Ned Brummel, a history professor living in Maine with his partner of 12 years, is sent on a trip down memory lane when he receives word that an old fr...moreNed Brummel, a history professor living in Maine with his partner of 12 years, is sent on a trip down memory lane when he receives word that an old friend is dying. While Ned travels to Chicago to be by his friend's bedside we are taken through his life story. Ned's profession is not an accident, as he will prove to be an excellent guide through a tumultuous time period.
Born in 1950, Ned is an accidental witness to a wildly active period in gay history. He comes of age at the same time that the Stonewall riots occur, spends a tour in Vietnam, navigates the minefield of the AIDS crisis, witnesses the era of Don't Ask Don't Tell, and settles into the modern age of It Gets Better. It's like a primer on gay history for the last sixty years, which has proven to be a fascinating time of hardship and strife, but also of progress and change. Any gay man wanting to know what it was like to live as a gay man in the latter half of the 20th century would do well to pick up this novel. But this isn't a mere history lesson, so don't be daunted. Ned's life brushes with historical events in a manner similar to Forrest Gump, without so much of the cloying. One of my big pet peeves is when an author tries so desperately hard to contrive a way for his or her characters to be present at every significant event during a certain time period. For the most part, Ford makes it seem natural. It helps that some of the period details are merely hinted at. Ned sees a brassy singer performing in a bathhouse and speculates that she's got a big future. The lady in question is never named, but it seems clear that he means Bette Midler. These moments are fun. There are, however, some that don't work. Like when Ned and his friend Jack remark that Gloria Vanderbuilt's six-year old son Anderson Cooper is clearly gay. That's a touch too prescient (and a bit of an eye-roll).
Like I said, I don't want to get too caught up in the historical angle and scare you off. The personal story driving Ned's narrative doesn't deserve short shrift. It's a story of friendship, love, coming of age, and finding your own place in the world. It begins with Ned and Jack, neighbors born just one day apart. They are sure they will be best friends for life. In adolescence they realize they are both gay and begin experimenting, deepening their connection. All seems to be going well until they go to college and meet Andy, a seemingly heterosexual roommate that both Jack and Ned can't resist. Lust and resentment bloom, and the three men spend the next thirty years falling into and out of each other's lives. Hard times, good times, relationships, break-ups, swinging singles. Illness. Death. My god, it's like a gay version of Beaches.*
Is it a perfect novel? No. It has flaws. But it's a sweet story and well-told. It deserves to be read and experienced.
For more Great LGBT Book Recommendations, please visit the LGBT Books page on my blog. (less)
Dexter's Dark Passenger has been an integral part of him for as long as he can remember. It's the source of his devilish urges but it also acts as som...moreDexter's Dark Passenger has been an integral part of him for as long as he can remember. It's the source of his devilish urges but it also acts as something of a guide. It helps him recognize evil when he encounters it. It feeds him clues to help him unravel mysteries. It keeps him safe. Dexter has always assumed that the Dark Passenger was more of a figurative term for a psychotic urge that gripped him when he witnessed the brutal murder of his mother as a toddler. It has never occurred to him that there could be more to the story.
All that changes when Dexter reports to a crime scene of a double homicide where two female students were burned and beheaded, their heads replaced with ceramic bullheads. Something about this situation alarms his Dark Passenger. Terrifies it, actually. To the point where it skedaddles, leaving Dexter despondent and alone and confused. Not to mention the target of a mysterious cult that would like to kill him.
Navigating the world without his Dark Passenger isn't easy, and to top it all off Dex's family life is causing him great stress as well. Rita is busily planning their wedding. Her kids, Astor and Cody, have revealed to Dexter that they have Dark Passengers of their own, which means he has to take them on as pupils to teach them the Harry Code. All while avoiding the cult members that want to kill him.
Let's not dance around it: attempting to explain Dexter's Dark Passenger was a mistake. It works fine as a philosophic construct, or at least as a mysterious, undefined concept in the Dexterverse. Explaining it was always going to be a tough sell, and using demonic possession by ancient evil spirits like Molloch was a particularly groan-inducing way to do it. It's just silly. Thankfully, future installments to date omit all references to evil spirits, which means we can pretty much pretend this never happened.
Astor and Cody requiring training is an interesting concept as presented here. When I first read this book I was very intrigued as to where it was going to take the story. Well, I have the benefit of experience now, and the road ahead is pretty bumpy. Basically, we're going to start getting saddled with a lot of stories where the kids get kidnapped to bring us into the final showdown. And it just gets repetitive very fast. You've been warned.
Lindsay remains a wickedly clever writer, but unfortunately Dexter in the Dark is where the book series jumped the shark. He's been trying to bring back the magic of the first two books ever since, with varying degrees of success. I'd say it's worth hanging in there (clearly, I have). I wouldn't blame you if you threw in the towel, but there are some twisted little set-ups ahead that you might miss out on.
Meet Dexter Morgan. He loves food, lives in Miami, and works as a blood spatter analyst for the Homicide Division of the Miami Police Department. He a...moreMeet Dexter Morgan. He loves food, lives in Miami, and works as a blood spatter analyst for the Homicide Division of the Miami Police Department. He also moonlights as a serial killer. But he is not your average bloodthirsty menace to society. Oh no. This intrepid killer happens to have been adopted by a noble policeman as a young child. A policeman named Harry who recognized his son's violent tendencies and, instead of condemning him, decided to train him to control those homicidal urges. Instead of going on a bloody rampage, Harry schemes to sate Dexter's so-called "Dark Passenger" that occasionally demands bloody satisfaction by teaching him to carefully vet a pool of victims who, it could be argued, the world would be a better place without. Scum who, for one reason or another, have slipped through the cracks in the justice system. In honor of his adopted father, Dexter calls it the Harry Code, and he takes it very seriously.
Harry also taught his son the art of camouflage, and Dexter proved to be an excellent student. His daily life has become an artfully arranged facade designed to fool the world into thinking he's just your average Joe, or at least trick you into looking the other way. His work for the Police Department is central to this. It gives him a powerful cover, access to a wide variety of forensic knowledge (and tools) that will help him cover his tracks, and as an added bonus any of his DNA that shows up at a crime scene will be ruled out because of his presence as an agent of the law. To complete the image of normalcy, Dexter even landed himself a family front in the form of hisgirlfriend Rita, who has two kids from a previous marriage and is thoroughly blind to his secret hobby.
Just like in the TV show, Dexter's first adventure introduces us to our antihero by having him face down a savage serial killer who is leaving a steady stream of dead prostitutes in his wake (here he is known as the Tamiami Slasher, on TV he became the Ice Truck Killer). Dexter first gets involved because his sister, Deborah (Harry's biological child) desperately wants to transfer from Vice to Homicide and she plans to use Dexter's curiously accurate "hunches" (tidbits of info gleaned from his Dark Passenger) to solve the case and get promoted. As he gets closer, Dexter begins to admire the killer's handiwork and recognizes some of his own methods.
Things start to slide out of control when it becomes clear that the killer has noticed Dexter, too. And he seems to know all about him. And he's moving closer. Before he knows it, Dexter is caught up in a deadly situation that will find him choosing where his loyalties lie.
This first venture into Dexter's world is also the best in the series. Jeff Lindsay shows off some truly twisted creativity as well as a razor-sharp wit. This darkly comic thriller will definitely amuse you at the same time it makes you squirm with discomfort. And once you've turned the final page, you would be hard pressed not to immediately reach for the next installment.
Warning: spoilers if you haven't read the first book yet
Dexter's once-tidy world has gotten pretty shaken up. His brother Brian, the Tamiami slasher,...moreWarning: spoilers if you haven't read the first book yet
Dexter's once-tidy world has gotten pretty shaken up. His brother Brian, the Tamiami slasher, had sought to create a partnership with him and now has vanished--perhaps forever--to evade capture from the police. The Department is still reeling from the death of Laguerta. Dexter's sister Deborah knows his deadly secret now and is avoiding him. And to make it all worse, Dexter's nemesis on the police force, Sergeant Doakes, has gotten even more suspicious of him than ever, going so far as to tail Dexter everywhere he goes.
Understandably, with all that raging around him, Dexter is lying low these days. He's trying to be the attentive boyfriend and father figure he usually only pretends to be. But as you can probably imagine, life under a microscope doesn't suit our Dexter very well, and his Dark Passenger is getting more and more restless. The likelihood that Dexter will snap under the pressure is increasing every day.
So for Dexter it's something of a blessing when a series of bizarre mutilations pops up in Miami. Someone has been surgically torturing men into grotesque forms and leaving them alive to ruin their psyches as well as their bodies. And this someone seems to have a connection to Doakes' military past, as well as Deborah's new boyfriend, detective Kyle Chutsky.
Dexter's loyalties are tested once again when Deborah needs him to help her find the killer to keep Chutsky safe, even if it means saving Doakes in the process. And even if it means inserting himself into an incredibly dangerous situation with a desperately unhinged man who will do anything for revenge.
Once again, Lindsay's macabre imagination and twisted sense of humor make this thriller a true page-turner. The reader is caught between admiration of his creativity and horror at what he uses it to come up with.
Maura returns from a business trip in Paris to find that her home is a crime scene and everyone acting like they saw a ghost the second she walked in...moreMaura returns from a business trip in Paris to find that her home is a crime scene and everyone acting like they saw a ghost the second she walked in the door. Turns out there's a body in Maura's driveway. A body that looks exactly like Maura.
During the course of the investigation, Maura learns that she had a twin sister who had been digging into their past in order to find Maura. Finding her sister's killer may just put Maura in the crosshairs herself. Meanwhile, Rizzoli is eight months pregnant with FBI Agent Gabriel Dean's baby and trying to reconcile her traditional status as a hard-headed loner with her new life as a wife and mother-to-be. It doesn't help when she and Maura uncover a nation-wide baby-smuggling racket that doesn't exactly keep the mothers alive when they're done with them. Could the very pregnant Rizzoli be putting herself in danger, too?
Maura has always been an introspective character (almost painfully so), so it's nice to see her off on a plotline that gives her cause to gaze at her own navel so fiercely. Discovering that her mother is a serious criminal as well as a mental case is something that she will have to struggle to come to terms with over the next few books, and it carries much more weight as a burden than the failed marriage that haunted her up to this point.
As for Jane, well, her plotline is half good. I love the conflict inherent to her pregnancy situation. As I said, she's trying to reconcile her commitment to her job and her hardheadedness about letting anyone into her life with the reality of her situation. It's a genuine conflict and Gerritsen handles it very well as a character-redefining moment. It's what I like about the book series compared to the TV show: actual growth over time.
Where this one goes a little off the rails for me is that it gets too convenient when the baby smuggling comes up. Maura had already found herself in the crosshairs as she investigated her past, so I guess Gerritsen felt like the stakes needed to be raised for Jane as well. She ultimately makes a great point about the fierceness of maternal instincts, but to me it's a plotpoint that feels a little ham-handed. The baby-in-potential danger theme will be handled much more organically in the next installment.
For more Rizzoli & Isles, check out my blog post comparing the book series and the TV series.
Detective Rizzoli is back, and there's a new Medical Examiner on the scene. You guessed it! Maura Isles makes her grand entrance in the second install...moreDetective Rizzoli is back, and there's a new Medical Examiner on the scene. You guessed it! Maura Isles makes her grand entrance in the second installment of the series, and the not-so-dynamic duo is born. I say it like that because they never exactly form a partnership the way most duos do. They have a relationship born of respect and dedication to their jobs, but the Rizzoli and Isles who sit on the couch with a glass of wine discussing their sex lives on the TV show? Never gonna happen here.
Anyway, Rizzoli is shocked to her core when a series of murders mimicking the Surgeon begin cropping up. Forced to face her fears regarding the case that almost ended her life and left her physically scarred, Rizzoli teams up with FBI agent Gabriel Dean to get to the bottom of this case before the Surgeon's deadly acolyte comes after her to finish the job.
It's another solid mystery thriller, but it's a relief that Gerritsen trod new ground in the next book. Using an acolyte to force Rizzoli to deal with the damage the Surgeon did was a nice touch, but it feels like narrative wheel-spinning at times. It doesn't help that she essentially assumes the role of Catherine Cordell here: the smart, defiant woman who got away from a surgical killer, desperately trying to prevent someone from finishing the job.
And yes, Rizzoli once again falls for the male lead, but in this case Dean is more of her equal in a relationship. Gerritsen plays off the question of whether or not Rizzoli can trust the dashing agent by tying it to her severe relationship phobia and general trust issues.
For more Rizzoli & Isles, check out my blog post comparing the book series and the TV series. (less)
“There's not some finite amount of pain inside us. Our bodies and minds just keep manufacturing more of it."
Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to re-use t...more“There's not some finite amount of pain inside us. Our bodies and minds just keep manufacturing more of it."
Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to re-use the intro to my review of Tom Perrotta's last novel, The Abstinence Teacher. Trust me, it still applies:
"If you're picking up a Tom Perrotta novel there are a few things you can be sure to expect. First and foremost is Perrotta's signature wit - fiercely intelligent, unsparing, and laugh-out-loud funny, the kind of dead-on satire that most writers can only aspire to. Secondly, a cast of disaffected characters, usually adults in a state of arrested development. These emotional time bombs propel the plot along with the help of feature number three: a moral quandary to act as a catalyst for their unraveling. Election had its unethical campaign practices, Little Children the double whammy of adultery and how to react to the town's newest resident (a convicted pedophile), and The Abstinence Teacher tackles religious fanaticism in small town America"
Well, The Leftovers has the largest catalyst for unraveling of them all: the Rapture. Or maybe it wasn't the Rapture. No one knows for sure. All they do know is that a sizable percentage of the population up and disappeared into thin air one day. What exactly happened that day is the subject of wild, often violent debate. Better to call it the Sudden Departure instead and start trying to put the pieces of your life (and society) back together again.
The center of Perrotta's novel is the Garvey clan: Laurie, who leaves her family to join the Guilty Remnant, a cult whose members mutely wander the streets of Mapleton; Kevin, the town's new mayor, trying to instill a sense of hope in his community despite his confusion and guilt at the break-up of his own family; Tom, who ran away from home to follow a prophet; and Jill, a troubled teenager who witnessed her best friend's disappearance. The narrative bounces between them and a few other characters like Nora Durst, who is the only remaining member of her family--struggling to deal with the loss and guilt over a terrible secret. The characters are compelling, if typical for a Perrotta novel. The men are mostly emotionally stunted and immature. The women are mostly depressed and unsatisfied with their lot in life. These are the kind of people who know the right things to do and honestly believe that they want to do them--even as they choose to make the wrong decisions.
And here's the thing about The Leftovers: it works. It does. If anyone has an excuse to be depressed or emotionally immature, it's people who have been left behind by a mass disappearance. And there are moments of The Leftovers that are profoundly shocking. But for the first time the Perrotta schtick feels ... old. It seems grossly unfair to say that I would like to see something a little new from Perrotta next time out, considering the man just wrote a novel about the Rapture (kinda) and all, but well, there we are. I said it. His early work (Bad Haircut, for example) was really darned good without such heavily thematic overtones. And even though he's really, really good at writing characters that just can't seem to grow up (for the men) or get happy (the women), I'd like to see him do something different. It's the Jhumpa Lahiri factor--everything is exceptionally good but begins to feel entirely familiar all too soon. Bear in mind that I was able to recycle the intro to my review of Perrotta's last novel.
Do I recommend The Leftovers? Yeah. Sure. But I confess I'm concerned about what it portends for the future of Perrotta's novels. It will be interesting to see what he does next. Will the trend continue, or will he break new ground?
Dr. Isles takes center stage for the first time in a doozy of an installment. This sets up the dynamic the books will from here on out: alternating vi...moreDr. Isles takes center stage for the first time in a doozy of an installment. This sets up the dynamic the books will from here on out: alternating viewpoints. One is Jane-centric, the next focuses on Maura, and so on.
It's winter, and an incredibly brutal murder committed in a secluded convent is doing nothing to stave off the chill in the air. A woman about to take her vows has been killed and a nun has been left critically injured. During the autopsy Maura discovers something shocking: the murdered woman had recently given birth. Nothing is as it seems, and as Rizzoli and Isles pursue the truth about what happened at Our Lady of Divine Light they begin to uncover dangerous truths.
It's a bang-up case: twisted and gruesome and with an overwhelming sense of unease for the reader.
Plus, Maura meets Daniel Brophy, a handsome priest who occasionally works with the homicide squad to provide comfort to the survivors of violent crimes. Thus begins a dance of attraction all the more compelling the more they try to reject it.
For more Rizzoli & Isles, check out my blog post comparing the book series and the TV series. (less)