Tag Archives: Lesbian

On Amy Bloom’s “Lucky Us” and Amy Bloom Live

21 Oct
Lucky Us

Lucky Us

Apparently, I needed a six-week hiatus from all things book-related, but you better believe I’m back now, despite the glorious initiation of the NFL regular season. (Just don’t expect any blog posts on Sunday nights.) I can’t think of a better author to get me off my lazy ass than Amy Bloom, with her powerful, imagistic storytelling and her epic whirlwind plots. On August 4 at the Seattle Public Library, Bloom read from her newest novel Lucky Us and immediately hooked me on her quiet authority. She filled the room with her presence before she even read a word, and when she did start reading, the author of Away–nominated for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award–reminded me why I love her stories.

In Lucky Us, half-sisters Eva and Iris work out their tumultuous love-hate relationship with World War II-era America as their backdrop. Eva’s story begins when her mother leaves her on the doorstep of her father and half-sister, and she narrates her life as she knows it: being the shadow of the captivating, horrible, hilarious characters around her. The narrative alternates by chapter–from Eva’s first-person perspective to the letters from Iris years into the future to the close third-person perspectives of secondary characters–as the sisters and their makeshift family travel from coast to coast back again, picking up and losing members along the way.

Fireside Chat

Eva, like many of her fellow Americans, spends her days entranced by the voice of President Franklin Roosevelt in his Fireside Chat.

Here are the three things you need to know about Amy Bloom:

1) Her greatest strength is writing incredibly three-dimensional characters. With Bloom’s background in psychology, she shows that she knows people. None of her characters are perfect, but they are all relatable. They are all believable. They are all real people. In the reading she gave in Seattle on August 4, she said, “The goal for me isn’t to create characters. The goal for me is to create human beings.” In the short length of the novel, Bloom creates a plethora of human beings. None of them seem to be very likable, even the passive, apathetic Eva, but something can be said for creating a unlikable human beings really, really well.

2) Bloom believes “World War II is where you saw the seeds of change begin to crack,”  and that belief led to her extensive research of the state of a country on the brink of yet another global war. From era-specific music to the lure of Hollywood, from the bombing of Pearl Harbor to the internment Japanese- and German-Americans, Bloom sets a solid historical foundation for her sweeping family epic.

Manzanar

One character finds himself

3) For Bloom, novel-writing is like a race against time and space. She has to cover as much ground and as many years as she possibly can, and she’s only got 250 pages to do it! While her short story style is concise–pithy even–and jam-packed with content, Bloom’s novels feel plot development on steroids. Lucky Us begins in Eva’s youth. She is an abandoned daughter, a younger sibling in the shadow of her flippant, teenage half-sister, but by the end of the novel, decades have passed, and everything has changed. It may feel as if Bloom writes in generalizations because years pass in a single paragraph, or characters travel cross-country in half a sentence. But truthfully, Bloom’s prose is so efficient and terse that she doesn’t need a hundred pages to describe a road trip.

SPL

Bloom is as succinct and impactful in person as she is in her writing. At her reading in Seattle this summer, she established herself as an expert on people and an expert storyteller.

Read this book if … you enjoy historical fiction, character-based stories, and/or American epics. There are many things Bloom excels at, but my favorite is her apparent love and respect for the American epic.

Don’t read this book if … you’re a sucker for details. Bloom doesn’t care much for those. She’s a brilliant character sketch artist. She’s genius at the long game. But her broad brush strokes aren’t for everyone.

This book is like … Bloom’s first novel Away in its scope and similar content. Away tells the story of Lillian Leyb, a young, first-generation immigrant to the United States. Lillian embarks on a cross-country journey from New York to Alaska in order to be reunited with her daughter who was separated from Lillian and left in Russia. Lucky Us also reminds me of A View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro. The Nobel Prize-winner Munro writes mostly short stories, as does Bloom, and both authors’ attention to history and epic perspective feel extraordinarily similar. One major difference is Bloom’s tendency toward the romantic and Munro’s tendency toward the understatement. Both are excellent.

Amy Bloom

Amy Bloom has been nominated for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. All to say, she’s a badass.

 

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On J.A. Pitts’s “Forged in Fire”

25 Sep
Make sure you grab a copy of Sarah Beauhall book #3, Forged in Fire!

Make sure you grab a copy of Sarah Beauhall book #3, Forged in Fire!

I think, at this point, I can officially classify myself as a Sarah Beauhall fangirl. When I saw the series as Powell’s for the first time, I decided I’d read it on a whim, not expecting anything more than brief entertainment or maybe something to write a scathing review on later. Lo and behold! I have to take back those thoughts of an unbeliever! Forged in Fire is J.A. Pitts’s third Sarah Beauhall installation, and I had more fun than ever. Pitts created a cast of full characters and a massive enough world to keep this series going strongly as Sarah Beauhall uncovers more dark magic, learns about a new secret order, and forms some important human bonds that help her understand the meaning of family.

Not that FiF is all touchy-feely. Don’t worry, Beauhall gets more than anyone’s fair share of epic fight scenes. This third book reads more like an action-packed, dragon-filled murder mystery as Beauhall investigates some gruesome deaths in the area–all of which seem to be connected to her and seem to be committed by a dangerous necromancer. In the meantime, Beauhall must find a way to pacify an ever-agitated Nidhogg, save a missing person, reconnect with her sister Megan, and raise several children (not all of them human), so to say she’s got her hands full would be to say necromancers are nasty business: a gross understatement. (Was that too much?)

Pitts's necromancer may just be scarier than Castlevania necromancer, but you'll just have to determine that on your own.

Pitts’s necromancer may just be scarier than Castlevania necromancer, but you’ll just have to determine that on your own.

The structure of this novel felt a little shakier, not quite as compact as the first two, and that may be due to the length, since Forged in Fire is a lot longer. But Pitts managed to hold my attention for a couple of reasons: 1) I’m a sucker for murder mysteries, especially serial killers (how did you know??); 2) as usual, the believable, fascinating, admirable characters demand a reader’s attention; and 3) I think I was under a compulsion spell.

I am thrilled that Pitts is working on Sarah Beauhall #4, because Forged in Fire opened up a whole slew of new questions, introduced new characters, started a new quest for our favorite modern day blacksmith. Maybe Pitts is working on it right now! I think I’d be satisfied enough as long as he doesn’t take George R.R. Martin gaps to write the next installation. Wouldn’t that just be the best! In the meantime, I’ll be dreaming of dragons. And drinking coffee at Monkey Grind Espresso in Seattle…

I'm ready for more badass dragons!

I’m ready for more badass dragons! …And Sarah Beauhall.

On J.A. Pitts’s “Honeyed Words”

10 Sep
Life (and the cover art of this sequel) gets better for Sarah Beauhall when she inherits a Ducati. Watch out, dragons!

Life (and the cover art of this sequel) gets better for Sarah Beauhall when she inherits a Ducati. Watch out, dragons!

Sarah Beauhall, the drunken lesbian blacksmith with super Nordic deity powers, is back! Honeyed Words is the second installation of J.A. Pitts’s Beauhall series, and it comes with more punch than the first. We rejoin Sarah Beauhall, her girlfriend Katie, and Qindra the dragon-serving witch–along with a host of new characters–five months after the end of Black Blade Blues. Beauhall is busy hammering out her guilt from the reign of destruction she brought down on her friends in the form of Jean-Paul Duchamp/dragon dude, but she’s too notorious now to avoid the attention of some big baddies. She tries to move on with her life by returning to the trade she loves: blacksmithing. But when she temporarily apprentices with an artsy woman named Anezka (who just happens to have a giant dragon sculpture out back), Beauhall starts noticing her life getting screwy again. And not screwy in a happy, lesbian way. With much darker magic, fire kobolds, and necromancers, Pitts throws us back into his universe of modern fantasy, and I had more fun with Honeyed Words than with the first installment for a few reasons: 1) Beauhall is a fuller, more well-rounded character, not the angsty psuedo-teen from book one; 2) side characters like Bub the kobold and Qindra as a returning player make the story more multidimensional; and 3) Pitts leaves us with major a cliff-hanger. I’m talking “Lara Croft dangling by a handmade pickax from a rocky outcropping over a hundred foot drop onto spikes in an ancient tomb’s booby-trap” cliff-hanger. Will she make it?!

This sequel is so hardcore that even the dragons go metal. Don't worry, you can buy one for yourself.

This sequel is so hardcore that even the dragons go metal. Don’t worry, you can buy one for yourself.

I’m not all love and fuzziness, though. Awkward injections of pop culture feel contrived, as if to say, “Hey, I’m a nerd just like you! Love me!!” Don’t get me wrong; I like Firefly and X-Men and The Hobbit as much as the next girl, but there’s already plenty to love in a world of smithing and dragons and Nordic mythology without the jarring references. I imagine Pitts used it to shed light on Beauhall’s geeky side, but without enough context in the story, it sheds more light on Pitts’s geeky side. This whole series has a pretty firm grip on a niche readership here, and I don’t think there’s a need to make that more selective.

Pow! Right in the references! It's not like I'm not guilty, too. I just made a reference to Lara Croft. Can you find her in this image? (From Stuff Nerds Like)

Pow! Right in the references! It’s not like I’m not guilty, too. I just made a reference to Lara Croft. Can you find her in this image? (From Stuff Nerds Like)

Enough complaining. What I loved about Honeyed Words (and yes, it was a romp of a plot) was Beauhall’s development as a person. She’s growing up, filling her role, actually changing. Also, Pitts didn’t make her the end-all, be-all of the series. She’s the muscle, and she certainly has the guts and the fancy sword, but for the majority of the book other characters take on the leadership roles. Jimmy is the brains and the coordinator. Katie has the faith. Even Qindra is, in many ways, more of a hero than Beauhall. Props to J.A. Pitts for not only creating a well-balanced, flawed hero and three-dimensional, crucial secondary characters. I’m looking forward to reading more about these lovable characters in the third book, Forged in Fire, and I am stoked! (So to speak.)

On J.A. Pitts’s “Black Blade Blues”

9 Aug
Pick up a copy, if you need some straightforward, unadulterated entertainment! (Well, there's some adultery, but you know what I mean.)

Pick up a copy, if you need some straightforward, unadulterated entertainment! (Well, there’s some adultery, but you know what I mean.) And check out J.A. Pitts’s Website!

OK, OK, I know you’re all judging me right now. I’m judging me, too. Just look at that cover art! Check out that exposed bra! Oh, my god, midriff and dragons and a really big, black sword! But sometimes a girl just needs some pure, trashy, unabashed escapism. Well, I accomplished the “pure” and “trashy” parts, but I’m feeling pretty abashed about my newest selection of fiction, J.A. Pitts’s romping urban fantasy Black Blade Blues. In the modern-day American Pacific Northwest, Sarah Beauhall is trying to stay alive with two jobs–designing and making props for an independent filmmaker and apprenticing with a local blacksmith–while trying to reconcile her conservative upbringing with her budding relationship with girlfriend Katie. Not easy tasks, even in the freethinking, free-loving Seattle area. When a real live dwarf pays her a visit, uncovers a secret of Beauhall’s recent sword-forging project, and commissions her with a quest to kill an incognito dragon, all hell breaks loose. Pitts combines a fun, if sometimes laborious and awkward, colloquial language with some old-fashioned swords and magic to start spinning a unique world. Sarah Beauhall is anything but a stereotypical heroine, and despite the novel’s flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

It’s been a slippery slope, my friends: first the Wheel of Time extravaganza, then the gory Scandinavian mysteries, and now lesbian fantasy novels. I’ve come a long ways from my high-brow English literature days. There was a time when I only read Don DeLillo novels and poetry written by women in open marriages. There was another time when I refused to read Harry Potter books because I had heard J.K. Rowling didn’t know what a run-on sentence was. (It turns out she does know what a run-on sentence is, and she just really likes to use them.) But those were times when I believed reading to be a only thought exercise, and if it makes you feel anything it should be a sense of awe in the face of literary mastery. Reading, I’m discovering, is a million different experiences: academic, entertainment, erotic–you name it. Black Blade Blues is pure fun.

What's next, LitBeetle?! Confessions of a Shopaholic?! When will it end?! Yeah. I have to draw the line somewhere. I have standards: they start with dragon-killing lesbians and get higher from there.

“What’s next, LitBeetle?! Confessions of a Shopaholic?! When will it end?!” Yeah. I have to draw the line somewhere. I have standards: they start with dragon-killing lesbians and get higher from there.

The novel is the beginning of a series, so I can forgive Pitts for dwelling on Beauhall’s identity crisis for the first half of the book. The second half, though, is where the swords come into play, and where the author gets to have some fun with a massive, fast-paced (but not entirely inelegant) battle sequence. How does one have a massive battle sequence in modern American, you say? Why, with Ren Faire nerds, obviously, I say! Beauhall’s friends, the people she comes to think of as family, are all members of a society of the nerdiest of nerds. The people who affect Olde English accents, don bodices or chain mail, drink a lot of terrible home-brewed mead, pretend eating utensils don’t exist, learn to play the lute, call every woman “lass” or “wench,” joust with Styrofoam lances, and generally don’t care what you think because they’re having a grand time of it. It also turns out that these are the folks who actually believe our protagonist when she comes to them saying a dragon is bearing down on their heads, and it turns out these are the folks who actually fight it. So don’t knock it ’til you try it!

The new superheroes of our time, ladies and gents (and giants and trolls and dragons and Scandinavian gods). I'd feel pretty safe around these guys. (Photo by Shannon Cottrell at blogs.laweekly.com)

The new superheroes of our time, ladies and gents (and giants and trolls and dragons and Scandinavian gods). I’d feel pretty safe around these guys. (Photo by Shannon Cottrell at blogs.laweekly.com)

Pitts also bravely tackles a character who is facing the conflict of her unorthodox sexuality. He shows Beauhall’s self-doubt and self-hatred. He lets us know that much of his protagonist’s shortcomings stem from this deep-seeded bigotry, and it’s wonderful to watch the character grow away from that.

But Pitts does manage to miss one thing: Beauhall and Katie have supposedly been dating for a year … and there is no way in hell that these two ladies are waiting one year and still calling it a new relationship, and there is less than “no way in hell” that they both wait one year before someone says, “I love you.” Among lesbians (and I have first-hand know-how), the one year mark is wedding bell season, is “let’s get a puppy” season, and “what size U-Haul will we need” season, not the flip-out-because-she-said-the-L-word (not that “L Word”) season. That being said, Pitts did an admirable job, being male-gendered and writing a queer female protagonist, he did a decent job writing a fantasy novel, and I will most likely read the rest of the Sarah Beauhall series.

You all know the joke: What does a lesbian bring on a second date? A U-Haul. Yep, that's me in a U-Haul. I waited longer than two dates, though. A little bit longer.

You all know the joke: What does a lesbian bring on a second date? A U-Haul. Yep, that’s me in a U-Haul and the girlfriend took the picture. To be fair, we waited longer than two dates. … A little bit longer.