A body is found bricked into the walls of a house - from the state of the hands, it's clear he was buried alive, that he had tried to claw his way out before he died. The victim is quickly linked to a missing person's case and DS Adam Tyler is called.
As the sole representative of the Cold Case Review Unit, Tyler understands he's been placed there to keep him out of the way following an 'incident'. So when the case falls in his lap, he grabs the opportunity to fix his stagnating career.
But then he discovers he has a connection to the case that hopelessly compromises him, and he makes the snap decision not to tell his superiors. With such a brutal and sadistic murder to unpick, Tyler must move carefully to find out the truth without destroying the case or himself.
Meanwhile, someone in the city knows exactly what happened to the body. Someone who is watching Adam closely. Someone with an unhealthy obsession with fire...
Author Russ Thomas was born in Essex, raised in Berkshire and now lives in Sheffield. After various 'proper' jobs (including pot-washer, optician's receptionist and storage salesman) he discovered the joy of bookselling, where he could talk to people about books all day. Firewatching is his first novel.
I'm in the fortunate position to be able to read a few books a week - and my pile to be read is so large, and so teetering, that I feel guilty about truly indulging in a book. Firewatching is one in which I found myself rationing the book out - desperate to reach the conclusion but also eager to eke out every last drop of enjoyment and mystery.
I've struggled with crime books in the past - I've been a huge fan of Ian Rankin since I was a teenager, but it's quite an oversaturated market and it can be hard to know where to start when wanting to find a new Detective or Investigator to latch onto. But in Firewatching I think Russ Thomas has created the most compelling lead since Will Dean's Tuva Moodyson appeared a few years ago, and Firewatching is one of the most compelling stories I've read in some time.
Lead DS Adam Tyler is compelling, troubled, but utterly believable, and whilst it's sad to say that this is still surprising, it's nice to see a gay character appear in a crime novel who isn't a sterotype, but a layered, three-dimensional human being. Yes, he's incredibly hot, and yes, he hooks up with men, but he's utterly believable, and easy to relate to. As a lead he's compelling - and I found myself increasingly worried for his welfare as the book continued. And, as a gay man, it was really bloody nice to read a crime novel with a gay officer as the lead, whose sexuality is part of his life, but isn't necessarily the sole characteristic that defines him, as I find can often be the case in fiction.
man who In fact my only issue with Tyler is that at one point another described him as "a prettier Jake Gyllenhall", which I (through extensive research) have deemed an utterly impossible statement - if Jake Gyllenhaal could be any prettier we might as well all give up and start wearing paper bags over our heads, as the pinnacle of beauty in mankind would have been reached...
That insignificant grumble aside, Firewatching is tightly plotted, and threads a number of fascinating plots together to the extent that each twist is genuinely surprising, and leads up to a conclusion that left me rather breathless. Characters are likeable and well-rounded, with Thomas avoiding stereotypes whether positive or negative in drawing his characters - cuddly old ladies are shaped into something far more complex, gruff senior policemen turn out to have slightly more to them, and Tyler's a thoroughly fascinating man who I can't wait to read more about. Do check Firewatching out - it comes highly recommended.
Despite everything being pretty terrifying outside, we're in a pretty golden age when it comes to conversations about sexuality and gender. Growing up in the 90's and early noughties, finding books I could relate to as a gay kid was really bloody hard. Prior to online shopping being much of a thing, I didn't dare ask in bookshops for books that had gay themes - so I was left with occasional glances at a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover (which, heterosexual sex scenes aside, is really quite dull) to fulfill initial curiosity - and it was only through chance that I discovered Patrick Gale, who was the first author whose works I truly fell in love with, and who allowed me to discover a positive life for those of alternative sexualities, outside of the small town in which I grew up.
Thankfully, with the rise in popularity of Young Adult fiction today, there is a huge amount of material out there which allows young people to explore and discover different sexualities and gender identities - and I can't think of a better example than Heartstopper by Alice Oseman.
Back in 2016 (4 years ago, when we could do things like see friends and go to the pub. Ah...), Alice Oseman began writing Heartstopper as a web comic. Skip forward to 2018, and Heartstopper began becoming available in Graphic Novel form - with volume 3 released earlier this year.
Heartstopper is the tale of Charlie and Nick - two boys at the same school. They've never met, until the two are forced to sit together in class - and, from there, romance grows... Over the three volumes that are out so far, you watch the boys grow together, meet their friends, families and teachers, and genuinely feel part of their lives. It's rare that I become quite so invested in fictional characters, but there's something very real about Charlie and Nick that sucks you in, and I can't deny that I feel a real sense of connection with this tale of gay love at school - I was in the closet for most of my time at school but certainly felt the pangs of adolescent love.
Whilst some of you may roll your eyes at the fact that this is another love story about two cisgendered white guys - the accompanying cast are varied, diverse, and fully fleshed out, with a whole range of subplots that are massively entertaining, but also completely relevant to what young people are, I believe, going through today - although I should point out that it's going on for 15 years since I was in school!
These books are gorgeous - beautifully drawn and it's clear that creator Alice Oseman has a huge amount of love for these characters - they first appeared in her novel Solitaire. which I've not read but is very much top of my pile! I'm excited and cautious about Charlie and Nick's future - I know wherever they go, they'll be dealt with huge amounts of care, but also huge amounts of truth - so I have a distinct feeling it's not going to be plain sailing for them...
Check out Heartstopper on Alice Oseman's website to see where you can read it, and where you can grab a copy, and enjoy. I certainly did.
Poland, 1980. Anxious, disillusioned Ludwik Glowacki, soon to graduate university, has been sent along with the rest of his class to an agricultural camp. Here he meets Janusz, and together they spend a dreamlike summer swimming in secluded lakes, reading forbidden books - and falling in love.
But with summer over, the two are sent back to Warsaw, and to the harsh realities of life under the Party. Exiled from paradise, Ludwik and Janusz must decide how they will survive, but their different choices risk tearing them apart.
Author Tomasz Jedrowski was born in West Germany to Polish parents, and studied law at Cambridge and the Universite de Paris. He currently lives in France. Swimming in the Dark is his first novel, and my god - what a novel it is!
James Baldwin's sublime Giovanni's Room is a key touchstone of this novel, and the two share a lot - not only themes of queer love and escape, but both are exquisetely beautiful reads full of desire, discovery, and the bittersweet pain of first love.
Whilst the Gay love story is what drew me to pick this book up, the setting is just as fascinating - taking place in Poland in 1980, and allowing the reader a glimpse into the beginnings of the turmoil that, 9 years later, saw the Polish Worker's Party fall and Poland move into a full market economy.
I like to think my historical knowledge is pretty good, but I'm woefully under informed when it comes to Poland, so it was fascinating to have such an in-depth glimpse into the country's past. In terms of tone and setting I was reminded a little of An Honest Man by Ben Fergusson - one of my favourite books of 2019, and one that also deals with a gay love story under an opressive regime. However my knowledge of german history is decent, so that book was perhaps slightly less enlightening for me on that front - whereas Swimming in the Dark genuinely opened my eyes and has made me interested in the Poland of the mid to late twentieth century, helped hugely, I imagine, by the fact that the author was born to Polish parents who I imagine would have had first hand knowledge of some of the events and situations described in the book.
Jedrowski's prose truly envelops you in the story - I felt the warm summer haze of the initial chapters turn into the cold grey later in the book, and as a Gay man myself, I felt the emotional heart of this story incredibly deeply. I grew up under a far more accepting government in nineties england, but the themes that are explored here were easily related to stuff I went through as a teenager and a young adult, and, I imagine are fairly universal. I think I fell in love with Tomasz almost as much as Ludwik did - and that's a mark of how emotionally honest the author is in his writing.
My only real gripe with this book was that it wasn't longer - but that's a gripe that comes from pure selfishness - in truth it's a well balanced tale that's told with great care. I won't forget it in a hurry, and I'm eager to see what the author does next - he's certainly one to watch for me, and Swimming in the Dark is one of my favourite reads of 2020.
Church and Other Dirty Words is a collection of poems by author and poet Brad Cohen. I reviewed it back in 2016, and was hugely impressed by the raw and visceral feel of the words - blunt and honest and directly speaking to my experiences as a Gay man. As a result, I was thrilled to be asked to review "Church and Other Dirty Words: The Film Collection" - a collaboration between Brad Cohen and director Sian Williams.
There's definitely a danger with adapting poems, in that part of the wonder of poetry is the myriad of individual meanings the words can take on in the reader's minds. There's a concern that there'll be less of a connection for the reader in watching another person's view of how the feelings and thoughts of a poem should be conveyed - but it's something that the team behind "Church and Other Dirty Words: The Film Collection" have carefully avoided - these short films are direct, thought provoking and utterly electric.
The films differ in tone and content - but overarching themes unify them as a collection - all of them filled with a searing honesty that's impossible to turn away from. "Church and Other Dirty Words" was already a varied and original body of work, but Cohen and Williams should be applauded for finding dynamic and innovative ways to approach these poems - the words are allowed to take centre stage, but the magnetic performances and inventive, creative cinematography allow for films that stimulate both visually and aurally. Performances from artists such as Danny Polaris, Joseph Connolly, Charlie Knight, Sophie Chittenden, Sian Williams, Victoria Matthews, Luigi Ambrosio, Joe Gilmore and Matthew Williams are accompanied by a score composed by Himuro Mansion - ranging from slow, meditative themes through to pulsing beats. It's cleverly arranged - sympathetic to the performances but excellent in its own right.
In terms of the the range of films, it's hard to pick a favourite - the overarching films with Danny Polaris and Joseph Connolly delve into a relationship full of raw emotions and, in the final film, a tenderness and openness that corresponds to the themes of the poems perfectly. "Masc4Masc" features Joseph Connolly in a blunt, direct and intimate short, and "DJ Pygmalion" is a vivid, sexual and pulsing piece performed by Charlotte Dowell that's almost staggering in its directness. Lingering looks in "Girl Under You" stay with the viewer long after the film has ended, and the sensual, fluid movements of Luigi Ambrosio and Joe Gilmore in "Bedside Surgeon"convey a relationship without a need for words - the phrase "poetry-in-motion" by be an age old cliche, but it's beyond fitting here.
An original, powerful and brilliantly crafted project, "Church and Other Dirty Words: The Film Collection" takes already brilliant poems and carries them through to a new creative level. Combined they're only just over half and hour, but they'll stay with the viewer far, far longer.
Imagine feeling lost in your own body. Imagine spending years living a lie, denying what makes you 'you'. This was Ryan's reality. He had to choose: die as a man or live as a woman. In 2012, Ryan chose Ryannon. At the age of thirty she began her transition, taking the first steps on the long road to her true self, and the emotional physical and psychological journey that would change her for ever.
In 2017 we seem to have reached a new era of awareness and acceptance when it comes to Trans people - with media campaigners and writers like Paris Lees and Janet Mock alongside actors such as Laverne Cox and Rebecca Root, Trans issues are being talked about in the mainstream media, and, for the most part, being accepted and celebrated.
We're not there yet though - there's still a hell of a lot of ignorant people out there, and media coverage can often be tainted with a curiosity that swiftly veers into disrespect and unwelcome intrusion.
Step forward Rhyannon Styles, performance artist, dancer, hairdresser, clown - and now writer. She's been a columnist for "Elle UK" for the last two years, and brings her experience, expertise and considerable talent to "The New Girl", a memoir that entertains every bit as much as it informs.
Rhyannon was born Ryan, and throughout her life went on an emotional, psychological and ultimately physical journey to become the woman she is in today. It's a journey that Rhyannon tells with no holds barred - allowing the reader to get to know her very well indeed. As such, it removes any potential awkwardness for the reader who may not be all that familiar with the ins and outs of transitioning, and instead feels like you're catching up with a friend over coffee. That's not to say that Rhyannon's journey isn't difficult - parts of this read had me tearing up, and Rhyannon's frankness and honesty conveys in part the immense difficulties and huge life choices that people questioning their gender face.
For a subject that it so difficult, emotional and intensely personal, Rhyannon does a fantastic job of not making things get too heavy - she's clearly a funny, witty and warm person and as such the reader enjoys embarking on every step of the journey with her, no matter how dark and difficult it gets.
Transitioning is going to be an individual and different journey for anyone who chooses to embark on the process, and, as such, there's no way one could cover all the potential questions that one on the journey, or the family and friends supporting them, may have. Rhyannon, quite rightly, chooses not to try and cover every possible base, but concentrates on telling her story - one packed full of humour, insights and warmth that offers considerable support, hope and understanding for those reading, whether you're trans, questioning, or just an ally. The last year or so has seen some brilliantly good Queer literature published in the UK - and "The New Girl" is a shining example of that.
“Being good is overrated. Wicked on the other hand…simply delicious”
Cutting your friends from your life and treating guys as Ken Dolls may seem like an easy task to achieve…WRONG! It’s harder than you realize. Especially where you live in small city where the gay community consists of only a hundred people. So you’re bound to run into drama.
Recently single, Allister finds himself at a crossroad. Try the dating scene again hoping to find a better guy who won’t take him for granted or dip into the hook-up scene feeding his inner sex god.
First a photographer, now a writer – Allister Dean is a Nevada based writer, currently relocating to Oregon in order to write his second novel. “Deliciously Wicked” is his first, and it’s a debut that’s both strong and sparkling – pulling the reader into a world that’s fun, sexy, honest, and relatable.
It may seem rather difficult to believe, but “Bridget Jones Diary” was first published in book form 21 years ago. Whilst it sparked a revolution in how it recorded women’s lives, no-one has, to my knowledge, been able to emulate that style well in writing about men – certain changes have to be made, and especially when writing about a Man in this day and age, when diaries are less of a thing, but so many elements of our day to day lives are recorded in emails, texts, blogs, tweets, Instagram posts, dating site profiles, etc…
Allister Dean has collated all of those differing elements, and combined them into one book – making it a read that feels fresh and exciting, allowing the reader snippets that give them detailed glimpses into the lead characters life, and yet allow for the book to maintain a strong sense of pace – it excels at being a light read, yet it’s rather astonishing quite how much information you can gleam from just a few pages of text exchanges, snatched conversations, sexual encounters and messages to ex boyfriends.
It’s quite often that I read books wanting to have on the characters as a friend – but it’s rare to read one where it feels like the lead character is a friend from the off – regaling you with sexy stories, sassy asides and bitchy comments that make for hilarious reading. You shouldn’t just write this tale of as a shallow look at gay life though – it’s packed full of interesting insights and frank acknowledgements. Brilliant asides are peppered with chapters of story that move several different plots along, keeping the book moving at a rapid pace, but nevertheless, allowing the reader to get to know other characters who enter Allister’s life, and making this a far deeper read than it may initially appear.
Fun, funny and filled with clever writing, catty characters and sexy situations, “Deliciously Wicked” is far more than the sum of its parts – a great read with a big glass of wine and a big bar of chocolate ( or one of the delicious meals that you’ll find the recipes for within the pages of this book…)
When was the last time you managed to get away from everything?
Robert and Tristan needed to close a chapter in their relationship. This photography book will take you through their intimate journey in search for answers. You will leave behind the city to immerse yourself in nature and witness the awakening of their passion, and above all, the deep connection they thought they had lost. A special moment in their lives that only you, me and the woods will share.
Vincent Six is a photographer based in London. Originally from Spain, he has dedicated a big part of his professional career to creating images for films in Hollywood, but has set up his own independent publishing label in order to explore a more intimate side – in a book full of passion, love, and nature.
You Me The Woods is a book full of Vincent VI’s beautiful photography, but chooses not to focus solely on the beautiful images, but instead inserts a written narrative alongside the images, detailing private conversations between the two characters whose interactions VI closely details, and allowing the readers unbridled access into the lives of these two men – allowing a level of closeness and intimacy between the reader and the action of the book that is almost unparalleled.
The writing documents close, flowing conversation between two lovers – the kind of conversation that only comes from years of love and intimacy. The writing takes the reader by the hand and guides them through the photographs – shedding light on pictures that are already filled with an immense amount of storytelling – making this an immersive experience. Whilst it’s only a short read, you’ll want to linger over these images – the models are truly beautiful men, and Vincent VI has created a real sense of connection between the pair of them – making the pictures moving, emotive, and erotic.
There is some nudity, but it’s beautifully shot – and the reader does not feel like they are watching two men mid photo shoot, but merely being granted glances into the lives of two men during a moment of their relationship – intimate, yes, but also filled with love and affection.
It’s also worth mentioning that nature is the real third character here – a beautiful forest setting adding to the enchantment of these pictures, and also highlighting the fact this book is part of the One Tree Planted campaign -so for every copy of this book that’s bought, a tree will be planted. I feel like I’ve given you enough reasons to buy this book already – but if not, that’s one more for you!
A beautiful, tender and intimate read, You Me The Woods is a book that creates something more than a normal photography tome – creating a project that portrays a relationship in stunning fashion. Most definitely a book to buy and look at over and over again…
Join Theo and Maria : Two of life’s young professionals, oversexed and under appreciated as they strive and stumble their way through life’s ups and downs within their Central London existence. Maria , a feisty, career driven woman and her friend Theo, a gay, sarcastic, warm hearted lover of life, find themselves, on a whirlwind journey of life, love, loss and sexual humour set against the backdrop of a vibrant Soho.
Rob Adam is a writer based in Somerset, writing about life, love and relationships.
So, it has to be said that I have somewhat of a mixed relationship with “Soho” – the area in which Rob Adam has set this book. As a gay teen growing up in the countryside, magazines like “Attitude” and “Gay Times” had me believing that Soho was a mythical Valhalla of Men, overflowing with fun, friendship and sex. As it turned out, that wasn’t quite the case – there was plenty of what I’d hoped for, but also a lot of loneliness, a lot of drug use, and a lot of superficial attitudes. Of course, part of my feelings on it are based in part to my having been a very self-conscious at the time, and now I’m a lot older (and hopefully wiser), I enjoy a good night out in Soho with the rest of them.
Author Rob Adam captures the sense of fun that permeates the area, but also makes no secret of the fact that the characters who populate it are layered, relatable characters who the reader will instantly recognise, and Theo and Maria are so brilliantly written that it’s not just enjoyable to spend time in their company, it’s an absolute pleasure. The journeys they go on through out the book may initially seem relatively light, but Rob Adam does not avoid delving into difficult and troubling situations – really delving deep into the history of these characters, and using it as a means to move these characters forward into new situations. Anyone who has been through a heartbreak or a job loss, or even been fed up of the dating scene, will instantly feel an empathy with the characters, and their strong friendship is a real backbone for the book, and I’m sure something that will continue to serve as a strong thread for the series as it moves forwards.
There’s sex here – good sex too, written about in such a way that make it fun, exciting and sexy, and yet never veers into smuttiness or seediness. The sex scenes aren’t just thrown in – they’re always there to move a plot forward. Yes, they are fairly explicit, but in the context of the book, extremely enjoyable! They’re balanced well with real tenderness, care, and brilliant wit – there are some real laugh out loud lines in this book that will stick with the reader. Brilliant fun – roll on Book Two!
Beginning with Moby Dick: The Rise of the Undead (Part One), Tex Daw chronicles the passage of two men on board the Pequod, a whaling vessel poised on the edge of a world that is about to change forever. Haunted by the riddle of the vampire’s dance, each of the men is transformed, and the world is made anew…
Tex Daw is a digital collage artist, a tai chi practitioner, and an avid BMX rider. He is currently living in Vancouver, BC, Canada, and is a keen instagrammer – follow him @texdaw.
In the last ten years or so there have been a wave of reimaginings of classic tales with supernatural elements – the unexpected popularity of”Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” beginning a flood of titles that included my personal favourite (in terms of titles, I’ve yet to read it – )”Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters”. Some of the books were okay, some were no more than cheap cash-ins that failed to stay true to the original, so the trend seemed to die down a little – a fact cemented by the recent box office bomb that was the film adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”. So, when I received a copy of “Moby Dick – The Rise of the Undead”, I can’t deny that I was a little concerned about what kind of read it would be…
Thankfully, it’s really very good indeed.
Moby Dick, in it’s original form by Herman Melville, is already a very strange, gripping read, filled with giant sea creatures, strange prophecies, lost coffins and rampant homoeroticism. Tex Daw has taken all of the elements that make Moby Dick a great read and amped them up somewhat – but he’s done so with great respect for the original text. As a result, this is very fun read – a dark and moody adventure peppered with the supernatural, the subterranean, and gallons of seamen (pun very much intended!). It’s no light read either – the prose is at times elaborate and clever, with some very amusing phrases and snippets of dialogue really brightening the book up.
If you like men, whales, the sea, or simply fun takes on old classics, “Moby Dick – The Rise of the Undead” is a fun and thrilling read – bring on part two!
Faringdon House in Oxfordshire was the home of Lord Berners; composer, writer, painter, friend of Stravinsky and Gertrude Stein, and a man renowned for both his eccentricity and his homosexuality. Turning Faringdon into an aesthete’s paradise, exquisite food was served to many of the great minds and beauties of the day. Since the early 1930’s, his companion there was Robert Heber-Percy, twenty-eight years his junior, wildly physical and unscholarly, a hothead who rode naked through the grounds and was known to all as the Mad Boy. If those two sounded an odd couple, especially at a time when homosexuality was illegal, the addition of Jennifer Fry to the household in 1942, a pregnant high society girl who became Robert’s wife, was really rather astounding. After the child was born, the marriage soon foundered. Berners died in 1950, and Robert was left in charge of Faringdon, ably assisted by a ferocious Austrian housekeeper. This mad world was the one first encountered by author Sofka Zinovieff, Robert’s granddaughter. A typical child of the sixties, it was much to her astonishment that Robert decided to leave the house to her.
Histories of stately homes can always be fun reads – crumbling buildings filled with people far madder than one may realize at first glance, living lives that are grand, but often filled with the weight of expectancy and responsibility. Perhaps it’s the class system that has left so many of us intrigued by these lives, and it’s this mix of curiosity and nostalgia for days gone by that keeps programmes like Downton Abbey so popular, and has seen a resurgence in recent years of books that explore the lives of the high and mighty. Sofka Zinovieff’s book however, both caters to those needs and yet manages to be a completely different kettle of fish.
Granddaughter of the Mad Boy of the title, the author came to the house in her teens, and whilst her mother never enjoyed much of a relationship with the man supposed to be her father, Sofka became fond of Robert, and he her. So fond, in fact, that in his later years he revealed that he was leaving the entire estate to her. It’s through this fascinating relationship that Sofka is able to explore the history of the house and its inhabitants – the life of her fascinating grandfather and his partner, one filled with fun, drama and incredible guest stars. A look at the visitor’s book for Faringdon House would be a rather incredible thing, as the reader spies characters such as the Mitfords, Salvador Dali, Margot Fonteyn, John Betjeman, Cecil Beaton, Elsa Schiaparelli, Gertrude Stein… It’s rather dizzying, and reflective of the astonishing lives that Lord Berners and his Mad Boy lived together. Gay and partnered at a time when it was frowned upon by most in society, and also rather illegal, the lives of these men are fascinating and glamorous. The introduction of a woman (the author’s grandmother) to proceedings takes the book in a slightly different direction, and the quest for truth and information about family secrets leads the reader in directions that prove both comical and quietly moving.
Despite the fantastic eccentricities, beautiful buildings and lavish lifestyles that are contained in this book, aided in part by the lovely layout and multiple images that appear throughout, this is a book that at its heart is a warm and loving biography of very real people. Flawed, human and endlessly fascinating, the fact that author Sofka is related to these men (even if potentially not by blood) and knew characters at the very heart of this story make it one with deep emotional ties that really help the reader form connections with this extremely fun cast of characters, and it makes for a gripping and transporting read that’s very hard to put down indeed.
This review was first published on The Bookbag – http://www.thebookbag.co.uk