Passing Strange

Passing Strange

San Francisco in 1940 is a haven for the unconventional. Tourists flock to the cities within the city: the Magic City of the World’s Fair on an island created of artifice and illusion; the forbidden city of Chinatown, a separate, alien world of exotic food and nightclubs that offer “authentic” experiences, straight from the pages of the pulps; and the twilight world of for...

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Title:Passing Strange
Author:Ellen Klages
Rating:
ISBN:0765389517
Edition Language:English
Format Type:ebook
Number of Pages:131 pages

Passing Strange Reviews

  • Mel
    Sep 27, 2016

    The strength of

    lies in the setting, which is richly atmospheric and vivid. Picturing San Francisco in the 1940s and its contemporary Chinatown is easy and reading feels more like experiencing than observing. We visit all kinds of different venues, and place and time come alive on the page.

    I was drawn to this book because of its incredibly beautiful and stunning cover and the blurb sounded really interesting to me as well. The opening chapters are set today and captivatingly fram

    The strength of

    lies in the setting, which is richly atmospheric and vivid. Picturing San Francisco in the 1940s and its contemporary Chinatown is easy and reading feels more like experiencing than observing. We visit all kinds of different venues, and place and time come alive on the page.

    I was drawn to this book because of its incredibly beautiful and stunning cover and the blurb sounded really interesting to me as well. The opening chapters are set today and captivatingly frame the main story that takes place in history. To me, they are even more mesmerising and intriguing than what is to follow.

    While the setting is really well done, I think the romance and the characters take a backseat in the story, although they have quite a lot of page time. I can see that this is intentional, but I prefer a narration that is closer to the characters and shows me a development of feelings or just any kind of change really.

    Speaking of the narration, it feels to me like the point of view is jumping around. Giving us insight into one character, then into the next; sometimes being closer to them, but most of the time narrating from a distance. It was sometimes even confusing and I didn’t know who was thinking or doing what and it pulled me out of the story several times.

    Now, the paranormal aspect of the story. Huh. I really like the framework and how everything is resolved and plays together. I think it’s kinda really brilliant. So that’s a big plus. But for, let’s say, 90% of the story it doesn’t feel like a book with magic or anything unusual at all. There is one very small incident in the beginning and then there is nothing, and then nothing, up to a point that I even found it irritating that I didn’t know whether I was reading a historical or something else. Like I said, it ties up really cool, but I wish it would feel more like a comprehensive whole and not a historical with some mostly unexplained stuff thrown into it.

    I like that the cast of characters is quite diverse. One of the main characters is lesbian, the other bisexual. Another important secondary character is of Asian background and many different kinds of lesbians can be found in the book, with none being drawn better than the other.

    Despite the many content warning tags, I wouldn’t say that this book is drowning in negativity or heaviness, which might also have to do with the distant narration style, so I hope it won’t sway you from picking this up.

    To summarise, this is a good novella but it isn’t perfect. However, it is something unique with an interesting setting and a story that in this form probably hasn’t been told, and I hope you’ll enjoy it if you decide to pick it up.

    ____________________________________

    Genre: Historical (1940s, San Francisco), Romance, Paranormal

    Tags: F/F, Lesbian Characters, Bisexual Character, Magic, Science, Art, POC (Asian) (Secondary Character)

    Content Warnings: Homophobia, Assault, Death by Accident of a Secondary Character, Mention of Conversion Therapy, Mention of Child Abuse

    Rating: 3.5 stars

    Blog: Review for

    Disclosure: ARC for review

  • Kate
    Jan 28, 2017

    A novella about queer women in 1940's San Francisco. Historical fiction and notable hotspots, Mona's, Treasure Island collide with magic and a loving coven of "witches" to make this a surreal and wonderful story.

  • Bridget Mckinney
    Jan 25, 2017

    Passing Strange is an absolutely magical story and by far my favorite thing I've read so far in 2017. In this gorgeously imagined romance, Ellen Klages brings the queer side of 1940s San Francisco to glittering life and peoples it with characters who are fresh and interesting and yet still feel like the kind of old friends one wants to visit with over and over again. It's a book that works precisely because of the specificity of its characters and its setting in time and space, and Klages does a

    Passing Strange is an absolutely magical story and by far my favorite thing I've read so far in 2017. In this gorgeously imagined romance, Ellen Klages brings the queer side of 1940s San Francisco to glittering life and peoples it with characters who are fresh and interesting and yet still feel like the kind of old friends one wants to visit with over and over again. It's a book that works precisely because of the specificity of its characters and its setting in time and space, and Klages does a great job of balancing the reality of history with the light fantasy elements she introduces over the course of her story. It's still early in the year, but I fully expect Passing Strange to make a lot of year's best lists, my own included.

  • David Harris
    Jan 22, 2017

    I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of this book via NetGalley.

    "Helen Young went into her bedroom. She changed into a pair of blue silk pyjamas, brushed her hair, and put on a touch of lipstick. Then she got into bed, turned out the light, and went to sleep for the last time humming a Cole Porter tune until she and the melody simply drifted away."

    So ends one of the characters is this hauntingly beautiful tale of life in the queer melting pot of 40s San Francisco.

    Helen is one of a g

    I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of this book via NetGalley.

    "Helen Young went into her bedroom. She changed into a pair of blue silk pyjamas, brushed her hair, and put on a touch of lipstick. Then she got into bed, turned out the light, and went to sleep for the last time humming a Cole Porter tune until she and the melody simply drifted away."

    So ends one of the characters is this hauntingly beautiful tale of life in the queer melting pot of 40s San Francisco.

    Helen is one of a group of young women who work or socialise in Mona's, a club where girls can be boys. Whether working as entertainers not only for their own circle but for the plump mid-west tourists who come to gawp, or simply drifting among like minded exiles from straight society, they stand by each other, providing rooms when needed, meals, cover from the police and moral support.

    Haskell is at the centre of this circle. She is a talented artist who makes her living drawing pictures for pulp comic books: the kind of thing where a scantily dressed woman is chained down and menaced by a purple monster. Why does she draw such pictures? Well, it's where the money is, but she has other reasons, as we - and Emily, newly acquainted with the little group of friends - gradually learn. Haskell's life hasn't been easy and she is in a sense perhaps still on the run from her past.

    There are others in the group too, including some with startling abilities (like being able to shrink space - but only in that misty city of magic, San Francisco) and we see their joys and sorrows, but it's Haskell and Emily that this lovely, romantic book focusses on. Everything seems against them: the law, society, the looming war (deftly illustrated by the presence of a refugee girl from England), an abusive husband. But they have good friends.

    How this setup leads to that ending, to Helen's ending decades later, I won't say because the tension of the story hangs upon it. It's a taut, constructed plot, one of those books where no word is superfluous. And there are some beautiful passages (see especially the parts describing the 1940 World's Fair, taking place on an island in the Bay, just as the rest of the world went to pieces).

    I hadn't read any Klages before but I will be looking for more of her writing after this. (You can find a bonus story by here.) An excellent book that features well drawn characters, abounds in atmosphere and celebrates a period and setting I was completely unaware of. (Oh, and look at that beautiful cover!)

    If you want to know more about the book, listen to episode 295 of the Coode Street Podcast where Jonathan Strahan and Gary Wolfe discuss it with the author. It's a good listen.

  • Mike
    Feb 25, 2017

    3.5 out of 5 stars -- see this review and others at

    .

    is a story of love and friendship among six women in 1940s San Francisco. Author Ellen Klages employs elegant prose, a straightforward plot, and a splash of magic to construct this beautiful and well-told story. Everything here works well, but nothing about it blew me away. That being said, I would read an entire book of Klages describing pastries!

  • Stephanie
    Jan 30, 2017

    A copy of this book was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

    I'm pretty much just staring at the screen, trying to form actual useful words about this novella (and ending up just kind of flailing at the screen instead). This is just such a gorgeous book, with magic, and wonderful queer characters and a historical setting that's so vivid that you can practically smell the air. Go and read it. Now.

  • Sarah
    Jan 26, 2017

    First off, the cover for Passing Strange looks beautiful when you see it at first brush. After reading it however it triggers an emotional reaction, at least for me. I won’t spoil anything, but I’ll tell you it’s one of the best ‘straight from the book’ covers I’ve ever seen.

    Moving onto the novella itself – Passing Strange is one of those stories that takes magic for granted. It’s there, it happens a few times over the course of our journey but it’s never the central focus. Instead we focus on t

    First off, the cover for Passing Strange looks beautiful when you see it at first brush. After reading it however it triggers an emotional reaction, at least for me. I won’t spoil anything, but I’ll tell you it’s one of the best ‘straight from the book’ covers I’ve ever seen.

    Moving onto the novella itself – Passing Strange is one of those stories that takes magic for granted. It’s there, it happens a few times over the course of our journey but it’s never the central focus. Instead we focus on the women of the story and their struggle. It follows a large group of friends, all of the queer spectrum, in the 1940s. This was a rough time, with laws against cross-dressing. One particularly memorable scene of an encounter with a police officer had me gritting my teeth. It also led me down a rabbit hole of reading about cross dressing laws in history, fascinating stuff, I’d recommend checking it out.

    Ellen Klages also has a gift for atmosphere and setting the scene. Despite the subtle magical touches I really and truly enjoyed the way she built the city around our women. It was told entirely around them. What was beautiful and unique to them, the ways it stood out. I won’t loose the image San Francisco that this painted with it’s lights and night life. And did I mention the references to important figures in art history? Yeah, this novella seemed to pack it all in, I enjoyed it a lot.

    The story ends up narrowing down on two women, the newest girl Emily and the artist Haskel. Again, I’m not here to spoil anything, but the story from there is lovely, emotional, and takes several unexpected turns. It will surprise you in a great many ways you’ll appreciate, twisting tropes very subtly. In the end it leaves us with a painting, the same that we have on the cover, and what it could represent.

    For something so short it packs a lot of a punch. If you’re interested in this setting, queer stories, and subtle touches of magic this is a story for you.

  • Kazen
    Feb 12, 2017

    Guaranteed to be one of my top books of the year, if not number one. I actually made myself put it down after a chapter or two each night so I wouldn't finish too quickly. Part of the joy is going in blind and I suggest you do the same, so if the blurb interests you go read it. Now-ish. :)

    I'm going to say as much as I can while giving away as little as possible. Characters live and breathe in a city that does the same. The plot is wonderfully paced within an intrig

    Guaranteed to be one of my top books of the year, if not number one. I actually made myself put it down after a chapter or two each night so I wouldn't finish too quickly. Part of the joy is going in blind and I suggest you do the same, so if the blurb interests you go read it. Now-ish. :)

    I'm going to say as much as I can while giving away as little as possible. Characters live and breathe in a city that does the same. The plot is wonderfully paced within an intriguing structure and the writing is as beautiful as it is unobtrusive.

    Our heroines live the best life they can despite the homophobia and racism and other miasmas that hang over San Francisco in 1940. They struggle, but they are not defined by that struggle. They aren't damaged or any less themselves. These women do what they can, do what they must, and above all, persist.

    I know I haven't done the book justice so... go. Read it. An enthusiastic, wholehearted recommend.

  • Cassandra
    Jan 29, 2017

    Disclaimer: Received an ARC. Have novellas published with the same line. Take my review as you will, especially with those variables in mind.

    Having said that –

    Passing Strange is an ache, a pang in my chest, a queer story so ferociously loving of its characters that the simplest interactions feel almost like a real family. Haskel, Emily, Helen, Franny, and all the rest – the cast do not come across as vehicles of their narrative, but genuine people. By the end of the book, there was a tiny part

    Disclaimer: Received an ARC. Have novellas published with the same line. Take my review as you will, especially with those variables in mind.

    Having said that –

    Passing Strange is an ache, a pang in my chest, a queer story so ferociously loving of its characters that the simplest interactions feel almost like a real family. Haskel, Emily, Helen, Franny, and all the rest – the cast do not come across as vehicles of their narrative, but genuine people. By the end of the book, there was a tiny part of me that could almost believe I knew them.

    Anyway.

    At its core, it is a love story that serves also as a refutation of the 'bury your gays' trope. Yes, there's conflict. Yes, there's danger. And as might be expected of 1940s San Francisco, there's homophobia and racism and a skin-crawling amount of bigotry, swanning beneath high society's surface. But while our heroines are affected by this, they're never ... damaged in that certain way that the entertainment industry seems to enjoy.

    They persist.

    They love.

    They fight.

    Jewelled perfection, Passing Strange's likely to follow my thoughts for a long, long time.

  • Sarah Smith
    Jan 31, 2017

    Ellen Klages's PASSING STRANGE is completely lovely. Even if you didn't think you were interested in the history of lesbian San Francisco in the 1940s, you won't be able to put this one down. A little magic, a lot of art and love--and, in these times, a sad reminder of what it's like to live under a hostile government.