Monday, January 18, 2010

My List of Top LGBT Themed Books.

In 2009 I read over 35 lgbt themed books, and posted over 20 reviews on my blog and my GLBT Literature column. The 15 books I didn't post reviews for were the ones I didn't finish for one reason or another. Of all those books, many wonderful and many not so, I'd like to present the 10 that I enjoyed the most. I list them in no particular order.

Safe as Houses by Alex Jeffers
Publisher: Lethe Press.

Allen Pasztory was raised by Hungarian immigrant parents who were both deaf. Even though he hears, he was brought up talking with his hands and facial expressions. He meets Jeremy while working at an advertizing agency in San Francisco. The two begin a rocky relationship until Allen finds out Jeremy is raising a son, Toby. The idea of being a family, of raising a child, is all that’s needed for Allen to commit to a long-term relationship. The three of them setup house in San Francisco and all seems to move along without a care, except that it’s the 80s and many of their friends are dying of AIDS.

Out of the blue, Allen takes a new job as an admissions officer at a prep school in Rhode Island, and it’s clear the move is because death is inching too close for comfort in the gay Mecca. Yes, Allen is HIV positive, and the move is him distancing himself from the dying.

While making a new life for himself and his small family (by this time Toby is a teenager), Allen’s nephew, Kit, comes to live with them as well. Together, as a loving family, they deal with Allen’s failing health in a touching and dignified way.

A Report From Winter, A Memoir by Wayne Courtois
Published by Lethe Press

In the dead of winter, after a ten-year absence, Wayne Courtois journeys back to his family home in Maine to attend to his dying mother. He is soon assaulted by three facts: the bitter cold winters in Maine are much more brutal than he remembered, his mother’s cancer is much further along than he anticipated, and his emotionally distant brother will be of no help in caring for their mother or attending to funeral arrangements.

Too weak to move, eat or speak, Wayne’s mother can only moan. The morphine drip is her sole comfort. Wayne can only hold her hand while reliving childhood memories of a dysfunctional family life that seems woven into the harsh realities of the bitter cold weather. Sinking into emotional turmoil, Wayne calls on Ralph, his longtime partner, to help him through this distressing ordeal.

Do You Remember Tulum by Alex Jeffers
PUBLISHER: CreateSpace

In 1977, Alex, a nineteen-year-old, would-be novelist, relocates to a small town in southern Mexico. Shortly after his arrival, his boss arrives with ten students on spring break, and Alex must act as driver and chaperone to the, only somewhat younger, students. Among the youths that have come to explore ancient Mayan sites are dark, sexy Peter and quiet, mysterious Keenan. During the two week expedition where Alex pilots the boys across the Yucatan in an old van, Peter and Keenan’s sexual advances upend the writer’s comfortable life, making him question everything he knows about love and relationships.

A dozen years later, with a spur-of-the-moment decision, Alex leaves his Boston lover and returns to Mexico to explore his past. At Tulum he begins a rather long and detailed letter to his abandoned lover, to explain his abrupt, inadequately explained departure. As Alex tries to explain the effect the 1977 trip had on him, a then confused and frightened youth, he pours his guilt, regrets, desires, and love onto the pages of the letter, letting us know how the youth became a man capable of expressing love.

Angel Land by Victor Banis
Published by Quest

Victor Banis takes the reader into the future, late in the 21st Century, when the United States has disintegrated into territories ruled by Fundamental Christians. Catholics, Baptists and Jews are registered as heretics, and gays are herded into walled ghettos that are reminiscent of the Jewish slums of Nazi Germany. In this setting, Harvey Milk Walton, a young gay man on the run from the religious authorities, finds that his only option to escape execution is to hide in the gay ghetto, but he soon finds himself jumping from the frying pan into the fire, because the ghetto holds its own lethal threat: the Sept virus. Sept is the seventh and deadliest mutation of the AIDS virus of the Twentieth Century, but unlike AIDS, no one is exactly sure how Sept is transmitted, which makes it all the more frightening.
In a crumbling totalitarian society, where evil masquerades as piety, gay people are cut off from the rest of humanity and dying of the Sept virus, Harvey Milk Walton faces great danger and agonizing choices which could affect the future of mankind. Can he muster enough strength to live up to his martyred namesake of long ago and rise to lead a rebellion?

False Colors by Alex Beecroft
Published by Running Press

In 1762, John Cavendish is given his first command, the HMS Meteor. Along with a motley crew and a handsome second in command (Lt. Alfie Donwell), Cavendish receives orders for a suicide mission to attack a fleet of pirates off the coast of North Africa. The captain’s stern moral attitude keeps a distance between himself and Donwell, but before HMS Meteor can engage the enemy, Donwell is captured and beaten to within an inch of his life. Cavendish leads a daring rescue mission and recovers his lieutenant, then unleashes a bold attack and manages to inflict his revenge, complete his mission, and flee the enemy relatively unscathed.

But before they reach the safety of port Gibraltar, Cavendish is wounded during another sea battle, and it’s Lt. Donwell’s turn to play nursemaid. During Cavendish’s recuperation, he and Donwell slowly become close friends – born from each other’s brush with death – so close that Donwell misinterpret the captain’s familiarity and makes an improper advance, professing his love for Cavendish. The captain immediately rejects him, and fearing recrimination which could lead to hanging, he takes a berth on another ship, HMS Britannia where he comes under the protection of Captain Farrant, a gay man whom Donwell has a history. They quickly become lovers, and Farrant tells Donwell, "Stop chasing love. Love is not for men like us. We share a deviancy we must pay for with lives of exemplary duty...You will get yourself hanged if you think otherwise.” Although that seems to be a theme in the story, it’s impossible for the hot blooded Lieutenant to follow such advice.

The Unborn Spouse Situation by Matt Rauscher
Publisher: Lulu

Augie Schoenburg is twenty-two, gay, a senior at college, an aspiring filmmaker, and desperately lonely. When he moves into The Harley Hut, the wildest party house on campus, life gets very complicated because he is constantly surrounded by a bevy of hot, supposedly straight, party boys – or so he believes. Augie’s five new housemates all know he is gay, and, on the surface, are fine with it. But after several weeks of living together, sexual tensions rise as all six men struggle with their inner demons. When Augie falls hard for one housemate, Victor Radhakrishna, his world begins to crumble. The other housemates turn against him, as does several of his friends, pushing him onto a rollercoaster of emotional ups and downs. The funny thing is, Victor seems to enjoy the gay sexual attention. He even gives back as much as he takes. Yes, for a horny, gay boy living with a rowdy straight crowd, life can get very complicated indeed.

Strange Fortune by Josh Lanyon
Publisher: Blind Eye Books

Valentine Strange is delighted to accept a job from the Holy Order to find and retrieve an antique diadem of the Goddess Purya from somewhere in the distant White Mountains. Although the mountains are filled with bandits and scoundrels, this soldier of fortune has little fear of anything short of not being paid for his services. But when the Holy Order insists that Master Aleister Grimshaw, a witch with a history of insanity, join the expedition, Strange realizes there is more at stake than the retrieval of a relic.

As the small band begins their search, Strange and Grimshaw forge a tenuous friendship. But they are followed, step by step, not only by bandits, but by a demonic power more powerful than anyone could imagine. When the stakes are raised well beyond the danger level and they are betrayed at every turn, they are forced to rely on each other for survival. Finding the diadem could spell doom for Strange and Grimshaw, or could it be their only hope of survival?

The Phoenix by Ruth Sims

The Phoenix by Ruth Sims
published by Lethe Press

This compelling Victorian saga brings together two men. The first, Kit St. Denys (starts off as Jack Rourke), grew to the doorstep of manhood as a gutter rat in the slums of London. He suffered from poverty, a weakling brother, a prostitute mother, and a brutally abusive father. The one silver lining in his life was, by luck, that he established a connection with the theater, and began an acting career that would eventually lead to fame and riches, but only after Kit’s mother leaves them, his brother dies at the hand of his father, and Kit stabs his father in a vicious fight. To hide Kit from the law, a rich theater owner adopts him and changes his identity.
The other man, Nicholas Stuart, was destined to follow in the footsteps of his father, a poor village doctor. Nicholas however, runs off to study at the university, and becomes a highly qualified surgeon, respected by peers. He opens a clinic for London’s poor and lives a frugal, passionless life, until the day he accompanies friends to the theater and sees Kit St. Denys on stage. Nicholas is entranced by Kit, and when an act of luck brings him to Kit’s dressing room after the play, the two men are enchanted by each other in such strong terms that their budding love transcends time, distance, and a host of obstacles.

Able Was I by Drew Banks
Published by Dot Dash Press

Wandering through Europe on a post-college vacation, Grey Tigrett spends an unforgettable day on Elba, an island off the coast of Italy. During his stay, he experiences his first gay sex as he and an older, married man fall into a passionate situation that neither can control. For Grey Tegrett, it was a life-altering experience that allowed him to fully embrace his gayness. And for the first time in his life, perhaps the only time, he felt at peace, even happy.

Fourteen years later, Grey Tigrett finds himself adrift in a mundane life, impotent to change what he has grown to loath. He lives in a wonderful loft in a fashionable part of Manhattan, has a socialite lover, great executive job. Everything should be swimming, but he sinks deeper into despair, retreating deeper into his imagination and away from his meaningless life.

On the eve of the new millennium, a series of tragic events leads Grey back to Elba in a desperate attempt to find himself, and hopefully rediscover the happiness he once found there. He searches for that married man who changed his life, but finds the man’s grandson instead. The two hit it off as friends and seem to be heading towards a relationship. But wait, is this what Grey is looking for, another island romance, or is it just another form of escape? Is it possible to reconcile the future by delving into the past? Will Elba be his downfall or his savior?

And forgive me if I include my personal favorite of the year:
The Lonely War by Alan Chin
Published by Zumaya Publishing

The key issue keeping the U.S. armed forces from going beyond Don't Ask Don't Tell to give gay servicemen equal rights is a blind fear of love relationships forming, not between enlisted soldiers but between officers and soldiers, which would undermine the chain of command. The Lonely War tackles this topic head on. Set in WWII, it tells the story of an enlisted sailor who falls in love with his executive officer. When the crew of the USS Pilgrim become POWs in Changi, a notoriously brutal prison camp, this sailor is elevated though hardship and love to discover his inner resources and extraordinary courage, allowing him to sacrifice himself to save the life of his beloved.

Like most war novels, The Lonely War envelops all that is unique to war, the horror of battle, overcoming fear, the cruelty of soldiers, the loyalty and camaraderie of men caught in a desperate situation. Yet, it stands alone in two important ways. First, it is a passionate story written about a tender love developing between an officer and an enlisted man, revealing a rare and dignified portrait of a couple struggling to satisfy desire within the confines of the military code of conduct. Even more importantly however, it describes the heart-wrenching measures of how much one man will sacrifice to save the life and reputation of the man he loves.

Hope you enjoy,
alan chin


Steve Berman said...


I'm really pleased and flattered that Lethe Press has been involved with releasing or reprinting so many of your 2009 favorites. I hope we can repeat the effort in 2010 and 2011. Ruth has a new novel releasing this year and Alex Jeffers has a collection in 2011.

Best regards,

Steve Berman

Alex Beecroft said...

Wow! I'm delighted that False Colors made your top ten, and even more honoured when I see what great company it's keeping. Thank you!

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jessewave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jessewave said...

What a wonderful list. I see many of my personal favourites here

Based on your list I'm going to have to dig deep to buy even more books. :)

Anonymous said...

It is rather interesting for me to read this post. Thanx for it. I like such themes and anything that is connected to them. BTW, why don't you change design :).