Friday, May 31, 2013

Agent Joanna Volpe - The Exclusive #LA13SCBWI Team Blog Interview

Agent Joanna Volpe

Joanna Volpe (New Leaf Literary) represents picture books to teen novels. Some of her recent titles are See a Heart, Share a Heart by Eric Telchin (Dial), Altered by Jennifer Rush (Little Brown), Chained by Lynne Kelly (Margaret Ferguson Books/FSG), Insurgent by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins), Ever Afters: Of Giants & Ice by Shelby Bach (Simon & Schuster), Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (Henry Holt), and Puzzled by Pink by Sarah Frances Hardy (Viking). She is currently on the lookout for Young Adult horror, dark high fantasy or literary novels; middle grade all genres; picture book art-focused, 200-500 words.

Joanna will be on faculty at the upcoming 2013 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, August 2-5, and I connected with her to find out more...

Lee: As an agent, do you head to a conference hoping to connect with new-to-you talent?

Joanna:  Absolutely. I have found most of my illustrators through SCBWI conferences, and 4 authors from conferences as well. They are a great way to connect with authors and illustrators directly, and to get to know them a little, too.

Lee:  What's the best way for an author attending #la13scbwi to approach you? A business card? A pitch? A sense that they know who you are and what you represent?

Joanna:  It's important to have a quickfire pitch ready if I ask for it. Otherwise, it would be great just to say hello and talk about books they're enjoying and whatnot. It would be nice if they have a sense of who I am and what I represent, but I don't expect it. I don't usually ask for business cards, and sometimes when I am handed them, they get misplaced.

Lee:  Is an on-line presence/profile something you look for before signing someone new?

Joanna: It's not mandatory for signing a new client, no. But anyone I'm considering signing needs to be comfortable with creating one soon!

Lee:  There are big agencies, one-person agencies, and agencies like yours (New Leaf Literary has four literary agents.) Is agency size something authors and illustrators should consider when looking at submitting to an agent?

Joanna:  It really depends on the agency. Whether a big agency or small agency, I think your relationship with your agent is what is most important. So make sure you find the agent you connect with, creatively and business-wise.

Lee:  Your Sunday ProTrack workshop at the conference is called "Cracking The Mystery of Your Royalty Statements." Tell us more.

Joanna:  Well, SCBWI asked if I would talk about this and I said "sure!" haha. In truth though, royalty statements can be very intimidating and overwhelming. And I believe that knowledge is power. So what I'm hoping to accomplish with the workshop is for authors to leave there feeling empowered and able to interpret their statements better--and to also know what kinds of questions they should be asking.

Lee: Should people bring a copy of one of their royalty statements to try to decode it in-session?

Joanna: If they feel comfortable sharing their statement with me, then yes.

Lee:  Any advice for authors and illustrators of works for children and teens you could share?

Joanna:  My advice is always: be ready to work hard, and be open to new ideas and paths to take. Things are changing so much right now, but it's not all doom and gloom! There are some exciting opportunities out there for authors and illustrators that weren't available before. We have to adapt to the changes, and that's OK. Also, always keep reading!

Lee:  Speed round!  Your favorite TV show?

Joanna:  Right now? It's a tie between Parks and Recreation and also The Walking Dead.

Lee:  Literary food you'd most like to try?

Joanna:  Crumpets. I don't know why.

Lee: If you were a contestant on 'The Voice' (or a similar reality singing show) what song would you sing?

Joanna: "What's UP?" by Four Non Blondes

Thanks, Joanna!

To attend Joanna's session and take part in all the remarkable craft, business, inspiration, community and opportunity the SCBWI Summer Conference offers, you have to be there in person!  Go here for all the details, and to register.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

When Love Comes To Town - A Gay Teen Comes Out - And Of Age - In 1990s Ireland

When Love Comes To Town by Tom Lennon

Neil’s the perfect Irish guy: he’s great on the rugby field, got decent grades, and snogged with girls in the in-crowd. He’s also got a secret that can’t reveal to just anyone: he’s gay. Now on the verge of turning eighteen, he’s determined to find his real self and friends to support him. All he needs is the courage to go out at night in Dublin, to finally talk to that guy Ian, to tell—and live---the truth.

This book was originally published in Ireland in 1993, and is being published now in the US by Albert Whitman Teen.  The author is deceased, and not much is known about him, except that he published under a pseudonym because he taught in a Catholic school and didn't want to risk his job.  This new edition includes a forward by James Klise.

Add your review of "When Love Comes To Town" in comments!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

X/1999: Hope that the World is Still Worth Saving, and That (Queer) Love Will Save It

X/1999 by CLAMP

Heart-racing fantasy action and soul-crushing drama fill the pages of CLAMP’s classic masterpiece, X/1999.

After the violent death of his mother, sixteen-year-old Kamui Shiro returns to Tokyo, the home of his childhood friends, Fuma and Kotori Monou. There he encounters the seven dragons of heaven and the seven dragons of earth, supernatural warriors who all have their own deeply personal reasons for either loving or hating the human race. In time, Kamui learns that the future of the planet lies in his hands. Will he choose to become a Dragon of Earth and destroy the world, or will he choose to become a Dragon of Heaven and save it? As the war for the future rages on the streets of Tokyo, friendships are forged, impossible dreams are cherished, and love struggles against all odds for survival and triumph.

LGBTQ content is limited at the beginning of the series, but it bursts forth with gusto around volume ten. Trust me, the wait is worth it. It is difficult to explain who loves who and in what way without spoiling shocking plot twists. Suffice it to say that angsty and passionate romantic tension builds between two characters of the same gender.   In addition, readers of Tokyo Babylon will be thrilled to discover that Subaru and Seichiro burst onto the scene half way through the series. How could one not be enthralled by the tragedy of the gentle exorcist and the heartless assassin?

Anyone struggling in the depths of despair must read this manga. Running through the story is the theme of hope, that despite the grinding forces of destiny which seem impossible to control, the future has yet to be decided. Kamui and Subaru and all the other unforgettable characters face daunting adversity and crushing discouragement, but they continue to find dignity in the choices they make and never stop fighting for a better tomorrow.

X/1999 is currently being republished in six multi-volume editions under its original Japanese title, X. 

This manga contains graphic violence and occasional nudity, so I would have felt ready to read this manga when I was sixteen-years-old.

This is the third title I’ve reviewed by CLAMP. Can you tell how much I love them?

Review by Aaron Walsh.  Add your review of "X/1999" in comments!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

As Others See Us - A gay romance of two generations

As Others See Us by Alan Phillips

While holidaying in the Seychelles, Paul Green's life is changed dramatically when he meets Richard Carter, a youth about half his age. After a wonderful holiday, the two part but meet again in London, where Richard feels compelled to reveal his background. Paul persuades Richard to give up his degrading lifestyle, provides him with accommodation and finds him a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put his past behind him and make a fresh start. But as Richard discovers, fame can bring with it a mountain of problems – including blackmail, libel and slander – everyone's motives are suddenly suspect. We follow Richard's exploits from his early days on the streets to his trusting, loving relationship with his mentor, Paul and round in a circle to reveal how a disreputable past life now threatens his future.

This book was published with a subsidy publisher.  My thanks to Lis for letting me know about "As Others See Us."  Add your review in comments!

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Duchess of the Shallows - Fantasy with a Gay Character

The Duchess of the Shallows by Neil McGarry and Daniel Ravipinto

A game is played in the fog-shrouded city of Rodaas, and every citizen, from the nameless of the Shallows to the noblest of the Garden, is a player or a pawn. And no one is as he appears.

Not Minette, brothel-keeper and obsessive collector of secrets. Not Uncle Cornelius, fearsome chief of the gang of brutes and murderers known as the Red. Not the cults of Death, Wisdom, and Illumination, eternally scheming and plotting along the Godswalk.

And certainly not the orphaned bread girl known as Duchess.

Yet armed with nothing more than her wits, her good friend Lysander and a brass mark of dubious origin Duchess will dare to play that game for the most coveted of prizes: initiation into a secret society of thieves, spies and rumormongers who stand supreme in a city where corruption and lies are common coin.

The Grey.

What's queer about it?  One of the authors (Neil) writes:

"The relationship between our main character, Duchess, and her gay friend Lysander is one that's seen often in real life but never in fantasy fiction, and we thought it was high time. Also, too often in fantasy the hero is male and heterosexual, with women as victims and gays are villains. In the fog-bound city of Rodaas, those who are the unlikeliest heroes are often the ones to save the day."

This book was published by the authors, who have put the first four chapters on their website here.  Add your review of "The Duchess of the Shallows" in comments!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Bonus Saturday Post: "Why My Son Still Won't Join The Boy Scouts" - An Excellent Article In The Atlantic by Kathy Zonana

I loved this article.

It said it so eloquently, as kids' actions often do.

Character.  Something Kathy's son has in abundance.  And something the Boy Scout still need to learn.

ps - and if you want to read more about why the no-gay adult rule is so terrible - in large part because it reinforces the stereotype that LGBTQ adults are dangerous to children - read this piece by Michelangelo Signorile at Huffington Post, The Boy Scouts: Demonizing Gay Men, Empowering Bashers on the Streets

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Thousand Natural Shocks - 13 Year Old Charles (Who's Secretly Gay) Doesn't Fit In At His High School... So He Goes To Military School, and It's Even Worse... at First

The Thousand Natural Shocks by Michael Sáenz

Thirteen-year-old Charles Siskin is not like other boys. He doesn't like sports, he reads all the time and by the time he is ready to enter high school, he doesn't have a single friend. But it is more than these things that separate him from kids his own age. For as long as he can remember, Charles Siskin has liked boys.

Set apart from everyone by his odd disposition and what his schoolmates see as a distinctly feminine way of speaking and walking, he has become an outcast. In his search for a better education, and because of his need to get away from the daily torments of his peers, he talks his parents into letting him attend St. Ignatius Loyola High School, an all boys, military private school. He quickly discovers that he has removed himself from one bad situation, only to find himself in an even worse one. As he tries to navigate his way through his freshman year, he finds some protection with a group of misfit friends, in his creative writing class, and eventually begins to find some acceptance with the help of two of his teachers. But when he auditions for the spring play, he sets a series of events into motion that lead to a crushing and humiliating catastrophe.

This book was published by the author.  Add your review of "The Thousand Natural Shocks" in comments!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Whistle Pass - The 1950s, Homophobia, and Gay Romance

Whistle Pass by KevaD (a.k.a. David Kentner)

On the battlefields of WWII Europe, Charlie Harris fell in love, and after the war, Roger marched home without a glance back. Ten years later, Charlie receives a cryptic summons and quickly departs for his former lover’s hometown of Whistle Pass.

But Roger Black isn’t the lover of Charlie’s dreams anymore. He’s a married, hard-bitten political schemer who wants to secure his future by destroying evidence of his indiscreet past. Open homosexuality is practically a death sentence, and that photo would ruin Roger and all his wife’s nefarious plans.

Caught up in foggy, tangled events, Charlie turns to hotel manager Gabe Kasper for help, and Gabe is intrigued by the haunted soldier who so desperately desires peace. When helping his new lover places Gabe in danger, the old warrior in Charlie will have to take drastic action to protect him... or condemn them both.

Add your review of "Whistle Pass" in comments!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Rin!: A Gay Romance on the High School Archery Team

Rin! by Satoru Kannagi

Since he was little, sweet and anxious Katsura has soothed his fears and insecurities by asking for a tight hug from Sou, his older brother’s best friend. Now shooting together for their high school’s archery team, Katsura is ridiculed by homophobic peers for clinging to another man, and Sou’s gruff complaints about the touching indicate he’s growing tired of it. Dramatic moments of growth occur as Katsura and Sou explore their true feelings for each other and find the strength in themselves to love in a healthy way.

This manga holds fascinating insight into relationship dynamics. Both Katsura and Sou explore their issues with co-dependency and seek to discover whether love is about needing someone or simply wanting them by your side. The story realistically portrays the subtle but persistent reality of heterosexism in a modern high school. Often, the characters react in realistic ways by expressing embarrassment about same-sex affections. This may not be the most empowering manga, but it is highly relatable.

My largest concern with the first volume involves a scene in the bonus episode at the very end. In these pages, two characters share a sexual experience where consent is never given. It is not very graphic, but it is disturbing. In addition, it seems the author threw this scene in for erotic effect, which makes me concerned about the direction she will choose for the rest of the story.

Because of the sexual content discussed above, I would have been ready to read this at sixteen.

Review by Aaron Walsh.  Add your review of "Rin!" in comments!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Life of Experience - A Gay Teen Grows Up

A Life Of Experience by Alan Phillips

Abused by his father, Michael Parker leaves home at sixteen and becomes embroiled in the gay prostitution scene on the streets of London. From there he then finds himself involved in gay pornography and is quite successful and in demand. Wishing to get away from that world, he manages to escape and become a male model. His good looks and natural ability in front of a camera lead him into television as a legitimate actor but at the pinnacle of his career his early life is exposed in the press and he confronts his nemesis with disastrous consequences. Ten years after winning a BAFTA award for best newcomer Michael has to start rebuilding his life all over again.

This book was published through a subsidy publisher.  My thanks to Lis for letting me know about "A Life Of Experiene."  Add your review in comments!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Letters From The Closet - A Girl's Memoir About Her Relationship With Her Gay Teacher

Letters From the Closet
by Amy Hollingsworth

It was an improbable relationship from the start—a high school English teacher, still in the closet, and his best student. From the confines—and protection—of his closet, Amy’s teacher wrote these letters, letters that were read, cherished, answered, and then locked away for years.

Now Amy looks back at the decade of intimate letters that preceded her teacher’s untimely death, collects the shards left by their clumsy, sometimes violent attempts to unmask each other, and counts again the cost of knowing and being known. 

Recommended for older teens.  Add your review of "Letters From The Closet" in comments!

Friday, May 17, 2013

W.N.B.A. Top Draft Pick Brittney Griner's Awesome Coming Out Essay (And "It Gets Better Video")

Brittney Griner, photo from NY Times, Matt York/Associated Press

Brittney Griner, a senior at Baylor University, was the top selection in the W.N.B.A. draft, and will be playing for the Phoenix Mercury. She won the Naismith Trophy as the outstanding women’s basketball player in 2012 and 2013. Last week, she wrote this essay that was published in the New York Times.

It includes these profound words:

It’s taken me a long time to figure out exactly where I fit. During that journey, I realized that everyone has a unique place in this world. I also discovered that the more open I was with my family and friends, the more I embraced others, and the more committed I became to doing the things I love, like basketball, skating and, of course, eating bacon (the greatest food of all time), the more love and confidence I received in return.

I just had to hang in there and be myself.

Hurray for Brittney! You are a light.

And here's Brittney's "It Gets Better" Video:

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket - a middle grade book about being different... (with a lesbian balloonist couple)

The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne

Barnaby Brocket is an ordinary 8-year-old boy in most ways, but he was born different in one important way: he floats. Unlike everyone else, Barnaby does not obey the law of gravity. His parents, who have a horror of being noticed, want desperately for Barnaby to be normal, but he can't help who he is. And when the unthinkable happens, Barnaby finds himself on a journey that takes him all over the world. From Brazil to New York, Canada to Ireland, and even to space, the floating boy meets all sorts of different people — including a lesbian hot air balloonist couple - and discovers who he really is along the way.

Add your review of "The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket" in comments!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Maiden Rose - An Unsettling Study of Power, War, and Sexual Assault

Maiden Rose by Fusanosuke Inariya

Maiden Rose is a military-action-romance about commander Taki Reizen and his loyal knight, Claus von Wolfstadt. Set in an alternate Japan in the year 1928, Taki and his soldiers defend their nation from foreign invaders in a seemingly endless war. For mysterious reasons, Taki refuses to pursue his affections for Claus, but remembering bygone days when Taki expressed his love, Claus continually forces himself upon Taki in hopes of arousing repressed feelings. Between moments of brutal intimacy, these two men fight side-by-side to hold their forces together and protect their people.

This manga delves deeply into the sacrifices that come with leadership, the pain of war, and the damaging effects of unequal power dynamics in relationships. The pages hold a sinister atmosphere augmented by the setting, style of dress, and weaponry, all of which point to the forerunners of the Imperial Japanese and Nazi armies of World War II. Theoretically, Taki and Claus are good guys in the story, but their resemblance to real life war criminals is disturbing.

In addition, the manga features several rape scenes which technically pertain to the story but are largely erotic episodes for readers that fantasize about such things. Whether literarily necessary or not, these graphic scenes are very unsettling and often denigrate the idea that sex shared between men can be tender, loving, and meaningful. Interspersed between these traumatic experiences are moments of tenderness between Taki and Claus. This addition to the motif that rapists are actually lovers tragically reinforces a culture that accepts rape. Let it be stated here clearly: sexual contact between people should always be mutually consensual; when it is not consensual, that is rape; rape is never okay. Not ever.

Maiden Rose is composed of four volumes. With all the graphic and violent sexual content, I would not have read this manga before being eighteen-years-old. In fact, were it not necessary to write this review, I probably would not have finished the first volume.

Review by Aaron Walsh. Add your review of "Maiden Rose" in comments.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Department Of Magic - A Fantasy series with Queer Characters

Department of Magic series by Brian Dockins

Book 1 – Betrayal of Magic

Cadan Johnson lived a seemingly ordinary life. He was on the soccer and cross country teams and had a loving family. But one thing about the Johnsons made them very unordinary- they could perform magic.

When a mysterious spell on his school counselor backfires, Cadan is faced with the realization that everything he thought he knew about his family has been a lie. He leaves his home to search out the identities of his real parents, but before he can discover the truth, he is tracked down by another group of magic-wielders, this time sent by the government.

The top-secret Department of Magic was set up in the 1930s when the U.S. government became aware of the existence of mages and fantastical creatures. For the last eighty years, the agency has been commissioned with searching out and detaining these magical beings, and making sure everyone else believes they are no more than myth.

Now a detainee within the Department, Cadan quickly realizes the truth – that not everything in this world is quite as it seems. The Femme Fatales, a world famous all-female pop group is actually a troupe of fairies. And Tyler Knox, the teen heartthrob, is secretly an elf who has had to alter his ears before appearing in movies.

Now a rookie agent, Cadan begins to train with his new team of misfit operatives, among them one boy with four arms who is afraid of the dark, another with black wings, and an elf with anger management issues. The group fights constantly, their training sessions are disasters, and to top it off, the leader of the team hates him. But when one of the leaders initiates a plan to destroy the Department, the only thing that stands in his way is Cadan and his ragtag band. With the fate of the Department at stake, will they be able to stop the rogue agent and his forces?

What's queer about it?  The author writes:
The main character Cadan spends a good deal of the first book “feeling different”. Part of that feeling stems from the fact that he can perform magic, but there is another underlying layer behind his feelings. He forms a close friendship with his roommate and best friend, and I have written it in a way that a careful reader (or one who reads LGBT fiction) can pick up on something more between them.

In the second book, Cadan slowly learns that he is attracted to his roommate and expresses those feelings at the end of the book. His roommate, Jude, shoots him down, claiming that he isn’t attracted to men, and in the third book Jude slowly comes to grips with the fact that he is indeed attracted to Cadan. The rest of the series will feature the boys dealing with bumps in their relationship as they work to take down the Department of Magic (DOMA).

I also have several supporting characters, including the flamboyant fairy Gabe, a lesbian named Tess Lennox, and a bi-sexual heartthrob named Luca Ricci. There are numerous other LGBT characters that I introduce throughout the series The seventh book introduces Donella Devine, the first transsexual character in the series.

The descriptions on Amazon don’t explicitly state the queer content of the books mainly because I didn’t want to pigeonhole them as merely “gay fiction”. My hope is that any teenager (or even adult) would read the books as I feel the message of diversity and acceptance is a larger one that transcends sexual preference, gender identity, and all other forms of “differences”.

Book 2 – Shrouded Island

The Department of Magic prepares to counter the rogue Administrator Nolan Burrell and his ever growing army of rebels. The Facilities come together to begin formulating plans to stop the spread of insurrection, but a new threat looming in the distance forces them to put those plans on hold.

The Bermuda Triangle has been one of the biggest mysteries of the century, and even the magical specialists within the Department are clueless to reality that lies beyond the mists. After an entire Paladin team disappears in the Atlantic, a new larger force is assembled – one that includes Hannah Cooper, a young prodigy doctor with an extreme knack for magical healing, and Caira Ogden, a Paladin leader from New York who has just met her twin brother.

Meanwhile, Cadan Ogden finds himself the head of this team. While taking on the responsibilities of leadership, he must also juggle his own secrets, a sister that he hardly knows, and a surprising, blossoming love.

But how will any of that compare to what he finds in the mists of the Bermuda Triangle.

Book 3 – Rise of the Witch

Cadan had hoped that one day his life in the Department would slow down long enough that he could find more information about his parents. On a routine mission, he encounters a voodoo priestess Madame LaDonna who reveals that she knew his parents, and more importantly, she prophecies that Cadan will meet his death soon if he does not make the right choices in the coming day.

Just weeks after defeating Nolan Burrell in the Bermuda Triangle, the rogue Administrator initiates a new plan, this one with more far reaching ramifications for the Department. Cadan and his allies in DOMA race to figure out what their enemy is up to.

One of his teammates, Natalie Gibson, struggles with feelings towards her boyfriend Bryce, who constantly steps in her way in the name of protecting her. She knows she’s strong, but when she is constantly pushed aside, it’s hard to show just what she’s capable of.

In the ranks of the rogue Administrators forces, Cody Cooke struggles to find his place among the others. After seeing the vision of a potential future where he murders one of his own allies, Cody begins to question everything he knows. Will he be able to determine the reason for the strange vision, and when the time comes to make that choice, will he have the courage?

Book 4 – Magic of Heroes

With Nolan Burrell’s forces defeated and on the run, Cadan Ogden and the Department of Magic believe they can finally rest. However, a new threat looms on the horizon. Superheroes straight from a popular comic book appear, and their super powers are not only accurate to the characters, but oddly familiar to Cadan and the Department.

In the midst of the struggle to figure out the secret behind the superheroes, Cadan’s sister Caira struggles with the memory losses she has suffered over the past few months. When she discovers a lost little girl in the forest of Central Park, she is surprised to learn that the girl has the gift of ruhk-magic. Is it mere coincidence that Caira found her, or is there more to the girl’s identity that DOMA doesn’t know?

Tess Lennox is the Paladin leader at the Facility commonly referred to as the Nursery. The students under her care are her top priority and when a new faculty member begins to threaten their safety and well being, Tess is determined to put a stop to it. But when Caira delivers the mysterious young girl from Central Park, Tess makes it her mission to figure out where the girl came from and the identity of her mysterious friend ‘Elf’.

Darius Gibson returned to the Florida Facility, home of the seraphs, elves who have grown wings and can fly. With both black skin and black wings, he finds himself singled out in a sea of blonde haired, blue-eyed elves who spend every waking moment making his life difficult. He can’t escape the feeling that his sister Natalie needs him, but he is determined to gain the acceptance of the other seraphs. Will he return to his friends and sister when they might be in trouble, or will he fulfill his pledge as a member of the Florida team?

Book 5 – Hounds of the Himalayas

Karan Tovar is an agent of the Department of Magic in the Himalayan Reserve, where dragons, griffins, trolls, and the other unsightly magical creatures are housed. When he uncovers an external plot to undermine their security and break into the Facility, will he be able to find the culprits in time to stop them?

Back in the US, Cadan has reached an ethical breaking point in his life within the Department. Tyler Knox, the elf who has been posing as a teen heartthrob, has been keeping a secret from the Department since before Cadan first joined, and now that secret is exposed. Cadan must choose whether or not to help his friend escape, or to take him into custody as his superiors have ordered.

Meanwhile, the Department plans to hold a conference of all agents in Oklahoma, on a campground across the river from a hidden haunted castle. When Cadan decides to enter the dark fortress, he will learn more than he bargained for, and when Nolan Burrell decides to resume his war against the Department, the darkness that haunts its walls may be their only hope.

Through all of this, Cadan must make a decision that could affect him and everyone he knows and loves, changing their lives forever, to send them down a path from which they might never be able to return.

Book 6 – Second Exodus

Cadan Ogden has never had it worse. Wrongfully imprisoned by the Department, he lies in his uncle’s office, awaiting serious punishment that could result in his death. Those of his team that have not been detained or incapacitated are unable to see him, much less rescue him and leave the Department as they had been planning. Is there any hope of escaping his imprisonment? And what will the fate of his teammates be now that they are forced to remain in the Department?

Meanwhile, unrest among the other Facilities begins to reach a boiling point. While outside forces plot to bring DOMA down, there are those who work in secret against these dark powers.

Will Cadan survive his imprisonment? And if he does somehow manage to escape, will he be trading one perilous fate for another?

Book 7 – Hidden Relics

After the death of their loved one, Cadan’s allies flounder to find their way in the midst of Josiah’s encroaching assault.

Tess Lennox tracks Max Ogden and his fictitious super heroes across the country to rescue Cadan’s little brother, Tanner. She knows Max’s plans for the boy, and that his very life hangs in the balance.

Just as Jackson Keyes discovered the location of the Torch and the Southern Order of European mages, the Relic was stolen by a rival group of magic-wielders. Suspecting Jackson as a conspirator, the Order has taken his team captive. Will he be able to convince his jailers that he isn’t responsible before it’s too late? And who is really behind the theft?

Caira Ogden and her Paladins have teamed up with the enigmatic Levi Braun to track down the mages who kidnapped Raney. She has no idea whether or not she can trust him, but she knows that he holds the key to finding both Raney and the Bow of Kaberani, another of the seven Relics needed to ultimately destroy the pretend witch, Nerina.

Back in the US, Natalie must hold her team together following a great tragedy. A spontaneous trip unveils more than they could have imagined, and could also provide another key to defeating the witch. Upon returning from their trip, they learn a staggering truth, one that could lead them all down a dark path, and possibly to their deaths. Will she and her team risk everything they have fought so hard for to rescue someone they all love dearly?

Will this be the end of all of Cadan’s carefully laid plans?

These seven books have been published by the author in his planned 12-book series.  Add your reviews of the books in the Department of Magic series in comments!

Monday, May 13, 2013

ANT: Bullied, Bashed, But Not Broken

The comedian ANT speaks out in this video about the power of comedy... and the power of being your authentic self.

I loved the idea of each of us tapping into the "infinite power" and "infinite potential" inside us!


Friday, May 10, 2013

Representations of Gender in Advertising

This under five minute video is excellent, with some shocking statistics and thought-provoking images, and it is a great entry point to talk about how men and women are "supposed" to be, and how we need to break free of that mind trap...

Created for

"a Women and Gender Studies class at the University of Saskatchewan by Sarah Zelinski, Kayla Hatzel and Dylan Lambi-Raine [who] wanted to show how ridiculous media portrays gender roles and stereotypes in advertising through presenting gender roll reversals."

It was also interesting that in the "real" ads, all the women conformed to the thin and buxom stereotype of beauty, while in the role reversal ads, there were many different kinds of men portrayed.

What do you think?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

How To Repair A Mechanical Heart - An Epic Road Trip, Six Sci-Fi Conventions, and Gay Teen Romance

How To Repair A Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis

Eighteen-year-old Castaway Planet fans Brandon and Abel hate bad fan fiction—especially when it pairs their number-one TV crushes of all time, dashing space captain Cadmus and dapper android Sim. As co-runners of the Internet’s third most popular Castaway Planet vlog, they love to spar with the “Cadsim” fangirls who think Cadmus will melt Sim’s mechanical heart by the Season 5 finale. This summer, Brandon and Abel have a mission: hit the road in an RV to follow the traveling Castaway Planet convention, interview the actors and showrunner, and uncover proof that a legit Cadsim romance will NEVER, EVER HAPPEN.

A Brandon and Abel romance: also not happening. Brandon’s sick of his struggle to make “gay and Catholic” compute, so it’s safer to love a TV android. Plus Abel’s got a hot new boyfriend with a phoenix tattoo, and how can Brandon compete with that? But when mysterious messages about them start popping up in the fan community, they make a shocking discovery that slowly forces their real feelings to the surface. Before they get to the last Castaway Planet convention, Brandon’s going to find out the truth: can a mechanical heart be reprogrammed, or will his first shot at love be a full system failure?

This book was published by the author.  Add your review of "How To Repair A Mechanical Heart" in comments!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Hero Heel - A Raw Exploration of Desperation, Objectifying Others, and Losing Oneself

Hero Heel by Makoto Tateno

At the beginning of Hero Heel, Minami Masaki is a young actor who lands his first lead role as a superhero on a children’s television show. At first, he feels far too cool for the part, but he soon finds himself trying his best to impress Sawada Kauomi, the experienced actor who plays the villain. Minami soon discovers that Sawada is secretly gay and spends his nights with various lovers. Over time, Minami becomes more aware of his own sexual orientation and grows more and more obsessed with Sawada. The story follows the two men as they alternate between hurting and clinging to each other in a twisted game of attraction and rejection.

This manga is very painful to read. Both Minami and Sawada hurt each other and themselves as they struggle with haunting desires and internal brokenness. Minami lacks the self-esteem to pursue a relationship where he is treated with tenderness and affection. Rather, he acts out of desperation, begging and threatening Sawada into providing scraps of attention that lack any real intimacy.

There is little of anything having to do with love in this manga. Rather, it is a sad portrait of the suffering that results when we lose respect for ourselves and others, when sex becomes something we do to feel good rather than show love, and when people are seen as objects for our satisfaction rather than human beings of infinite value. Minami and Sawada’s relationship is marked by insults, judgment, intimidation, and violence. The idea that these characters are playing out their dysfunctional relationship while acting in a children’s t.v. show highlights Minami’s continual loss of innocence. This story is tragic and awful and, saddest of all, incredibly real. It lays out almost everything one should avoid in a romantic relationship and proves that it’s worth waiting for the right person to come along, because no love is better than bad love.

Hero Heel is composed of three volumes. The series contains lots of explicit and graphic sexual content. In her liner notes, Makoto very clearly states that she wrote this manga for adults. I would not have felt comfortable reading it before being eighteen-years-old.

Review by Aaron Walsh. Add your review of "Hero Heel" in comments!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Prelude To An Empire - A Questioning Twenty-Something Agonizes Over His Life (With Characters of Color)

Prelude To An Empire by Terry J. Benton

“At 23, how the hell did I get to this point?” Russell Wright asks himself as he sits in his car with a handful of pills, ready to commit suicide. Russell’s life has been a roller coaster ride for as long as he can remember and today he wants to get off – forever.

While growing up in rural Georgia, Russell shares an unusual friendship with his mother, Charlene Wright. Charlene and Russell bond over their private struggle with Russell’s abusive father – a situation that climaxes the night that Russell’s father tries to murder their entire family.

As if things weren’t bad enough with his family issues, Russell has to endure relentless bullying surrounding suspicions about his sexuality – something he has yet to determine for himself. As a result of bullying and conflict with his spirituality, Russell’s personal growth is hindered and he struggles to find himself and his place in the world.

The one bright spot in Russell’s life is his best friend, Mercedes. She is beautiful, a diva, and sometimes a bit too ghetto – but most importantly, she provides comedic relief, strength, and support for Russell… and she’s also a lesbian. Russell and Mercedes’ relationship strengthens over her struggle for acceptance of her lifestyle and they vow to be best friends forever – until they leave for college and their friendship takes a dramatic turn for the worst.

As Russell’s story progresses, he fights to understand himself and the motives of the people in his life, as he experiences the lows and highs of friendships and relationships. In the end, this powerful and dramatic journey comes full circle to resolve the issue of whether he will indeed end his life.

This book is published by the author.  Add your review of "Prelude To An Empire" in comments!

And remember, if you or someone you know is feeling desperate or you just need someone to talk to, there's always someone you can talk to at the Trevor Project's lifeline at 1-866-488-7386.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Transforming Practice: A Transgender Resource for Health Care Providers (You May Want To Suggest It To Yours)

Transforming Practice: Life Stories of Transgender Men That Change How Health Providers Work by Marcus Greatheart, MSW

As the publisher writes,

In our experience our trans friends frequently have to educate their healthcare providers and therapists- not to mention the general public- about trans issues, so hopefully this book can grease the wheels for many of them so there's a peer reviewed book/study they can point to that dispels the myth that trans men and people anywhere on the gender spectrum are prone to mental illness and unhappiness. This book has first hand interviews of trans men talking about positive experiences and even describing their transition process as enjoyable.

Add your review of "Transforming Practice" in comments!

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Trans 100 - Profiles of 100 Transgender People in the U.S. Working To Make Things Better

"As we carry ourselves over the hurdles, [we must also] reach out a hand to help another trans sister over them as well." –Trisha Lee Holloway, honoree of the 2013 Trans 100

The Trans 100 is inspiring!

It's a treasure trove of people and resources, with lots of links to great sites and blogs among the profiles.

Go check it out!


Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Watch Dog - A Bully Goes Back Home And Has To Deal With His Gay Brother

The Watch Dog by Sandy Lo

Garrett “Rett” Baker has taken one too many wrong turns in life that slam him into a dead-end. He finds himself forced to return to his small town life in middle Tennessee where he left behind broken relationships and bad memories. With plans to leave as soon as he saves some cash, Garrett finds himself living in his deceased grandmother’s home.

Bittersweet memories come rushing back to Garrett, and the ghosts of his past begin to haunt him. The one thing from his childhood he keeps trying to find–his long gone mutt, Brownie, seems to be what is leading him to places he doesn’t want to go, and people he never wanted to see again.

This book was published by the author.  Add your review of "The Watch Dog" in comments!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

"The Cain Saga" and "Godchild" - Gothic Mystery Mangas with a Misery-Laden Gay Love Affair

The Cain Saga is a prequel to the gothic mystery classic, Godchild. Since the two series go together, I’ll go ahead and cover them both. Surprise! This time, you get two reviews in one!

The Cain Saga and Godchild by Kaori Yuki

Godchild follows the young and emotionally-damaged Earl Cain Hargreaves as he unearths family secrets and solves gruesome crimes in the grim society of early-twentieth-century London. Always standing by his side with caring actions and consoling words is Riff, Cain’s loyal servant and soul mate. The road is winding and harsh for the two men, and their paths are haunted by heartbreak, betrayal, and tragedy. The Cain Saga contains short stories of Cain and Riff solving crimes before the events of Godchild. Their relationship is not as fleshed-out in this prequel series, but they still share moments of gentle connection and understanding as they try to bring justice to a fallen world.

Both series are incredibly depressing. I’m not kidding. The characters endure unthinkable abuse, rejection, deceit, and cruelty, and the stories delve deeper into human misery than many would like to ever go. But while they are certainly not happy, these manga are compelling and might be meaningful to the right reader. Underneath the intense emotional landscape runs an ongoing criticism of classist and sexist oppression in British society. These themes inspire us to fight these evils in our world today. In addition, the complex and thought-provoking characters could potentially expand one’s understanding of human nature. Cain acts like he doesn’t care about anyone, yet he is constantly doing his best to help others. So is he a sociopath or a hero? And with all that Cain and Riff have endured, can they ever find happiness together? Is their love strong enough to withstand the forces that would tear them apart?

My major objection to these works is that they tend to romanticize suicide. Many characters seek death to escape pain or humiliation, and they are sometimes aided by the story’s protagonist. Suicide is a tragic symptom of mental illness that results in heartbreak for those left behind. It is never the right answer to any problem. Each life is precious, and there is hope for those who suffer. Drinking Shakespearean poison may seem poignant and poetic but it isn’t. True beauty lies in facing one’s burdens with courage and seeking the help one needs to make it through another day.

The Cain Saga is eight volumes and Godchild is composed of five volumes.

This series takes the reader to places of terror and anguish. The manga contains grisly violence, sexual references, and all sorts of disturbing imagery. This content is relevant to the story and by no means a recipe for voyeuristic thrills, but I would not have felt comfortable reading this manga before being eighteen-years-old. In fact, it still kind of freaks me out at the age of twenty-six!

While the actual story panels are endlessly serious, the author, Kaori Yuki, fills her liner notes with fun references to American pop culture. Her sweet, humorous messages are a welcome relief from Cain’s agony. Learn more about her at her wikipedia page or here.

Review by Aaron Walsh.  Add your review of any of the issues or the series for "The Cain Saga" and "Godchild" in comments!

Remember, if you or anyone you know is in crisis and needs someone to talk to, The Trevor Project can help.  They have a toll-free lifeline, 866-488-7386 that's open 24 hours, every single day of the year.