Lashings of Sauce edited by UK Meet Acquisitions Team

Published: 1st July 2012Goodreads badge
Publisher:
JMS Books LLC
Pages: 270
Format: Paperback
Genre: Anthology
★   ★ – 2 Stars

We Brits love our sauce, whether it’s what we lash on our food, read on our seaside postcards, or write in our stories. Come and enjoy a buffet of tasty LGBTQ treats!

From marriages to reunions, via practical jokes and football matches, to weresloths and possibly the oddest Tarts and Vicars party in the world, join us as we celebrate the UK Meet in the best way we know: telling the story.

As a follow-up to the critically acclaimed British Flash and Tea and Crumpet anthologies, our talented writers bring you sixteen stories about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and genderqueer characters enjoying what Britain and mainland Europe have to offer, with their wonderfully diverse range of cultures and landscapes and some incredibly colourful and quirky people.

The most important thing I think any anthology needs is a strong opening story, one that will hook the reader and want them to keep going. I was curious about Post Mortem, the opening story, but it really doesn’t give you anything to grab your attention. It was unengaging and it was only my hope that there were other better stories did I keep reading. It was only by a slim chance did I actually keep going because so many times I was prepared to add this to my DNF (Did Not Finish) pile. My DNF pile is small but I was getting the same feeling from the first half of this anthology that I have had with books before. The fact I told myself that I may be missing out on other good stories kept me going, I was eventually rewarded but it was a long road.

The theme of this anthology is a little vague. The introduction states it is to show off how great the LGBTQIA community have it in Britain and in Europe. It was published in 2012 when Britain was on its high from the Olympics and the Queen had her Diamond Jubilee. None of these events are mentioned in the story but 2012 was also the 3rd annual meeting of the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet and to celebrate this anthology was created. The idea is sweet enough, a chance to celebrate the good times of being part of the community in Britain at the time and this is reflected in the stories in as much as they are nice stories, things aren’t complicated, there’s no altercations or conflict that I could tell due to a character’s sexuality or gender.

There are multiple trans stories, gay and lesbian romances, as well as a BDSM story. Content warning wise not every story involves sex but some do which are described in detail though not graphic or overly explicit. In a way they are the good examples of stories; the LGBTQ characters aren’t there as a plot point, nothing really centres around their sexuality, it is just a part of the overall story because it affects who they interact with and how. It isn’t an issue of contention or a problem which was refreshing.

Having said that, only half of these stories were actually interesting. Maybe even less. Many were half and half, some parts were interesting but within the same story I was bored to pieces. There were a few exceptions that only barely made the mark: Vidi Velo Vici was good, basic but had a good ending. The better ones were Dressing Down and Zones for the humour and the heart and for something like Zones it is a great story about discovery and acceptance which is subtle, but certainly there. Lost in London was another rare gem as was My Husband and Social Whirl. The rest I was not interested in, and to only have six out of sixteen stories grab my attention, it doesn’t say much about an anthology I was rally expecting more from.

The genres range from contemporary to the paranormal and magical. I found I couldn’t engage with the paranormal as much, I preferred those in modern settings. The genders and sexualities present was a great diversity and something I was impressed with. As I say, without a theme as such, the general acceptance of LGBTQ people in Britain was a great starting point because it normalised these occurrences and while it was a theme, it also showed how to make gender and sexuality naturally part of a story and not only there to be a plot point in itself.

Honestly the second half is better than the first, I am glad I persevered because I found the stories in the second half more enjoyable, certainly more diverse. Even for a LGBTQ anthology there are only so many times you can read about gay men before you start wanting to see something different. But even so, to only like six stories, there’s more issues than just that to contend with.

You can purchase Lashings of Sauce via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Kindred: 12 Queer #LoveOzYA Stories edited by Michael Earp

Published: 1st June 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Walker Books Australia
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Genre: Anthology/ Young Adult
★   ★  ★  ★ – 4 Stars

I love the titles of Anthologies because it is fascinating to see how a theme or concept is explored through so many different voices and narrative styles. For this one, not only are there queer stories, but these stories embody everything that kindred means and stands for.

These stories are not about finding love, or coming out, they are about finding someone who is like you, who knows you and understands you, if there is romance in there, great. But there are many wonderful stories about kids finding another person who understands them, and someone who, whether they know it consciously or not, are supporting them.

Not all characters in this are teens, a couple characters are in their 30s that I can best estimate, others aren’t specified, but their stories are still valid. There are a range of genres and each author has put up a story that encapsulates the theme. Kindred can mean so many things and seeing how each writer has interpreted this is wonderful.

While these are queer stories, they are also #LoveOzYA as well which showcases the great talent our LGBTQIA YA authors have. There are household names and there are new talents I didn’t know and getting some new names added to my #LoveOzYA repertoire is always a bonus. Some of these stories found their own place with me and I particularly loved Waiting by Jen Wilde. I saw myself in that story and it is proof that these stories are for everyone to enjoy.

The range of genres and representation was incredible. There’s representation from so many different cultures and voices and shows why representation matters. The tone across the stories were so different, form light hearted to dystopian, with a few futuristic and fantastic thrown in. There are some tough subjects and harsh realities but I found it refreshing because these authors don’t shy away from the realities of the world but they also treat it with a powerful care and respect.

It was a great decision to include Benjamin Law’s story at the end because while it is a story, it also acts like an essay and it is a thought provoking one that (hopefully) makes people question the things that they may do or say around LGBTQIA people.

With any anthology I am always so in awe of how one theme could be interpreted by so many different genres and approaches. It is a fantastic reminder that no matter what circumstance, no matter what reality, there is a commonality between people and the emotions and desires are universal.

You can purchase Kindred: 12 #LoveOzYA Stories via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Speaking Out!: An LGBT Anthology edited by Steve Berman

Published: 20th September 2011Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Bold Strokes Books
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Genre: Anthology/Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Speaking Out features stories for and about LGBT and Q teens by fresh voices and noted authors in the field of young adult literature. These are inspiring stories of overcoming adversity (against intolerance and homophobia) and experiencing life after “coming out.” Queer teens need tales of what might happen next in their lives, and editor Steve Berman showcases a diversity of events, challenges, and, especially, triumphs.

This collection of thirteen stories tell a variety of stories from a variety of own voices. These are fictional stories but each author has a small bio at the start of their story which lets you see a little into their lives and their own experience being part of the LGBTQTIA community. These small paragraphs are an extra inspiration for readers who may be experiencing their own hardships and having these authors of all sexualities put their own experiences down are real life references outside of these fictionalised stories. The authors are American but a lot of the stories have a focus on the people rather than setting. There is a lot to gain from reading these stories even if you are from outside the States.

I found myself becoming quite invested in some of these stories. When they ended I wanted to know more, I wanted to see the scene after, the scene where they tell, where they act. I had to remind myself not only are these short stories, but they are short stories that capture the moment of speaking out, the events that lead them to have the confidence to do so. This is a testament to the power of these stories, and certainly some were better than others as all anthology readers will attest to. I found myself enraptured by the strength of these characters against homophobia by friends and family, and the danger that that homophobia can have.

The stand out stories to me were Sparks of Change by Dia Pannes which was a powerful read about family and changing the small mindedness of small towns; another one was the beautiful and mystical imagery of Steve Berman’s Only Lost Boys Are Found. One story I particularly adored was Forever is Composed of Nows by Will Ludwigsen; a story about returning back to the place where you had bullying and trauma as a teen, only to return as an adult. It was incredibly well done and insightful to read.

As I said, there are a range of identities and sexualities represented in this anthology and each one is explored in so many different ways. Seeing these characters discover who they are, who they are publically prepared to be was uplifting and something I can imagine teens and young readers would find not only empowering but comforting. Personal stories and essays about experiences by the LGBTQIA are important literature to have, but having fictional worlds to escape to and relate to are also important. This is a great collection of stories and one I found an absolute delight to fall into.

You can purchase Speaking Out! via the following

Book DepositoryDymocksAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

George by Alex Gino

Published: 25th August 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Scholastic Press
Pages: 208
Format: Paperback
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

BE WHO YOU ARE. When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part… because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte—but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

I loved George from the get go. At ten years old, George knows who she is and she is tired of living as a boy like others see her. While she doesn’t feel she can do much about it just yet, she can dream. She is honest to herself and she keeps a very big secret but tries to not let it get her down. Gino gets us into George’s mind early on and we see how she sees herself and how she wants to express her true self to the world. She came across as every bit a ten year old, Gino doesn’t try to age her, but they do explore these feelings and thoughts George is having and how she struggles to be the person other people want her to be.

Gino pushes how gendered George’s life is and how she is always forced into situations that make her uncomfortable. The other explanation is that US school are so gender separated which is weird in itself. Either way, it helps to express how George is feeling and the decisions she has to make every day. The focal point of Charlotte’s Web and the play was divine and seeing George draw courage and comfort from Charlotte sometimes breaks your heart.

One of the important truths that Gino explores is that even the nicest parents may not be understanding. While George’s mother doesn’t reject her, she isn’t entirely accepting either. On the other hand I absolutely adored George’s older brother Scott. There is something great about older brother/younger sibling relationships which are so heartfelt, even if those moments are few. Kelly is also an incredible friend and accepting and supportive but not in an over the top or token way. She demonstrates how easily kids accept things, it is the adults who often need more convincing.

It was beautiful to see George and her relationship with Kelly develop even further during the lead up to the play and I loved George for her devotion and her bravery. This is a great message for everyone but especially for kids that anything is possible and while there may be some barriers, all you can do is try. I was expecting the play to be the final moment of George’s story but Gino takes it a bit further and doing so adds an extra element which in some ways may even more important.

This is such an significant book and Gino has done a fantastic job at showing the innocence and the maturity of young transgender kids and there is so much to learn from this story. Overall this is an uplifting story and seeing George’s personal development through the story makes your heart soar.

You can purchase George via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Just Be You by M. E. Parker

Published: 15th June 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/Recorded Books
Pages: 293
Format: ebook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

When Scott Cohen got word that he’d been nominated for a Grammy, he wondered if the universe was playing some cruel trick on him. Of all the songs he’d written, why did it have to be that song? 

Over ten years had passed since he’d written the song and even more since Scott had become obsessed with Marshall Donavan, his brother’s best friend. It didn’t matter that Scott hadn’t seen Marshall in years. Nor did it matter that Marshall never belonged to him or even that Marshall was straight. Scott never managed to stop thinking about him. 

When Scott got a call from his manager asking him to submit a song for a movie and a call from his brother Abe informing him of Marshall’s engagement to Julia Sterling on the same day, Scott took it as a sign. It was time to say goodbye and forget Marshall Donavan forever. 

Submitting ‘Just Be You’ to the movie executives was supposed to be Scott’s way of letting go—of forgetting, of saying goodbye. But his plan backfired when the movie became a box office success overnight and his song was nominated for a Grammy. There was no way he’d ever be able to forget. The song would follow him for the rest of his life and so would his unhealthy obsession with Marshall Donavan. 

It didn’t help things when he found himself face to face again with the man who had consumed his thoughts for years. No, it didn’t help at all when he saw the still very sexy and very straight Marshall Donavan for the first time in eight years. It didn’t matter what would happen between them. As soon as he saw Marshall again, he knew that giving up his obsession wasn’t an option… 

Taking a chance on sweet sounding LGBT romances has turned into a good bet for me because I have found some highly adorable books. This book may not be perfect in terms of writing or characters, nor may it be perfect plot wise, but it is fun and has a happy ending while still making you invested in the characters and their journeys.

I loved Scottie, he was adorable without being naïve, and he knows who he is and what he wants. I felt Marshall lost some of himself midway, his character becomes more singularly focused and less complex than he presents at the start but it didn’t affect my enjoyment. The focus is mainly on these two though supporting characters get a look in too, albeit briefly.

The biggest surprise was finding myself getting giddy with adorableness over these two. I did not see that coming but Parker has written a charming book that uses emotions remarkably well and it draws you in. Admittedly it took a while to fully get into the story, some parts felt comfortable other parts I felt disconnected when the writing took me out of the story, but there is a delightful sweetness about this book. There is charm and compassion, and the tensions and obstacles are solid, not manufactured miscommunication and I believed it was possible. Some things did move a bit quickly, but others managed to feel drawn out.

I grinned and squirmed and gasped in all the right places and I was surprised at the events that played out. Parker’s narrative has twists and surprises alongside the expected and I was impressed that there were multiple facets to this story. I honestly didn’t think I was going to get so caught up in these boys and their lives and yet I did. It had promised a happy ending and at times plays out like all the dreams coming true perfect world, but there is heart and conflict which brings depth and emotion.

Something to mention is there are a lot of sex scenes and descriptions of m/m sexual acts. In context they make sense, but there are a lot. While some parts are brushed over, other parts have more detailed descriptions.

Overall I really enjoyed this story. The range of emotions I felt reading this increased my enjoyment because it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops; I had minor second hand anxiety, I had shock, and there were times I had to stop reading because I was in a public place and couldn’t cope having gushing emotions in view of other people. If that doesn’t say enjoyment I don’t know what does.

You can purchase Just Be You via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

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