“The Guncle” by Steven Rowley

The Guncle


Genre: Comedy-Drama/LGBTQ
Publishers: G.P. Putnam
Pub. Date: May 25, 2021

Mini-Review

Although “The Guncle” deals with young children losing their mother to cancer as their father checks into rehab for addiction, it’s still a funny, feel-good read. Expect to laugh a lot. While dad gets his act together (he is a good dad), the kids leave their Connecticut home and travel to California to spend the summer with their gay Uncle Patrick, who they call GUP. Patrick is a former TV star who became a shut-in following the death of his partner. At first, he’s a fish out of water with the kids, which makes for some very funny dialogue. But, he rather quickly turns into a combination of Uncle Joey and Uncle Jesse from “Full House.” You get the picture. When he isn’t poking fun at his own vanity, or that of the Hollywood cliques with which he used to run, Patrick is busy answering the kids’ many questions with panache. Between laughs, Rowley manages to make the reader feel genuine grief for the children’s and Patrick’s loss. Without being preachy, he gives us a credible glimpse of the difficulties of being a gay man in a straight world.  Of course, the uncle and kids help each other heal. However, you won’t mind the clichés. In this type of tale, you expect the obvious. Think “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman. Predictable, yes, but also a delight. It ends (spoiler) with a return to show business—with the help of his six-year-old nephew, ten-year-old niece, and pinch a of YouTube magic, our hero makes a well-earned comeback.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“The Thirty Names of Night” by Zeyn Joukhadar

Genre: LGBTQ/Historical FictionThe Thirty Names of Night
Publisher: Atria Books
Pub. Date: November 3, 2020

There is so much going on in this beautifully written novel. You will meet artists and three generations of Syrian American women. You will learn about French-occupied Syria during the early twentieth century, as well as a long-forgotten NYC neighborhood called Little Syria.  You will also read about birds and ghosts.  The author mixes up the genres. There is historical fiction, literary fiction, magical realism, coming-of-age, speculative fiction, and always LGBTQ fiction.  All the main characters in this novel are queer. There are two alternating narrators, one from the late 1920s and one from the present. In the present, we meet a young trans man, who moves into his grandmother’s NYC apartment to take care of her since her health is failing. In the past, the female protagonist is also an artist. She paints mysterious birds.  The three generations of Syrian Americans are linked together by their secrets, their art, and—here is the magical realism—a species of a bird that wears feathers that seem to hold the key to unlocking their secrets and allowing the characters to break free from society’s restrictions.

When the author wrote his debut novel, “Map of Salt,” he identified as a woman. He now identifies as a man. I mention this in light of the fact that the trans male protagonist talks about his confusion from when he was a child feeling extremely uncomfortable in his female body. This is written with such lucidity that one cannot help but wonder how much is fiction. The scene where the character gets his period is all-telling and so heartbreakingly sad. The child is devastated because, up until that moment, he held out hope that his true body as a male would surface. As his body conspires against him, his delighted mother says that her little girl is growing up. She tells the child that he is a woman now. To add to the child’s confusion, although he hates the feeling that his body is betraying him, he simultaneously loves the feeling of closeness that he is experiencing as his beloved mother braids his hair, sharing female pearls of wisdom now that he has a woman’s body. (When the girl grows to be the young man his mother is deceased but shows up as a ghost that he can see and talk to.  It reads more sweet than weird).  The author writes the child’s conflicting emotions so well that he makes you want to jump into the pages and give the child the word non-binary.  My maternal instincts had me crying for the boy.

Overall, I enjoyed the Syrian immigrant experience as observed in the novel.  As a native New Yorker, I loved the descriptions of Little Syria, which sounded like an Arab version of NYC’s Little Italy. I could have done without the birds, but then again I have never been a fan of magical realism. However, I did think it was clever of the author to make the trans man’s mother an ornithologist to keep the magic as believable as possible.  At times, there was just too much going on in the story to hold my interest. I found myself skimming to get back to the Syrian-American experience, but then again, historical fiction is my favorite genre.  There is no denying Joukhadar’s talent as an author.  The book could have easily been written as a boring teacher’s manual on all the themes in the novel that many of us do need to be educated on.  Instead, what you get is lyrical prose that is captivating as well as educational.  Still, for someone like myself who has trouble with mixed genre novels, the book wasn’t for me. Though, I feel confident that other readers and reviewers will consider it a story-telling feat.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“The Parting Glass” by Gina Marie Guadagnino

Genre:           Historical Fictionthepartingglass
Publisher:    Atria Books
Pub. Date:    March 5, 2019

This novel, set in the 1830s, has all the makings of great storytelling.  You will read much about Tammany Hall (the name given to the notoriously corrupt Democratic political machine that dominated New York City politics during the 19th century.  You will meet Maire O’Farrell and her twin brother Seanin.  They are from Ireland and fresh off a boat that landed them in the poverty-stricken area known as The Five Points.  You might know of the infamous Five Points from the book or the movie “Gangs of New York.”  The Points was a 19th-century neighborhood located in Lower East Manhattan that included Mulberry Street.  Back then, Mulberry Street (historically associated with Italian-American culture, where the Mafia blossomed and made the street a household name) was filled with Irish rather than Italian immigrants.  If interested, nowadays it is Chinese immigrants who walk Mulberry streets.  On the other side of town is Washington Square, which was and still is a very wealthy area.  These families hired cheap labor from the nearby tenements.  This is how the twins end up working as servants in a Washington Square home.  Mary becomes a lady’s maid to beautiful Charlotte Walden, the belle of New York City’s high society.  Seanin, when not busy becoming the leader of an Irish gang, works as a stable groom for Charlotte’s favorite horse.  Both brother and sister fall in love with the mistress of the house.   I am not giving anything away.  All of this is described in the book’s blurb.  Are you in yet?  I was.  So why was I disappointed in the novel?

You must get by now that “Parting Glass” has a strong feel of “Upstairs/Downstairs,” where “Downtown Abbey” meets the “Gangs of New York.”  For this reviewer, the tale should have been a captivating read.  There is love, tragedy, and a good dose of Mulberry St.  A neighborhood I used to live in.  The storylines didn’t feel properly linked together.  By day, Mary is prim and proper.  By night, she is getting drunk with gang members and slapped around (have no fear, Mary gives as good as she gets) in an Irish pub.  I find it far-fetched that her secret nightlife could be as well hidden from her day life as presented in the book. I also had a hard time buying that Mary’s sexuality was as accepted by all as the author writes, especially by the male gang members.  Personally, I wish that was true.  But sadly if I am not mistaken, there was not a thriving gay scene in the Lower East Side for more than a century later.  It is clear that Guadagnino did her research on the history of violence in The Five Points.  This makes it all the more confusing that she depicts a casually accepted gay woman in this setting.  I think the author was attempting to emulate Sarah Waters’ erotic thriller “The Paying Guests,” or Waters’ “Fingersmith,” a historical crime novel.  Both books are set in the Victorian era.  Both books are page-turners that include lesbian love affairs.   Guadagnino, like Waters, does a great job of writing intelligently on what in present time is known as “love is love.”  I applaud the author on this.  The uneven storylines are where I take issue.  I think a good editor could have made this book a far better read than it is.

Pre Oder “The Parting Glass” on Amazon

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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