Pride Booksapalooza 2024, part 1: LGBTQ stories in fiction & poetry

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Sunday June 2, 2024
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Pride Booksapalooza 2024, part 1: LGBTQ stories in fiction & poetry

Happy Pride Month! In between the film festival offerings, the parties, the marches, the performances, and the sheer joy of celebrating our unity, inclusion, and diversity, enjoy your downtime with a new book or two.

Here is an expansive 20-title selection of newly published and upcoming fiction and poetry books for your perusal. In the coming weeks, we will also cover memoir, nonfiction, and Young Adult and family-friendly queer book genres of interest as well. Keep those pages turning and open your hearts and minds to what's new at a bookstore near you.

'The Queen of Steeplechase Park' by David Ciminello
, $20 (Forest Avenue Press)
Queer Portland, Oregon-based Lambda Literary Fellow, author, and screenwriter Ciminello has crafted the delightful and engrossing story of Belladonna Marie Donato, a young woman blessed with impressive culinary talents ("the Cooking Spirit") who thrives in 1930s Coney Island despite numerous challenges and obstacles.

As a reckless and lust-driven teenager, Bella becomes pregnant by the hunky, hip-swaggering Francis Anthony Mozzarelli but her father insists she give up the infant to an orphanage, which estranges her from the family and causes her to seek love and support elsewhere. The fanciful collective of outcasts she encounters throughout her adult travels form the loving network she desperately craves.

Chapters filled with addictive melodrama are beautifully seasoned with recipes galore for mouthwatering items like Chicken Parmigiana, Lasagna Bolognese, and Eight-Layer Cannoli Cake. This is one of the standout feel-good novels of the summer and it will tickle your funny bone, pull at your heartstrings, and remind all of us about the power of forgiveness and friendship, and the preciousness of life, love, and Italian cooking.

David Ciminello will read from and discuss his new novel at Fabulosa Books on Thursday, June 13 at 7pm.

'All Friends are Necessary' by Tomas Moniz, $28 (Algonquin)
2020 Lambda Literary Award winner Tomas Moniz follows up his outstanding debut, "Big Familia," with this multilayered portrait of a unique predicament and how friends and lovers serve as a haven for a character in dire straits.

Efren "Chino" Flores is a thirtysomething Latinx bisexual high school biology teacher whose marriage in Seattle has hit the skids after a tragedy. He returns to his roots in San Francisco to recover and recalibrate his life and, enveloped by the love and support of his friends, rediscovers connection, sex, sobriety, and the power of belonging.

Moniz connects to his characters in a consistently compassionate manner and brings each personality to life through their own separate fears and passions. It's a resonant and impressive sophomore effort from a Bay Area Latinx writer who continues to shine.
Tomas Moniz will discuss his new novel at Green Apple Books on the Park, 1231 9th Avenue in San Francisco on Tuesday, June 18, at 7pm.

'Becoming Ted' by Matt Cain, $27 (Kensington)
There's a forty-something gay character in British author Cain's latest novel that you just have to meet. Ted Ainsworth is his name and one day, this Englishman discovers that his longtime partner Giles has been unfaithful. The betrayal ushers in a midlife crisis of epic proportions and ultimately, Ted seeks to check off the major bucket list item of (drum roll, please) becoming a drag queen.

With help from his bestie Denise, Ted embarks on a life-changing endeavor to become "Gail Force," a fierce, glamorous feminine identity he adores yet finds himself unwilling to disclose from a construction worker he's attracted to. There's the prerequisite, over-the-top melodrama and enough drag drama to fog up your makeup mirror, but eventually Ted (and Gail) makes peace with his changing identity, his ever-present discontent with life, and the fact that he hates ice cream, which also happens to be what the Ainsworth family business peddles. This is fun, frothy and frivolous; perfect for the gay beach.

'Please Stop Trying to Leave Me' by Alana Saab, $18 (Vintage)
A lesbian woman grapples with mental illness in Saab's emotionally piercing novel. Norma is in her late twenties when she begins interpreting the ubiquitous ads on Instagram as cloaked spiritual messages that she should dump her girlfriend.

After she receives a dual mental illness diagnosis, the narrative retraces Norma's childhood and adolescence, expectedly fraught with turmoil, and her relationships with male partners that were fleeting and left her unfulfilled. Though much of the book is comprised of Norma's stream-of-consciousness episodes and dispatches from the story collection she is writing,

Saab manages to capture the reader's attention through her compassion for a wayward woman in search of herself and the love and psychological healing she knows she deserves.

'Bury Your Gays' by Chuck Tingle, $26.99 (Tor/Nightfire)
Completing a two-book deal with Tor Books, pseudonymous author Tingle's second book (after 2023's terrific "Camp Damascus") is an even more successful novel about a queer writer who finds himself in the crosshairs of a serial killer.

Misha Byrne is a successful Hollywood screenwriter with a recurring X-Files-esque hit show to prove his worthiness in the cutthroat showbiz world. But when studio execs demand he axe his lesbian character base to improve viewership ratings, Byrne refuses, on principle, and not just because it would ruin the season finale of his show. Soon, murderous villains dressed as movie monsters he'd previously created begin appearing and are all hell-bent on scaring him off track.

Tingle is better known for his work writing in the niche gay erotica categories of sexy satire, risqué pop culture parodies, raunchy romance novellas, and even an erotic adventure game. Here, he manages to escalate his craft into another mainstream novel that has a flashy cover, a flashy killer-on-the-loose premise, and an outspoken queer hero who is impossible to forget once the momentum of Misha and his killers hits its stride. This is another queer summer must-have that won't disappoint.

'Girls Night' by I.S.Belle, $21.99 (Tiny Ghost Press)
This YA sapphic novel written for teens will please that demographic as well as any adult readership who finds books about tough-as-nails queer girls with a score to settle fascinating.

The unlikely bond that forms between a quartet of girls at Sterling High School all begins when Alex Veck's fondness for fighting is ignited after seeing her first school fight. She is soon joined by shifty cheerleader Tulsi Ortiz, secretive classmate Sunju Park, and newcomer Clementine Rady and together they form a stealth girls' fight club called "Girls Night" where they duel for fun.

When their group is discovered by a particularly manipulative head cheerleader, things begin to unravel, but this diversified clan stay tough as they flesh out their own identities, preferences, and passions.

New Zealand author Belle has created a work of uplifting if bloody fiction ideal for high school readers who want well-rounded characters to cheer on, taut action, and a winning premise about toughness and self-discovery.

'Sex Goblin' by Lauren Cook, $17.95 (Nightboat)
Cook, a transsexual naturalist, poet ("I Love Shopping"), and author, collects his thoughts, feelings, impressions, joys, and upsets into this slim volume that explores what makes him tick.

Inside are pages of enchanting autofiction, pop culture musings, personal ordeals, and a devilish moral fable about a clover-picker, a vengeful witch, and a pair of underwear you don't want to miss.

In a series of clipped paragraphs and one-page recollections, Cook ponders Uber rides, paranoia about picking up money on the sidewalk, random text messages from his dad about who politicians really are ("failed celebrities because they are ugly and have no talent, by and large"), grocery shopping, his first trip to Los Angeles, and quite hilarious quips on obsessing about the past and random interactions with his friends and exes.

Effortless flirtations with deli guys enmesh with ruminations on his love of online games, spider silk, and a lengthy, addictively descriptive erotic discourse about sex with a guy he met at the gym. Much of it is scattered prose poetry that's more pensive and moodier than a teenager's diary, yet never fails to amuse, inform, and entertain. "Everything now is about getting over fear," he writes, which makes this volume particularly relevant and timely.

Aside from Cook's innate talent for spinning gold from the drab, often mundane fabric of life, the book itself is an oddity: the crimson-colored cover bleeds through to the pages inside and once opened, the book carries the heady scent of house paint, probably from the printing ink.

Readers will catch a chemical buzz from both the pages and the author's electric prose. Captivating in many ways, Lauren Cook is a writer of immense talent able to draw a reader in and make them want to know more.

'Escape Velocity' by Victor Manibo, $28 (Erewhon)
After his smashing debut, "The Sleepless," for which he became a 2022 Lambda Literary Emerging Voices Fellow, Filipino novelist Victor Manibo follows up with this sci-fi thriller set in space in the year 2089.

Somehow, astronaut Henry Gallagher becomes stranded out in space away from his lunar habitat, Altaire, and he must now wait until it orbits closer to his location to latch back onto it for safety. But there's no reason for his spacesuit to have lost its propellant fluid; someone is responsible and wants him out of the picture permanently.

Flashbacks point to a high school reunion populated by old friends but also a few possibly nefarious characters with axes to grind. This unique otherworldly set-up is the perfect backdrop for Manibo to demonstrate his knack for characterization and deft plotting.

Though the book's length could've been shaved down a bit and the dialogue can be stiff in spots, this story is an unconventional take on space life melded with mystery and lots of queer science fiction flare.

'Take All of Us' by Natalie Leif; $19.99 (Holiday House)
Leif's imaginative YA zombie fiction debut masterfully and entertainingly channels the struggles queer disabled adolescents encounter when coming of age in a world predisposed against them.

The dead are coming back to life in rural West Virginia and that includes Ian Chandler, a queer teen in love with his best friend Eric. Ian has a seizure and falls during an emergency town evacuation, but he rises from the dead to join with two other disabled teens, Monica, and Angel, to investigate the cause of the emergency.

As these three endearing (if slowly decaying) heroes fight for survival, marginalization gets vanquished in this inspiring, thrilling, gore-drenched work of good vs evil for younger readers.

'The Rainbow Tiger' by BK Wells, $11.99 (Wavin' Raven)
Talented, prolific local San Francisco author and playwright Wells features a middle-aged trans narrator struggling with identity and community in an America overlorded by a fascist government in her latest novel.

Set in San Francisco, protagonist Gene Francisco remains at odds with the edicts of the current right-winged US president, Benjamin Buck, who continues a legacy of discrimination against minority groups and the LGBTQ community.

But a shockingly unlucky event in the bowels of a BART station transforms her physical body and mind around in twisted ways that play out as this creatively inspired novel winds its way around urban politics, equality, trans body image, queer liberty, a Rainbow Tiger, and a thinly veiled ex-President who is as deplorable and despicable as the real thing.

A 2021 Pinecone Book Award recipient, Wells' relevant and entertaining novel creatively encapsulates themes of belonging, community, inclusion, exclusion, gender, and identity.

Written with thoughtful provocative relevance and propulsive prose, this novel gets to the heart and soul of the queer community and sounds an alarm for what could happen if we don't vote or participate in queer equality activism.

This fall, Wells will publish a new novel, "Cecil Rides Again," about the son of a murdered vigilante who later teams up with a drag queen to avenge local acts of homophobia, racism, and street violence.

'Hombrecito' by Santiago Jose Sanchez, $29 (Riverhead)
This explosive debut charts the immigration experience of a young Columbian named Santiago and his older brother who move to Miami after being raised by a single mother. As a child, he struggles to understand the better life his mother sought in America and after rebelling, emerges as an independent-minded teenager with queer feelings in his heart.

Sex becomes the navigator as he comes of age and in his 20s in Brooklyn, then he seeks out the attentions of a father back in Columbia who offers little to his son. Santiago makes amends with the land he left, while continuing to search for deeper connections in the sheets of other men. This intensive story of youth, family, pain, pleasure, and self-discovery is an achievement.

'We Used to Live Here' by Marcus Kliewer, $28.99 (Atria/Emily Bestler Books)
Originally written as an online serialized short story on Reddit, Canadian author and stop motion animator Kliewer's dynamic debut chronicles the nightmarish ordeal of female partners and house-flippers Eve Palmer and her girlfriend, Charlie in the Pacific Northwest.

Renovating the mansion they just acquired is moving along as planned until the five-member Faust family mysteriously appears on their doorstep, claiming to be former residents of the house.

Once the family breaches the front door threshold, the house horrifically begins to morph and stink and shift and terrorize everyone inside it, just as a blizzard descends on the property trapping everyone inside the creaking, moaning mansion.

It's an immersive and chilling reading experience and the story is embellished with conspiracy theory outtakes and commentary from "victims" of paranormal violence.

Kliewer is a talented writer who knows how to wring the terror from every room in the house but also finds that a few small bits of dark humor go a long way as well. After reading this frightening thrill-ride, readers won't want to answer their door ever again. Horror fans take note.

'The Day Before It Rained' by Rich Rubin, $15.99 (Gatekeeper Press)
Sonoma County playwright, director, and author Rubin, who recently won the Short Stories category from the Literary Global Independent Author Awards, presents this terrific collection of stories drawing on the humanity of its characters and the challenging relationship situations they find themselves embedded in.

While brief, Rubin's stories are potent and encompass themes such as the mystery and wonder of travel, the yearning for love and connection, the power of forgiveness, and explorations of the mundane issues of life (noise, pets, responsible behavior, growing up and growing old, memories, all which Rubin breathes new life into.

The collection is separated into segments on international travel, people and personalities, birthdays, mystical elements, everyday life, and renewal. Relatable and timelessly relevant, this collection will particularly resonate with readers who face life head-on and with fearless courage and empathy.

Rubin will read from his story collection on Sunday, June 2, at 6p.m., at the Bazaar Writers Salon at the Bazaar Café, 5927 California Street in San Francisco.

'The Default World' by Naomi Kanakia, $17.95 (The Feminist Press)
This clever, sexy, erotically electric novel star transgender woman Jhanvi who meanders her way through life working at a Sacramento grocery while dreaming of a better way to enjoy herself and finally get the surgery she desperately desires.

When friend Henry jokingly boasts about a new sex dungeon bankrolled by him and his overpaid and overvalued techie friends, Jhanvi's wheels turn and sees the location as a bastion of wealthy guys who could make her life better, specifically if she latches on to Henry.

What ensues is a fever dream of hedonistic pleasures, foggy memories, and indulgences galore that find privileged millennials at odds with the trans community as the novel writhes and bubbles onward. Kanakia writes well and embodies her characters with the kinds of realistic motivations and vapid interactions that might not create the ultimate scenario for a trans woman infiltrating a techie wonderland, but it's a recipe for eye-catching, extra-sensory, titillating queer fiction.

'In Tongues' by Thomas Grattan, $28 (MCD)
Grattan's second novel (after "The Recent East") charts the young life of Gordon, who, after being raised in Minneapolis by indifferent parents, moves with just a few stolen dollars in his pocket to Manhattan in the summer of 2001 after being dumped by his boyfriend.

Needing work, he appeals to older West Village art gallery owner Philip and his younger assistant, Nicola, who both graciously take Gordon under their wealthy wings but with this protagonist and his nagging affinity for trouble, it's not long before the trio break trust and this newly arranged family-of-sorts self-destructs.

Grattan's prose is crisp and swiftly moves the plot along and his unique creation of Gordon as a queer man is realistic and gritty. He seeks to be valued, whether under the auspices of the gallery duo or in the park getting fucked by a stranger.

This kind of frank evaluation makes the novel authentically brilliant and, as Gordon comes of age and becomes his own man complete with all the agonies and thrills of self-discovery, readers will find themselves unable to forget him.

'Cecelia' by K-Ming Chang, $14.95 (Coffee House Press)
The two women featured in Chang's slim, surreal novella are Seven, a mid-twenties doctor's office cleaner, and Cecelia, a childhood friend who manages to manipulatively re-insert herself into Seven's relatively placid existence. In the book's exploration of female friendship and physical desire, Chang's prose remains lush and poetically descriptive, but also explicitly corporeal in a near body-horror fashion.

As the pair's volatile relations seep into descriptions of roadkill, human waste, and the awkward teenaged sexual encounter that made each girl cautious and fearful of the other. Chang is a Lambda Literary Award winner and the author of several other notable novels and this story adds another success to a distinguished and unique body of work.

'The Selected Shepherd' by Reginald Shepherd
, $30 (Univ. of Pittsburgh Press)
This posthumous collection of Shepherd's (1963-2008) dynamic poetry draws from material within his six prior published works.

Brazenly authentic and honest, Shepherd's prose hovers meaningfully over his disenchanting childhood with a single, alcoholic, and suicidal mother, his obsession with atmospheres and the natural world, and his personal identity as a Black, HIV-positive, gay, Bronx-born poet who had a sexual penchant for White men.

Shepherd died prematurely from cancer in 2008, but he leaves a trove of gorgeous, provocative, erotic, illuminative, and beautifully opinionated pieces. His legacy leaves six books in his wake, each demonstrating his command of the written word and his unobstructed sense of honesty and personal truth.

'The Day's Hard Edge: Poems' by Jose Antonio Rodriguez, $18 (Northwestern Univ. Press)
Poet and memoirist Rodriguez's fourth book of poetry treads along the theme of how relationships form our impressions of ourselves, of others, and of the world around us. Split into three sections, Rodriguez autobiographically examines his traumatic early years living on the Texas/Mexico borderlands; then expanding outward to encompass his artwork and how honing his poetry is, in and of itself, a liberating, cathartic, freeform mode of therapeutic healing.

In absorbing these immersive works, readers will achieve an acute sense of how the poet himself struggled with his own identity as a queer Chicano immigrant who worked hard at preventing his minority status from clouding others' impressions of his gorgeously commanding written works of art.

'Fassbinder: His Movies, My Poems' by Drew Pisarra, $15 (independently published)
Over a decade in the making, poet and author Pisarra celebrates the life and film work of the late, great German film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982) and publishes this book on the filmmaker's birthday.

The poems in this dynamic volume are inspired Fassbinder's films, whether completed or unfinished, or simply written ideas in the form of plays that Pisarra takes liberties to elaborate on in this fond artistically driven tribute. The collection contains over 50 poems dedicated to Fassbinder's films, beginning with a curious fandom poem and continuing on with spirited prose inspired by the filmmaker's most popular films as "Lola" "Querelle" "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul," and "Love is Colder Than Death" alongside nods to his more obscure titles and those he'd left unfinished before his death in 1982 like "Rosa L." and "Kokain."

Midway through the collection is a vividly realized poem entitled "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant," which, Pisarra notes, was once recited in public by a nude model at a "Lit Undressed" festival. Creative, memorable, and thought-provoking, this poetic salute impressively appreciates the genre-spanning oeuvre of a multi-talented, theatrical German cinematographer.

Pisarra's last book of poetry, "Periodic Boyfriends," scaled across an expansive swath of male lovers using the periodic table of elements, with wild success. Seek out both books if you enjoy immersive poetry that is both creative and thought-provoking, especially if you are a Fassbinder fan.

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