Title: Living and Loving in the Age of AIDS – A Memoir

Author: Derek Frost

Pages: 288 Pages

Publisher: Watkins Publishing

The Blurb

This is the tale of a devastating pandemic, of lives cut painfully short; it’s also a love letter.

Derek, a distinguished designer and J, his husband, a pioneering entrepreneur and creator of both The Embassy Club, London’s answer to Studio 54, and iconic Heaven, Europe’s largest gay discotheque, met and fell in love more than 40 years ago. 

Their lives were high-octane, full of adventure, fun and fearless creativity. Suddenly their friends began to get sick and die – AIDS had arrived in their lives. When they got tested, J received what was then a death sentence: he was HIV Positive. While the onset of AIDS strengthened stigma and fear globally, they confronted their personal crisis with courage, humour and an indomitable resolve to survive. J’s battle lasted six long years. Turning to spiritual reflection, yoga, nature – and always to love – Derek describes a transformation of the spirit, how compassion and empathy rose phoenix-like from the flames of sickness and death. Out of this transformation also came Aids Ark, the charity they founded, which helped to save, amongst the world’s most marginalised people, more than 1,000 HIV Positive lives.

This is a story of joy and triumph; about facing universal challenges; about the great rewards that come from giving back. Derek speaks for a generation who lived through a global health crisis that many in society refused even to acknowledge. His is a powerful story chronicling this extraordinary time.

The Review

I have read quite a few books about AIDS – both fiction and nonfiction – and I am always hit afresh with just how awful this time period was and the impact it had on society.

Living and Loving in the Age of AIDS by Derek Frost is a firsthand account of what it was like to be a young gay man during this period. He talks about the fear and the anger but he also celebrates the community of his friends who were all struggling/fighting the same fight and how they came together to offer comfort.

There are moments in this book that feel like you are taking repeated punches to the gut, mostly when Frost drops into the chapter the next person who died, then the next, then the next. It felt relentless to read so I cannot image what it felt like to live through.

It sounds so obvious to say but the more I read about this time period the more I am confronted with individual stories. It is hard to imagine everyone’s individual lives when so, so many were killed by this horrific illness. More exposure to the stories of those who died is needed.

Living and Loving in the Age of AIDS – A Memoir by Derek Frost is available now.

For more information regarding Watkins Publishing (@watkinsbooks) please visit www.watkinsbooks.com.

Title: Not My Problem

Author: Ciara Smyth

Pages: 368 Pages

Publisher: Andersen Press

The Blurb

Sex Education with an Irish LGBT heroine: Aideen can fix anyone’s problem – just not her own

When Aideen agrees to help ambitious class swot Maebh Kowalska deal with her crazy workload, she doesn’t expect to end up reluctantly pushing Maebh down the stairs. With this, Aideen becomes the school ‘fixer’: any problem a student has, Aideen will sort it out, from stealing confiscated mobiles to breaking into parties. All she asks for is a favour in return. But Aideen’s own life is a mess – her mam’s drinking again, her BFF Holly is avoiding her and she’s skipping school. Spending more time with the uptight (but annoyingly cute) Maebh and chatterbox Kavi, Aideen starts to wonder: can every problem be solved?

The Review

What a special book.

Not My Problem by Ciara Smyth is a fabulous campus novel set in Ireland. Our heroine, Aideen, has a lot of problems of her own. No money, strained relationship with her sperm donor father, a hot mess of a mother yet she cannot help but sort out the problems of others. This lands her in many scrapes which are often hilarious. However, at the heart of this novel is a young girl who is just trying to hold things together.

I absolutely bloody loved this story from the very first page. The inimitable Irish humour jumps off the page. It had me howling with laughter and I am so sad that it is over.

Not My Problem by Ciara Smyth is available now.

For more information regarding Andersen Press (@AndersenPress) please visit www.andersenpress.co.uk.

Title: Blackouts

Author: Justin Torres

Pages: 321 Pages

Publisher: Granta Publications

The Blurb

An intimate, emotionally rich novel, in which two men – young and old – reckon with queer histories and their place within them, from the critically acclaimed author of We the Animals.

Juan Gay is on his deathbed. He has decided to spend his last days in The Palace: a monumental, fading institution in the desert, which was an asylum in another lifetime. There, a young man tends to this dying soul – someone who Juan met only once, but who has haunted the edges of his life ever since.

As the end approaches, the two trade stories – resurrecting lost loves, lives, mothers and fathers – and their lives are woven, ineluctably, into a broader story of pathology and oppression. Charged with sifting through Juan’s belongings, our narrator uncovers a copy of Sex Variants: A Study in Homosexual Patterns, its pages blacked out, censored, reduced down to poetic dispatches. And, as he sifts through the manuscript, another story is told: that of Jan Gay – a radical, queer anthropologist – whose ground-breaking work was co-opted, and stifled, by the committee she served.

Blackouts is a haunting, dreamlike rumination on memory and erasure, on the ways in which stories sustain histories. Both emotionally and intellectually daring, Justin Torres blends fact with fiction – drawing from historical records, screenplays, testimony and image – force us to look again at the world we have inherited and the narratives we have received.

The Review

Blackouts is a lovely and heartbreaking story about the friendship between two gay men – one of whom is on his deathbed. It explores the issues of mental health, of love, lust and sex.

Additionally, it explored the changes in perception towards the LGBT+ community and also sadly how things have stayed the same.

It is a sumptuous story that allows the reader to get completely lost in the story.

I thoroughly recommend this book

Blackouts by Justin Torres is available now.

For more information regarding Granta Publications (@GrantaBooks) please visit www.granta.com.

Title: Where We Go From Here

Author: Lucas Rocha

Pages: 288 Pages

Publisher: David Fickling Books

The Blurb

A touching, urgent #ownvoices LGBTQ+ debut novel from Brazilian author Lucas Rocha.

Ian has just been diagnosed with HIV. Victor, to his relief, has just tested negative. Henrique has been living with HIV for three years. 

Then, their worlds collide…

Where We Go From Here is an honest and compulsive novel which unveils the common misconceptions and prejudices surrounding HIV in the twenty-first century, showing how far we’ve come while shining a light on just how far we have to go. 

Heart-breaking, heart-warming and ultimately hopeful, it is a desperately needed and powerful piece of fiction.

The Review

It is going to sound strange and I admit I probably come off a little weird for this but I find that some of the stories that have made the biggest impact on me over the years are the ones that look at the AIDS epidemic.

Fiction or Non-Fiction, the heartbreaking stories of the late 70s to the 90s are so powerful and move me. Over the years, some writers have approached this topic in a positive way. Living with HIV. I think it is absolutely essential that these stories are told. About how HIV isn’t the equivalent of a death sentence like it was.

Where We Go From Here is the story of three friends who are all connected through HIV. Some have it and some do not. It is story about learning to love yourself and those around you without prejudice and being the found family that is often needed in times of crisis.

It was a lovely story with strong spiky characters. Part of me homes that Lucas Rocha writes a sequel in a few years time so we can catch up with Ian, Victor and Henrique.

Where We Go From Here by Lucas Rocha is available now.

For more information regarding Lucas Rocha (@lucasgsrocha) please visit his Twitter page.

For more information regarding David Fickling Books (@DFB_storyhouse) please visit www.davidficklingbooks.com.

Title: If This Gets Out

Author: Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich

Pages: 404 Pages

Publisher: Hachette Children’s Group

The Blurb

One of the world’s biggest boy bands. A secret love. What happens if the world finds out? A queer YA boy band romance from Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich, perfect for fans of Only Mostly Devastated and What If It’s Us.

Eighteen-year-olds Ruben Montez and Zach Knight are two members of the boy-band Saturday, one of the biggest acts in America. Along with their bandmates, Angel Phan and Jon Braxton, the four are teen heartbreakers in front of the cameras and best friends backstage. But privately, cracks are starting to form: their once-easy rapport is straining under the pressures of fame, and Ruben confides in Zach that he’s feeling smothered by management’s pressure to stay in the closet.

On a whirlwind tour through Europe, with both an unrelenting schedule and minimal supervision, Ruben and Zach come to rely on each other more and more, and their already close friendship evolves into a romance. But when they decide they’re ready to tell their fans and live freely, Zach and Ruben start to truly realize that they will never have the support of their management. How can they hold tight to each other when the whole world seems to want to come between them?

The Review

It is a story that we know all to well. A band get extremely popular and before long an implosion happens. Usually due to management trying to control certain aspects of what can and cannot be revealed to the fan base. In If This Gets Out that aspect is sexuality. I’ve seen it several times in my lifetime – Boyzone, Westlife, Steps – it seems a bit insane that the world of entertainment – the fabulous and flagrant world of entertainment – should expect audiences to not understand that some people are gay.

I suppose the premise of If This Gets Out is this very theme. A person’s sexuality doesn’t dictate their worth, nor is it indicative of their talent. The story exposes the motive behind the mindset – money.

As for the love story between Ruban and Zach, yeah it was cute but if I am perfectly honest, it took me a while to care for the characters. Strangely, it was secondary character Jon who I felt was most intriguing and his story needed exploring more.

Overall, If This Gets Out was a pleasant enough read but I didn’t care for the characters in the way I wanted to which I felt was a disservice to the story.

If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich is available now.

For more information regarding Sophie Gonzales (@sgonzalesauthor) please visit her Twitter page.

For more information regarding Cale Dietrich (@caledietrich) please visit his Twitter page.

For more information regarding Hachette Children’s Group (@HachetteKids) please visitwww.hachettekids.co.uk.