Monday, February 28, 2011

Elaine Beale, Another Life Altogether

Back Cover Copy: "A keenly observed depiction of the effects of a mother’s mental illness on her young daughter, Another Life Altogether is a profoundly moving, funny, and ultimately heartrending coming-of-age story.

After years of living in the shadow of her mother’s mental illness, thirteen-year-old Jesse Bennett is given a fresh chance at happiness when her family moves to a village in northern England. But just as it seems that she might be able to build a perfect life for herself after befriending two of her new school’s most popular girls, her mother’s worsening mental state and the secret Jesse fiercely guards about herself threaten to destroy her fragile stability. Caught in the storm of her mother’s moods, her father’s desperation, and her classmates’ cruel social hierarchies, Jesse is forced to choose between doing what’s right and preserving her hope for a normal life.

At the heart of a maddening, eccentric, and ultimately lovable family—from her manic mother and her long-suffering father, to her blowsy Aunt Mabel and Uncle Ted, a comically inept criminal—Jesse is an utterly sympathetic narrator who navigates the ups and downs of adolescence with insight, emotional vulnerability, and a wickedly sharp sense of humor. Alternately hilarious and heartbreaking, Another Life Altogether marks the arrival of an immensely gifted novelist."

I've said again and again that all I'm really looking for is a great lesbian novel that has nothing to do with coming-of-age or coming out. 

I take it all back when it comes to this book. Lesbians of the world, add this to your cannon of Books We All Have to Read Right Now. 

I've been meaning to review this novel for months now, ever since I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Beale this summer. I was on vacation and already had a stack of lez-tastic novels in my bag ready to go, but after hearing Ms. Beale read a chapter from her book, I was hooked. I marched right up, bought a copy, got her lovely signature, and took that book down to the lakefront, where I promptly tore through about half of it before I was forced to go eat something. I believe I finished it the next day.

As you'd have guessed from my little intro, this book does include plenty of coming-of-age and a dose of coming out as well. But Ms. Beale's voice is magnetic, and her characters so finely drawn and achingly real that I was half sure I'd met all of them at one time or another in my life. 

I don't think I'm going too far to say that this debut novel renewed my faith in the genre this summer and encouraged me to rededicate myself to this blog and to promoting lesbian writers and their books. Because if you have ever been a young lesbian with a slightly-to-extremely dysfunctional family (you there, in the back, come on, raise your hand with the rest of us), you will enjoy this book. 

Still wavering? Go to Ms. Beale's website and listen to her read you the first chapter of the book (complete with intoxicating British accent). Like me, I doubt you'll want to resist after that. 

Buy the book at Amazon.

Are you a lesbian writer and/or writer of lesbian fiction with a manuscript you want to share with the world? Need a little help first? Not getting the literary agent or publisher attention you were hoping for? Know it needs work but no idea where to start and you just want to toss the whole thing in the grill and set fire to it? Pop over to and make the acquaintance of an editor who is dying to use her literary talents to help you bring another lesbian gem to the world. (Hint: it's me.)

Friday, February 4, 2011


Win a copy of the next book I review* by answering the following question:

What author (gay or straight) do you really wish would write a novel with lesbian protagonists? 

I'm halfway through Alice Hoffman's latest, The Red Garden, and damn, can this lady write. I always look forward to her books (although my favorite is still The Third Angel), and I would give...well, I'd give up my Kindle **gasp** to read Awesome Lesbians Doing Awesome, Slightly Magical Surreal Things by Alice Hoffman.

*Sent within the continental U.S. only - sorry my lovely global readers! I love you too!

So You're a Gay Lady... (Literally Lesbian Books You Really Should Have Read By Now if You're a Lady Who Likes Ladies (TM))

So, you're a gay lady, a lesbian if you will. Maybe you're a proud, card-carrying dyke. Maybe you're utterly closeted and reading Curve magazine with your bedroom door locked late at night (Hi, 16-year-old me! We should talk!). No matter where you fall on the spectrum, you want to read like a lesbian. 

That's why we're here!

To kick off the re-opening of this blog and give you something to read while I dive into the next les-tastic novel on my reading list, here's the first five books on my Literally Lesbian Books You Really Should Have Read By Now if You're a Lady Who Likes Ladies (TM)!

(The Coming Out/Figuring Out You're Gay After Watching But I'm A Cheerleader Edition)

(1) Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson

Where it all began for more than a few of us, I'd imagine...

Winner of the Whitbread Prize for best first fiction, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a coming-out novel from Winterson, the acclaimed author of The Passion and Sexing the Cherry. The narrator, Jeanette, cuts her teeth on the knowledge that she is one of God’s elect, but as this budding evangelical comes of age, and comes to terms with her preference for her own sex, the peculiar balance of her God-fearing household crumbles.

(2) Odd Girl Out, by Ann Bannon.

Start here, then read everything by our friend Ann - enormously delicious pulp, even if it is a little out of date. 

In the 1950s, Ann Bannon broke through the shame and isolation typically portrayed in lesbian pulps, offering instead women characters who embraced their sexuality. With Odd Girl Out, Bannon introduces Laura Landon, whose love affair with her college roommate Beth launched the lesbian pulp fiction genre.

(3) Map of Ireland, by Stephanie Grant

A sad, sweet, gorgeously written novel set in the early days of bussing in Boston - I'm fairly certain I've dated the main character in at least two incarnations, so you probably have too. 

(4) Annie on my Mind, by Nancy Garden

A little corny, a little dated, but still erotic and a damn good read. 

(5) Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters

If you came out sometime between yesterday and 1998, you should have been issued a copy of this book along with your black vest, flannel shirt, and L-Word DVDs. If you haven't read Sarah Waters yet, grab a few bottles of wine and settle in for the ride.