Even though it only spans two years in the life of immigrant Pearl, Aaron Hamburger's third novel “Hotel Cuba” (Harper Perennial, 2023) has the feel and weight of an epic. Opening in 1922, as Pearl and her kid sister Frieda set sail for a better life in America from their home in Russia, only to be waylaid in Havana, Cuba, with their futures hanging indefinitely in the balance, Hamburger paints a vivid picture of time and place. While the novel is sure to appeal to a wide audience, gay writer Hamburger has made sure to feature significant queer characters in the storyline.

Like its lead character, novelist Leon (Thomas Schubert), writer/director Christian Petzold’s “Afire” (Sideshow/Janus Films) is a lot to handle. Thoroughly unlikeable and completely self-absorbed, Leon is the kind of character that might make some viewers give up on him less than halfway through the movie. But, don’t do that. Even though he doesn’t necessarily become easier to take, there is something of a payoff if you stick with him.

Is there anything more exhilarating than experiencing the creative growth of an artist you admire? Becca Mancari is such a perfect illustration of that. Over the course of three albums, including the modern Americana of their 2017 debut album “Good Woman” to the daring and haunting experimentation of the follow-up, 2020’s “The Greatest Part,” Mancari proved themself to be a musician who took risks.


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