Review: Lawfully Wedded Husband: How My Gay Marriage Will Save the American Family by Joel Derfner

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Lalwfully Wedded Husband coverIn 2007, Joel Derfner’s boyfriend stuns him with a Christmas time proposal.  It was a time when gay marriage was struggling for equality and there were few places where Joel and Mike could legally wed.   As the couple sets out on the path to a legal marriage, Joel and Mike encounter a multitude of obstacles, including ones that Joel creates himself, before they can say “I do”  legally before family and friends.  It includes ailing parents that move in, a reality show that has little to do with reality, wedding planning nightmares to make Bridezilla cringe, arguments, Ouija boards, and the very definition of marriage itself.

When I picked up Lawfully Wedded Husband, I realized I was already familiar with Joel Derfner.  No, it wasn’t from his previous books (Gay Haiku and Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever) but from the cringe inducing reality show he mentions in his story, starting with the Introduction.  Yes, I watched that show he and his best friend were a part of, Girls Who LIke Boys Who Like Boys, filmed in 2010 for the Sundance Channel.  The author had, along with his best friend Sarah, and his then fiance Mike, appeared on the show which filmed their marriage in Iowa. It had that stilted, painful feel to it that low budget reality shows can have.  And I ended up feeling bad for everyone who appeared on it, including Joel, Mike and Sarah, who later bore the brunt of vicious comments due to the editing by the director who seemed to have her own agenda.

I  admit I like Joel Derfner’s version far better than the scripted, awkward one that managed to make its way to cable.  And its not just because the behind the scenes manipulations and headache pounding repetition that Derfner reveals as standard operating procedure but the unique, dramatic, hilarious voice that Joel Derfner brings to the proceedings and beyond.

Joel Derfner muses, rants, and hilariously relates his path to the alter and wedded bliss with his husband Mike in Lawfully Wedded Husband.  He is alternately introspective, musing upon the institution of marriage, its history and redefining it in today’s cultural reality.  He takes on his colorful, and somewhat alarming ancestry and stacks it along side Mike’s in order to make observations about the differences in upbringing and their ideas of family.  But while he is doing that, there are momentary asides into gay shopping venues,  couple counseling, and Joel’s past sex life.  Lawfully Wedded Husband is a veritable explosion of clever quips, thoughtful introspection, and hilarious soliloquies on living in Brooklyn mixed with meaningful forays into gay history and the meaning of marriage.  And I suspect how you relate to Joel Derfner and his outlook on life will temper your feelings about this book and its author.

High maintenance.  Those are just two of the words I would use to describe the narrator.  I would also throw in clever, intelligent, manipulative and at times throughly exhausting.  I really came away feeling for Mike at times, especially when Joel is blind siding him with his participation in this reality show or decreeing that morning clothes with the de rigueur gray top hat (of which the clothier only has one and it’s the wrong size) is the way to go for their wedding apparel or even at the beginning, stopping Mike’s proposal to run and check on his (Joel’s) horoscope for the day before saying “yes”.  But there is also a balance here, each side, warts and all, is revealed.  Joel Derfner doesn’t hide the bad times, the lack of communication that almost derails the couple, its there too.  In fact the whole relationship sink is thrown into this story, along with gay history, wedding planning, Jewish marriage rituals and the search for the perfect Ketubah.  Talk about the proverbial box busting at the seams!

I suspect that the author has no inner editor, no real gates between the brain and the mouth. I kind of appreciate that.  This books sounds like the way I imagine he talks in real life.  If he thinks it, out it comes, whether in person or on the page, except of course when he is deciding not to tell Mike about the portable dishwasher he just bought or something similar.  The pages are full of Z Gallerie, the “gayest online store ever”, as well as the fact that Joel decides that he is going to win their new home via the HGTV’s Urban Oasis Giveaway for that ultimate condo in Manhattan. OK, I admit to doing that too but definitely not on the scale Derfner did. I am talking about 5000 handwritten entries!  I am not sure anyone does anything on the scale Derfner does. That is both part of his charm and part of his annoyance factor.

It’s this “overstuffed” aspect that kept Lawfully Wedded Husband from a perfect five, there is just too much here to take in.  But take it in you should, as it’s marvelous in so many ways.  It flows with the rhythm of a man who loves words and knows how to use them.  The history lessons that go along with the histrionic scenes, the quiet reflection to go along with the manic maneuverings of a man intent on getting married his way, the legal way and making it feel as it should for both him and Mike.  A right that should have been theirs all along.

Consider Lawfully Wedded Husband highly recommended.  And now I am off to find Gay Haiku, and Swish to see how the romance started.  Don’t let this author and his book get away!

This is how the Introduction starts:

What are you guys wearing tomorrow?” asked the assistant director of Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys, the reality show my fiancé, Mike, and I were being filmed for in May of 2010.

“I’m wearing jeans and a nice vest,” I said, “and Mike will be in shorts and a T-shirt.”

There was a brief silence on the other end of the line. “Joel,” the assistant director said, “this Iowa wedding is the culmination of your story arc.”

“Right.”

“If you’re not dressed up, people will think you’re not taking it seriously.”

“Look,” I said. “I promised Mike that this would be as low-key an event as we could possibly manage, and I’ve already broken that promise in more ways than I can count. Not dressing up is the one shred of evidence left that I actually care about his feelings.”

“This is bad,” the assistant director said, and waited.

“Okay,” I said finally. “I’ll talk to him about it.”

“Great,” said the assistant director. “It’ll really help the audience understand what a special thing you’re doing.”

I put my cell phone in my pocket, went back to the table at the restaurant where Mike and I were having lunch with his cousin DJ and DJ’s boyfriend, Kevin, and promptly did not talk to him about it, because Mike’s fury was already just shy of the boiling point, and the last thing I needed was for it to get any hotter less than twenty-four hours before our nuptials.

Book Details:

Hardcover, 248 pages
Published September 19th 2013 by University of Wisconsin Press (first published January 1st 2013)
ISBN 0299294900 (ISBN13: 9780299294908)

edition language English
Buy Links  Amazon,
Other Books by Joel Derfner:
Cat Daddy: What the World’s Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love, and Coming Clean
Gay Haiku
Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever

Review: Birds of a Feather (Bellingham Mysteries #5) by Nicole Kimberling

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Birds of a FeatherNow that the State of Washington has legalized gay marriage, Bellingham Hamster reporter Nick Fontaine and abstract painter Nick Olson are getting married.  They have planned a simple ceremony but nothing simple is ever possible with Peter in the picture.  Their parents are coming and Peter is sure NIck’s folks are going to hate him.  Peter’s mother is arriving early full of wedding ideas and an ex of Nick’s has arrived as well.

But Peter still has a job to do and his boss at the paper expects an article soon. So when a bald eagle has been found shot to death near the Castle, their home in Bellingham, Peter knows he has the subject for his next story.  But the investigation is proving harder than he thought and then Nick’s father decides to accompany him as his sleuthing assistant, could things get any weirder for Nick and Peter?  Of course, they could……

Birds of a Feather is the fifth in the  Bellingham Mysteries series and my favorite book so far.  I adore everything about this series, from the wonderful main characters, the quirky town of Bellingham, to the mysteries they get involved in, it all works and works serendipitously. Over the course of the series, we have met and fallen in love with so many of the secondary characters as well, Evangeline (Peter’s BFF), her stoner boyfriend, Detective Patton (Peter’s favorite lesbian police officer) and so many more.  They are all present and accounted for in Birds of a Feather, just as they should be in a book focused on Peter and Nick’s marriage.

All of Kimberling’s characters come across as not only completely human but whose personalities lend themselves to living in a town where everyone is involved in everyone’s business (personal and otherwise), where green rules, quirky is the name of the game, and tolerance and individuality go skipping hand in hand across the town center.  Of course, Nicole Kimberling lives in Bellingham, Washington so her knowledge of the town is authentic and affectionate. This is how Nicole Kimberling describes Bellingham in her Author Spotlight for Scattered Thoughts:

Because I live here, I’m constantly discovering new facets of the city
and new slices of society–more than I think I’ll ever be able to fit
into the stories. There are the illegal mountain bike trail builders,
the rustic folk musicians, the unschoolers, the gamers. And then there
are the institutions, like the bible software company that basically
owns two whole city blocks downtown, the Humane Society, the Alternate
Humane Society, the Alternate Alternate Humane Society… The town is
rich with unexplored weirdness.”

That oddness permeates the Bellingham Mysteries like the terroir does in wine.  And added to each mystery is usually a fount of information about a subject pertinent to the mystery itself.  Sometimes it is beekeeping or perhaps candlemaking or even chicken farming as it is here but I always learn something new and delightful with each story.   The element of charm combined with a certain weirdness lays a foundation for a book and series that pulls you in immediately and refuses to turn you loose at the end.

Placed within this framework is the relationship of Peter and Nick.  It began slowly in Primal Red with Nick as a suspect, and builds to the relationship they have in Birds of a Feather where they are finally ready and able to get married.  Both men have had trust issues, commitment issues, and communication issues, all of which we see them work through, book by book.  And because we have been there from the beginning, this book becomes even more satisfying, emotionally and romantically.  We’ve been waiting for this too!  But Peter remains Peter, and his inner monologue is never far away.  Here is an example:

 The smell probably— calming pheromones or something.

He should look that up when he finally got to work, he thought.

Maybe write an article about the comforting smell of a strong man. Maybe he could write a little historical romance on the side…

Even before Young Peter knew he was shaking, Lord Nicolas had draped his splendid silken frockcoat over the scholar’s slim shoulders. “That arrow came too close for comfort,” he whispered.

With Peter, fantasy is always just a thought away, and his humorous flights of fancy will have you giggling in no time.  So will Nick’s father, Eric who comes up with the outstanding “Jealous Vengeful Canadians” theory for the Bald Eagle killing.  I won’t go into specifics but they are worth the price of the book right there.  Yes, there is more than one mystery here but the real gems of the Bellingham Mysteries are the town, Peter and Nick and everyone around them.

Consider this book highly recommended, consider the series highly recommended too.  But don’t start here! For those of you new to the series, go back to Primal Red, the first in the series.  See how Nick and Peter met and get a feel for one of the most charming and weird towns around.  You are going to love it and them.

Cover art by April Martinez is consistent with all the other covers of the series.  I do wish the models were more in keeping with the characters inside the book.  Otherwise it is too dark to really see what else is incorporated in the design.

Book Details:

ebook
Published June 2013 by Loose Id
ISBN139781623001841
edition languageEnglish
original titleBirds of a Feather
urlhttp://www.loose-id.com/bellingham-mysteries-5-birds-of-a-feather.html
seriesBellingham Mysteries

Here are the Bellingham Mysteries books in the order they were written and should be read to under the characters and the development of their relationship:

Primal Red (Bellingham Mysteries, #1)

Baby, It’s Cold Outside (Bellingham Mysteries, #2)

Black Cat Ink (Bellingham Mysteries, #3)

One Man’s Treasure (Bellingham Mysteries, #4)

Birds of a Feather (Bellingham Mysteries, #5)

Review of An Unconventional Union (Unconventional #2) by Scotty Cade

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Rating: 3.25 stars

Unconventional Union coverAfter discovering love in An Unconventional Courtship, Kincaid International Corporation’s CEO, Webber Kincaid, and his executive assistant, Tristan Moreau, return home to find that Webber is the subject of an SEC and Department of Justice investigation over Illegal business transactions by his company’s CFO. A CFO who threatens to out the couple unless they cover for his activities.  Faced with the ruination of their reputations and that of the company his father built, Webber Kincaid prepares to fight back and help the SEC and Justice Department with their investigations.

But while their business world is chaotic, their personal relationship has never been better now that they have finally admitted they love each other. In face, Webber has proposed and Tristan accepted and a Martha’s Vineyard wedding is now under preparation.  As the wedding date gets closer, Tristan knows he has to let go of his past and tell Webber about his family and the secrets he has kept hidden and both men decide to out themselves to Webber’s board of directors and the world.  With so many obstacles in front of them, Webber and Tristan must stand together, love intact, to make it through their wedding and their HEA.

I normally love Scotty Cade’s books and found his Mystery of Ruby Lode to be exceptional. So even without reading the first book in this series, I was looking forward to An Unconventional Union.  Unfortunately what I found was a book that could almost be divided into two totally different sections each in a different genre.  First lets discuss the elements I did like about the story.  This is a sweet love story between two men that took two years to develop due to a working relationship and  their closeted status.  While I did not read the first book, their courtship and accompanying issues are related to the reader in as Tristan remembers how they got together as the beginning of this book so the author gives us the backstory right from the beginning.

We enter the story shortly after Webber has proposed to Tristan and been accepted.  The company’s financial problems are already established as well.  Cade takes care to show how the men are dealing with all the changes around them as realistically as possible, including the impact on their new relationship and future wedding.  I think this section or element of the book is really nicely done.  The men are easy to relate to and they express their love easily and in a manner that makes their passion for each other authentic.  There is a multitude of “I love you’s” and similar expressions of love but considering their newfound status and approaching nuptials, I find that totally in keeping with the situation.

And at the end of the book, a traumatic event really brings the best out of Scotty Cade as a writer.  It is heartwrenching, warm, and concisely told, really outstanding and the best part of this story.  I only wish I could say the same about the majority of the book because when you get down to it,  perhaps less than half of An Unconventional Union relates to the plot.  The other half?  That is where my issues with this book come in.

For me, the majority of this story is a verbose, overly descriptive travel article on Martha’s Vineyard and The Inn and Restaurant at Lambert’s Cove.  Every part of this is related in a dry lecture guaranteed to make your eyes glaze over and kill any forward motion in the plot.  Here are Webber and Tristan on the plane researching the island:

“This site says the first explorer to leave any real account of the island was Bartholomew Gosnold. He landed on the cape first, which he named Cape Cod from the abundance of codfish. Then he sailed southward and landed on a small island about six miles southeast of Gay Head. He named this small island Martha’s Vineyard. The next day he landed on the larger island, and after exploring it and finding luxuriant grape vines, many beautiful ponds and springs, he transferred the name and called it Martha’s Vineyard, in honor of his mother, whose name was Martha.”

More than you probably needed to know, but not too bad.  The worse is yet to come, because soon they arrive at The Inn at Lambert’s Cover (which is standing in for the real thing called Lambert’s Cove Inn & Restaurant).  From the moment they set foot on the grounds, the reader is given a detailed inventory of each room, including foyers, every knickknack in the library, every…well I will let the book speak for itself:

“From the moment he stepped inside, Tristan saw that the inn was just as the photos and description had portrayed. The foyer and surrounding rooms were decorated in what could only be considered English Country style. It was warm and inviting. To the left was a large parlor done in red, furnished with deep mahogany leather couches and warm red and gold plaid wingback chairs positioned in front of a large fireplace. To the right was a more formal room decorated in royal blue and greens with yet another massive fireplace. Tristan immediately pictured himself and Webber sprawled across that couch with a good book and a scotch in front of a roaring fire. He imagined the wind howling and a foot of snow on the ground and not having a care in the world while being safe and secure with the man he loved. He was snapped out of his daydream as another gentleman joined them.”

And we are just getting started, now onto the bedroom.

“Tristan stepped into the room first and was amazed at what he saw. It was what he would consider a quintessential New England-style room. The ceiling was a little lower than usual, and the room was painted in a warm coppery color with a muted tan and cream-colored striped fabric accented with a cream-colored damask. There was a four-poster bed with a canopy attached to a large ceiling medallion over the center of the bed gently cascading to each bedpost and draping to the floor, puddling at the base. There was a skirted table with two houndstooth plaid oversized wingback chairs and a large antique dresser opposite the bed. At the far end of the room was a bathroom with a deep soaking tub, and directly across was a walk-in closet.”

Now imagine the same attention to detail when describing each foyer, concierge desk and hallway and you should start to see the problem here. But wait, there’s more….

Here is Tristan looking out the bedroom window, they haven’t even made it into the gardens yet:

“Tristan scanned the area outside of their window. Tall trees and hedges surrounded the expansive lawn offering total privacy and seclusion. To the left was a large square lion’s head fountain spitting water into a pool from four different directions. To the right was a white octagon-shaped gazebo with a cedar shake roof housing white wicker furniture with overstuffed cushions, obviously for relaxing and watching the day go by. “It really is beautiful.”

Now to be fair there are some lovely scenes with the couple making love or kissing interspersed between the decorator’s manual but still that is broken up by more of the same:

“They walked in silence along a red brick path, hands still linked together tightly. Tristan turned his head from side to side as he took in the surroundings while he tried to calm his nerves. They passed an herb garden tucked away into a corner of the main house on the right, while on the left they approached a black lion’s head fountain spitting water into a pool nestled into a glorious wall of lilacs at least eight feet tall. Next, they crossed the front of the inn, walked through a white arbor, passed a koi pond, and sauntered across the lawn, finally stopping when they stepped into the gazebo. Webber released his hand and gestured for him to take a seat on the white wicker loveseat. Tristan sat and watched as Webber poured them each another glass of wine and took a seat next to him. ”  *head desk*

They can’t even go to dinner without the entire meal being displayed out before you, showing us what a gourmet restaurant should be serving.

“As they walked toward the main house and restaurant, the sounds of Edith Piaf filled the air, reminding Tristan of a brief trip he’d taken to France. Once inside, Sam and Cavan put them at a lovely secluded table in the corner overlooking the pool area. Webber ordered a vintage bottle of Bourgogne Rouge VV “Maison Dieu” Domaine de Bellene, and their night officially began. They started with oysters on the half shell, then as an appetizer Webber ordered grilled white peaches with imported prosciutto, shaved red cabbage, and micro greens, and Tristan ordered steamed mussels in caramelized ginger, green onions, and coconut milk. For entrees, Webber had the seared sea scallops and Tristan horseradish-dusted veal. Sam and Cavan took turns seamlessly stopping by to make sure everything was to their liking, but never lingered long enough to intrude on their privacy. They finished the meals off by sharing a Belgian chocolate molten lava cake and a bottle of Ruffino Moscato d’Asti Italian dessert wine.”

We don’t get descriptions of how the meal tasted, the aroma that wafted off the grilled peaches, nothing to make our mouth water.  We simply get a list of foods served, like a sample menu you would show people prior to checking in.  For me this was a complete fail in terms of writing.  All of these intermable passages describing the Inn’s decor, gardens and restaurant only serves to kill any momentum in the plot that the author had achieved to that point in the story.  Webber and Tristan starts to discuss important issues in their relationship and boom, we are back to rows of shrubbery and black wrought iron lions.

We do get a slight break from the Architectural Digest treatment when they return to the city, but when they wed, its back to the Inn and more descriptions of the wedding ceremony and gardens at the Inn that would do a wedding planner proud.  Seriously, a wedding planner could use this as a template for an upcoming wedding it is that complete.  There is a small drama at the wedding and then back to the city where finally the heart of this story arrives never to leave.   It is the final pages of An Unconventional Union that raised this story up to 3.25 stars.

So while I will continue to read Scotty Cade, I will give this series a pass.  I love descriptions of places and things when they make sense, are concise, and written with passion.  And although I know Mr. Cade must love Martha’s Vineyard as he lives there, none of that comes across in the dense narrative given to us here.

Here are the books in the order they were written for this series so far:

An Unconventional Courtship (Unconventional #1)

An Unconventional Union (Unconventional #2)

Reese Dante’s cover is gorgeous, I love the models and the landscape, perfect for the story within.

Review of Shelton’s Homecoming (Shelton #4) by Dianne Hartsock

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Rating: 4 stars

Shelton has just flown home after receiving a phone call telling him his lover, Nevil, was injured and in the hospital.  Nevil is going to be fine but the accident has made it clear that something needs to change in his life, and change now. When Shelton took the promotion and transferred to another city, he never realized the full impact of a long distance relationship would be to him and Nevil.  After 6 months, he has had enough and the accident just clarified that.  In fact, Shelton realizes he wants even more from Nevil.  He wants permanence in the form of marriage, something Nevil has been very clear about not wanting.  When an ex boyfriend of Nevil’s invites them to his marriage, all the old jumbled up feelings come out and Shelton wonders if Nevil will ever come around to a future as husband and husband.

Shelton’s Homecoming is the fourth in the Shelton series but the first I have read by Dianne Hartsock.  The books plot the romance of Shelton and Nevil whose last names are never given in this book.  By Shelton’s Homecoming, their romance is an established one that has undergone an upheaval in Shelton’s Choice (Shelton #3).  The upheaval is obviously Shelton’s promotion in his bank job which necessitated a move to another city.  Now Shelton is only home on the weekends and the constant travel and loneliness is taking its tole on both men. Dianne Hartsock does a wonderful job of giving us two men deeply in love but still making adjustments to their relationship.  Shelton is someone you can easily identify with.  He took a promotion that he knew he deserved and wanted but the reality of that choice on their relationship is something far different then he had imagined.  Shelton is tired and stressed.  And then gets the phone call to say Nevil has been injured while he is out of town and guilt is added to the pain of their separation.  There are many couples today who have a similar arrangement whether by choice or economics so all the emotions on display here ring true.  Nevil is a little more conservative in his approach to their relationship but clearly he relishes the fact that  Shelton has come home and he has missed him dearly. I don’t have enough of their history on hand but it seems that he might be older than Shelton, at least he comes across that way.  At any rate, Nevil is another complete character with complex feelings about gay marriage equating with permanence as he feels they already have that.

Much time is spent having sex, lots of hot sex, but as the men have been separated  essentially for 6 months and love each other deeply, I can buy the “jump his bones at every possible moment” action as the author keeps remembering to bring the plot in as well.  There is really one issue for the couple to deal with as Shelton decides in the beginning to return home and that is one of marriage.  They live in a state where they can register as domestic partners but marriage is not legal.  So Nevil doesn’t think having a piece of paper, one not even backed by their state’s laws, is necessary to their relationship.  He feels they are committed to one another so nothing more is needed.  Shelton, on the other hand, looks at that piece of paper as evidence of a long term commitment visible by wedding rings to all around them and he wants it badly.  Hartsock makes us understand both Shelton and Nevil’s position on the matter which makes the resolution even more satisfying.

This is a heartwarming story and a quick read. I loved watching Nevil’s change of heart and watching Shelton and Nevil take their relationship to a deeper level of commitment.  Very well done.  I might go back to the beginning to see how it all started but really don’t feel that I have to in order to understand both men and their love for each other.  I anticipate that Dianne Hartsock will continue the series and that a wedding is on the horizon.  Count me in as I plan to be there when it happens.

Cover: Cover art by Mina Carter.  I love the colors and the simplicity of the clasped hands is lovely.

Shelton stories in the order they are written:

Shelton In Love (Shelton #1)

Shelton’s Promise (Shelton #2)

Shelton’s Decision (Shelton #3)

Shelton’s Homecoming (Shelton #4)