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GAY WRITES REVIEW:  The Glass Minstrel by Hayden Thorne

GAY WRITES REVIEW: The Glass Minstrel by Hayden Thorne

This review is part of our Gay Writes celebration. Don’t forget to comment on the  original post for a  chance to win one of those prizes as well as commenting on this post for a chance to win a copy of this book.

Dear Ms. Thorne,

After I read your last historical release, The Twilight Gods, I added you to my list of authors to watch and read regularly.   The Twilight Gods was a great, historically researched novel that felt comfortably Dickensian.   While I have yet to really dig into your contemporary novels, I know you have an admirable ability to write historical novels.   I wasn’t at all worried about your latest release, and it proved to be just as good as the last one.   While it didn’t capture me as intently as The Twilight Gods did, the quality of writing was lovely and consistent.   This is so much more than a Christmas story.

The story, as many Christmas ones do, begins with a toymaker.

Abelard Bauer is a toymaker living in Bavaria in the mid-1800′s.   His work is known to be meticulous and lovely, and many people in his village buy the toys from him to put under their trees.   While toy making is his trade, what he really impresses people with is his knowledge of making glass spheres and ornaments.   Princes and shepherds, and most recently, a tiny glass minstrel.

In the same tiny, Bavarian town lives a man named Andreas Schiffer.   He knows Abelard well enough.   Haunted by the tragic death of his son, and the darkened history behind it, Schiffer is hostile towards Abelard.   Despite the fact that they share the tragedy of their sons perishing in the same accident, they also share another secret.

Their sons were lovers.

Set around the magical time of Christmas, The Glass Minstrel is the heartbreaking story of a toymaker who finds himself in the throes of depression.   The last of his family has gone from him, just after he began to understand what it was like.   It is a story of a broken friendship, of understanding, and of how loneliness affects us all.   Especially around the holidays.

Reading your novels is always a quietly uplifting experience.   Nothing immediately catches your attention, but you are pleasantly surprised by what the pages of the book hold.   By the end of the story, you are invested in the characters and analyzing their motives like you would in the best of novels.   Genre fiction is hard to pull off as something both original yet familiar, but books such as The Glass Minstrel manage to get it right.

Abelard was a protagonist I was amazingly fond of.   It’s interesting to read a young adult novel where the adults are more centered than the teenager in the story, although there were several teenage characters in the narrative.   His place in the story was simple yet powerful, and it was really touching to read about the dedication to his craft and how he missed his son.   the fact that he was an accepting father was also a nice touch.

Schiffer was the black to Abelard’s white, though not in a bad way.   Where Abelard deals with his grief by befriending a young teenager named Jakob (who is much like his son), Schiffer bemoans his fate and tries to make sense of the journal his son Heinrich left behind.   His character is intense and angry, and seeing that anger slowly disappear as he became more accepting of his son’s passing was nice.   It blended with the acceptance of what his son was, as well.

The story of Jakob was a pleasant side story that represented the love of the younger Bauer and Schiffer in a new form, although Jakob’s road to romance is not easy, and is not destined for a quick fix.   He traverses the difficult waters of liking a childhood friend that is either straight or not accepting of their sexuality, and of liking someone that, while kind, is destined to never return those affections.   Jakob’s character is the one that will resonate with teen readers the most, and I really enjoyed how real he was.   I would have liked to know him outside the pages of your novel.

Your writing was as pleasant as always, and your style remains something unique yet accessible.   Historical fiction enthusiasts especially will enjoy your attention to detail and the way you focus on characters of the middle class, as so few authors tend to do.   Another thing that I really liked about this book is the journal entries from Heinrich that began each chapter.

Our books make for good props.   It’s quite funny how everyone else sees us and commends us for being such a studious pair, with our books and notes spread out on the grass while we lie on our stomachs or sit against our favorite beech tree.   Half the time we simply write notes to each other, which we pass back and forth.   Sometimes I think we get a little too sentimental, but Stefan seems to take a lot of pleasure in it, so I try not to feel too self-conscious about being sweet on him.

- from the journal of Heinrich Schiffer

The plot was nice enough, though I think the subject of Christmas will deter some readers, despite the fact that the novel isn’t meant to be a Christmas story so much as a story that takes place around Christmastime.   The setting was also thinner than The Twilight Gods, and I found myself not enjoying it as much.   I would have liked more vivid descriptions of it, but it wasn’t so sparse as to deter readers.   Merely, I felt that it could have been done better.

For readers that are unfamiliar with LGBTQ genre fiction and/or LGBTQ historical fiction, especially for young-adults, your work is a great starting point.   Your stories are engaging and the feelings and situations you deal with are universal to all time periods.   With enjoyable characters and writing that hardly misses the mark, I enjoy your work, and think that many other people will as well.   You know how to write about LGBTQ issues delicately, yet you still manage to convey a wonderful message.   We’re just like everyone else, and that’s what is important.   B +

All the best,
John

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REVIEW:  John Belushi is Dead by Kathy Charles

REVIEW: John Belushi is Dead by Kathy Charles

Dear Ms. Charles,

It is very hard to say that I enjoyed reading a book that is death-centric.   Saying that to someone, even if they are a reader, makes for some really strange responses.   Death celebrities are the main focus of the characters in John Belushi is Dead, but it manages to be a fun and quirky journey instead of being depressing, like death normally is.   Unusual in the best possible way, John Belushi is Dead is a great debut book.

John Belushi is DeadBenji and Hilda live in the vast city of L.A., where celebrities practically ooze out of the sidewalks.   A common practice for people that live in L.A., or visit, is to fawn over these celebrities.   Hilda and Benji fall into this group of people, yet there is one key difference between the two best friends and the rest of the paparazzi.   They are fascinated by dead celebrities.

Everything about a celebrity’s death intrigues the two of them.   How they died.   Where they died.   Who last saw them and spoke to them.   It’s like a wellspring of Hollywood macabre.   Hilda started her pursuit after her parents died in a car accident, and realized that a famous actress died in much the same way.   It felt safer, almost, to know that death was universal.   That death comes even to someone like a celebrity.

Their friendship, while strong, is as odd as their hobby.   Benji loves Hilda, but she just doesn’t reciprocate the feelings for him.   When she befriends an old man named Hank who helped them on a fact-finding trip (an outing where Benji gets memorabilia of the dead celebrities – such as a bloodstained tile), Benji’s jealousy starts up, and their friendship continues to grow in awkwardness.   That doesn’t even begin to describe what happens when Hilda actually starts liking someone that isn’t Benji.   Jake, to be precise, who is Hank’s neighbor and watches over him to some strange extent.

Hilda’s slow realization of what her relationship with Benji is really about is the center of this interesting debut novel.   John Belushi is Dead will appeal to readers looking for something original in the young adult market, or the book market in general.

If there is one type of book that I love, it’s a book with a protagonist that has a lot of depth to them.   I don’t just mean a depth like ‘Oh, they save kittens AND fight evil.’   I mean real depth.   The kind that makes you realize that humanity is complex and that people have layers.   Hilda is one of those protagonists.   You start off by writing her as the type of character that’s just plain weird and obsessive.   She’s not over-obsessive, but she has a quirk.   This has been done before.   It’s not secret that quirky characters are fun to read about, especially in young-adult literature.   But as you get deeper into the book, you realize how deeply her parent’s death affected her.   And the meaning of her preoccupation with dead celebrities. Hilda’s character is portrayed as stronger for her flaws.

What makes her great is that she doesn’t stop there.   Hilda doesn’t do all of this introspective thinking between events just for the fun of it.   There is a purpose in it.   Her greater understanding of how her obsession is unhealthy defines her character later on, and it still allows her to understand that it gave her some good lessons.   Hilda, despite being obsessed with dead celebrities, knows that death is not the answer to everything.   It is inevitable, yes, but still retains an air of the unknown.   Her knowledge is further expanded by Benji, who is by many means an unhealthy character.   Their tragic friendship is heartbreaking, and the many painful realizations that Hilda comes to have about Benji and his true personality are sickening, but effective.

This is the end of an early chapter, where Hilda begins to observe Benji more closely.   It sent so many shivers down my spine, and I still remember it, even after reading it weeks ago.

“So?”

“So maybe having all this stuff in our houses is bad luck.”

“Hey, Hilda,” Benji said, turning back to his computer, “You should see this video.   It’s a girl getting screwed to death by a horse.”

I am the first to admit that my interests border on the macabre, but Benji’s obsessions were without boundaries.   I put the stones down and grabbed my bag.

“I’m out of here,” I said, and Benji waved to me halfheartedly.   As I walked to the door, I heard the sound of a girl moaning in ecstasy; then the moans became groans, and then screams.   I closed the bedroom door behind me, and smiled at Mrs. Connor on the way out.

However, as strongly depicted as this inverted friendship is, Hilda’s little romance wasn’t as much of a home-run for me.   While I liked Jake well enough, the mystery behind him was kind of lame.   More original than the cliche, but nothing that surprised me overall.   I enjoyed his background as the guy that fine tunes movie sex scenes, and I felt like he treated Hilda well, but I just didn’t think that this book necessarily needed a romance in it.   Hilda still manages to be a great, independent character, and she never puts Jake on a pedestal like other girls her age would do.   It just didn’t have the same affect on me.

Her friendship with Hank was stronger, and I thought it was a nice one, and I love how her relationships with others slowly affected her thin one with her aunt.   It’s a great novel in depicting character growth, and it really paid off at the end to see what kind of character Hilda became. Still, nothing really topped the insanity that was the Hilda/Benji friendship.

The plot was very character driven, so there wasn’t much propelling it forward from the outside, aside from Hilda pulling away from Benji and realizing the consequences and the positives of that.   It still managed to be fast paced and well done, and even readers that normally stay away from character-driven work will want to check this out because of the Hollywood knowledge and the complex characters.

John Belushi is Dead has some flaws in the romance and side characters, but is a powerfully done read with its quirks and the disturbing friendship between Hilda and Benji.   I found it to be creepy and fascinating, and it has me more than willing to try the next Kathy Charles read.   You’re one of a kind, Kathy Charles, and so is your book.   B +

All the best,

John

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