Review: The Last Deployment: How a Gay, Hammer-Swinging Twentysomething Survived a Year in Iraq by Bronson Lemer

Until about two or three years ago I rarely, if ever, read nonfiction. However, as time passes I find myself more and more interested in it. This read I picked up through the Insightout Book Club. It was actually part of an automatic shipment that I forgot to decline, and I figured I would keep it when I discovered the other book in the shipment was one I wanted anyway. I’m very pleased that I decided to keep it, because I ended up reading this book first.

Bronson Lemer is a former soldier with the National Guard who just six months shy of completing his commitment to the Guard, he is sent to serve in Iraq for a year. As a gay man under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, he has to keep his sexuality a secret or face ostracism and possible discharge from the military.

I thought the book was brilliantly written. Lemer does not focus solely on being a gay man in the military. In fact, there are times when I forget that he IS gay, because he discusses the life any solider faces when they are serving in a foreign country. He is often not a gay man, but a young man who with each passing day finds he does not want to be in the military, a young man who questions his country’s motives for sending him to Iraq, and a young man who just wants to be at home with friends and family. He wonders what he could possibly do to help the country when he can’t even help a woman get help for her injured son.

When Lemer does discuss being a gay man in the military, I found it very insightful. He discusses how he at first tries to live two separate lives: one as a gay man, and one as a solider, but finds it increasingly difficult to separate the two. It is no wonder any man or woman coming back from service finds it difficult to connect to someone. They are so far removed from situations like that, that it must be foreign to them.

There are many flashbacks to Lemer’s childhood and other times while he talks about his experiences in Iraq. Things that remind him of other events lead to little anecdotes about something else. This style of writing makes it more conversational, and therefore more readable. A few times throught the book, he also adds short letters he either wrote or drafted in his head to his ex-boyfriend, a man he is talking to at the beginning of the book who he was convinced he still loved. These personal touches let me see even more into the man that the author is.

The book is alternately hilarious and depressing. When he is talking about the men he lives with and how their tent comes to be known as The Gas Chamber, I was laughing hysterically. Then a few short chapters later I quickly sobered when I read the end of the “Vets” chapter.

Seeing the fans, I can’t help but think about how most people view veterans. Once a year, we march the veterans out, parading them around towns, saluting their achievements, honoring what they’ve done for this country. But once that day is over, we no longer need them to remind us of why we’re Americans, we forget about them; they simply become old men sitting on bar stools and complaining about loud music.

I had to stop after reading that paragraph for a bit because it made me think about how I have celebrated Veteran’s Day in the past, or how I treat my grandfather when he goes on about the wars and what he’s done in the past.

By the end of the book, I want to know more about Lemer. I want to know more about his time in Iraq, what he’s doing now, and if he’s found someone to love. I wonder if any of the men in his platoon ever figured out he was gay, or if he would tell them if he saw them again. I also wonder what happened to the men he served with. Through his story, I not only go to know him, but the other men, and their stories affected me just as much.

This is an excellent read, and one everyone should read. It reveals the difficulties of a gay man serving under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the trials of an American solider in Iraq at the start of the war, and how quickly men become brothers in a difficult situation.

You can buy this book here from Amazon.

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Good news!

I have very exciting news! One of my short stories has been accepted by Dreamspinner Press for their Higher Learning anthology, out some time in October. I am incredibly happy because not only am I joined by other great authors, but it promises to be an interesting anthology.

Also, it will be my first work that will actually make it to print!

I cannot wait to have a copy of the anthology on my bookshelf. I might just stare and coo at it for a few days when it first comes out.

More details when they were released, and I will post a short excerpt from the story as the release date approaches!

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Review: The Handsome Prince edited by Neil Plakcy

In this collection of short stories, Neil Plakcy has gathered some excellent reads that focus on the theme of fairy tales reimagined. The role of “prince” in this book is varied. There are some traditional princes, and there are more modern counterparts, such as rich heirs and oil tycoons. The large variety of stories is sure to please just about anyone, and while I enjoyed all of the stories, I definitely had my favorites.

#1: “The Master” by Fox Lee

This is the first story in the book and my favorite. I enjoyed it because it read just like a classic fairy tale. It is set in China, and involves a young man who goes on a journey to help his family. I enjoyed the way it read because it had that quality that traditional fairy tales do. The characters were interesting and the ending had a nice twist.

#2 “Reckless” by Janine Ashbless

This one is a bit more like traditional tales, but with a prince and his bodyguard. I enjoyed the names and the setting, and the way the two ended up coming together. Tancred and Alberic were great characters, and I loved how Tancred would give his life for Alberic. The prince’s initial reaction to Tancred’s confession was amusing and when they finally got together it was hot.

#3 “Added Benefits” by S.A. Garcia

Set in modern times with a young lord who’s family is not doing well financially, I enjoyed the twist in this one. The lover ends up being a tour guide for the family’s estate, and they meet when an obnoxious child takes off and goes where he shouldn’t. Watching the two interact was fun, and more so when they get together. I also liked how quickly James had a plan for saving the family fortune. Sure it may not be “realistic,” but hey! It’s a fairy tale. And they should end happily, right?

Definitely a great collection of stories. Neil Plakcy is a great writer himself (and I was amused that he name dropped himself into his own story, haha) but he does a fine job putting together and editing a group of stories for anthologies such as this one. Cleis Press always has wonderful anthologies in print that are well worth a read and the lovely covers make great additions to any bookshelf.

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Hurricane Irene

The worst of the storm is over, but the winds are starting to pick up again. And my town has been hit particularly hard by the flood waters. Not so many trees down as there are buildings flooded out.

Yes, there is a road there.

I went exploring with my sister, even though we probably should have stayed inside this morning. I just had to see what was going on. At the end of this road is the school I work at. It’s underwater. The building across from it – thankfully abandoned – is buckling. An auto parts store a little further up the road also took massive water damage and pictures taken seem as if the front if collapsing. I can’t be sure, though, because I have no way to get there myself.

 
The town is currently split in half by a river that did not exist before today. My sister and I drove around and tried to get to the other side, but it was impossible. Every road that would take us over there was blocked by yellow tape or police vehicles. Just about an hour ago the National Guard was called in to help with evacuations. One section of the town is completely underwater, and all residents were evacuated. And recently two people decided to go out on a canoe. They have not been found.
 
School is supposed to start on Thursday for students and Monday for teachers. Monday meetings were pushed back, but I wonder if it will be longer. At least two of the schools I have seen so far are under water. Roads are washed out. Part of the highway that was just extended has collapsed because of the water, and many buses use that route. There were huge delays when they were building it. Now that it’s compromised, I wonder how they will manage this.
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Finding His Roots: Chapter One

I’ve decided to finally add a little bit of what I’ve been working on my Free Reads page. It’s been a while. This new WIP is called Finding His Roots and is novella length. Keep in mind it is a WIP, and I am editing as I go, but I wanted to share a little with you now. I’d love to hear any feedback you might have! Enjoy!

****

“Okay, the camera is turned on, so all you have to do is talk. You don’t even need to look at the computer. It will just pick up everything you say,” James said as he settled back into his high wing-backed chair.

His grandfather leaned forward, squinting at the computer. “Hello!” he yelled suddenly, causing James and his grandmother to flinch. “My name is Lucien Do—”

“Pop! You don’t need to scream at the computer. It can hear you just fine. The microphone is really small, but sensitive.”

“Oh… all right.” His grandfather settled back into the couch next to his wife and stared at James. “Go ahead and ask your questions, then.”

James smiled, pleased his grandparents were finally agreeing to this. He had been trying to write down the family history for years, since he had become interested in genealogy. Once they had seen the progress he had made on a website, tracing their family up through Canada and back to France in the 1600s, they had been impressed and finally realized he was serious.

“I’d like to know more about how the two of you met,” James started. “What kind of meeting was it? How did you decide to date?”

“You’re not interested in that boring stuff,” his grandmother said, waving a hand. “What else do you want to know?”

“No really! This is important. I can add stories to the website, and I want future generations of the family to know! Weren’t you interested in how your parents met?” His grandparents offered vague nods. “If I don’t ask you, it will be lost someday far in the future. What am I supposed to tell my kids if they ask how the family was started? Now I can show them this,” James said, gesturing to the computer. Not that I’ll be having any kids, he added silently. Unless I find a partner who already has one, or who wants to adopt.

“Fine. If you’re so interested.” His grandmother smiled, and her eyes stared to glaze over as if she were looking into the past. “We met on a train.”

“That’s romantic,” James said with a smile when his grandmother paused. “What about the train? Just any train? Come on, Gram. I need more details than that!”

She huffed. At seventy-seven years old, his grandmother Julia was still a mostly private person, though she did love her grandchildren. And James knew she enjoyed talking about some bits of her past, even if she didn’t let on.

“It was a train in town, back when there were trains. I was going to work and took a seat in one of the cars. You see, I didn’t drive back then. You didn’t need to, because there were plenty of other ways to get around.”

“How old were you?”

“Let me think…. I was twenty-five. So your grandfather was a year older. He got on the car – which was empty – took a look around, and asked me if the seat next to me was taken.”

“I was bold,” his grandfather said, nodding.

“And you said…?”

“Well obviously I said no. He sat next to me. In hindsight, I should have said yes.”

“Gram!” James laughed. “That’s horrible!”

“She is horrible to me,” Grandpa Luc said, shaking his head. “So we went on dates, got married, et voila. Here we are.”

James sighed. Sometimes getting what he wanted was so difficult. He could always ask them more at a later time, so he changed the subject. “Mom said you told her you met a different way.”

His grandfather’s eyes lit up mischievously. The wrinkles around his eyes crinkled in delight, oddly making him look younger rather than older. “Yes. We told your mother and your aunt and uncle that we met when I went to Jell-O wrestling match. And your grandmother was one of the wrestlers.”

“Did Mom and them believe you?”

“Not at first, no,” Grandma Julia admitted. “Your uncle said, ‘oh yeah? What flavor?’ and I told him my favorite was lemon.”

“She said it without missing a beat! No smile, nothing,” his grandfather howled, slapping his knee. “Just went right back to cooking dinner. The kids believed it for years after that! Should have seen the looks on their faces.”

James laughed with his grandparents over the memory. I hope one day I have some fun story to tell my family.

“Are you going to post that on the Internet thing you’re doing?” his grandfather asked, leaning forward to look at the computer again.

“I’m going to edit the interview a bit first, then yes. I’ll put it on the website. Did you know I discovered a distant relative because of it? They’re using the site and looking for family, too.”

“Really? Who?” his grandmother asked.

“A great-grandchild of great-grandma’s older brother. I sent them an email, but I haven’t heard back from them yet. I hope they respond; I want to meet them. They live in New York it looks like.”

“You know, James. It’s a good thing what you’re doing. I wish I had asked my mother more. All I know is that her parents emigrated from Germany. She didn’t talk much about it. I don’t even know what village they were from.”

“I can try to find that out, Gram.”

“How would you do that?”

James shrugged. “I can try to see if I can find their immigration papers. It might list it there. I haven’t done that much detailed work yet, but I’m sure with a little searching I’ll be able to find it.”

His grandmother was silent for a few moments before she smiled. “That would be wonderful, James. You’re such a good boy.”

“Boy! He’s twenty-seven. Hardly a boy.”

“Thanks, Pop.” James smiled at the two of them then leaned forward and turned the recording off, making sure the file had saved to an easy to access location. Wouldn’t do to lose it and then have to re-record the entire conversation. It was difficult enough the first time.

“I think I’m going to head for the pool and swim for a bit before I head home,” James announced as he shut down the computer.

“I think I’ll join you. Coming, Julia?”

“Yeah, I’ll be out in a few minutes. Go ahead.”

Gathering up his things, James packed them away and changed into his bathing suit, then met his grandfather outside as he unlocked the gate to their aboveground pool and pushed it open. At six foot even, James towered over his grandfather. He always had, but since his accident two years ago, he seemed to be even taller.

James dropped his towel onto a chair and jumped into the water without even testing it. It was warm – almost too warm – but it relaxed him. After surfacing, he swam a few laps across the short pool then grabbed a tube and floated on his back. His grandfather turned the radio on and turned it to some political station – ultra-conservative of course – and sat on his chair to listen for a few moments.

As much as he loved his grandfather, it was amazing how different they were. James accounted it to being a product of two very different generations. His grandfather, born in 1933, had faced hard times, and yet he emerged successful. His large home was a testament to how hard he had worked. He was a registered Democrat, ironically so, because he considered himself a conservative Republican and always sided with them. He was homophobic and a bit racist at times, yet James felt he was still a good man at heart.

James had come out when he was seventeen years old to his parents, but waited until he was twenty-three to tell his grandparents. He wanted them to know who he was, even if it meant they disowned him. And for nearly two years, they had. His grandmother tried to contact him from time to time, but as patriarch of the family, his grandfather was not happy with it.

It wasn’t until his accident two years ago that changed everything.

His grandfather had been painting the garage, and to reach the upper levels had pulled a ladder from under the deck. It was wooden and old, and one that desperately needed to be replaced. But though his grandfather had money, he was notoriously cheap. He insisted the ladder was fine, and that he was more than capable of painting on his own. Things had been fine for an hour when the rotted wood on the ladder suddenly gave way. His grandfather had been nearly six feet off the ground when it collapsed. He landed on his right arm and smashed his face against the ground, breaking his arm, nose, and cheekbone in the process.

When his grandmother heard the shout she came running and called for the ambulance. He had been rushed to the hospital where it took extensive surgery to repair the broken bones. Family visited often but did not stay long because the pain made him angry, and his inability to move exacerbated it.

Soon only James and his grandmother visited. Though his grandfather ignored him at first, he slowly started to talk to him. Sometimes it was to call him names that hurt, but James stayed with him. One night he was supposed to get his pain medication at eight o’clock. By ten after, the nurses had not shown up yet, and so James went to find them and demand his grandfather be helped; he was moaning in pain at that point, the morphine wearing off. Twenty minutes later, they still had not arrived and told him that visiting hours were over.

“I am not leaving until my grandfather has been given his medication and is comfortable,” James told them.

“You’ll have to be patient. The staff is switching shifts now. Someone will be in soon.”

“That’s what you told me half an hour ago! How long does it take to switch shifts? My grandfather was scheduled to get his medication at eight. It is eight thirty, and he’s in his bed moaning in pain. Can’t you just give me his dose and I’ll give it to him?”

“I’m sorry, but we can’t do that. Please calm down. I assure you, someone will be in soon.”

“Why can’t you do it? You’re sitting here doing nothing.”

“He’s not my patient.”

James threw his hands up in defeat and stalked back to the room where his grandfather gritted his teeth.

“James, just go home. It’s late.”

“No, I’m not leaving until you get your medication and you’re comfortable. I’ll stay here all night if I have to.”

His grandfather grew quiet and watched him curiously, and for the next half hour they waited together in silence.

At nine, James got up and went back to the nurse’s station. Six nurses stood their laughing, drinking from cups of coffee.

“Excuse me, but my grandfather’s medication is an hour late and no one has been in to see him.” James could barely keep his anger in check. One of the nurses looked upset and followed him back to the room where she grabbed the chart and looked at it.

“Lucien? You haven’t been given your medication yet?”

“No,” he said through gritted teeth. “My grandson has been asking for the last hour.”

“I’m so sorry, sir. I’ll get that for you right away,” she said.

James sighed with relief and followed her into the hall. She stopped at a cart and opened it, pulling his grandfather’s cup from it.

“I really do apologize,” she said. “His regular nurse didn’t show up tonight. I don’t understand why someone didn’t take care of this before. I’ll keep an eye on him.”

“Thank you,” James said, relaxing. “I’m going to stay until he falls asleep.”

“That’s fine, dear. You’re a good boy for staying with him. He’s lucky to have someone like you looking out for him.”

James smiled and shrugged.

Half an hour later his grandfather was sleeping peacefully and James was able to leave. Since then, his grandfather’s attitude had changed, and their once easy relationship was back as it had been before James had come out.

Even though their relationship regained that easy comfort again, things were different. Mainly his grandfather’s health. The once vivacious man who ice-skated on his lawn when it froze over stood with a hunch, his back leaned over. He looked as if he needed a cane, but refused the aid of one. No longer could he go hunting alone. His body ached in places it never had, and it frustrated him.

James glanced at his grandfather as he sat in his chair, face up to the sun and eyes closed as if dozing. He used to sit so straight and tall. So proud. Now he just seemed so tired all the time, and it pained James to see it.

“You coming in, Pop?”

“In a moment. The sun feels good,” he said, clearly not asleep at all.

“The water feels good, too. It’s warm.”

“Yes, it’s been so hot lately the pool has warmed up. It feels like a bath. I think it’s still refreshing though. The lake up in Maine should be colder.”

“Are you going up soon?”

“We might,” he said, then rolled his head forward to look at James. “You know, we still have a week left unrented….”

“Yeah?”

“Your grandmother and I were thinking maybe you should take it. You deserve a nice vacation. You work so hard, and you’ve done so much for us.”

Time alone at the camp in Maine? James had wanted it for so long, but his grandparents had always insisted he just come and stay with them. They said he didn’t really need the whole cabin to himself, and what was a vacation if no one else was there?

“Are you serious? I don’t know…. I don’t know if I can get the time off from work.”

“Sure you can. Put in for a week. You’ll get it. Or I’ll call and give them a piece of my mind. That bookstore has run you all over the place. They’ve taken advantage of your good work ethics you know,” his grandfather said, getting worked up. He sounded as if he was about to preach so James cut in, splashing water at the old man.

“Okay, okay! I’ll ask for a week off. What can it hurt?”

“Good! That’s more like it. We’d hate to see the place empty for even a week. You’ll enjoy it, too. Maybe you can even get together with your uncles up there and ask them more about the family history. You can add their words to that tree you’re growing on your computer.”

“That’s a good idea,” James said with a laugh. “Maybe I can visit Waterville and try to dig up some old records, too.” I hope my truck will be able to make it all the way up there, he thought, thinking of the old 4Runner. He’d need an oil change and tune-up before he made the three hundred mile journey, or he’d find himself stranded on the side of the highway.

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Review: Love Is In The Hallways by RJ Scott

Another short story by RJ Scott to review. This is the sequel to “Love Is In The Title” featuring high school students Cameron and Luke.

The author has done a brilliant job at capturing the emotions of two boys who want to be themselves, but are also afraid of the repercussions. To really understand this story, you need to read the first, because it takes place just before this one. This was a short read, but well worth it.

Cam and Luke are very similar but different. I really enjoyed how Cam, “new” to being gay – at least openly – is so confident about how everything will work out, and Luke – who has been there, done that, bought the t-shirt – is much more conservative. He wants to be with his boyfriend, but he doesn’t want to make waves about it. I felt it was very realistic for both of the boys to act the way they did given their different experiences.

I really loved this story, and I can’t wait to read more about them. The author left it open for another sequel, and I do hope this is an ongoing series. If you enjoyed the first book, do yourself a favor and get this!

You can purchase “Love Is In The Hallways” here from Amazon.

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Review: Rhapsody for Piano and Ghost by Z.A. Maxfield

The cover to this novel drew me in because of the exquisite artwork by P.L. Nunn. Her style is so distinct and beautiful, and I find that most stories that she does the covers for are equally wonderful. And then there was the title. Rhapsody for Piano and Ghost. By Z.A. Maxfield. A) What an interesting title, and B) hey, I just finished another book by this author that was fantastic! So I gave in – despite being over budget on books by a LOT this month… – and bought it for my Kindle.

I couldn’t read it fast enough. There were so many separate stories intertwined in this novel. First there is Fitz and Garrett. And then there is Julian and Serge. Those two stories come together and get knotted up. And then along comes Ari with Fitz. And Garrett gets tossed into that mix as well. So many wonderful characters that I loved and loved to hate. And yet another book to make me cry.

Cry as in curl in a ball on the couch and sob. Yes. I did that. And I am thankful I was home alone.

Serge and Julian’s story is revealed in bits and pieces throughout the novel. By the end I’m not entirely sure how they came to be with Fitz, but I do know that I loved them and prayed at the end that they would still be with him. I feared that I would turn to the end of the book and they would never make another appearance. That broke my heart. But not nearly as much as when the story of their relationship was revealed by Julian.

I hated Garrett. And I wanted to slap Fitz upside the head for not realizing what was happening. He was innocent and naive, but I think that added to his charm. It also made me cheer that much more for Ari. He was a great character and his feelings for Fitz showed from the moment he showed up. The tension between them kept growing and when they finally came together it was well worth the wait!

This book was very unique in how seemlessly the world of the living and the… dead…? came together. But I still am left wondering how Serge and Julian were drawn to Fitz.

You can purchase Rhapsody for Piano and Ghost here on Amazon.

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