Dead Ringer: young men rescuing each other from abusive childhoods

I loved basically everything about the story in Heidi Belleau and Sam Schooler’s Dead Ringer. This is not a story about two generically hot people who Clash Because Plot. It’s okay that some people like that, but the fact that This Wasn’t That made it way more interesting for me. This is also the type of story where you can skim the sex scenes if you’re not in the mood for them and still have an entire story left to enjoy.

It’s about two young men pushed into some very rotten corners by life: Brandon because of the toxic Christian homophobic parents who taught him to think he was worthless and then kicked him out (we don’t have to witness their shit on the page–which is a good authorial choice–just its aftermath as he deals with peeling away nineteen years of emotional scabs), and Percy, whose parents think his disability means they have the right to treat him like a toddler or like he has no right to an adult existence.

They meet because Percy has a huge adoring fanboy obsession with the dead movie-star grandfather Brandon resembles, and pretends to be, at an escort service for celebrity lookalikes. (This is basically James Dean although obviously it’s someone made up in the book so he could have his own backstory and family.) Brandon has a lot of issues with his grandfather, and he learns more and more about him with every few dozen pages that change his approach not only to the man but to his own life.

Percy’s actual villain comes in the form of a horrifying hired caregiver, who freaked me out every second she was on the page. Kudos to the authors both for exposing this kind of abusive, controlling ablist abuse and also for not having Percy be easy to gaslight. It was actually a huge relief as a reader to see him standing up to her most of the times she lied to him or said his friends were faking their affection to be PC, rather than instantly believing her as so many other stories might.

I’ve lost a bunch of family in recent years, and this made Brandon’s coping with the recent loss of the grandmother who stepped in and became his mother really resonate with me. I guess part of my healing process is reading about other people’s healing processes?

It’s not really my place as a civilian to say this but from hearing sex workers talk about problematic representation I can say that it was also a relief that Brandon does not leave the business when he and Percy become an item. I can also say that Brandon’s experiences–some clients are baffling just as with any other business, some clients are abusive just as with any other business, some clients are great to work with, some clients are annoying–match up with the sex worker blogs that I read.

I’m trying to figure out how I knew Brandon’s boss at the escort service was a trans woman, but anyway, she seemed cool and confident and there wasn’t the least bit of Tragic Trope about her, either. (Warning that the book does contain some pretty heavy references to Tragic Queers, but only in reference to the 1950’s and cis men.) There are some pretty cool cis lady characters, too.

This was a satisfying read while still containing enough curves in the road that it wasn’t too predictable, and just as much about Brandon clawing his way out of a bad outlook (and to a lesser extent, Percy getting free of his ablist environment) as it is about their romance. The two leading men had a lot of angst to overcome, but honestly, I think this is the kind of book that could have contained a lot more upsetting stuff than it did, and I was really glad that it didn’t. I don’t read queer lit to stress myself out. I’d rather watch us overcoming our problems, shredding our problems, and then feeding them to hungry cats–and then coming out into the sunlight covered in glitter.

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Lesbian vampire falls for complicated human woman

When I first started reading Everything Anise by Natalie Nicole-Bates, it seemed like it was going to be a pretty straightforward “vampire woman meets cute human woman, cue the sexual attraction, insert sex scene, boom” type of piece, but when the sex scene starts going wrong, I realized it was more complicated.

That was actually a nice surprise, although the love interest’s behavior in that scene was jarringly insulting (and a little implausible? I guess a drunk woman might start encouraging mutual masturbation while maintaining plausible deniability to herself that she’s still just “being friends”, but I don’t have enough personal experience with alcohol or drunk people to really know. Anyway, I gave it four stars on Goodreads instead of five because I just had a hard time reconciling the inevitable explanation with the initial behavior, but again, that might be my unfamiliarity with being that drunk.)

Anyway, instead of straightforward erotica we get an actual plot and actual story, so that’s why I was pleased at the surprise conflict. After all, I knew I was guaranteed a happy ending no matter what due to the publisher’s submission requirements (I, too, am published with this house), and to me, happy endings mean more when they are earned after hardship.

The main character eventually reveals the tragic story of how she became a vampire, and of her vampire family-of-choice (the story almost sets you up to think he’s an ex-lover but he’s not — she’s not bi, she’s a lesbian, and he was her brother-in-arms who just left to get married but still very close emotionally. I actually really enjoyed the setup for how they became so close.) She and the human interest have their misunderstandings to overcome, but it’s hot and sweet watching them go through it.

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Free short science fiction: nonbinary Jewish fiction by nonbinary Jewish author

I am so glad that there is nonbinary Jewish sci-fi out there, and what’s more, it’s free.

“None of you have been helping her maintain her shape,” the planetmind said. “We were promised the community would help her maintain her shape.”

“The–” She could not bring herself to say what she wanted to say. She lashed out instead. “The community, the community is afraid! We don’t know how to deal with this! Cut us some slack!”

“These processes are automatic on our behalf. If your community no longer belongs to us, it is consumed.”

“Three Partitions” by Bogi Takács is not just a short story about nonbinary Orthodox Jews having sci-fi adventures, although that would be valuable, too — the Jewishness and nonbinaryness are actually key to the plot in a really skillful way. Basically, a colony of Orthodox Jewish humans have settled on a planet that itself has sentience, and because of that sentience the only way they won’t be targeted by the planet’s immune system the way our bodies target foreign bodies (like allergens and bacteria) is if the planet recognizes the colonists as part of itself. In order to do that, the planet, or some part of it, must convert and join the congregation–in the form of a nonbinary character who makes herself look human (she uses she/her pronouns in the story.)

However: she’s on shaky ground, because if she’s not accepted, truly, then the planet’s equivalent of white blood cells will reject the colonists like a failed organ donation, destroying them all–and Orthodox Jewish worship is somewhat gendered not to mention the natural timidity some humans would realistically have around extraterrestrials.

To readers unfamiliar with Orthodox Jewish culture and Hebrew words related to specific Jewish concepts–the author (who is both nonbinary and Jewish but not as far as I know extraterrestrial!) made sure to make everything clear in context, so if you process those bits the same way you process the made-up sci-fi bits, you should be fine.

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Gay bear romance about being psychic: short rec

The main character of “The Psychometry of Snow” by Nathan Burgoine is either psychic or psychic and mentally ill, but either way: he hears residual voices coming from objects people have touched. He can hear their worries, their memories. When he runs into his brother’s friend from high school on a winter vacation in snowy mountains, he’s hoping the guy–who grew up really cute, my type, tall, bearded, and burly–doesn’t remember the way his gift made him act when they were all teenagers.

Turns out, it wouldn’t be so bad if he did remember, and the story has a very moving resolution. It’s hard to explain this story without spoiling things, but it would be worth checking out even if it wasn’t free, if you like: gay romance that isn’t sexually explicit, gay romance involving big burly bearded guys, or queer SFF in general.

This was printed in The Bears of Winter, which I’m still reading (and mostly enjoying!) I will be posting about it later on when I finish.

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Band mom meets music teacher: contemporary lesbian romance short

Fearless, a G-rated f/f novelette from Torquere Press (novelette means it’s short) with a Jewish love interest. A newly-out-of-the-closet band mom falls for an orchestra teacher while snowed in at All-State. Download it at: the publisher’s site, Amazon, Smashwords.

Lana Novak hasn’t played violin in over twenty years, her musical life these days confined to being a devoted band mom to her clarinet whiz daughter Robin. She didn’t think she could get back into it after this long, but Melanie Feinberg, the outgoing, enthusiastic, and very cute butch orchestra director from Robin’s school, has other ideas.

lana&mel (Large) (2)

A little tale about the lifelong rewards of music ~ enjoy! (above artwork by Agaricals). Royalties until the end of June 2016 will be donated to the Gainesville Orchestra.

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Fluffy Muslim YA set in 1980′s NYC, two girl cousins having summer adventures

Hot Pink in the City by Medeia Sharif first caught my eye in an update email from my publisher. A fluffy YA starring a Middle Eastern girl? Cool! But then it took me forever to get to, because it’s only out in digital and I prefer paperback. Once I started reading it, though, I breezed through it in two days. It was a lot of fun!

This book is like a classic 1980’s “teen movie” in literary form, starring an Iranian-American girl from Miami (yay! I grew up in South Florida, too!) who gets to spend the summer in New York City with her cousin. Within the first couple of pages of the book we get a Madonna-loving, soccer-playing teenage girl sitting on a plane, delighted when a cute and also Middle Eastern boy (he winds up being Syrian) sits next to her. Then, whoops! Turns out he was in the wrong seat. Will she ever see him again once they get to New York?

Most of the book centers on her growing friendship with her older cousin Nasreen. Together, they try everything they can think of to replace Nasreen’s father’s bootleg tape of a beloved old-school Arabic music star, which they’ve unintentionally destroyed in a “taping Madonna off the radio” mishap. (Imagine a world before downloading! Well, I don’t have to imagine, because I was there, but I’d forgotten about taping things off the radio. I mean, it’s been decades. Fun to revisit the 80’s.)

The girls’ adventures, secretly trying out for dance contests and dealing with unwanted male attention, as well as avoiding Nasreen’s bratty younger brother who gets everything he wants, get zanier and more cinematic as the book progresses, but it was still fun and everything works out at the end. Yes, there’s a slight m/f romance plot but it’s way on the back burner compared with the friendship between the cousins. It’s a love letter to the 80’s and to Middle Eastern American culture, and I’m pleased that we share a publisher.

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Billionaire romance: indulge your “what if Steve Jobs was nice” fantasy, w/young trans love interest

A Boy Called Cin by Cecil Wilde is a luscious piece of wish-fulfillment in which a character who is basically the amiable, generous, bisexual nerd-programmer-billionaire (that probably has Steve Jobs as his Mirror Universe Evil Twin) falls for a bratty young art student undergrad basically because said art-student isn’t groveling in front of him like everybody else is.

This is a delicious older-man dream, a billionaire romance that I actually saw the point of for once. (I mean, billionaire romances are supposed to be wish-fulfillmenty, and of course this was deliciously wish-fulfillmenty…. I guess this is a wish that I can relate to.) And because the author put so much energy into making sure that both characters felt equally vulnerable, they seemed to be real people rather than roles. The Steve Jobs analogue is dysphoric about his gender, but not in a way I’d ever encountered before — he doesn’t seem to want to transition or even change his pronouns so much as just have deep discomfort with his AMAB body.

This is contrasted with his young snarky boyfriend, who gets a Cinderella transition narrative written from the inside (the author is nonbinary.) So it’s not “older cis man saves young trans man”, it’s the two men saving each other and by the time the younger man accepts that kind of help it’s actually a big accomplishment on the older dude’s part to get him to trust him enough to consider it, and what’s more, he’s not cis so that really changes the dynamic.

The sex scenes were especially focused on exploring comfort and discomfort within a relationship between two trans people, and sometimes they didn’t have sex, either. This book has a lot of cuddling scenes and they felt totally natural; you believe it as a reader that they’re enjoying that on its own level and that sex would have felt weird for them at that moment. In other words, the sex isn’t just there to give the audience some frosting on the cake but are part of the characterization.

You also get a great supporting cast of one MC’s cis queer girl bestie and the other’s trans sister. They’re adorable, too.

One time when I was visiting my best friend when she was in vet school, we went to a steakhouse where I ordered an improbably perfect dish. It was a salad (I love salad) with steak on it (I love steak), BEETS, one of the cheeses I can eat without taking a pill, and I forgot what else, but the point was that every item in the salad was something I love. Usually, that doesn’t happen when you dine out. You get a protein you want with some useless sides, or you get a fantastic salad with all the veggies you love but no hopes of a protein beyond uninspired, underseasoned grilled chicken. This was different. This was something that had all the elements I wanted without any of the stuff I don’t like.

Get the picture?

A Boy Called Cin was like that salad, for me: a perfect little book and pretty much everything I’d want in a m/m book with a trans man, especially since I like older men. I’d been getting increasingly frustrated recently with the fact that so many romances have that scene near the end where the couple nearly breaks up, or does break up, before their happy ending. I just plain old don’t enjoy reading that. This book did not do the thing. That’s such a relief.

Trigger warning that Cin’s birth family sucks, but they’re really not in that much of the book.

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