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Book Review: Listening To Dust by Brandon Shire

August 24, 2013 1 comment

Sepia image of dust floating up into the sky in the countryside with the book's title "Listening To Dust" in brown in the foreground and the author's name "Brandon Shire" in black at the top.Summary:
A chance meeting between orphaned British writer, Stephen, and American soldier, Dustin, leads to a passionate love affair in England.  But when Dustin chooses to go back home to his small Southern town to care for his mentally challenged brother, Stephen is left behind, sending letters that are never answered.  He finally decides to follow Dustin home and arrives only to discover that Dustin is no more.

Review:
This is my second read by Brandon Shire.  The first, The Value Of Rain (review), blew me way with its passionate, multi-generational family drama featuring a gay main character.  I was thus eager to accept a second arc from Shire, and I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed.

There are some commonalities in the stories.  Both feature a gay man who grew up in an unaccepting family and show the impact that has on their lives.  But that’s where the similarities cease.  Listening To Dust is really about a gay man who grew up with an accepting and loving grandmother trying to come to terms with who his lover is and was and how his lover’s family affects and affected him.  This book is really more about what it is to love someone who suffers from deep childhood wounds.  The difficult path that is to follow and how many pitfalls exist in it.  Although I wasn’t a huge fan of Stephen’s voice, I still respected his experiences and the difficult situations he found himself in.  I also appreciated seeing the far-reaching impact lack of love and family acceptance has.  It doesn’t just affect the people raised in that family.

The writing is again gorgeous.  Even now I can feel the hot dustiness of Dustin’s hometown and also the comforting cool greenery of Stephen’s grandmother’s French cottage.  Shire elicits both place and emotions so powerfully that it is impossible not to be moved by the story.

I also really enjoyed the various commentary throughout the book on love, words, and actions.  What love is, what it does, and whether words or actions are worth more.

So I guess we were both right, and both wrong about actions and words.  Like the two of us, one is empty without the other. (location 1014)

The sex scenes manage to be steamy and emotional.  What I might call literary sex scenes.  When I read them, I felt them in my knees.

Even now I can feel the heat from your palm as you cupped the back of my head and pulled my lips those last few inches, how you opened your body and begged me with your soul. (location 1726)

Damn.

So what held me back from 5 stars?  As previously stated, I wasn’t a huge fan of Stephen’s voice, although I respected his experiences.  He sometimes grated on me a bit.  I’m not sure if it was his slight Britishisms or how much he got hung up in his own head but he sometimes irritated me in a way that kept me from getting completely engrossed in the story.  But this is a small thing, really, when compared to the story as a whole and the beautiful writing.

Overall, this is a book that sweeps the reader away to multiple, disparate places to explore both love and the far-reaching affects of a harsh family life.  It should appeal to any who enjoy a heart-breaking contemporary GLBTQ romance.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Note: 10% of all proceeds donated to LGBT Youth Charities combating homelessness.

Book Review: The Value of Rain by Brandon Shire

June 13, 2012 2 comments

Road during a rainstorm.Summary:
Charles hasn’t been home since his mother and uncle sent him away to an insane asylum at the age of fourteen after he was found in the embrace of his first love–Robert.  Now, ten years later, his mother, Charlotte, is dying, and he comes back to take his revenge.

Review:
This is one of those genre-defying books.  Although classified as GLBTQ, it is so much more than a genre.  Shire explores the devastating effects of prejudice, hate, secrets, and lies throughout family generations, and that is something that is simultaneously universal and tragic.

The book constantly takes the reader by surprise.  At first it seems an expected my-family-didn’t-love-me-because-I’m-gay story, but Charles does *not* get a free pass simply because he is hurt by his family.  He is given chances at new life and redemption from a hate-enshrouded existence, but he doesn’t choose that path.  It is painful to watch, and yet simultaneously understandable.  I applaud Shire for not taking the easy way and by making Charles an easy hero.

The writing is particularly eloquent and strong in description, especially when describing painful topics.  For instance:

She had lived in the maze of Charlotte’s thumbprint and she had not survived. (location 1349)

On the other hand, the dialogue sometimes struggles in comparison to the lyrical descriptions.  For instance, characters often say people’s names more frequently than is natural.  This is a kink that I am sure will be ironed out with time and experience.

I also loved and was totally shocked by the ending.  That is not an easy thing to do to this reader.

Overall this book represents all that can be great about indie publishing.  It is a deep, dark story with a minority, tragic hero that most likely would not be told at a traditional publishing house due to the fact that it does not easily fit into any one genre or marketing scheme.  Of course, that is also why I love it.

Recommended to those with an interest in GLBTQ main characters and multi-generational family dramas.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Note: Half of all proceeds donated to LGBT Youth Charities.