> Queer Books Please: May 2013

Friday, May 31, 2013

Episode 20 - brackets, crime, horror

This week Mary breaks down the YA/Childrens category of Lamba Literary Awards. Turns out using brackets and turning it into a tournament didn't make it any easier to judge books against each other. Will she be driven to tears as she has to chose between many fantastic titles? Plus two great novels with secondary lesbian characters, and the winner of last week's contest revealed.

You can listen below the cut, or download the mp3 file directly. You can also subscribe on iTunes.

Also below is the my final bracket for my Lammy Madness experiment. If you want to hear my meandering to a champion, all my explanations are in the podcast.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

More first round match ups!


 Matt, the protagonist of PERSONAL EFFECTS, is angry. Really angry. For good reason. His mother is dead. His father is a bully. His brother died serving in the military in Iraq. I haven't read a YA book with a young man as a narrator as a long time, and thus found Matt's rage to be novel and compelling. This the one of two books (ARISTOTLE AND DANTE is the other) where much of the suspense in the book is generated from the possibility that the narrator might explode and do violence to those around him. It's certainly interesting and different from books aimed at girls, although I read these two books back to back and by the time I was finishing the second it was losing its power.

Angry boys are interesting, until you realize that it's apparently their natural condition.

The sheer rage in this book is particularly interesting when you compare it to SILHOUETTE OF A SPARROW, a book where my lasting impression is the image of two girls caught in the rain on a lake, and kissing under a boat, the picture of sweetness. It's not that SILHOUETTE lacks drama, or painful circumstances in the past and present, but hope and love and inner strength overcome.

Head to head, it's an interesting match up. Both books feature top-notch narration which made them fun, entertaining reads. I think they are well matched in terms of literary merits. What about gay content? PERSONAL EFFECTS is overtly political on the issue of Don't Ask Don't Tell, and gay people in the military. It's an Important Message book that has a great chance to really get a lot of young people thinking about these issues. And I like that the book is very very clear in the end that Matt's brother had a relationship that was romantic, sexual, and in all ways comparable to a heterosexual relationship.

But PERSONAL EFFECTS is still a book that looks from the outside in. Whereas the narrator of SILHOUETTE is herself gay. And in general I those are the books I most want to see out there, representing the queer community.

Yes, I'm going to do it. SILHOUETTE wins! Moving on to the final four! In case you can't tell, I think this is a really special book. Although its scope is modest, the execution is flawless, and it's such a sweet book, such a pleasure to read. When I talked about it on the podcast, I mentioned that my reaction to it was: this is the exact book I wanted to find when I was 14.


ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE versus BEAUTIFUL MUSIC FOR UGLY CHILDREN. I like that these two books are matched up against each other. Both deal with identities that don't personally share (gay boys and ftm transgender). I enjoyed each quite a bite. BEAUTIFUL MUSIC reminded me of the coming out lesbian books I read when I was a teenager--straightforward, sweet, the primary drama coming from facing up against hate. Many of Gabe's experiences as a transgender teen seem general, intended as an all around primer for the reader on transgender issues. Which is good and important! Especially when there aren't many books dealing with a topic, I think this approach makes sense, makes it accessible and useful to as many people as possible. 

ARISTOTLE AND DANTE takes a lot more risks. The book has a really exciting, interesting style, combining Ari's blunt, raw narration with a huge amount of dialogue. At times this book reads like a stage drama. I found it awesome and interesting!  I also loved that this book dealt heavily with Ari's relationship with his parents. The conflict and affection between parents and teenagers are very well depicted here--a welcome change from many books that look to keep parents backstage so that the teenagers are free to have as many adventures as they want. The relationship between Ari and Dante felt real to me, their long friendship and flirtation crackling with real chemistry, even when they seem unaware of their feelings.

I'm going with ARISTOTLE and DANTE as the winner of this match up! Love the bold, dialogue heavy approach, a cherry on top of an all ready notable novel.

Final four match ups are set! A quick preview of them, plus the updated bracket (once I get home and can edit the file) underneath the cut. Remember that these match ups plus the finals will be in my podcast this week!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

First round match ups....

.... let's get ready to rumble! Keep reading for the first match ups in LAMMY Madness! If you're lost, check out the first post in this series


 THE PLAY IN ROUND. These two fine books are battling it out for a chance to go up against the #1 seed. Both tackle familiar YA story lines. SILHOUETTE is a coming of age historical romance. A girl discovers herself and finds love with an exciting new friend. KISS THE MORNING STAR is a coming of age road trip romance. A girl discovers herself, deals with a lot of pain and issues, and
loves her edgy and dangerous best friend.

SILHOUETTE shines in this match up. The story is full of incredible sweetness, the interesting setting, and an ability to keep things moving without resorting to melodrama. KISS THE MORNING STAR goes big early, with questions of religion, a dead mother, and a road trip that gets dangerous and dramatic (Guns! Dangerous boys! Drugs!) awfully fast. If I can make a sports metaphor (and I can, because this whole post series is a big sports metaphor) SILHOUETTE is a book that plays for the whole game, solid all around, while  KISS THE MORNING STAR didn't hold my attention in all ways.

That means SILHOUETTE OF A SPARROW is moving on to the next round! Will this solid, all around well-done read have a chance against #1 seed PERSONAL EFFECTS, a book that combines a realistic, modern voice with super hot topic issues?

Our next match up!


#2 seed CAMERON POST goes against #7 seed ADAPTATION.

First, full disclosure. In the bracket of my heart ADAPTATION probably wins this and any other match up in this entire tournament, as its particular blend of near future, conspiratorial science fiction is right up my alley. Up against some of these Big Issue books that have also been nominated, I can't help but root for Adaptation because it avoids some of those issues for pure entertainment. And therefore comes out and something of an underdog. I love a good underdog story...  But this is not just about my preferred books--I'm trying to think about things in the way the Lambda committee will, judging these books on gay content and literary merit.

Although they probably won't use as many sports metaphors when they're hashing this out.

CAMERON POST is a powerhouse of a book. Yes it's another coming of age / coming out story,  but CAMERON POST is a book accepts the conventions of the genre, and then knocks them out of the park with thoughtful writing, a fantastic main character, and a wonderful setting in rural Montana. It also addresses some Big Issues when Cam finds herself at a de-gaying conversion camp, but the best parts of the book simply let us follow Cam through her life and enjoy the ride.

ADAPTATION is a forward thinking book, a look into the exciting places where Queer YA lit might be heading. Characters are diverse in race and sexuality, and that diversity is organic rather than a Big Issue. I love how coming out in this book is dealt with in a way that feels realistic, and up to date with the way society deals with queerness. Also important is that fact that this is an exciting, adventurous book that should appeal to all readers, gay and straight. Not all coming out tales can make that claim.

All that being said, I've got to go with CAMERON POST as the winner in this match up. Cam is such a commanding character, a memorable narrator who elevates this book above so many other coming out stories. And while I commend ADAPTATION for pushing beyond convention I think in this particular award a book that exemplifies the best that the coming out genre has to offer is the one that needs to move on to the next round.

What book will THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST face? The next contest is between a #3 seed and a #6 seed. 


Two books in a head to head match up that are at their heart, very similar. They both engage in a certain amount of magical realism. And they both have very big hearts disguised, general messages of tolerance and love and the general sameness and connectedness of everyone. But, there can be only one!

EVERY DAY may be my biggest “missed opportunity” book of the year. It has a great concept. The protagonist is called A. A's consciousness enters a new body every day. Now I think you can say that a spirit moving from body to body regardless of gender and sex is a very queer concept, and A does at times inhabit the bodies of gay and trans people. But I never felt like this idea was pushed or explored as far as it could have been. A lot of complicated themes regarding sexuality, sex, and gender, get simplified into a "love is love" sort of theme--admirable, but not as complex as I personally might like.

On the other hand, it's a worthy message for young people to read these days. And the low key but supernatural premise may bring some readers to this book who may not have been exposed to these sorts of themes at all. That's certainly a positive thing. 

ASK THE PASSENGERS is in some ways a more conventional book--a girl comes to terms with her sexuality, deals with homophobia, her parents, and all the other things that attend ones coming of age. But it includes some great elements that hadn't seen before. Astrid's anxiety about taking her physical relationship with her sort-of-girlfriend to the next step is very thoughtfully portrayed. And her parents,  struggling alongside Astrid in small-town life, shine in a way that adult characters in YA books rarely get the chance to.

This is a difficult battle. I find to my surprise that while I loved ASK THE PASSENGERS and merely liked EVERY DAY, I want to choose EVERY DAY for this reason: I appreciate it as a worthy attempt to try and tackle issues re: GBLT youth in a direct, challenging way, while still spinning an interesting tale.  And because I think the body jumping is such a wild and exciting concept!

EVERY DAY wins by a nose. 

Check out the updated bracket below the cut. And come back tomorrow evening for the rest of the first round match ups!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Lammy award madness!

Next week the 25th annual Lambda Literary Awards will be announced! We've had the nominees for a month or two, and I've been thinking about doing my own take on some of the categories. The "Lammy" awards are awesome. They provide exposure to many worthy LGBT books in a wide range of categories from lesbian romance to general fiction to poetry to YA and children's books. I could probably spend an entire year reading nominated books.

That being said, sometimes awards--especially when it comes time to declare one winner among many nominees--can irk me somewhat, because it all seems so arbitrary. Do you choose the book that's the most innovative, or the one that affected you personally, or the one that had the strongest plotting? According to the LLA website: Lambda Literary Awards are based principally on literary merit and on significant content relevant to Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) lives. Okay, but how much content is significant, and what is literary merit, and, well, it's complicated, and subjective!

So of course I decided, hey, I want a piece of the complicated subjective action! It started out as nothing more than a few crazy scribbles... but after some careful calculations. 

Behold! QBP presents: LAMMY AWARD MADNESS.

That's right. I'm breaking down the YA / Children's lit category, sport tournament style.  First, seeding, through a complicated (and subjective!) forumla. Then I go through the bracket,  match up by match up, through three rounds, until I crown a winner!

First let's talk about seeding. The final ranking of each book was calculated with two numbers.  The first being the book's Goodreads rating. The second a number determined by me using five different factors. Author Prestige, How Much Gay, Important Messages, Originality/Innovation, and the Mary Prerogative. Keep in mind that I wanted this number to be predictive rather than an indication of how much I personally liked it.

I added those two numbers together to get the final ranking/seeding for the bracket. Here's what I got. The first number is the Goodreads rating, the second is the total for my formula, the third the total.

1. PERSONAL EFFECTS by E. M. Kokie (4.06, 4.0) 8.06
2. THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST by emily m. danforth (3.98, 3.65) 7.63
3. ASK THE PASSENGERS by A. S. King (3.99, 3.6) 7.59
5. BEAUTIFUL MUSIC FOR UGLY CHILDREN by Kiristin Cronn-Mills (3.87, 3.3) 7.17
6. EVERY DAY by David Levithan  (4.01, 3.0) 7.01
7. ADAPTATION by Malinda Lo (3.56, 3.3) 6.86
8. SILHOUETTE OF A SPARROW by Molly Beth Griffin (3.7, 3.1) 6.8
9. KISS THE MORNING STAR by Elissa Janine Hoole (3.67, 2.35) 6.02

Okay, a couple things about these numbers.

First, an apology. THE ADVENTURES OF TULIP, BIRTHDAY WISH FAIRY by S Bear Bergman and Suzy Malik is not on the list. I haven't been able to locate a copy yet so I wasn't able to assess it. It's also really the only book on here for younger readers, and I wasn't sure if if it would make for a fun matchup in this format. BUT in atonement I am trying to get a hold of a copy so I can review it for the podcast. 

Second, when you're seeding for a tournament, the idea is to give the best competitors a good chance to get to the end, so that means I wanted to match up books that had a stronger case to be the winner of this award with books that might be seen as underdogs. PERSONAL EFFECTS pulled off a surprised #1 seed on the strength of a high Goodreads rating, a topical, important message, and the fact that it's a strong work from a debut author (new authors often generate excitement!) ADAPTATION may be my favorite read on this listen, but it's Goodreads rating was not as high (what the heck, people, ADAPTATION rocks!) and because it was mostly an adventure thriller it didn't get high marks for message-yness.

Third, notice that there's an odd number of books on this list. How's that going to work? Well, the first matchup is going to be a "play in" matchup. SILHOUETTE OF A SPARROW and KISS THE MORNING STAR will go head to head for a chance to get into the bracket against PERSONAL EFFECTS.

Okay, enough blabbering. BRACKET TIME.

 Aww yeah just look at those match ups. And here's when all the matchups will go up.

WEDNESDAY:  The "play in" round.  MISEDUCATION (2) versus ADAPTATION (7).  ASK THE PASSENGERS (3) versus EVER DAY (6). 

THURSDAY: PERSONAL EFFECTS (1) versus the winner of the "play in" round. ARISTOTLE AND DANTE  (4) versus BEAUTIFUL MUSIC.

FRIDAY/SATURDAY:  The final two rounds I'll "broadcast" on the podcast. And I'll provide write ups by the end of the weekend for those of you who rather read than listen.

Folks, this is going to be fun. Stay tuned over the next couple days!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Episode 19 - 'Zines

Although under the weather your intrepid host soldiers on. This show features reviews of books by Nairne Holtz, Louise Marley, and Katharine Beutner, and a look into the world of 'zines. Mary talks about the fantastic work of the folks over at Queer Zine Archive Project, and the classic collect of 'zine writing A GIRL'S GUIDE TO TAKING OVER THE WORLD. Plus, a chance for listeners to win a book from Mary's bookshelf!

You can listen  or download the mp3 file directly below the cut.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Episode 18 - Pansexuality and the Fantasy of Manners

Pansexual-Mannerspunk isn't quite a genre, but if it were, THE PRIVILEGE OF THE SWORD by Ellen Kushner and KUSHIEL'S DART by Jacqueline Carey would probably qualify. Reviews of those books, plus the graphic novel Y THE LAST MAN in this week's episode.

You can listen or download below the cut.

For next week's episode, I want to get some listener input.  Please feel free to ask me any question you like in the survey below. Now's your chance to get me to talk about what you're interested in!

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Episode 17 - Time Travel & Nuns & Willa Cather

Help me celebrate Mother's day by exploring some of the different ways lesbian motherhood is depicted in lesbian fiction. Take a crash course in Willa Cather so you can read her recently published letters and search for lesbian subtext. Plus reviews of books featuring time travel and nuns (not in the same book, unfortunately). 

You can stream or download the mp3 below the cut. The episode is also available on iTunes.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Episode 16 - Apocalypse books!

It's the end of the word--will lesbians inherit the earth? Zombies and plagues and other terrible things are leading to some fantastic books I know you're going to want to read. PLUS--which literary lesbian characters do you want to recruit for your zombie squad?

This episode is a little late--thanks for your patience! Listen or download below the cut or on itunes.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The zombie series AS THE WORLD DIES doesn't really have queer possibilities

... but I thought it did. And was bummed when that wasn't the case.

The First Days (As the World Dies, #1)Fighting to Survive  (As The World Dies, #2)Siege  (As The World Dies, #3)

Look at those ladies! I was excited about these books. Two women join forces in a post-apocalyptic zombie nightmare, fighting for their lives. That, plus the hint of queerness really sold me on this series.

I read the whole thing. In the end it was an enjoyable read, but not what I was hoping for.

First let’s talk about the plot related merits and demerits in this series. I did like a lot of this book. Frater writes a story that moves quickly, and she packs in a lot of gruesome mayhem into well thought out action scenes. In the second book, the survivors work to clear out a zombie infested hotel in a series of exciting, cinematic scenes that I really enjoyed. And throughout the books, no character is safe from a gruesome demise, something I always appreciate in a book.

But while Frater is often ruthless with her scenarios and her character deaths, she balances it out with inexplicable luxuries bestowed upon them. There are two kinds of conflict in this book: the lovingly thought out Zombie Battles, which are full of interesting situations, terrible turns of even, and heroic problem solving. And the other conflict, meant to bridge the time between battles, and is half hearted, logistically unexciting, and often way too easily taken care of. The human villains are always really deeply terrible people, so there’s rarely any moral question as to who is right and who is wrong during the all important human conflict part of the story. The power never goes out and much needed supplies always seem to be right on hand.

I liked a lot of this book in spite of its flaws. But I also spent a good portion of the book feeling sort of tricked.

You see, I thought this was going to be a queer book. And it’s not. Not really. Maybe the author didn’t know how the book would be marketed, but I felt sort of tricked for wanting there to be a bit of queerness, and then sort of.. dismissed, as a lesbian reader, frankly, by some of the things said in the book.

I’m going to try to explain.

The things that made me think this book would have queer possibilities

  • One of the main characters, Katie, has a wife who dies at the hand of zombies before the beginning of the book. Some of the promotional descriptions of the book mention this.
  • The other main character is a female.
  • Some people tagged it as LBGTQ on Goodreads. I found it on a list titled Lesbians Vs. Zombies
  • A blurb from All Things Urban Fantasy calls the book “Thelma & Louise meets The Walking Dead. We all know that Thelma & Louise is full of lesbianish subtext.
  • The book copy reads at the end: “It looks like the end of the world. But Katie and Jenni and many others will do whatever they have to to stay alive. Run, fight, pick each other up when they stumble, fall in love … anything is possible at the end of the world.”

And I know, you’re saying, there’s no promises there. You’re just seeing things, desperate for a good zombie story that might include some lesbian possibilities. Fair enough. But then I’m reading, and this happens:

Jenni wrapped her arms around Katie and held her tenderly. Her black hair was soft and soothing on Katie’s cold skin, and Katie leaned into her … Jennie tried to kiss her, very awkwardly and tentatively. Katie caught hold of her immediately and held her back. “Don’t.”

“I just want to make you feel—” Jenni mumbled, her face reddening.

“Don’t. I’m not your husband. I don’t need sex to comfort me.”

And so that’s interesting. I don’t mind that it doesn’t happen. I do sort of feel like it’s supposed to imply that there’s a bit of a spark—yes, a spark based on desperation and the end of the world and all that—but that’s still a spark! And interesting! Let them fight zombies, and struggle with that spark, explore it!

But then… Katie says something about just because she likes women doesn’t mean she likes ALL women. Which is fine. But it’s the apocalypse! It’s traumatic! You don’t even know if you’ll ever seen another woman again, and your war buddy is smoking hot and wants to cuddle? You’re going to put your foot down that firmly? … okay

And then… Katie comes out of the closet—as bisexual. Which is okay. But as soon as she does, I get this sinking feeling…

And then… Katie and Jenni arrive at a fort. And she has this reaction to THE FIRST GUY SHE MEETS AROUND HER AGE:

Looking up, Katie smiled as she took in his appearance. He was taller than she was and sturdily built, with curly brown hair and the nicest eyes she’d ever seen. He radiated gentle power and kindness … He seemed oddly familiar to her, and she instantly felt camaraderie with him … One of those quietly strong men who inspired people to great things … We’re going to fight this war together, Katie thought. You and me, Travis. We’re important, and now that we’re both here, things are going to happen. Do you feel it?
And by his gaze, she knew he felt it too.

And that’s it. Halfway through the book, all queer content swept away.  Unless you count getting defensive about your identity as a bisexual as queer content. I just found that kind of insulting, as if the author was trying to scold me for getting my hopes up that a woman who initially identified as a lesbian might engage in a lesbian relationship.

I’m interested to know if anyone else read this book expecting something a little more inclusive of a lesbian point of view, and how you felt about it. And if you’re bisexual—did you like how bisexuality was portrayed in this book?

One more point. When I say I’m interested in queer possibilities and identities, I’m including bisexuality in that. And I don’t think I need the woman to end up with another woman. A good example of a love triangle between two girls and a boy is ADAPTATION by Malinda Lo. That book works for me because I felt like the desire she feels for both genders is given equal weight, while acknowledging the differences. And the label of bisexual is less important than the feelings.

I guess I felt like the As The World Dies did the opposite. It made the label more important than the feelings.

Okay, I hope I didn’t piss off anyone too much with this review. If you’ve read this series, please tell me what you think! And if you are bisexual, can you tell me about any books I should check out that are particularly thoughtful about what it’s like to be bi?