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Tag Archives: Barry Brennessel

Brennessel_Running_Up_That_HillTitle: Running up that Hill
Author: Barry Brennessel
Publisher: MLR
Length: 13,000 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, MLR Mixtapes, Recent Historical, Coming of Age, Kate Bush, Closeted, NYC, Fear, Best Friends, Technology, 1980s, 80s Music, AIDS, HFN
Rating: LOVED it!

Reviewed by Sadonna


For Jeremy Saura, a song by Kate Bush holds all the answers. Pushes him onward. Sends him running up that road. Up that hill. Up that building.

Jeremy gets chills as he listens to the lyrics. The song, a beautiful powerhouse of determination over despair, only gains in impact as he replays it. Seven times.

”I adore you Kate Bush,” he whispers to her photograph. For Jeremy, “Running Up That Hill” gives him the momentum he needs to navigate the trials and tribulations of a new job, a complex friendship, and a budding workplace romance.


I’ve been waiting for this story to come out with the summer Mix Tapes series from MLR.  When I first read Tinseltown, I knew this was a writer to watch and I’ve never been disappointed.

It’s 1986 and Jeremy is a young man just starting out in NYC with his first real job after college.  He works at a law book publishing company.  They are just adopting Wang word processors and his coworkers are freaking out about the change.  Jeremy is thankful to have the job, especially after he meets Adam, the editor on the project he’s working on J  Adam is very cute and as Jeremy leaves his office after their first meeting, he catches Adam watching him.

Jeremy’s best friend Scott is his confidant and Jeremy tells him all about meeting Adam. While they have a lot in common, their taste in men is quite different.  Jeremy also has a passion for music.  He buys 45s at the Vinyl Attic, the local record store and in fact the store owner has nicknamed him Mr. 45.  I loved the description of the store, the owner and the transition of the media of music. Jeremy’s conversation with Scott after his record purchases is like a comfortable walk down memory lane with references to the only 80s nighttime soap I ever watched and even a mention of my favorite grocery store chain – even though I didn’t know about it until 1999 – and I like Jeremy’s record choices.

Friday night comes and even though Scott is still a bit banged up from a fall while jogging, he and Jeremy decide to go out to the Liberty – a local gay bar.  As he’s getting ready, he listens to Kate Bush’s single Running up that Hill.  He loves the song and plays it again – 6 more times.  Amazingly, Jeremy runs into Adam at Liberty.  Their night continues after the club however 😉

Monday at work they see each other again when Jeremy completes his project, but things get weird when a female coworker interrupts their conversation and Adam clams up.  t lunch with Scott, Jeremy tell him about his time with Jeremy. Things get back on track and Jeremy decides to celebrate by getting more new music.  He is now obsessing on Kate Bush.

Things seems to be going well with work and with Adam, but then a scare with Scott and a nasty prank and the damn Wang word processors all try to get in the way of Jeremy’s happiness. But our Jeremy, inspired by the words and music of the lovely Kate Bush perseveres.

Where do I start about all the things I loved about this story?  A little context – 1986 was without a doubt one of the worst years of my life.  I was Jeremy’s age in 1986.  My dad died in 1986 a couple weeks after his 46th birthday after a long illness. I had to have my mother committed in 1986.  I was putting myself through college working as a secretary commuting 120 miles round trip every day, going to school at night and on Saturdays.  I got hired for my job because I had worked with one of the other big word processing systems just coming on in the mid-80s, the late lamented NBI, and I was really good at it.  I spent long hours on the train listening to my Walkman and in the car listening to my cassettes.  Music has always been a big part of my life and I think particularly at that shit storm stage of my life it was a huge comfort to me.  I heard Kate Bush for the first time in 1979 when I was an exchange student in Europe.  I thought she was amazing – particularly Wuthering Heights (for you Anglophiles, search YouTube for Kate Bush and Noel Fielding – Wuthering Heights – it’s amazing).

For me, reading this story was like punch in the gut, followed by a comforting hug.  Barry so eloquently captured the rhythms of the mid-80s – the big changes that were beginning in the role of technology and media in our lives in new ways, the tentative steps being taken by many towards living an authentic life and the horror and fear surrounding the AIDS epidemic.  Listening to Jeremy’s inner dialogue and slightly sarcastic nature literally felt like I was stepping back in time.  I loved his voice in this story.  Once again, I am in awe of Barry’s talent in bringing to life characters in what I can only describe as movie-like story.  Read this story. You won’t be disappointed.

Hello again everyone! First of all, sorry I missed a day (due to lack of sleep). I hope you all had a Happy Halloween and furthermore, that those of you in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast are safe tonight. This is the last GRL related post. If you missed any of the recaps earlier this week, here they are: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

This post is completely dedicated to the books I listened to on the way home and the books I read immediately after I got home from Albuquerque. Why, you ask? Well, even though I have gotten way behind on my review schedule due to the preparations before the trip and the trip itself, I really needed some downtime once I got home. I was sick, extremely tired, and you know that I love reviewing new releases. I mean, I wouldn’t do so many of them if I didn’t. But the one thing that I love about GRL is how it infuses me with excitement about our genre again. And talking to authors and being reminded of some of their books you missed and had always meant to read… well that is some of the best reading. I can’t tell you how many gems I still haven’t read and I know they’re there. I have a list of about 150 really popular books that I still haven’t read and I’m lucky if I usually get through 10 of them a year.

So I returned home excited to read a whole plethora of past books that I still hadn’t gotten around to reading and I decided to just take the rest of that week to regroup and read purely for fun. So this is some of what I read last week before I started getting back to the review books. As it stands, two of them were the audio books that were available to take home from GRL, one was one of those books I’d always intended to read, and the last was a purely random self-published book that came to my attention from the author over Twitter. I liked them all, but can you guess which one ends up being the one that blew me away?

Probably, it’s not that difficult!

Now, on to my Mini Reviews of these four books!

Title: Grand Jete (Audiobook)
Author: Diana Copland
Audiobook: read by Jim Bowie, Produced by Audiominx Audiobooks
Publisher: Silver (click here for Blurb and Buy Link)
Length: 34,751 words, 3:38:41 time
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: Christmas, Ballet, Dancers, Nurses
Rating: So So

This was the first time that I’d ever listened to an audiobook. So, I don’t have any comparison, but I had been worried initially about a few things. First, the narrators’s voice; and second, my ability to pay attention, especially while driving. On the second count, I have a history of zoning out while people are talking. I’m a visual person, and ask any lecture professor I had about me and they’d confirm this while gnashing their teeth. I shouldn’t have been worried, though. If you’ve never heard Jim Bowie speak, the man has a very high, cultured voice with a subtle British lilt that is very smooth. At first, it was a little jarring, but most of that was my getting used to listening to the words in the first place when my own in-my-head narration sound so different. Later, I realized that his accent and particular diction is quite suited to some stories, but maybe not others (more on that in the next review). It worked for me in this story, though some of the voices he did were a little strange, particularly for the women and children.

The story is set just before Christmas in a small Midwestern town, where the narrator Jordan who is an ER nurse, has been dragged to see The Nutcracker, where his little niece is playing a mouse. He’s enthralled by a gorgeous man who dances beautifully, even though he knows nothing about ballet. When he sees him later in the ER and the man doesn’t have anyone to take care of him, his nurturing nature (as well as his sexual one) comes out to make sure the man has the care he needs.

I’m not new to Diana Copland’s writing, but I might have enjoyed this a little more if I had read this before her most recent book, A Reason to Believe, which was better all around. Still, this was the perfect kind of book to listen to on a long drive — it is sweet with no angst and the Christmas setting and the ballet interest were refreshing and light. The book does have a bit of a middle complex, where the beginning skips to the end and unfortunately that made the romance take a giant leap of faith. I wouldn’t call it insta-love, but it’s also a matter of opinion. The plot doesn’t allow for there to be an ending without read, serious and lasting feelings, so the lack of a middle where those things grow bothered me quite a bit.

Title: One More Soldier (Audiobook)
Author: Marie Sexton
Audiobook: read by Jim Bowie, Produced by Audiominx Audiobooks
Publisher: Silver (click here for Blurb and Buy Link)
Length: 14,320 words, 1:27:40 time
Genre: m/m Historical Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, Recent Historical, 1960s, 1970s, Coming Out, Vietnam War, May/December, Bittersweet
Rating: Really Like It

This is a story that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time now. It might be one of the first m/m romances to end unhappily, before the whole Bittersweet subgenre came into the community. But for all that the ending is glaringly at me, so obviously, from the moment the story started didn’t mean that I enjoyed it any less. In fact, the lessening of some of the surprise worked to show that the story still had impact but without unduly caused angst.

Told from Will’s point of view, the 28 year old mechanic in a small town in Texas, the short story spans almost a decade while Will watches Bran, the new kid in their apartment complex who just won’t leave him alone, grow up before his eyes. Bran is everything that Will wasn’t at his age, smart with opportunities. When Bran leaves to work the Texas ranches out of town, he changes. The man that returns is completely new and totally enthralling to Will, who has kept his day to day life completely separate from his gay lifestyle. Their relationship has to change with the feelings between them and there might not be much time for that to happen.

The beauty of this story is that it shows, without pomp and grandiose romance, how loving and being loved in return can change another person. The line, “one more soldier” refers to the street soldiers fighting at home in the US for gay equality, mirrored by the very real battles across the world that have lost the respect of the masses propagating the changing cultural climate. I was most impressed by the small details that snuck into the story that evoked the time period so well.

I had a difficult time driving while listening to this one — I should have known! I knew it would be sad, and in a way listening to it helped me instead of reading it. It’s like, I’m so used to avoiding angst or unhappiness in my romances now that to listen to it made it easier to deal with. Plus, it was only really one part of the story. Here is where I did have some problems with Jim Bowie’s voice. Where it worked well with the past book, not so much here. The voice of Will as he recounts this story seemed so different from Jim’s voice that it clashed for me. While I think he does a pretty good job on his own, and his voice is certainly dreamy, sometimes that isn’t what I have in mind for the character, you know? So I wish there were more diversity in readers, but then I’m sure it could have been a lot worse too! I’ll try not to be too picky.**

The time period, the length of the story, and the fact that it is told in past tense, lend the story to a certain recollection type narrative, heavy on style and voice that immediate sets the mood for melodrama. And I mean that in the best sense of that word.

**My Thoughts on Audiobooks: I’m intrigued by them now, and I liked my experience listening to these two. I’m considering getting a couple other books (that I’ve already read) to keep and read when I want to knit or just relax and spend a slow….. time getting through a book. I’m thinking of getting ZAM’s book Notturno in audiobook because I know Jim also read for that one and I think his voice might go well with vampire stories 🙂

Title: Tinseltown
Author: Barry Brennessel
Publisher: MLR (click here for Blurb and Buy Link)
Length: 70k words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance, Gay Fiction
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: College, Film, Coming of Age
Rating: LOVED it!

I have meant to read this story since its release in the summer of 2011. In fact, I had told Barry in New Orleans that I’d read it and review it for it and I just never got around to it. Well, it must have been the universe telling me to get on with it, because I won the book in paperback along with some other books and prizes at the Comedy Hour event at GRL. And I knew that now that I had it in paperback, I really wanted to read it as soon as possible. So as I went through my massive bag of paperbacks I brought home, I picked it out first and started to read it. I was enthralled, immediately, into the story and voice of Micah, who things just never seem to go right for.

This is a difficult story to summarize. At it’s heart, it is the story of Micah Malone — in many ways typical gay young man, but also with a (somewhat/at times) atypical storyline. Micah tends to be quite melodramatic and campy, but that’s what you gotta love about him. He has a very original voice and his film and TV obsession is shown through obscure references throughout the story. The book is very voice and narrative focused, which in Micah’s life is all screenplay based, so we’re first introduced to him and his circle of friends with a Dramatis Personae. The story follows Micah has he trudges through life at a young age — college, friendships, sex and relationships. The focus isn’t romance, though some does come into the story in the last half, but instead Micah himself, that that is what made the novel so successful for me. Not only does the format of the writing echo his personality so perfectly (untraditional, and often like a screenplay), but it isn’t tied to the typical romance “rules”. It threw me a curveball or two, and I loved that.

This book made me a fan of Barry Brennessel for life, even though I’ve read a few of this other things. No matter if the next three things I read of his I don’t like, I’ll always take a chance and read something he’s written, because he proved to me with Tinseltown that he is a phenomenal author. Also, quite a funny one. This book had me doubled over laughing. I’d recommend this to anyone, as long as you know not to expect romance right away.

Title: How to Repair a Mechanical Heart
Author: JC Lillis
Publisher: Self Published (click here for Blurb and Buy Link)
Length: 255 pages, approx. 72k words
Genre: m/m Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 1 – Sweet/None (Fade to Black)
Keywords/Tags: All Time Favorites!, Nerds/Geeks, Closeted/Coming Out, Fandom (Shipping, Cons), Friends to Lovers, Road Trip
Rating: LOVED it!

From all that I can find, JC Lillis is a brand new author, and if this book is any idea of the quality of work that she’ll produce in the future, I’m a fan for life. Rarely have I ever picked up a book I knew nothing about and loved it quite so much, even waiting almost two whole weeks to write a review of it. I first heard about this book when I saw it on JC Lillis’ twitter page and enjoyed the artwork on the cover — that’s what drew me in. The blurb only made me more intrigued.

And you should be — this young adult novel follows Brandon (along with his friends Abel and Bec during the whole summer after high school) across the US as they visit the series of five Castie-Cons for their favorite show, Starship Planet. Bran and Abel are super-fans (like SUPER.FANS) who first met online and bonded over their obsession, and later became co-vloggers, devoted to the show. Abel loves Captain Cadmus and Bran loves Sim, something which they argue about endlessly! But the one thing they can agree on is their mutual hatred of the “Cadsim” shippers and their rival blog that is devoted to the fanfiction written about the relationship between the show’s two stars, Cadmus and Sim. Why, WHY? does everyone assume that they’re secretly gay and together — Bran and Abel are convinced that some people just can’t accept that not everyone is really gay and they’re fed up with the shippers who think they are.

So, as their road trip summer approaches, they make a bet. At each con they’ll ask the question: Do you think Cadmus and Sim are secretly getting it on? to each visiting star of the cast during Q&A, and if any of them answer in the affirmative, Bran and Abel will act out one of their fanfic scenes and post it online. If they’re right, and the cast obviously thinks nothing happens between the characters, then the creators of the rival blog will have to sign a document bowing to the awesomeness of Bran and Abel and admit that the two characters would never work together. It’s a fool’s bet, or so they think. But surprises on the road change the game for both of them.

Okay, so, that sounds super awesome, right? First of all, they’re total geeks, which I love. Also, the blurb is written so well and it is so witty, that I was hoping it would bode well for the novel itself. And I honestly had no complains — none — about the story at all. In fact, I’m making myself wait a whole month before reading it again. The beauty of the story is the relationship between Bran and Able. Able is the gregarious and sometimes flamboyant of the pair, with lots of sexual misadventures and a style all his own (I loved seeing what he wore from each truck stop they made!). Bran is different, in many ways because of the internet (I’m getting there…). Raised in a devout family, Bran’s recent years have been difficult in a family built on secrets and repression. His family loves him, but they also believe he’s made a bad choice, not by coming out, but by being gay in the first place. He’s continually harassed by their pastor, who always seems to want to have a chat with him. The internet and his heavy presence there, is like a shining beacon for him to represent the best of himself. And.. you can see where this is going… that is how lies are started. At the start of this trip, Bran has found himself in a place where everyone who knows him (save Bec, who he knows from childhood) thinks he’s someone completely different than he really is. And of all these people, the ones he’s afraid of finding out the truth the most is Abel. Keeping the secrets and using convenient lies like a horrible ex to say why he isn’t dating, are easy online and seeing Abel once or twice a month, but together 24/7? It’s going to be hard.

Add in a new, ultra-secret group intent on exposing their lives online makes Bran even more paranoid as they stop in each city, putting Bran and Abel at odds and their friendship is put to a severe test when almost nothing turns out to be what they expected.

That might be the LONGEST summary I’ve ever written! But, there’s just so much about this book, and so many different threads weaved throughout. It is really masterfully written with a real flare for voice and style and a huge dose of vulnerability and appropriate teenaged angst. There’s nothing I hate more than a whiny teenager, and I was so happy that this author didn’t fall into that trap. Bran’s issues are extremely real and sometimes quite heavy. The writing is so centered in who he is that it’s like a part of him with no separation, like his real feelings come across without filter. So, it affected me, quite a lot. He’s really pretty messed up, and in an identifiable way to most people who will probably read this.

Another thing that made this novel a pure pleasure to read was the humor. It is so freaking hilarious that I almost couldn’t take it at times. I had so many different quotes and notes on this book in my Kindle, probably more than any book previously, because some of the lines are so funny that I couldn’t bear not to mark them and then chat with my reading buddies (Laura and Tina, also in love with this book!). I wish I could share some of them, but I lost them all with my brand new Kindle a few days ago. Anyway, I’ll just have to read this again and make another post with quotes or something, because the amount of one-liners you could take from this book astounds me 🙂

I left this book till last in my reviews because it is the best. And that is saying a lot up against a book like Tinseltown. But, even though I loved both and they both were similar in some ways, like the TV trivia-spouting characters and the unique voice and style, for me this book won out simply because it was such a pure pleasure to read. At times it was emotionally wrenching, something I have a particularly hard time reading if I’m expecting it, but I’ve still thought about this book at least once a day even so long after finishing it.

And it is only $2.99. Seriously! I kid you not. It’s a steal — and I would have paid three times the price for it and still felt it was worth every penny. I have a feeling that this will be my #1 most pimped out book this year, something I might have been comfortable with if I had read it in March instead of October. So please, do yourself a favor and go buy it. Then, spend this weekend getting to know the two cutest, funniest, and most lovable geeks in print. You’ll be happy you did — I promise!