Category Archives: Hot Key Books

Genuine Fraud – E. Lockhart

There are some books that are almost too twisty to review. One such book, which also came with the instruction that you should lie about it anyway, was E. Lockhart’s previous novel We Were Liars. A book so hard to try and write about to make everyone want to go and read without giving anything away, or lying so much you might not sell it to people, it seems I decided to not review it. I raved about it to people in person or on The Readers podcast instead. Having been such a fan of that book when I heard Genuine Fraud was just as twisty and also gave a nod to Patricia Highsmith (who I adore) I was of course sold. Now, how to tell you about it without spoiling it? Blimey, this will prove tricky.

Hot Key Books, paperback, 2018, fiction, 272 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Jule Williams is 18 and an orphan, these facts and only these facts are genuine truths about Jule as she is a genuine fraud. To the people around her, to herself and also to us dear sweet readers who she takes on a kind of kick ass, psychopathic, warped journey which I loved every minute of. As the book opens she has been hunted down by the FBI for a potential murder, but who has she murdered and why? Oh and why does the book start at Chapter 18? Well because, just to throw you off that little bit more, Genuine Fraud goes backwards in time too, so you have to try and solve the riddle of Jule and the riddle of her involvement in a death in an even more twisted way.

This could prove a twist too much (and there has been a fair amount of discussions around twists too far in the thriller world lately) yet E. Lockhart has a firm grip on the tale even if we don’t. We soon discover, no spoilers I promise, that Jule has been running and trying to survive for years. Both to try and better her life, if somewhat underhandedly, and away from a dark past. Well, dependent on which past you believe, see tricky but all part of the fun.

What we then follows, again no spoilers, is that whilst running she bumps into Imogen who she knew vaguely. Imogen is rich, spoilt and mainly left to her own devices, everything that Jule would like to be. Yet if Jule would like to be you it could be dangerous, for you and those around you. And that is where I will leave it in terms of the plot because to say any more would spoil all the twists ahead, some which seriously took me completely by surprise.

Jule was anxious to say the right thing, but she didn’t know if sympathy or distraction was required. “I read a book about that in college,” she said.
“About what?”
“The presentation of self in everyday life. This guy Goffman had the idea that in different situations, you perform yourself differently. Your character isn’t static. It’s an adaptation.”
“I have stopped performing myself, you mean?”
“Or you’re doing it another way now. There are different versions of the self.”

Whilst Genuine Fraud is in the main a fast moving, slick, Hollywood/Netflix ready thriller, it is also a psychological study (taking that nod to The Talented Mr Ripley) of a young woman trying to work out who she is, where she comes from and what she wants in life. Admittedly she is a little bit of a psychopath or sociopath, or maybe both, yet there is something so determined, survivalist and kick ass about her that you can’t help but become fascinated by her and slightly root for her even though she is rather unlikeable. Not something easy to pull off but E.Lockhart is very good at female spikey anti-heros and dislikeable characters you like despite yourself.

As I mentioned though, amongst all the high jinks and dastardly shenanigans, there is that element of looking at who you are as a person and trying to find your place in the world and also your identity when you feel so lost. How do you decide what your story is? What happens if you want to change that story? What happens if you tell one story to yourself but it isn’t the story that is taken from you by others? And what if you simply don’t, won’t or can’t conform to society’s story in general? There are some really deep layers in the dark depths of this book, be it that you take them and their empowerment subliminally or not.

You are the center of the story. You and no one else. You’ve got an interesting origin tale, that unusual education. Now you’re ruthless, you’re brilliant, you’re practically fearless. There’s a body count behind you, because you do whatever’s required to stay alive – but it’s a day’s work, that’s all.
You look superb in the light of the Mexican bar windows. After a fight, your cheeks are flushed. And oh, your clothes are so very flattering.
Yes, it’s true that you are criminally violent. Brutal, even. But that’s your job and you’re uniquely qualified, so it’s sexy.
Jule watched a shit-ton of movies. She knew that women were rarely the centres of such stories. Instead, they were the eye candy, arm candy, victims or love interests. Mostly, they existed to help get the great white hetero hero on his fucking epic journey. When there was a heroine, she weighed very little, wore very little, and had their teeth fixed.
Jule didn’t look like those women. She would never look like those women. But she was everything those heroes were, and in some ways, she was more.
She knew that too.

I really enjoyed Genuine Fraud. I really like a good anti-hero and Juliette West Williams is just that. In some ways I am not quite the target market for this book, but if I came away feeling empowered by her – despite some of her antics – and wanted to embrace my difference more, then how fantastic that a host of younger readers will go away and do the same. All whilst reading a bloody gripping yarn. I am also hoping that this will send more readers to the waiting arms of the queen of fictional psychopaths, Patricia Highsmith, what joys await them there too. Back to Genuine Fraud though, definitely a recommended reading rollercoaster ride.

If you would like to hear/see E. Lockhart chatting to me about Genuine Fraud, We Were Liars, sociopaths, Patricia Highsmith and more, then you can see me talking to her on my YouTube channel here, she gives great chat.

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Filed under E. Lockhart, Hot Key Books, Review

This Book is Gay – James Dawson

So I thought I would end my mini Pride weekend with a book that I spent the whole of Pride reading as I was stuck in bed with the snuffles. Shockingly despite how forward thinking we are as people sex education in the UK, and as far as I am aware in the US, Canada and Australia, still fails to encompass information for LGBT people – and at a time when HIV is rising in the younger generations. And this is in progressive countries around the world where it is legal. I certainly wish I had been able to get my younger gay hands on this when I was going through some of my turbulent (to say the least) teens. Oh and if you think this book is just for LGBT people, think again this is a book for anyone and everyone whatever your sexuality or preferences.

Hot Key Books, paperback, 2014, non fiction, 272 pages, kindly sent to me by the publisher

Lesson One

  • Sometimes men fancy men.
  • Sometimes women fancy women.
  • Sometimes women fancy men and women.
  • Sometimes men fancy women and men.
  • Sometimes people don’t fancy anyone.
  • Sometimes a man might want to be a woman.
  • Sometimes a woman might want to be a man.

Got that? It really is that simple.

Of course whilst things should be that simple, taking into account that some men fancy women and some women fancy men obviously, they aren’t. This is where James Dawson starts This Book is Gay, because things aren’t that simple, which when you see it written in black and white like that makes it seem all the more idiotic, or ‘cray’ as James often mentions in the book. What follows is a guide to the world of the LGBT community from the very beginning and those first questions in their heads to what the possibilities can be in the future.

Now I am a 33 year old gay man and I thought this might be preaching to the converted but I learned so much from this book, which I binge read in just over twenty four hours, so I can only imagine how eye opening James frank yet funny book would be to someone at the early ponderings of what they may or may not be. First there is the history of LGBT rights, which again we didn’t learn at school, then there is the state of LGBT affairs all over the world. I still cannot believe that it is illegal in some countries let alone be treated with the death penalty.

Then there comes the science bit. Dawson looks at all the varying scientific discussions there have been from genetics to epignetics, from brain structure to evolution as to why people might be gay (making me feel so much cleverer) yet also highlighting that it doesn’t really matter and we should all just get on with it. He also looks at other things which are often just as complex to negotiate. Coming out, the gay scene, apps, dating, and sexy times Dawson looks at every possible angle of sexuality whatever yours might be. So much information and yet delivered in such a digestible and upfront way, marvellous. I came away understanding so much more, especially as Dawson intersects his text with the accounts of LGBT people of all ages from places all over the world.

Before you think that this is just some rainbow bright version of events, think again. Dawson also looks at all the darker and more difficult parts of LGBT life. From bullying in schools or parents and friends having issues with you when you come out, to homophobia in general and things like drug addiction, cheating spouses and other difficulties that can be faced. I have to give huge credit to Dawson here as he could have just said ‘these people are idiots’, instead he looks at reasons for their homophobia (internal, religion, uneducated, etc) tries to get you to see where its coming from and then how to deal with it. Even the more negative aspects of the books have a positive message or way of dealing with them.

The word ‘gay’ started life meaning joyful, carefree, bright and showy, from the French term ‘gaiety’, which is still used. However, by the seventeenth century, the word had evolved: a ‘gay woman’ was a prostitute, a ‘gay man’ was promiscuous, and a ‘gay house’ was a brothel. Nice.

Initially I did worry that when the book started that there might be one too many stereotypes and what if people didn’t feel they fit in with bears, twinks, otters, butch, femme etc. Or indeed what if they don’t identify themselves as L, G, B or T. But as one chapter is entitles ‘Stereotypes are poo’ and while Dawson discusses labels he is by no means saying you should identify with any particular one, he also says while being gay/lesbian/trans/pan/queer is an important part of you it shouldn’t be the only important part and define you. Bravo!

What is I found oddly uplifting and amazing is that This Book is Gay is only a year old and is already slightly out of date. This is not James’ fault of course, I am sure that he is thrilled by the fact that progress keeps on coming. Ireland has of course had the referendum vote on equal marriage which went through and the supreme court in the United States has ruled that that equal marriage is legal in every single state. Yet with countries like India going backwards, the all kinds of crazy stuff going on in Russia and the fact there is still no mention of LGBT in sex education (due to old legislation in 1988 and its ripple effects still lingering) in the UK we still have a long way to go for full equality.

Once upon a time, there was a very bad lady – let’s, for the sake of argument, call her Maggie. She decreed that teachers must not include ‘gay lifestyles’ in sex education lessons. This was called ‘Section 28’, and it explains why I, as a young man, had no idea what a gay man was OR what they did.

I am the same generation as Mr Dawson and I feel exactly the same, whilst my life wouldn’t have necessarily been less difficult growing up as a gay man if I’d had a copy of This Book is Gay I would certainly have felt less alone and at least a little more prepared for what might have been coming my way. With This Book is Gay James Dawson writes a guide to gay lifestyles from coming out, to dating, to sex, relationships and beyond in a style that makes you feel like you having a conversation with a caring friend.

I think This Book is Gay is an incredibly important book and one which needs to have several copies stocked in libraries and schools everywhere so it can be read by LGBT people, people questioning their sexuality or just people who want to know more or understand, whatever their ages. (As the book states our heterosexual allies are incredibly important too.) It’s rare that you can say a book could save lives, but this one could especially as education of safe sex for young gay men is so thin on the ground and HIV transmission is increasing. Mr Dawson, I applaud you and this book.

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Filed under Hot Key Books, James Dawson, Non Fiction, Review