedded James Dean, Randolph Scott, and Cary Grant. But no bedding of gay men for Joan Crawford: “I ADORE homosexuals, but not in my bed after midnight”.

At the very end, there's “Blood Moon’s Triptych of Hollywood’s Hottest Hunks” which works on a steep evolutionary curve: from Neanderthal (Colin Farrell), through Homo sapiens (Jake Gyllenhall), to the Godhead (Heath Ledger).

Blood Moon will never replace Halliwell’s (the true gay film bible), but it would make a fabulous christening gift.

James Dufficy lives in London. His poems has appeared in Ambit and the Gay and Lesbian Review.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Free Chroma at Gay's the Word

Buy any two of the books reviewed on our blog from Gay's the Word Bookshop, and you'll receive a copy of the latest issue of Chroma.

Review: Homocore

David Ciminelli and Ken Knox. Homocore: The Loud and Raucous Rise of Queer Rock
Published by Alyson Books
Reviewed by Bec Chalkley

Legend has it the Homocore movement sprang from a fictitious queer punk scene mischievously chronicled by Bruce LaBruce and G.B. Jones in their 1980s zine J.D.s. Homocore came to represent queer rock bands like Pansy Division and Team Dresch who were out of place in both mainstream gay culture and the increasingly macho punk scene.

Homocore gives a chatty, celebratory overview of the movement through engaging interviews with the personalities behind the zines and DIY record labels, as well as the bands themselves. The authors occasionally miss the point, however. While LaBruce and Jones quickly realised “queercore” better reflected the diversity of the scene than “homocore,” the two terms are used interchangeably throughout the book without comment. The fundamental influence of the riot grrrl movement is cursorily explored, UK queercore bands like Sister George and seminal San Franciscan queer rockers Tribe 8 are largely absent, and a chapter on the future of queercore negligently omits progeny like The Gossip and
Lesbians On Ecstasy.

Some interviews are tantalisingly brief, and though Homocore cries out for reproductions of zine pages and gig flyers, it’s sparsely illustrated. There’s a comprehensive list of related websites however, the only glaring omission being the
Queer Zine Archive Project.

Bec Chalkley is a writer and visual artist. Her short fiction appeared in Chroma, Issue 3.


Review: Nailing Frank

Paul Mann. Nailing Frank
Published by Paradise Press
Reviewed by Donald McKinney

Want to know more about sailors? From the cover picture of the author in the Indian Ocean to the crew of characters aboard the novel, Nailing Frank will tell you a lot about being at sea. Unfortunately, this is also true of the plot.

Paul Mann’s third novel is an entertaining read. It is one of those annoying books that you enjoy, but you’re not sure why. Jacob, the protagonist, is not an attractive character, he is a gentle man with a ruthless side, though we don’t learn how he comes to be a steward or how he acquires his knowledge of the seedier aspects of life. He has been ripped off and seeks revenge. Sort of. The plot is unconvincing and unnecessarily complex with its drug smuggling and manipulative fat old queens in various ports and on sundry ships. Jacob does get to sleep with various swarthy chaps, though, but eventually plumps for the boring guy. As you would!

Despite all that, I did enjoy Nailing Frank, and would read more by Paul Mann. So seek this book out, shiver your timbers and tot your rum!

Donald McKinney lives with his partner in East Lothian in Scotland. He is an author of two books on Celtic spirituality.


Monday, August 14, 2006

Review: The Romanian

Bruce Benderson. The Romanian
Published by Snowbooks
Reviewed by Andrew Theophilou

What would happen if you went to Eastern Europe with no previous knowledge and nothing to guide you but your own libido? Bruce Benderson finds out as he delves into the seedy underworld of prostitution that thrives in a post-Communist era.

While on a journalist’s assignment in the region, the flabby, middle-aged American writer falls for Romulus (pictured, right), a svelte, young Romanian hustler who embodies a down-trodden nation. Back in New York, Benderson is unable to forget about Romulus. As his passion for the hustler grows, Benderson returns to Romania armed with a suitcase-full of history books and codeine pills. The nine-month affair that follows is not just one with Romulus, but with Romania itself.

The intimate narrative of Benderson’s personal infatuation is alternated with an almost textbook tone as he recounts the country’s lewd royal past. This provides a seemingly jarred narrative that is disorienting – even irritating – at first. But parallels between the personal and political are soon made clear and it’s hard not be won over by Benderson’s style. What he ultimately produces is the compelling memoir of an outsider, where his story and history are skilfully interwoven. The result is a highly addictive read.

Andrew Theophilou is a writer currently taking part in the Apprenticeships in Fiction Scheme. Legend Press is publishing a short story of his in a collection due out in February.


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Review: Lewis DeSimone's Chemistry

Lewis DeSimone. Chemistry
Published by Haworth Press
Review by Andrew Warburton

Chemistry is a well-written account of a gay couple’s descent into co-dependence and mental illness. It is a story that reads like an autobiography, but without the tension and originality of fiction. More than anything, it lacks that overarching poetic truth you find in writing that has something radical to say about love or subjectivity.

Since the publication of Prozac Nation in 1995, Wurtzel’s experiences have become a way of life for millions of people. That we now have another adept storyteller to chronicle these people’s lives can only be a good thing. But I can’t help feeling we need something more: literature that does this on an aesthetic and psychological as well as a conscious level.

DeSimone is essentially a realist, skilled at pacing and conjuring small, suggestive scenes. At times he writes with an American cheerfulness which may jar with a British audience more comfortable with cynicism than lack of self-restraint. Chemistry is a novel that is set in, and belongs to the 1990s. DeSimone has captured something crucially important using a literary form that is no longer relevant.

Andrew Warburton is a writer and poet.

Review: Patrick Califia's Mortal Companion

Patrick Califia. Mortal Companion
Published by Suspect Thoughts Press
Reviewed by James Craven

A cry of protest at sexual hypocrisy, a manifesto for a new world order, a love story, a tale of revenge and a dirty, dirty book, Mortal Companion is engaging, energetic and weird.

Mortal Companion is the story of Ulric, a bisexual vampire who feels guilty about drinking people's blood, and his affair with a newly-liberated former librarian, Lilith. Ulric's vengeful and less compassionate sister Adulfa has no truck with his fussy morals and spends her time offing quack shrinks and enslaving cute butch junkies. Their adventures are as raunchy as they are murderous, and the sex scenes are juicy and inventive and cover just about every flavour and hanky colour.

There's a patchwork of backstory presented predominantly as setpieces introducing various outrageously esoteric perverts and predators. Poison, the kabuki-faced dom pole-dancer is a splendid creation. Alain, Ulric's former lover, is alluring and poignant, and Patrick Kelly, Califia's bent cop avatar from a previous collection of shorts, makes a brief appearance. You need a certain suspension of disbelief, since the riot of ideas and images often gets a little tangled - not to say preposterous - but Calfia's worldview is singular and compelling, his sense of humour bone dry and his imagination as filthy and dark as ever.

James Craven rarely produces anything of literary merit but occasionally takes time off to criticize other people's work.

Review: My Fellow Skin

Erwin Mortier. My Fellow Skin
Translated by Ina Rilke
Published by Harvill
Reviewed by Leon Fleming

What a treasure. This is a real gem. Split into three parts spanning one life, and although it only chronicles several growing-pain events between the years shortly after birth up to early adulthood, this account is able to make us believe that we have witnessed every second of the protagonist's warmly amusing life: and I enjoyed every second of it.

The beautifully picturesque use of language is complemented by Mortier's flair for rhythm and flow; allowing us the pleasure of feeling the warmth of every sunrise, the freshness of each new morning.

Ina Rilke’s translation from the Dutch has clearly been carried out with a subtlety, poetic sensitivity and love of language that caresses every line and poignant moment in the novel.

This is a well-observed and touchingly woven account of young life, that in many ways is everybody’s. If My Fellow Skin were a painting, it would be a Vermeer or a Rembrandt.

Leon Fleming's play Monkeys in Toy Town premieres this month.

Revuew: Patti Frazee's Cirkus

Patti Frazee. Cirkus
Published by Alyson
Reviewed by Stephen Shieber

Patti Frazee’s debut novel is an ambitious tale of a Czech circus rail-roading through America at the beginning of the 20th Century. Frazee introduces us to a host of colourful sideshow characters: Mariana, the Romany fortune-teller, Shanghai, a fire-breathing dwarf and, most memorably, Atasha and Anna, the conjoined twins. The parallels between the inhabitants of the freak show and the Queer Outsider perspective are subtly delineated as these central characters struggle to find love and meaning in their closed and fantastical world.

There is rich material for a complex and memorable novel here. In the hands of a more assured writer, this is exactly what Cirkus would be. However, Frazee seems to flounder in the face of her material. Her writing is frequently clichéd. In her efforts to give each of the central characters a voice, she moves the focus of her novel around dizzyingly, sometimes leaving the reader bemused. The twist the plot turns on is disappointingly obvious. Cirkus has all the right ingredients to be a success: romance, tragedy, huge emotions and unique characters. Unfortunately, these elements are dealt with too superficially for the novel to leave a lasting impression.

Stephen Shieber is a writer and teacher in the North East of England. His work can be seen online as well as in the Tonto Press Anthology.

Review: Daughters of Darkness

Pam Keesey, ed. Daughters of Darkness
Published by Cleis Press
Reviewed by Theresa Heath

How many different scenarios can you possibly imagine that facilitate an erotic lesbian vampire tale? Prior to reading this I might have said one or maybe two, but in this real labour of love, Pam Keesey has collected a smorgasbord of vampiric delights that span a dizzying range of eras and genres. From the familiar, bloodsucking seductresses of the past to futuristic lesbian vampires in space (no, really), most of these tales have at their core beautiful, pale women named Lillith, Catherine or Elizabeth running around ravishing and then biting - or biting then ravishing – buxom beauties called Lucy or Francine.

As you might suspect, Daughters of Darkness runs the gamut from the wickedly fang-tastic (sorry) to the unbelievably awful. More than the sum of its parts, few pieces in the anthology are really able to stand alone but are tied together well by Keesey’s useful introduction. She makes the necessary link between vampirism and dangerously uncontrollable female sexuality, and places the collection in a much-needed context. By turns titillating, horrifying, playful and ironic, read this with your tongue firmly stuck in your cheek – and your garlic and crucifix at the ready.

Theresa Heath specialised in queer literature at university. She now runs the gay/lesbian section of a bookshop and writes about vampires.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


I just wanted to mention Turnaround, who are doing a great job in bringing us the best queer fiction and non-fiction from around the world. And now that there is only one small queer publisher in the UK, we need all the importing we can get. You can order directly from Turnaround, or get your local bookshop to order from them.

Review: Everything I Have Is Blue

Wendell Ricketts, ed. Everything I Have is Blue: Short Fiction by Working-Class Men
Published by Suspect Thoughts Press
Reviewed by James Craven

Everything I Have is Blue is billed as a collection of short stories by working class men. You have to wonder how Wendell Rickets ascertained the social status of his authors. Were they means-tested? That might sound flip, but I've got a serious point. Ricketts' aim, which is certainly worthy and intriguing, is to give voice to the multitudes of gay men who fall outside the narrow social and economic boundaries of fabulously-moneyed urban orthodoxy. The stories, though, do little to distinguish themselves.

That said, there's some good stuff in here. Two of the most striking stories, “How To Get From This To This” and “Bleeding Toy Boys” explore themes of violence, self-hatred and confusion. “Hooters, Tooters and the Big Dog” is an entertaining, if improbable story of trucker cruising, “Food Chain” will strike a chord with anyone who's ever moved to a new city with big dreams and no money, and “Flowers, Flames” is a subtle inquiry into prejudice. In the main, though, the collection doesn’t deliver what it promises and the insights into rarely-explored ways of life are too few, although many of the stories are absorbing and well-crafted.

James Craven rarely produces anything of literary merit, but occasionally takes time off to criticize other people's work.

Review: My One-Night Stand with Cancer

Tania Katan. My One-Night Stand with Cancer
Published by Alyson
Reviewed by Nina Rapi

I first came across Tania Katan’s writing in an anthology of monologues by women, where we shared its pages. I was struck by her quirky, witty, staccato style in a story about obsessive, fetishistic desire and a launderette. In My One-Night Stand the content is hugely different, but the style - the same. Therein lies its beauty.

Tania Katan has had breast cancer twice: first when she was twenty one and then again ten years later. She had both her breasts removed. Yet Katan carries these battle scars with gusto. She goes clubbing, has sex, takes part in 10k runs, writes furiously instead of caving in after operations, chemo and possible future death sentences (being a BRCA-1 gene carrier). This woman chooses life at every turn, and that is what makes her a survivor. She writes about her experiences with style and panache, insight and compassion, never indulging in sentimentality. She is a damn good writer.

This is not a book just about cancer. It’s about humour, fucked-up girlfriends, self-image, dysfunctional but loving families, writing, clubbing, Jewishness, choices, fighting back, friendship and finally real love. Read and be inspired!

Nina Rapi is a playwright, teacher, performer and a damn good writer. Her story "Foreigner" appears in Chroma, Issue 1.

Review: Attack of the Man-Eating Lotus Blossoms

Justin Chin. Attack of the Man-Eating Lotus Blossoms
Published by Suspect Thoughts Press
Reviewed by Leon Fleming

Attack of the Man-Eating Lotus Blossoms is a collection of scripts and descriptions of performance art. Oh dear, I thought, I know nothing about performance art. And then I read the book.

I still don’t know a great deal about performance art, but I know a lot more than I did. This is a wonderful book. The introductions to each piece are witty, informative and give a warm, slightly nostalgic, edge to the text.The scripts themselves are extremely good. The pieces are creative, funny, honest, and vicious in parts.

I feel happy now that I know something about being a gay Asian-American living in San Francisco during the 1990’s, and the emotions brought about by AIDS, sex-tourism and the general feeling towards gay Asian-Americans.I can’t ever do a Cher and turn back time, and so I shall never sit in the audience of one of Justin Chin’s shows, leaving this the nearest thing to the experience.

This book deserves to be on everybody’s bookshelf.

Leon Fleming can be found here.

Issue 4: A Few Copies Left

Lazlo Pearlman by the photographer Del LaGrace Volcano on the cover of Issue 4.

Order your copies from our site.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Review: Rachel Kramer Bussel's (ed) First-Timers

Rachel Kramer Bussel (ed). First-Timers
Published by Alyson

Reviewed by Emily Moreton

Do you remember your first time with a girl? First kiss, first online affair or just the first girl who really made you glad you were queer? Whatever it was, it’s in Bussel’s collection of first time stories.

Billed as “100% true and 110% hot,” the collection of 31 stories of lesbian first times has something for all of us, each story an explicit, funny, sweet and most of all, hot new experience. All right, some of the stories could stand a little polishing, but even these are a pleasure – in all senses of the word – to read. And the rest of them, from the editor’s tale of her first time with a tough law school dyke to Radclyffe’s experience of love and lust, internet-style – someone get me a glass of ice water, and tell me where I can find girls like this!

First-Timers is new encounters without the awkwardness, the fumbling and the, let’s face it, downright clumsy stuff the rest of us go through. More based on true stories than literally true, I think, it’s still a great fantasy for a weekend lie-in with your girl… or for tips on what to do with her when you find her.

Emily Moreton is an education graduate and aspiring to make a living as a writer. Her short story appears in Chroma, Issue 3.

Review: Michel LeCroix's Alex in Wonderland

Michel LeCroix. Alex in Wonderland
Published by Harrington Park Press
Reviewed by Pete Halliwell

This is a far-fetched tale of deceit, duplicity and coming-out set against a backdrop of wealthy New Orleans. Spoilt, good-looking and gay, Alex is the only child of oil baron Randolph Sumner. Betrothed to Camilla, Alex is desperate for a way out of both the closet and the impending business-deal marriage.

His attempts to extricate himself take the reader on a roller-coaster ride across America (some of it in bad drag) from New Orleans’ Garden District and French Quarter to the strands of Key West and back again. Along the way we meet, amongst other characters, Jolie (queen, confidant and saviour), Cord (Prince Charming and the only truly sympathetic character in the book) and a couple of aristocratic French lipstick lesbians.

The writing and plot are completely over the top but, like Cord when he meets up with Alex towards the end of the novel and listens to his fantastical tale, I was entertained despite myself. Take it to the beach!!

Pete Halliwell was born in Lancashire but now lives in Leicester. He is a Critical Care nurse and a writer.

Review: Heather Lewis' House Rules

Heather Lewis. House Rules
Published by Serpent's Tail
Reviewed by Theresa Heath

Most reviews of House Rules focus on the darkness and desperation of the novel - and it's easy to see why. The book begins as the equestrian anti-heroine, Lee, is thrown out of boarding school for dealing pot. Rather than return home to a father who sexually abuses her and a complicit mother, she turns instead to the world of horse showing. Faster than you can say frying pan and fire, Lee becomes involved with a dysfunctional and self-destructive group of trainers and riders, finishing most nights zapped on smack whilst being brutally fisted.

Despite the glum premise, however, the novel isn’t relentless horror. A transcendent talent for riding fills Lee, and the narrative, with a buzz and energy never achieved on heroin; she is resilient, and the only character to exhibit the slightest bit of self awareness. Crucially, Lee refuses the last hit of the novel and makes partially believable plans to extricate herself from the situation, suggesting the possibility for her eventual salvation. The language is stripped down, bare, but also poignant, astute and often insightful as the narrator - and, you suspect, Lewis - struggle to describe the indescribable. A difficult but necessary journey.

Theresa Heath specialised in queer literature at university. She now runs the gay/lesbian section of a bookshop and writes about vampires.

Review: Aiden Shaw's My Undoing

Aiden Shaw. My Undoing
Published by Carroll & Graf

Reviewed by Kevin Franke

My Undoing is not so much a comprehensive autobiography as a series of snapshots from a recent period in Aiden Shaw's life. It’s full of sex, drugs and short-lived infatuations. It is the story of Shaw’s continual search for love in all the wrong places, with all the wrong men. But you never really get close to understanding what has made him who he is today.

What you get is a story about his lifestyle rather than his life. The most moving part of My Undoing is the retelling by his two friends of the car accident that left Shaw temporarily paralysed.

The book is well-written and fast-paced, but ultimately an un-illuminating and depressing read. What I really wanted was to go on an emotionally satisfying journey with the author, but what I got was a repeating of self-destructive patterns, which became more frustrating with each page. I felt strangely numb by the end of the book, as if I’d swallowed the countless painkillers and Valium along with Shaw. As such, he succeeds in allowing you a glimpse into his life, though in the end you’re glad to be leaving it behind.

Kevin Franke is a recovering actor and aspiring writer from East London.