Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Queerville by Tom Bouden

Queerville by Tom Bouden
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I keep buying these gay comics and not reading them. I've decided to try to make a dent in my collection.

This book is cute enough, some of the ideas made me smile, none made me laugh out loud.

The drawings were good, the English translation was poor. I assume this was originally published in German, but if not, whoever wrote it was not an expert, there is an error on almost every page, sometimes during the punch line.

I nice waste of time for an hour I suppose.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

The Complete Wendel by Howard Cruse

The Complete Wendel by Howard Cruse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book, it's probably the best cartoon strip series I've ever read.

The strip traces the timultous 1980's with wit and compassion, making me both laugh and cry, but ultimately not doing too much of either. The strip really lends itself to the long-format story and an in-depth look at the lives of these characters.

I took a star off as I would have liked to laugh a bit more. Also I don't understand the tendency with collections to include long introductions discussing the work up-front. Before I've even read ONE Wendel comic strip, I'm reading the introduction and the author talking about what was good and bad in the stories and future plans for the mom to quit smoking. I was waiting for that one as I recently quit smoking myself, but it turns out they were just ideas for future developement. Still, I think that would have been better positioned at the end of the book.

The cartoon itself went through probably the worst decade in American history for gays and came out with a smile, if not a laugh. It remains engaging and unlike other works from the period is not overly dated, containing few references to specific events. I think it will hold up well.

Also admirable is the full nudity and the swearing. I don't know if the Advocate today would print a cartoon with a penis and an f-word, so well done Cruse for getting that in.

I knew nothing of this strip going into the book and I'm really glad I read it. Wendel will stick with me.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Curious Series of Events by Kevin James

A Curious Series of EventsA Curious Series of Events by Kevin James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is generally well written and I’m surprised there aren’t more reviews of it on here. I think the series and the fantastic cover art deserve more followers.
In this reimagining of the classic series set in modern day London, Holmes is a corporate lawyer, a fraud investigator. Not sure why that was changed. It makes the story feel like it’s about any two guys, not Holmes and Watson, as we’ve come to identify Holmes with detective work so much.
A note on the writing, I took a writing class and the author said to use the word said in fiction. He said people don’t read the word said, and it can be annoying if everyone is always “interjecting” or “admitting”. It cuts up the dialogue. Starting at 14%, we have, in order: nodded, suggested, agreed, agreed, interjected, enquired, commented, replied. Switch some to said. This being said, the book doesn’t have much dialogue.
The plot is generally good, I liked the two main characters. I felt the other characters all blended together. There were about 10 secondary males in the Holmes/Watson gay clique and I couldn’t keep up with who was who, who was doing who, and ultimately who murdered who.
The other thing I didn’t love was the characters had this modern urban gay life that doesn’t have a basis in any reality I know. They do designer drugs and fuck around and live for the scene. It seemed shallow and something I did in my late teens.
The author has a couple of these slams against gays in the book:
“I don’t know what sort of gay journalists you met in LA, but here they have to live for the highlife. After all, what contribution do the days make to society these days?” Julian laughed
“Everything in gay culture is focused around blatant pleasure or entertainment with no sustenance.”
And this book, for one, is something in gay culture not focused around blatant pleasure or entertainment with no sustenance. It’s sexy without being full of sex, it has a plot and interesting characters, just not ones that fit in with my exact lifestyle. I can see a lot of people liking this though.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

20th Century Un-limited by Felice Picano

20th Century Un-limited by Felice Picano
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Of the two stories, the second and shorter one, Ingoldsby, is the better.

Told through a series of newspaper articles and police reports, and then through a long journal entry, it's the story of a straight man who meets some friends, one of them gay, and all may not be what it seems. I liked the story enough, I thought the format a little annoying.

The first story, Wonder City of the West, wasn't great for me. A little too cliché.
The story concerns a man who goes back in time to Hollywood in the mid 1930's. A ton of research was done by Picano, saying this intersection has blank when before it had blank, but it seems to go on too long. I don't live in Hollywood, I don't know any of these intersections. I also don't know any of the many movie stars mentioned. The author seems to have a fascination with Golden Age Hollywood and this was a way for him to revisit that, which I appreciate, but it wasn't for me.

The story was overly enthusiastic and light, reminding me that, as in the movie To Wong Foo, all you need to make things better is a light touch by a fairy. The gay main character seemed to exist only to help the straight people along.

I picked this up for the time travel angle and felt it wasn't in enough of either story. I think one thing you're looking for with a time travel book is "What would I, me, feel like going back in time?" and I think Picano's POV is just too different from mine to be relatable.

I do love the book cover.

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Work: A Celebration of One of the Four Basic Guilt Groups by Cathy Guisewite

Work: A Celebration of One of the Four Basic Guilt Groups by Cathy Guisewite
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I remember well reading Cathy growing up like all the other 16 year old boys. I remember long afternoons reading Cathy comics and Erma Bombeck. What, no other 16 year old boys did that? Just me? Okay.

Anyway, I also remember in my early 20's reading Cathy as a stress reliever. I hadn't read any since.

I enjoyed going back for a walk down memory lane. One of my favourite things with Cathy is the Hobson's Choice scenarios, like when she can choose to get a small raise which will put her in the next tax bracket and make her lose money, or get no cost of living raise at all and lose money. So many options! Or when she's trying on a bathing suit and can either hide the fat and have people guess how much she's hiding or show the fat and have people know what she wants to hide. Never a good option.

There's less of that in here as this book focuses just on work. It's still amusing but I think Cathy works better with the fully rounded woman, not just one side.

A good thing is the comics here are reformatted for easy reading on an e reader. The comics are surrounded by brief informative essays from Guisewite on how the office changed from the 70's to today.

I enjoyed the book a lot but when it was done I wasn't looking for more.

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Friday, April 19, 2013

Recollections of a Part-Time Lady by Minette

Recollections of a Part-Time Lady by Minette
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

DOWNLOAD EBOOK HERE or at it's permanent link HERE.

An excellent book and an important historical document.

Minette invites you to sit with her as she tells the story of her life. She goes back to a time when “there was no common culture then, no boob tube, so people just knew their own circles.”

She goes so far back, she talks about a queen she met who was performing in 1875. Crazy. I’ve never heard of a record this old before. Minette wrote this at the end of her life in 1979 and she knew old queens back when she was young that span this kind of huge time span.

The book isn’t professionally written and is more of a gossip memoir style, but it really adds to the feeling you’ve been invited into her home to hear her story.

She talks of the 1930’s where drag was illegal and a queen “had a special way with paper tits so that if the cops walked by she could crush them just like that.”

She talks of when the Puerto Rican queens moved in to town and: “When a queen would ask for $5, one of the Puerto Rican queens would raise a hand behind her , and someone else would make a lower offer behind her. In a fortnight, business was shot to hell. They should have had a hay hookers’ union.”

Minette has the wit of a consummate performer. Of her rent controlled flat: “It’s hard to beat a five-room flat for $32, even if the walls are Niagara when it rains.” ($100 in today’s money! In NYC!) She talks of a time when the customers were the “mark” and the object was to offload their money, similar to carny folk.

I loved this too brief chronicle. The book was self-published and has many mimeographed photos that don’t always reproduce well.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Shirts and Skins by Jeffrey Luscombe

Shirts and Skins by Jeffrey Luscombe
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

First of all, I noticed some errors in the Kindle edition I purchased the week of April 7th, 2013.

At 10%, page 27 – As smoked filled the car,
- should be smoke

At 38%, page 91 – his mother enjoyed telling people his Grandma is dead.
- should be was dead, not is dead. This is followed by another past tense sentence, this present tense verb doesn’t fit

At 63%, page 146 – “Hey, do you have another one of those things for your hair,” Rob asked. He pointed an unsteady finger at Josh’s head.”
- remove the closing quote after the word head, it’s not a quote

At 67%, page 155 – “Great costumes,” Lynn said.”
- remove the closing quote after the word said, it’s not a quote

At 77%, page 177, after Heads you live; tails you die. The italics continue unnecessarily.

Same place, same page, Like the rest of us”
- needs punctuation at the end of the paragraph
- also italics start again unnecessarily

At 91%, page 209 – Josh’ apartment
- needs an s, should be Josh’s apartment

At 95%, page 218 – “Is she’s crazy?” his father asked
- should be is she crazy

Same place, same page – “What’s that?” he asked pointing at a picture of a glass of orange juice on the menu.”
- remove the closing quote after the word menu, it’s not a quote

It’s difficult for me to write this review. I have met the author a few times in passing and I will see him again.

I will say up front this book was not for me. I see a lot of people liked it, and while the book had redeeming features, I felt like it was written for someone else, not me. When I first met the author, I read the free preview on Kindle and thought the book was overly dark and negative, so I didn’t buy it. But I kept seeing Jeffrey again and again, and finally the book was chosen for my book club so I read it.

The tone of the book starts out a little precious. I noted as an example:
“Josh was only seven but this was not the first secret that he and his father had shared. Adults liked to tell Josh secrets.”
On page 89, I came across the word, trite. I felt like in the sentence above, and some others, as the character was seven the author had to speak to me like I was seven which was unnecessary. It seemed to rectify itself as the character aged.

The setting is my childhood, in Hamilton instead of Lindsay. Everyone smokes, everyone is white, everyone is poor. “The only entertainment in his high school was drug sniffing does in the halls and the occasional sexual assault.”

There’s a saying about when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you. I looked into the abyss and got out as soon as possible. I fought so hard and fast to get away that it made me uncomfortable reading this book and being transported back. The protagonist of this book, Josh, doesn’t fight and let’s himself fall, let’s himself become one of the hated oppressors early on, and the book pretty much lost me from there.

When Josh becomes the lowest common denominator, I don’t know how he let that happen. When he pushes the kid and calls him a fag, when he dehumanizes women with a sexist comment and the school bully says “That’s exactly what I would have written”. How does he live with himself at that point? And how does he keep this up for 35 years? And why?

The narrator is a drunk, smokes a lot, and has no ambition. He’s petty. “And if a dead grandmother wasn’t enough, now I got a fucking hole in my boot.” I read another review that said she loved being in the author’s head. I hated it. Even in college he’s flicking “his wrist effeminately” and making fun of gays. I felt like I was reading a book about a homophobe, not a gay man.

The narrator doesn’t have a gay experience until page 200 of a 230 page book. I was reminded of a recent book by Robertson Davies I read where he says he isn’t more homosexual than most men. Neither is the narrator.

The narrator has a ponytail; I have never liked men with long hair. I have an aversion to them.

After the first time Josh has sex with a man, he says “I planned on having sex with a man this week” and goes on to talk about how he had planned all this. I took a writing course and they talked about getting in your character’s head and how sometimes you can draw the reader in by letting them in on a secret no one else knows. For example, the narrator can call someone and say they’re feeling good, even though the reader knows they’re feeling bad. It let’s the reader have a peek behind the scenes so to speak. The opposite happens with this, where the narrator knows something and he purposefully keeps the reader in the dark. He knew a week ago this was going to happen and took steps to make this happen? How did I not know about this? It alienated me. More so.

At the end of the book, Josh is looking around a restaurant at everyone else and thinking “They all looked so happy. So perfectly happy.” This really summed the book up for me. Even at the end when he has released his demons, he’s still looking around and thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Play your own hand Josh. Life is what you make it.

Although I was frustrated by this book, I know a lot of people who enjoyed it and I wholly recommend it to everyone. Support local authors.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Nana's Banana Bread

Thanks in part to my appearance on this week's Caker Cooking Blog, I present a recipe of my grandmother's.  The recipe card is wearing away with age and use and hard to read so I also want to write it down.  At the top it says "Jean Lawson (good)", so I assume it's good.  Actually it's excellent.

I'm presenting it with my updated 2013 version I use now, with the original ingredients in italics if you're a purist. Or if you still cook with lard.

I like this recipe as it's not too heavy and dark like many banana breads.

Healthy Dark Chocolate Banana Muffins (originally Banana Loaf Cake)

1/2 cup non-hydrogenated margarine (originally shortening)
2 eggs
2 cups whole wheat flour (originally white flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cup Splenda (originally sugar)
4 mashed bananas (originally 2)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup vanilla soy milk (originally milk)
1 cup dark chocolate chips (not in original)

- Cream margarine and sugar
- Add eggs and baking soda
- Stir in bananas and everything else.

Bake in large muffin cups, 18 min at 350 degrees. Muffins will not brown as there's no sugar, so they should be firm.

Original recipe says to cook in a loaf pan for 40 min at 350 but every time I ever made it, it took longer than that.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What's Bred In The Bone by Robertson Davies

What's Bred In The Bone by Robertson Davies
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book was a struggle to read, and while at points I would give four or five stars, overall the end of the book really brought it down for me and I struggled to finish it.

The book excels in parts. When we see Francis as a little boy or later as an art apprentice trying to solve a painting’s origins the book shines. The more the novel goes into the art world however, it gets dragged down in a smileless, soulless vacuum that I had no interest in deciphering.

Told, with a hint of pretension, by two spirits, the Lesser Zadkiel and the Daimon Maimas, the book is the story of an artist’s life. As the book says in one of the first few pages:

“I'd know what was bred in the bone of old Francis. Because what's bred in the bone will come out in the flesh, and we should never forget it.”

And so we journey through time to recap the life of Francis Cornish. Some humour would have been appreciated along the way. Although there were moments I was drawn right in, I felt a yo-yo effect as I would always be drawn back out again by wordy, dry passages such as the following:

“Francis must work in terms of the austere but not starveling manner of the sunset of the Gothic world. And as he made his drawings he found that this was a manner that would serve him very well; the myth of Francis Cornish was not a Renaissance myth, or a myth of Reason or of self-delighted egotism, or the myth of the World of Things. If he could not speak in the voice of his century he would speak in the final accents of the Gothic voice.”

So many things in here I don’t know or care to find out. Is the concept of “Gothic voice” really that well known?

There were moments along the way when I cared about what happened in his life, but I never cared about Francis. I don’t think I remember any of the other character’s names. Humour and likeability could have helped. Overall the book was a struggle.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Signed: Vincent River by Philip Ridley

I saw this amazing, kick you in the gut play on February 21, 2011 and loved it. I later purchased the book version and sent it to the author on August 23, 2011 as part of my book sending spree to get the autographs of famous gay authors that I loved.  The book never came back.

I was unclear as to why it was never returned. I had already paid for the postage, and I thought to myself if he didn't want to or couldn't sign it, why not return the book to me at least?  But these things happen, and unlike Dennis Cooper, who I sent $50 to and he promised to sign it and never did and kept my money!!!! I wasn't out anything.

I repurchased the book and moved on with my life.

To my surprise, yesterday, a year and a half later, the book arrived!  Signed with an explanatory note and everything!  Very excited to receive it.

Christmas Wish List

I LOVE this suitcase!

Friday, April 5, 2013

419 by Will Ferguson

419 by Will Ferguson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked this book.

Recommended by a friend, all I knew going in was that is was about the 419 scams, those emails that you get saying a diplomat has died and is leaving you money in his will if you pay the 5% transfer tax. That was enough for me, along with an interest in modern Africa.

The characters in this book were fully fleshed out, the plot skipped along, at the 80% mark I couldn't put the book down.

Overall very well done. Some mystery, some suspense, a slice of life in modern-day Africa, way to go.

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Monday, April 1, 2013

Tommy's Tale: A Novel by Alan Cumming

Tommy's Tale: A Novel by Alan Cumming
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Listened to this on an Easter Drive.

I liked Cummings' voice and smiled in a few parts.

Overall though, too full of bad first book malaise. Self-centered characters, melodrama, doesn't know when to end, fills up the book with drugs and bodily fluid as if he invented them.

I'd like Cummings to write something about adults.

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