Bookwatch – LGBT Weekly Sun, 28 Aug 2016 19:30:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 One exceptionally upbeat book Thu, 18 Aug 2016 19:14:49 +0000

There’s nothing special about you.

You’re just an ordinary kid, nothing unique, except, there is. You have your own thoughts, passions, creativity and sense of humor. There’s nobody else like you; you’re ordinary and special and so is Jazz Jennings. In her new book Being Jazz, she writes about being an everyday kid, with a difference.

As a very small child, Jazz Jennings knew that something was wrong with the way adults were acting toward her. Her parents dressed her in boy clothes, gave her trucks, and said things like “Good boy!” But Jennings knew even before she could speak that they were wrong. She was a girl, though her body said otherwise.

For most of her toddlerhood, Jennings (known then as Jaron) fought against anything that was remotely masculine. At two years of age, she asked her mother when the “Good Fairy” was coming to change her into a girl; Jennings’ mother then realized that this “probably wasn’t a phase.”

At home, the Jennings were fine with Jaron’s girliness, but preschool was different. Even then, there were bathroom issues; the principal of the school made concessions about school uniforms but Jaron wasn’t allowed to use the girls’ restroom. Shortly after that, she started calling herself “Jazz,” and Jazz often wet herself at school.

But that was just little-kid behavior. As Jennings grew up, she became an inspiration for many with Gender Identity Disorder (later, Gender Dysphoria). She and her father fought for her right to play soccer with other girls, a battle that took “years.” She was up-front with friends, Barbara Walters and others about being a girl in a boy’s body, and she had plenty of haters but she learned who her friends really were. She says she still struggles with depression sometimes, as well as typical teen issues but overall, she’s confident. And if she can help other transgender kids, then that’s all good, too.

Who’d ever thought that bathrooms would be such a hot-button issue in 2016? Author Jazz Jennings has, perhaps; she’s been dealing with potty parity nearly all her life, which is just one of the topics she tackles in Being Jazz.

Right from the outset, it’s obvious that this is one exceptionally upbeat book. There’s almost no poor-me-ing here; even when she writes about struggles and occasional anger, Jennings’ cheery optimism is front-and-center. She gives props to her family for this, praising their easy acceptance and unconditional support, and acknowledging that many trans teens don’t enjoy the same familial benefits.

That praise can almost be expected, but I noticed one refreshingly unexpected thing: because of her honesty and openness, Jennings has become a role model, a status of which she seems nonchalantly abashed but secretly delighted, with a tone of pride there, too. Who could fail to be charmed by such straightforward authenticity?

While this book is supposedly for teens ages 12-and-up, I think a transitioning twenty-something could certainly benefit from what’s inside this book. For sure, its buoyancy and optimism makes Being Jazz all kinds of special.

Being Jazz

by Jazz Jennings

© 2016 Crown Books for Young Readers

$17.99 / $23.99 Canada

272 pages

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An enlightening read that scores high Thu, 04 Aug 2016 15:51:43 +0000

As long as your team wins.

That’s all that matters, isn’t it – just that they win? You don’t care what they ate for breakfast. And, as in the new book Fair Play by Cyd Zeigler, you don’t care who they sleep with.

Less than a generation ago, if a professional athlete came out publicly as gay, it was cause for controversy (at best) and harassment (at worst), from the stands and from the locker room. In today’s arena, however, gay and lesbian athletes enjoy wider acceptance from fans and followers; sadly, the intolerance that formerly came from the bleachers can now just as easily come from behind the scenes.

It used to start early, but while there are still some problems with hazing in high school locker rooms, Zeigler indicates that many public schools are more inclusionary of gay athletes and staff than they’ve ever been.

Yet, times are changing, albeit gradually. Teammates and staff who voice homophobia might now receive punishment along with negative fan reaction. Mere humanity makes a difference, too. The biggest change, though, seems to come from fans, and from their quiet acknowledgement that a players’ sexuality doesn’t matter at all to an enjoyment of the game itself.

With bullying as such a hot topic in schools and media these days, it was only a matter of time (and it’s about time) that someone tackled the subject in context of the sporting world. Even so, I was rather disappointed to see that Fair Play, although its subtitle indicates that it’s about LGBT athletes, is more about gay males in sports. I suppose one could argue that most professional sports are male-dominated, but author Cyd Zeigler, though he admits his focal point, truly needed more about lesbians, and bisexual and transgender players. That slim coverage left me wanting.

Still, it’s hard not to be fascinated with what’s definitely not your usual game coverage. Zeigler is a nationally-known sports writer, and this book is filled with insider peeks, big-name examples, astonishing incidents, and up-and-comer encouragement – therefore, ultimately, what’s in this book overshadows what’s not, and it becomes something that I think will be enlightening for fans both straight and gay.

Fair Play: How LGBT Athletes are Claiming Their Rightful Place in Sports

by Cyd Zeigler

© 2016 Akashic Books


207 pages

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This timely book is a shocker Thu, 09 Jun 2016 15:11:26 +0000

You could become whatever you want to be.

A ballerina, a cowboy, a fireman, a teacher. The sky was the limit – or so you were told. You could grow up and become the person of your dreams and that was OK. Except sometimes, as in the new book A Murder Over a Girl by Ken Corbett, dreaming can be deadly.

Larry King had had a rough start in life.

Born to an addict who “turned tricks” for drugs, Larry was neglected and abused and became a ward of the state as a small toddler; at two-and-a-half, the little “brown boy” was adopted by a white couple and life was better – until he reached adolescence. At age 15, he began talking about wearing make-up and women’s clothing, and becoming the girl he felt he was.

Many of his teachers “directed Larry to the closet”; the supportive ones were criticized. His adoptive parents tried to downplay his wishes; eventually, Larry left their house and moved into a group home, where he felt comfortable enough to start transitioning. He asked his teachers to call him “Leticia” and he began wearing cosmetics and feminine apparel to school.

To those who knew him, Brandon McInerney was “just a regular kid.” Blond, blue-eyed and athletic, he liked riding his bike and hanging out with friends – though there was a side of him that many knew but few acknowledged: McInerney had a quick temper and was fascinated with Nazism and skinhead culture. Larry King, therefore, was everything McInerney hated – especially when, as rumor had it, King asked McInerney to “be his Valentine.”

Or, at least that’s what other middle-schoolers claimed, although no one could “actually recollect” hearing it. And even if his words were just rumor, some kids still said that McInerney was bothered by King’s “flamboyant” actions, possibly to the point of sputtering rage.

Friends advised McInerney to ignore King – but he couldn’t. And so, Feb. 12, 2008, not three weeks after his 14th birthday, Brandon McInerney took a gun to school and shot Larry King twice in the head.

I wish I could say that there’s a satisfying ending to this book, but there’s not. And it’s not author Ken Corbett’s fault, but reading A Murder Over a Girl is somewhat like watching a horrible train wreck that just keeps going.

Surprisingly, that doesn’t diminish the importance of this book.

Corbett, a clinical psychologist, offers readers a look at a crime from a non-lawmaker’s point of view. This unique eye for what happened enhances the understanding of the whole picture, psychologically speaking and especially in the books’ second section. There, Corbett writes mostly about the trial, witnesses and other research, all of which seemed to allow him to dive more personally into this story – and so, because he presents it well, will you.

This is a timely book, a trial-watcher’s delight and a shocker all around. It has no happy ending, but it’s impossible to look away from, nonetheless. Start A Murder Over a Girl, and you’ll become riveted.

A Murder Over a Girl

by Ken Corbett

© 2016 Henry Holt

$27.00 / $31.50 Canada

277 pages

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Book review: This little gem lacks sparkle Mon, 30 May 2016 00:30:04 +0000

Charm BraceletThe jewelry you wear tells a story.

A ring on your left hand, third finger, says to the world that you stood up once and vowed to love and honor. A brightly-colored stone says you were born in a certain month. Sparkles around your neck might tell of a vacation, an apology or a whim, and in the new book The Charm Bracelet by Viola Shipman, the tales of three women are told by the jewelry on their wrists.

For every milestone day that Lolly Lindsay had, she received a special gift.

Her mother started the tradition by giving Lolly a charm for her bracelet one birthday; that charm, like each to come, signified a dream or a wish, and was accompanied by a special poem meant to remind Lolly that she was loved.

Over the years, the bracelet became heavy with metal and memories – the summer before her mother died, the boy she grew up to marry, the best friend she cherished – and when she had a daughter, Lolly started the tradition with her own little girl.

Always a pleaser, Arden was exasperated with her mother.

Even as a child, she was embarrassed by Lolly’s free-spiritedness, her sense of style, and by Lolly’s idea of what was fun. As soon as she could, Arden moved away from her mother’s Michigan home to live a button-down Chicago life that was comforting to her. But now, in the twilight of Lolly’s life, Arden felt guilty for not spending more time with her mother – or her daughter.

Graduating with a degree is an accomplishment, but Lauren wished she could tell her mother the truth: she really wanted an art degree, not a business one. Lauren knew that her mother worried about money; Arden, come to think, worried about a lot of things, which was maybe why Lauren was closer to her grandmother. She and Lolly were like two peas in a pod.

Like two charms on a bracelet – one of whom was quietly losing her luster.

There’s a basically good premise to the story inside The Charm Bracelet. Sadly, that story begs – pleads – for help.

Reading this book is rough: names are employed to a frequency that’s distracting and pronouns are at a premium. The female characters “jump up and down” a lot and it seems as though somebody’s crying more than they’re not; as for the male characters, one’s a stereotypical mean dad, one is predictably hunky (do you see where this is going?), and a simple farmer-type is honest-to-goodness called “Clem.”

I whined a lot while reading this book and I might have ditched it, were it not for the above-mentioned basically good premise. Author Viola Shipman (a pseudonym for memoirist Wade Rouse) offers a sweet generational-family, cabin-in-the-woods story told through memories and jewelry, which could’ve been really cute. Alas …

I think that, if you can overlook the flaws and not-so-charm-ing facets, you might really enjoy this mother-daughter-granddaughter story. If those things bother you, though, The Charm Bracelet is a gem that’s awfully tarnished.


The Charm Bracelet by Viola Shipman

c.2016, Thomas Dunne Books

$25.99 / $29.99 Canada 

298 pages

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A book that offers hard lessons in the classroom Thu, 12 May 2016 18:39:53 +0000

What was the name of your favorite teacher?

Even after all these years, you still remember the smell of chalk, the sound of her reading aloud, the way he pulled ideas from your head or music from your fingers. That teacher changed your life, and with The Battle for Room 314 by Ed Boland, you’ll get a view of today’s classroom – one you’ll barely recognize.

What was a nice, educated gay man doing in a snarling pit of teenage attitude?

With sweaty palms and a worthless planner, newly-minted teacher Ed Boland wondered that himself. Inspired by teachers in his family, he’d given up a well-paying job to teach but the ninth-grade class he’d gotten wasn’t what he bargained for.

Because Boland had spent a year teaching English in China, he figured he had a “leg up” on a job at Manhattan’s Union Street School, “a new combined middle and high school” that focused on history and international studies. Teaching there, he’d been led to believe, was a dream job and, since he’d already worked with “promising” but disadvantaged New York-area minority students through Project Advance, he thought he knew the kind of fresh-faced students he’d have.

Instead, what he found in the classroom that fall were sullen, attitudinal, sometimes violent young adults, many of whom were dealing with absentee parents, drug abuse, poverty, pregnancy and bullying. Some of his new ninth-grade students were in their very late teens; many were unable to write in complete sentences or do age-appropriate schoolwork.

And yet, with a Hollywood-happy ending on his mind, Boland persevered. He hoped to connect with the kids, though they were often uncontrollable. He dreamed they would eventually learn something, though they usually ignored his lessons. And when the year was over, he had considered staying at Union Street but he just couldn’t.

“I so wish it were a different ending for me and for the kids,” says Boland, “but some stories have to end like a ’70s movie – gritty, real, and sad.”

The solution to the country’s school – and grade-based issues, says author Ed Boland, is a multi-faceted one, beginning with more education for the educators. There are other fixes, too, and The Battle for Room 314 offers them.

But that’s not all: Boland, overall, tells a story that’s both shocking and unsurprising; part To Sir, With Love and part battlefield skirmish. There are occasional moments of too much information (both personal and classroom) but even more of frustration and missed opportunity (again, on two levels). What Boland shares left me feeling glum, mostly, but there are shadows of hope in this book – especially at the end, when he wraps up his story with a chapter of follow-ups.

Though you should be reminded that it’s representative of one man’s experience in one school, this book offers hard lessons. Still, if you’ve ever fretted about the state of education – on either side of the teacher’s desk – The Battle for Room 314 goes to the head of the class.

The Battle for Room 314

by Ed Boland

© 2016 Grand Central

$26.00 / $31.50 Canada

243 pages

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An important work of history that’s worth a read Thu, 28 Apr 2016 17:15:13 +0000

You know your own mind.

After thinking things through, you have your opinions and while you’re willing to listen to what others say, you’re also willing to defend what you believe in. And, as in the new book The Firebrand and the First Lady by Patricia Bell-Scott, your friends don’t necessarily have to agree with you.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s Camp Tera, nestled near New York’s Hudson River, was initially meant to be a temporary, leg-up place for Depression-era women who were destitute and totally without resources. Though she was young, educated, and married, Pauli Murray was there because of ill health.

Recovery-time aside, Murray’s tenure at Camp Tera was beneficial: a friend had told her that Roosevelt answered all correspondence, and Murray took that to heart. In 1938, a few years after she was kicked out of Camp Tera for “disrespecting the first lady,” she wrote a protest letter to Roosevelt, requesting intercession in FDR’s stance on anti-lynching laws. Activism was Murray’s passion and the answer she got wasn’t what she’d wanted but it did, as promised, come from Roosevelt.

Murray was born in 1910, the feisty granddaughter of a mulatto slave whose stories of injustice she grew up hearing. Murray lost her mother when she was just three; a few years later, her father was institutionalized, then murdered; and her brother was lobotomized. She, herself, had health problems and was often severely underweight; during one of her hospitalizations, she finally admitted that she was attracted to women, which was then considered to be a mental health issue.

It took awhile for Murray to tell Roosevelt all that. Before she did, and because of that first protest note, the two corresponded for years in letters that offered guidance, outrage and rebuttal. The women didn’t always agree, but they always seemed to attempt to understand one another’s take on issues. Murray supported Roosevelt in her widowhood. Roosevelt encouraged Murray in her activism.

It was a support that Murray imagined she felt long after Mrs. Roosevelt’s death.

I would not, under the broadest of terms, call The Firebrand and the First Lady a pleasure read.

That’s not to say that this book isn’t a pleasure – it’s just not something you’d pick up to relax with. Author Patricia Bell-Scott goes deep into the politics and work of both Roosevelt and Murray (more the latter than the former) and that can be very dry. It’s informative – Bell-Scott tells a story that’s been largely hidden for decades, about a woman who left her mark on social issues in many ways – but it’s far from lively. Adding more details of Murray’s personal life might’ve helped; that’s what I was hungriest for, but didn’t get enough of.

I think this is an important work of history and definitely worth reading but you’ll want to be in the mood for it, particularly if you usually like lots of energy in your stories. If you’re a scholar or historian reading The Firebrand and the First Lady, though, the pace is something you probably won’t mind.

The Firebrand and the First Lady

by Patricia Bell-Scott

© 2016 Alfred A. Knopf

$30 / $39 Canada

480 pages

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This ‘Soul Serenade’ is worth a spin Thu, 14 Apr 2016 16:04:00 +0000

Vinyl is making a comeback.

Those are five words that put a smile on a music aficionado’s face. A CD isn’t the same, they say. An MP3 is nowhere near as good. You don’t get the right sound unless you’re spinning a record, so vinyl is coming back – but, for people like Rashod Ollison in Soul Serenade, it never really left.

There was once a time when “Dusty” Ollison’s parents were happy.

He knows it’s true; he has evidence of it, in the form of a picture taken at the beginning of their marriage, which lasted 13 years. When they split, he was old enough to witness but too young to understand, having become inured to the fights, the cheating and the drinking at his home near Hot Springs, Ark.

After Ollison’s father fled his family – leaving Ollison’s mother with a ‘tween and two small children – he rarely returned. But he left a gift behind: stacks of vinyl.

Ollison says he remembers poking around music stores with his father, ogling covers, eager for approval of his taste in performers. Chaka Khan, Bobby Womack, Stevie Wonder, Ollison recalls fascination with their record labels spinning on the turntable. Michael Jackson gave him comfort, Aretha was a mood barometer, and they all taught him about grown-up love through lyrics. With his mother working two full-time jobs to keep food on the table, Ollison counted on music to anchor him. It was his means of escape as his oldest sister took her rage out on him, as his family moved repeatedly, as he was bullied in school for “actin’ like a woman.”

He denied feminine gestures and a tender heart, but by age 13, he could no longer ignore that he was gay.

School, by then, had joined music as a thing of refuge; Ollison excelled at his lessons, achieved good grades, made friends, and expanded his playlist. As he grew, he also wondered about his father sometimes but was largely indifferent, even as the man lay dying.

And then an aunt told Ollison something that made him change his tune.

Soul Serenade starts where many good memoirs do: with a faded picture of a time that barely seems possible. From there, we’re surprised by a death that promises to taint much of what’s to come, all wrapped in family lore.

But don’t get complacent. Author Rashod Ollison doesn’t allow any lingering. Soon enough, his story becomes angry yelling, a smack upside the head, profanity, TV-as-babysitter, fists and sore feet. We’re taken from neighborhood to neighborhood as the lights are shut off, the rent isn’t paid, and he’s taunted with words that his sister has to explain. It’s chaos – but it’s also a darn good tale that doesn’t dissolve into whining or poor-me-ing; a testament to Ollison’s storytelling skills.

Soul Serenade is one of those books that sticks in your brain – not only for the suggested music, but because the memoir itself leaves its mark. And if that sounds like solid gold to you, then give this book a spin.

Soul Serenade

by Rashod Ollison

© 2016 Beacon Press

$25.95 / $30 Canada

230 pages

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What happens when ‘I do’ becomes ‘whoo-hoo!’ Thu, 31 Mar 2016 17:21:56 +0000

Your summer is filling up quickly.

It starts with graduations and confirmations. You’ve already got a pile of “Save the Date” cards for a bunch of weddings, and the summer wraps up with family reunions and more weddings. It might even end with yours, and in the new book The Best Party of Our Lives by Sarah Galvin,you’ll see how “I do” becomes “whoo-hoo!”

Even though she “always figured” she’d end up spending her life with a woman, Sarah Galvin “certainly had no interest in weddings …” They just weren’t relevant to her, except for an irksome knowledge that much of the wedding industry was biased against LGBTQ couples.

Later, as a writer for a newspaper in Seattle, she began getting requests to “crash” weddings and she was “blown away by the things” she saw. Weddings – especially for LGBTQ couples – weren’t what she thought they’d be. Their parties were “the best ones imaginable …”

The stories of some she found are in this book.

When a couple looks back on their boy-meets-boy (or girl-meets-girl) story, there’s often an element of surprise. There was an introduction, either traditionally or through modern methods like Craigslist, online, or dance rave. Falling in love might’ve begun with bumps and rough spots, followed by the realization of common interests and the happy idea that you can’t get her out of your mind.

No two proposals are alike, although today’s couples almost always have some sort of prior discussion on it. The actual “Will you …” might be romantic and accompanied by one or two rings, or it may be an out-loud wondering if moving in together meant more than merely sharing a home. And just like the proposals are varied, so are the budgets, which usually leads to a DIY ceremony that more reflects the pair.

Some of the couples in this book had domestic partnerships long before they married. One couple debated marriage altogether, figuring that there was no reason to wed as an “affirmation of the love they’d known was true” for years. Some invited nearly everyone they knew, while one couple sent “Don’t Save the Date” tchotchkes. There were cakes and cake-toppers, toasts and gifts, and one “thirty-three-year relationship [that] deserved a party …”

So you got engaged over the holidays, or maybe you’ve got love on the brain. How do other LGBTQ couples make their special days … special? The Best Party of Our Lives is packed with ideas on that.

It’s also packed with another thing: stories that are very Seattle-centric. Author Sarah Galvin says she “started with” Seattle couples but she never really got any farther than that, although LGBTQ couples get married all over the place. I would’ve absolutely liked to see wider coverage from this book; the minimized area doesn’t make it bad– it makes it a lot of the same.

Even so, if you’ve got stars in your eyes, a ring on your finger and romance on your mind, you’ll barely notice. For you, newlywed-to-be, The Best Party of Our Lives will fill you with happiness.

The Best Party of Our Lives: Stories of Gay Weddings

by Sarah Galvin

© 2015 Sasquatch Books

$18.95, U.S. & Canada

226 pages

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Book review: ‘Gay & Lesbian History for Kids’ Mon, 28 Mar 2016 01:00:37 +0000

Gay and Lesbian History for KidsEvery day, you try to catch a little news.

It might be online, maybe in a newspaper, magazine, or on TV, but you’re a smart kid and you like to stay informed. Lately, you’ve been hearing a lot about gay rights and gay marriage, and you want to know more. Read Gay & Lesbian History for Kids by Jerome Pohlen, and your questions might be answered.

Knowing someone who’s gay, lesbian, or transgender is nothing new; in fact, history indicates that our earliest ancestors acknowledged and were “comfortable with” LGBT people. Homosexuality appears in mythology, royalty, battlefields, art (Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were said to be gay), and in some religions. In North America, many beloved nineteenth-century authors, poets, and songwriters were gay or lesbian, and Native American culture embraced people who were of “two-spirits.”  Transgender individuals fought in the Civil War or were pioneers or settlers. We know that LGBT individuals existed elsewhere and at other times, too, because laws were made against them.

That was especially true through the early 1900s. Though we entered “the Progressive Era” in the beginning of the century, it was anything but progressive for people who were gay. When the country was stricken by The Great Depression in the 1930s, things got even worse for the LGBT community and many people had to hide their lives from general society.

In some ways, things got better during World War II. The government needed military personnel and LGBT individuals, like everyone else, needed jobs, so they signed up in droves to fight for their country. Very few were denied a chance to serve but, sadly, after the war was over, many gay and lesbian personnel received “blue discharges,” and were denied veteran’s benefits. Once again, LGBT individuals needed to closet themselves and their lifestyles. Not doing so could mean arrest or worse.

And then, finally, things started to turn around. Activism in the 1960s and ‘70s helped the LGBT community to gain rights and support on other issues, unfair laws were changed, and many people helped make “things get better.”

I struggled with “Gay & Lesbian History for Kids,” but not for the reasons you might think. My biggest issue comes with its potential audience, vis-à-vis the content: mainly, that it contains either a lot of very advanced information for kids who are young enough to be excited about the “21 Activities” here; or a lot of silly, juvenile “activities” for kids who are old enough to handle very advanced information.  Then, too, the presence of said activities may be moot, since they mostly had little to do with LGBT history.

Conversely, and to the positive, I appreciated the pre-twentieth-century info that author Jerome Pohlen offers; it was interesting, but is it enough to save this book?  I don’t know: the target audience here is 9-and-up, which I think is way too young. Fresh-eyed 12-to-15-year-olds may appreciate what’s inside Gay & Lesbian History for Kids, but hand it to a reader over 16, and the news probably wouldn’t be good.


Gay & Lesbian History for Kids by Jerome Pohlen

c.2016, Chicago Review Press

$17.95 / $21.95 Canada

180 pages

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Book review: ‘The Wedding Heard ‘Round the World’ Mon, 21 Mar 2016 17:00:44 +0000

Wedding1There’s always been a picket fence in your future.

You could just picture it: charming spouse, two-point-five kids, minivan, Cape Cod with manicured lawn, birthday parties on the patio, all surrounded by that picket fence. It was a perfect dream of a blissful life. And, as in The Wedding Heard ‘Round the World by Michael McConnell with Jack Baker, as told to Gail Langer Karwoski, making history would be a nice bonus.

As a child playing with neighborhood girls, Michael McConnell remembers wanting the same thing they wanted: to grow up and marry a handsome man. Their crushes were his crushes, too, but in the 1950s, that kind of thing wasn’t discussed.

By the time he entered college at the University of Oklahoma in the mid-‘60s, however, McConnell had come out to his family and was comfortable with his sexuality. He met other gay men and enjoyed an active social life on campus and then, on October 29, 1966, he met Jack Baker.

For the first minutes of their get-to-know-you, McConnell thought Baker was much older, or perhaps straight. Baker’s demeanor was businesslike, almost military in mien; McConnell had recently had his heart broken, and was guarded. Still, by the end of the evening, they were lovers; soon after, they were a couple.

By the early ‘70s, though their relationship had to be kept quieter, McConnell and Baker were “out” enough to want to make real change. Baker, a Minneapolis law student, filed suit against the U.S. Military over an unfair downgrade in his discharge status. After following Baker north, McConnell fought job discrimination. And then there was the wedding Baker promised McConnell on Baker’s twenty-fifth birthday. It would happen – they just had to figure out how.

That would take some time, but Baker was on it. His legal training tickled his methodical mind, until he discovered two loopholes the state of Minnesota hadn’t closed. One led to the next, and both led to their history-making wedding in 1971.

That, of course, isn’t the end of the story. Authors Michael McConnell and Jack Baker continued their activism but their nuptials, the first in America for same-sex celebrants, are the real focus in “The Wedding Heard ‘Round the World.”

And that’s a good thing, too, because the love story in this book is what makes it so readable. McConnell’s account (as told to Gail Langer Karwoski) is mostly what’s here, and it’s the quintessential romance: boy meets boy, boy marries boy, they live Happily (Almost) Ever After.

Conversely, it’s the almost that makes this book so important: the battles the authors accepted caused emotional hardship in many ways and that almost caused a break-up. And yet, for the sake of others that came after them, they continued to take on gay rights issues – stories of which are told humbly, yet proudly.

Overall, this is a sweet story wrapped inside a righteous fight, told with charm and grace. It’s deep, yet lighthearted and definitely worth a look. Start “The Wedding Heard ‘Round the World” – and you’ll have no defense.


The Wedding Heard ‘Round the World: America’s First Gay Marriage”by Michael McConnell with Jack Baker, as told to Gail Langer Karwoski

c.2016, University of Minnesota Press

$22.95 / $31.99 Canada

200 pages

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Book review: ‘You Don’t Own Me: The Life and Times of Lesley Gore’ Sun, 28 Feb 2016 20:30:03 +0000

You Don't Own MeYour closet is packed with mistakes.

Odd-colored shirts, patchwork jeans, alligators, prairie-wear, weird ties, you wore it all once. But will those things ever be in style again, even if you wait long enough?

No, Nehru jackets, leisure suits, and knitted knickers are best left in the rag bag. As you’ll see in the new book You Don’t Own Me: The Life and Times of Lesley Gore by Trevor Tolliver, some things may never return.

Born into an era of lush crooners and Big Bands, Lesley Sue Goldstein (later, Gore) was, according to her parents, a musical prodigy almost from birth. At six months, they claimed, she could “duplicate the melody of a song”; as a toddler, she loved to perform for her parents’ friends.

After joining a “girl group” in middle-school – one that “fizzled” rather quickly – Gore entered an all-girl school and sang in a chorus. There, she realized that if she was going to sing professionally, she needed a vocal coach.

The one her mother found eventually led Gore to a “tiny recording studio” where she recorded a few discs for the benefit of family. A cousin passed a disc to a bandleader, who invited Gore to perform at a gig where the president of Mercury Records was in attendance. In early 1963, he gave Gore’s demo to music producer Quincy Jones and, some two months later, at age sixteen, Lesley Gore was a pop-music star.

But as quickly as her star rose, it began to fall, perhaps because of the Beatles and the British Invasion. Gore’s music continued to hit the charts but, in the end, the new sound and the not-so-innocent times wore away at her popularity. By 1969, “Her career, for all outward appearances, was over.”

And yet, says author Trevor Tolliver, Gore continued to have some professional success until her death about a year ago, with a few minor hits but mostly as a songwriter and in Golden Oldies circles. As for her personal life, she enjoyed a decades-long relationship with another woman, which was something her sixteen-year-old, 1963-self hadn’t dared to do…

When a book starts out with a foreword entitled “A Gushing Fanboy,” take note. That’s exactly the tone you’re going to get in the whole book, which is likewise true for “You Don’t Own Me.”

And while that may seem chummy, I couldn’t stop thinking of a supermarket tabloid or an old confessions-type magazine mixed with discography. The bottom line is that this is a difficult book to like because it’s overly-breathy and swooning, music-industry-driven, or it consists of reconstructed conversations. I would’ve loved reading more about Gore’s personal life – Tolliver hints at some tumult with the woman she loved – but, instead, we’re plunged back into more about her flagging career. Even that could have been more interesting, were it given a less-chatty spin.

Overall, I think there’s an audience for “You Don’t Own Me,” probably with “ardent fans” or music industry folks only. For the rest of us, well, you won’t want to own this book, either.



You Don’t Own Me: The Life and Times of Lesley Gore by Trevor Tolliver

c.2015, Backbeat Books                     

$24.99 / higher in Canada                            

209 pages

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Book Review: ‘What We Left Behind’ by Robin Talley Sun, 14 Feb 2016 02:00:11 +0000

What We Left BehindYears from now, it’ll all seem so sweet.

There’ll always be a soft place in your heart for your first kiss, your first I-love-you, and for the person who gave them to you. You’ll never forget the electricity of holding hands or the rush of being together even after, as in the new novel “What We Left Behind” by Robin Talley, you start to pull apart.

Gretchen Daniels wasn’t sure why she didn’t tell her girlfriend, Toni, that they’d be attending college in different cities.

Last spring, Toni applied to Harvard and Gretchen applied to Boston University – same city, opposite ends – both reasoning that they could at least spend weekends together. At the last minute, though, Gretchen decided to attend NYU.

She didn’t tell Toni until the night before she left.

They were juniors in their all-girl high school when Toni first saw Gretchen at a dance and was instantly in love. Everybody thought they were the cutest couple: Gretchen conferred upon Toni a new-found popularity. Toni taught Gretchen what it was like to be genderqueer – or, at least she tried.

But the secret that Gretchen held all summer bugged Toni, and she was rightfully upset. She really didn’t have much to say to Gretchen, a silence complicated by Toni’s immersion into a campus group she joined. Freshmen weren’t allowed to be officers of the Undergraduate BGLTQIA Association but upperclassmen let her hang out with them and, under their tutelage, she began to explore labels for herself. She began to think about gender fluidity, and transitioning.

Toni’s lack of communication baffled Gretchen, and she discussed it at length with her new BFF, Carroll, a gay man who loved New York as much as did Gretchen. He was just one of the new friends she’d acquired, but she missed Toni and the closeness they had. She didn’t quite understand why Toni was questioning so much about herself, and she wasn’t sure how she’d fit in her girlfriend’s life if Toni became Tony. Would that change, change everything?

Better question: by the end of this book, will you care?

I have my doubts.

“What We Left Behind” is very, very slow; in fact, it sometimes seemed to me that it was twice as long as its 416 pages of overly-detailed, same-old dialogue and young adults who were way too angst-y for my tastes. Yes, these kids do things that only increase the melodrama amongst themselves, which is ultimately not all that interesting but which creates an uneasiness in plot, making most of author Robin Talley’s characters mighty unlikeable.

And yet, I persevered. I was hoping to learn something from Toni’s gender-questioning. What I got instead was an abundance of language that seemed rather clinical and not always clear. Was that the point? Shrug.

Romance readers may find a tiny smidge of amour here, if they’ve the time to look for it, but I really wasn’t a big fan of this book. For the most part, I think, “What We Left Behind” is a title that should be heeded.


What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

c.2015, Harlequin TEEN                

$18.99 / $20.99 Canada                 

416 pages

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Bookwatch: The best of 2015 Sun, 03 Jan 2016 15:30:27 +0000

As you look back over your year, there are a lot of things you notice.

You had fun – probably more than once. You had some really great meals with really great friends – also probably more than once. And in my case, there were books – definitely more than one. Over three hundred twenty, to be exact, but here are my Top Picks of 2015.


History of LonelinessI always loved author John Boyne’s books; in fact, “The Absolutist” is one of my Top Five Ever. But “A History of Loneliness” has to be right up there.

In this book, a priest explains his relationship with a colleague who always seems to be moved around from parish to parish. What’s wrong will slowly dawn on you, but our narrator is a little slower on the uptake. What happens will make you want to crawl into bed and cry for an hour.

In “One Night” by Eric Jerome Dickey, a woman who has nothing left to lose meets a man who has everything in life. She needs money. He decides that he needs her and they embark on a one-night stand that’s almost unbearably taught. I loved the mixture of this book: psychological, erotic, and sass.

Also tightly written is “The Magician’s Lie” by Greer Macallister. It’s the story of a small-town sheriff who finally captures a killer who’s been on the loose for some time. She’s a slippery one – an illusionist – and he hopes she’ll offer a confession. Instead, she tells him a story…

The sheriff doesn’t know what’s lie and what’s not – and neither will you in this wrap-you-up tale with an ending you totally won’t see coming.

My Grandmother Asked Me...Remember what it was like to be a kid? You’ll revisit it again in “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry” by Fredrik Backman, the story of a seven-year-old who loses her grandmother. Else is precocious, Granny was her only real friend and she was somewhat of a rascal. And as proof of that, before she dies, Granny leaves Elsa with an assignment.

Part fantasy, part childhood, all charming, this book from the author of “A Man Called Ove” is a wonderful winner.

“The Hired Girl” by Laura Amy Schlitz might be found on the Young Adult section of your bookstore or library, but I definitely thought it was more of an adult novel. It’s the story of a teenager who leaves her family because her father is abusive, and she moves to Baltimore to become a housemaid. It’s 1911, she’s Catholic, but her new employers are Jewish and the learning curve is steep. There’s adventure, heartbreak, romance, and history here – and yes, you can still share it with your favorite teen…


You may find “Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania” by Erik Larson on other Best Of lists this year, for a reason. This is a historical account of the sinking of a ship but there’s more: Larson is known to tease a story out, adding small side notes and spinning off in ways that enhance the tale he’s telling. That makes for a fascinating, heart-pounding true account you won’t want to put down.

Bobby Wonderful“Bobby Wonderful: An Imperfect Son Buries His Parents” by Bob Morris made me laugh, and it made me cry a small creek. It’s the story of Morris’ mother, her life and her death, and the relationships she had with her family. It’s also a gay man’s love letter to his very supportive Mom, and it definitely lives up to its name: it’s wonderful.

Though it may sound odd, “Rain: A Natural and Cultural History” by Cynthia Barnett put me in a good mood when I read it – maybe because it was as refreshing as its subject. Here, Barnett writes about all aspects of that stuff that falls from the sky – historically, culturally, and meteorologically speaking – and she sprinkles readers with facts, disasters, and sunshine. This book simply made me happy, which is why it’s on this list.

RosemaryAs a lover of All Things Scandalous, I found “Good Mourning: A Memoir” by Elizabeth Meyer with Caitlin Moscatello to be absolutely delicious. After Meyer lost her father, a high-powered lawyer, she realized that she was rather fascinated with death, just a little bit. So she marched into one of Manhattan’s premiere funeral homes, asked for a job, and ended up being a funeral planner (think: services that are anything but dead). I loved this book for its behind-the-scenes peeks, and for the tales that only an insider can tell.

There’s a TIE for the last slot on this non-fiction list: I loved “Rosemary” by Kate Clifford Larson for its jaw-dropping look at history, the Kennedys, and power gone wrong. I also couldn’t put down “Lights Out” by Ted Koppel, a cautionary, scare-the-daylights-out-of-you book on what could happen if our electric grid and internet infrastructure are attacked by terrorists.


ImaginaryIf you ever had an imaginary friend, then “The Imaginary” by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett is a book to read – or to give to your 9-to-12-year-old. It’s the story of a little girl who, of course, has an imaginary friend she loves. But one day, they come to realize that the imaginary friend isn’t the only Imaginary around – and the newcomer could mean danger. This is an adventurous book with a hint of thrill and a sweet ending that adults and kids will love.

I loved, loved, loved “Spelled” by Betsy Schow, a fairy-tale-ish book that’s part Cinderella, part Wizard of Oz. It’s the story of a spoiled princess whose parents have sheltered her, and who’ve also chosen her new husband. Problem is, she doesn’t want a husband and when she throws a Royal Fit, all spell breaks loose. This is a great young-adult book, but it’s one that grown-ups will get a kick out of, too. Pay close attention to the language, and you’ll be captivated.
And finally, “Lillian’s Right to Vote” by Jonah Winter & Shane W. Evans really captured my attention this year. It’s a picture book that tells the story of an elderly woman and the first time she steps up to cast a vote. As she travels to the polling place, every step reminds her of the steps taken by others so she can exercise a privilege that others didn’t always have.

And there you are – books for you, books for your family, the best books I’ve read in the past twelve months. Pick them up. You won’t be sorry.

Happy Reading!

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Book review: ‘Naughtier than Nice’ — enjoy a little spice with your Christmas nog! Sun, 27 Dec 2015 17:30:30 +0000

Naughtier Than NiceYou have to tell somebody.

There’s a secret inside you, one you’ve been keeping far too long and you’re about to burst. You need to talk about it. You need some advice, some perspective. As in the new novel Naughtier than Nice by Eric Jerome Dickey, if you don’t talk about this issue soon, it could be the death of you.

Last Christmas Eve had been a memorable one for Frankie McBroom, for the wrong reasons: that was the day she spent thinking about how to cancel her wedding to Franklin Carruthers. He’d been her soul mate, her one-and-only… until she discovered that he was a married man.

As the eldest McBroom sister, Frankie felt as though she needed to set an example and she fought hard to forget Franklin. She wished her relationship with him had been like what youngest sister Tommie had with her Blue. Or like what middle sister Livvy had with Tony. But no, Frankie had something else altogether.

Tommie McBroom felt bad that she was cheating on her fiancé.

Down deep, she loved Blue but he’d betrayed her: he knew how much she wanted a family and yet he’d had surgery to prevent it, which proved that he didn’t care about her. Beale Streets, on the other hand, listened to her. Yes, Beale was a few years younger than Tommie, but that didn’t matter when they were making love.

The delicate chain surrounding Livvy McBroom-Barrera’s ankle spoke to Livvy of different times, of days when she and Tony were estranged and she first slept with a woman. The charm on the chain reminded her of things she learned, and lovers who disappeared from her life so suddenly. She thought of them often – especially when she and Tony brought another woman to their bed.

It was hard to believe that a year had gone by since Frankie caught Franklin in a lie. So much had happened since last Christmas, so much that wasn’t discussed. Tommie’s life was taking a turn. Livvy’s life seemed to be going backwards.

And Frankie? She was dealing with a blown-up phone, an acid-ruined car, bricks through her windows, belongings rearranged in her home.

Frankie was dealing with a stalker…

So you like a little spice with your Christmas nog? Or maybe some extra pepper in your peppermints? Then “Naughtier than Nice” will make you very jolly.

In this somewhat-sequel, author Eric Jerome Dickey made a list of everything you want in a holiday drama – cheating, scandalous pasts, sex, murder, and light humor – and it’s obviously checked twice to add even more of the above. Although this book can be read as a standalone, readers then get to revisit some of Dickey’s best characters from other novels. His usual themes are mashed-up, and there’s a very nice gotcha or three scattered throughout this book.

That, and the fast-moving action, made me ho-ho-ho for this not-so-holiday holiday book and Dickey fans old and new will love it. Just beware: start Naughtier than Nice and you’ll just have to tell somebody.


Naughtier than Nice by Eric Jerome Dickey

c.2015, Dutton                                                  

$25.95 / $33.95 Canada                 

357 pages

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An inspired novel you won’t put down Thu, 24 Dec 2015 21:12:29 +0000

Six degrees of separation.

That, supposedly, is the difference between you and any given person on the planet. Your dentist, for example, knows somebody who knows someone who … and pretty soon, you’re linked to a famous scientist or Hollywood star. It’s a fun pastime, that Six Degrees thing, and surprisingly easy to do but in the new novel And West is West by Ron Childress, it could also be a deadly game.

Living with Zoe wasn’t originally Ethan’s desire.

She’d stayed at his Manhattan condo many times – they were a couple, after all – but he was still surprised when he heard himself ask her to move in, and equally surprised that she agreed. Yes, he loved her – which was something he only truly realized just before she left for a job in D.C.

Heartbroken, Ethan turned to his other love: coding for United Imperial Bank.

For him, it was the perfect job. UIB gave him an office and freedom to write algorithms to follow terrorists in order to follow the markets, creating serious money for Ethan and for his employers. That, plus Zoe, could’ve made him happy.

Except Zoe was gone, then someone set Ethan up to fail at work and his job was gone, too. And just as he thought things were looking up, Zoe was dead and Ethan was left holding the secrets of her life that her parents couldn’t tell her.

It always seemed as though Jessica Aldridge was running.

She ran away from her mother’s alcoholism as a child. She ran away from family as a teen. She ran to the Air Force, where she became a highly-trained drone pilot but, since a remote strike had gone horribly wrong and someone had to take the fall for it, she ran from that, too.

But Jessica had just been following orders then. Her real mistake, she understood, was confiding her misgivings to the wrong person: her imprisoned father, whom she barely knew. She also understood that the government wasn’t going to take a breach of security lightly and with the FBI on her tail, Jessica had to run again.

I have to admit that I was no big fan of And West is West when I started it. Its first few pages were more techy than I expected, and I wasn’t in the mood for that.

Whoo, was I glad I stayed.

Once you get past the prologue, author Ron Childress takes readers in a whole different, unexpected direction with what seems like a profile of a psychologically flawed man. Ethan, in fact, is driven, indecisive, and so very imperfect – which makes him the perfect distraction from the page-ripping thriller that is Jessica. It seems unlikely, then, that the two are connected, but you’ll recall that Six degrees stuff?

Yep, and it doesn’t even take that many steps.

This is one of those keeps-you-up-at-night, miss-your-subway-stop kinds of books that you’ll pass around to friends. It’s one to take to your book club.

For sure, And West is West is a solid ten.


And West is West by Ron Childress

© 2015 Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

$26.95 / $36.95 Canada

320 pages

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Book Review: ‘Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling American Style’ Sun, 06 Dec 2015 20:30:35 +0000

Fear and ClothingVeronica Lake had her “peek-a-boo.”

Jackie O loved her pearls. Mary Quant made a teeny-weeny mini, perfect for the twiggy body of Twiggy. Kate Moss was waifish, Joan Collins pushed our shoulders out to there, and JLo and Nikki push the envelope every chance they get.

So what’s your style? Dress up, dress down or, as Cintra Wilson says in her new book Fear and Clothing, is fashion dictated by where you live?

Oh, what to wear, what to wear? Deciding, says Cintra Wilson, is a little like “portable feng-shui, right on your body.” Clothes cover, costume, decorate, indicate personality, point at politics, and they speak volumes to fashion-watchers and journalists like Wilson, a freelance fashion critic for the New York Times whose work and an “absorbing curiosity” take her from runway to retail stores.

For this book, she traveled to places around the U.S. – both familiar and new to her – to report about style in various “belts.”

In San Francisco, “The Macramé Belt” where Wilson grew up, she notes that the city is “one of the few places… where a person really can create a fantasy avatar… and live in that costume full-time…” People come to San Francisco, she says, to “change the sex of their clothes, or to change their sex altogether.”

In “The Beltway” of Washington, DC, she noted that conservatism in dress for both men and women is almost mandatory in power-circles. In Utah (“The Chastity Belt”), she attended a major, star-filled film festival, an experience that clashed with observations of the women from the Yearning for Zion ranch.

In “The Frost Belt” (Wyoming), she fell in love with Western wear. In Miami (“The Sand Belt”), she noticed that naked = fashion-forward. She went high-power shopping in “The Star Belt” of Los Angeles, high-hatted in “The Bourbon Belt” of Kentucky, high-brow in “The Futility Belt” of Brooklyn, and she noted “markedly different” body types in “The Butter Belt” of Iowa…

No matter where you live, Wilson says, your closet should be filled with things that are an “expression of who you really are.” Fashion should be a “joyful and important… way to empower yourself.”

And those comments, made early-on, are interesting, although there are many instances in this book where author Cintra Wilson seems to ignore them. But more on that in a minute; first, I must say that “Fear and Clothing” is funny – LOL funny sometimes, in a way that makes you wish you could hang out and people-watch with her.

Which brings me to what made me wince: while humorous, this book can be unkind, too, particularly when examining the fashion sense of people with arguably unsophisticated tastes. Wilson even acknowledges that she’ll be taken to task for writing those barb-filled words, but that self-chiding doesn’t minimize them.

Still, Wilson generally speaks the language of seasoned fashionistas, and it’s good. If you love that, you love wit, and you can overlook the snark, then you might need this book. For you, “Fear and Clothing” is worth a peek.


Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling American Style by Cintra Wilson

c.2015, W.W. Norton                                    

$27.95 / $33.95 Canada                 

336 pages

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Book review: ‘Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die: James Dean’s Final Hours’ Sun, 29 Nov 2015 20:30:32 +0000

Too Fast to Live, Too Young to DieThe minute you glimpsed the red-and-blues, you knew you were sunk.

Yep, and now you have a traffic citation to pay for stepping on it, having a lead foot, a pedal to the metal. You knew better than to exceed the speed limit, but you couldn’t resist and, as you’ll see in the new book Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die by Keith Elliot Greenberg, that need for speed may drive you to the grave.

Markie Winslow, Jr. adored his cousin, Jimmy.

A few years older, Jimmy played with Markie and took him on motorcycle rides, but they never went too fast. With Markie, Jimmy wasn’t reckless, though he pushed the limits of it on his own. People in their hometown of Fairmount, Indiana, didn’t care – they loved James Dean because he was a local boy who’d done well.

No one was surprised that Dean ended up in Hollywood or that he became a star: he’d always loved to act. He’d entered and won contests, performed in church plays, and had eschewed prelaw classes in favor of a coveted spot in a UCLA production of Macbeth. It was obvious where his career path was taking him.

And it took him there quickly. In just a short time, Dean was a heartthrob movie star, had performed on the new medium of television, and had gained a fiancé and enough money to indulge in the hobby of auto racing. When a guy signed movie deals for six figures, $7,000 wasn’t much for a car and he had his eye on a Porsche 550 Spyder, one of just a few made. He’d almost gotten arrested just looking at the car one night. What else could he do but buy it?

Overjoyed with his prize, he’d started to break the car in but some doubted that it was a good purchase. Others told Dean to be careful in that car, that it was dangerous, that it could kill him, that it would kill him.

And on September 30, 1955, it did….

Though its subtitle indicates a small focus of subject matter, “Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die” is more comprehensive and expansive than merely a few hours. That has its plusses and its minuses.

A little background is always a good thing, especially when you’re reading about a star who made only three movies and died six decades ago. Author Keith Elliot Greenberg finesses that backstory – including Dean’s childhood, his rumored bisexuality, his odd on-set genius, and his rapscallion attitude – but Greenberg unfortunately combines it with fan-gushing from folks who traveled to Fairmount to partake in a James Dean festival. That’s charming at first but it becomes florid, and quite overdone.

Still, if you’re a fan and can ignore that, you’ll appreciate this book and its marking of a sad anniversary. If you own the iconic poster or t-shirt and want to know more, you’ll find that here, too. In either case, Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die may be just the ticket.


Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die: James Dean’s Final Hours by Keith Elliot Greenberg

c.2015, Applause Theatre & Cinema Books              

$24.99 / higher in Canada      

304 pages

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This new short-story collection will make you ponder Thu, 29 Oct 2015 20:28:37 +0000

And they lived happily ever after.

Even today, years after you’ve outgrown fairy tales, those words make you smile. Ohh, how you love a happy ending, even though (and maybe because) life doesn’t always work out that way. As a matter of fact, in Nothing Looks Familiar, a new short-story collection by Shawn Syms, sad endings don’t always happen, either.

Worst case scenario. If it all goes well. God willing, everything will turn out alright – but if not, life goes on. We’ll live through it, just like the people in these stories.

A job in a slaughterhouse, for instance, is just a job and while Wanda would rather work somewhere else, there’s no real reason to move on. Instead, in On the Line, she takes lovers from everywhere but the kill floor. Nobody knows she does it, until she sleeps with the wrong man – a man whose wife is Wanda’s co-worker.

Because he had few friends (“He’d never been good at keeping them”), Adam was surprised that Shaggy wanted to hang out. They never did much, just a little mayhem now and then, but in Four Pills, the tables are about to turn.

Gimli, Manitoba is a tiny town perched on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. Sammy, who’s eight years old and Cindy, who’s just a baby, might have loved it there someday, but their mother had to get them away from there. The fumes from the drugs she made were no good for the kids; neither were the people she worked with or the tiny house where they mixed. In Family Circus, the kids’ mother starts making plans for escape.

People didn’t have to like Brenda Foxworthy: she liked herself enough. As one of the Popular Girls, she got away with everything, including meanness to Dean and his friends, Preet and Rickie. Did Brenda hate their sexuality or their nerdiness? It didn’t matter because, in Get Brenda Foxworthy, the three had plenty of other reasons for revenge.

When Sean and Kate inherited a house from Kate’s dad, they also inherited an eccentric tenant that they rarely saw. In Man, Woman, and Child, Les Montague was a harmless old guy… wasn’t he?

Unsettling. That’s a good word to use when describing the eleven short stories inside Nothing Looks Familiar. Reading this book, in fact, is a little like watching an accident that you’re powerless to stop and can’t un-see. For sure, what you’ll read here will make you squirm.

But that’s not a bad thing, oddly enough. I found myself rather addicted to the stories that author Shawn Syms tells, even though they left me dangling, wondering what happened next. Another oddity: the characters in these stories aren’t particularly likeable, which leads to a certain amount of schadenfreude, or a smug, satisfactory feeling that things didn’t go so well for them.

These are stories that will tap you on the shoulder, days after you’ve finished the book. They’ll keep you awake, pondering. If you’re not careful, Nothing Looks Familiar could haunt you ever after.

Nothing Looks Familiar

by Shawn Syms

© 2015 Aresnal Pulp Press

$15.95 U.S. and Canada

184 pages

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This ‘Stonewall’ is rock-solid Thu, 17 Sep 2015 20:24:37 +0000

Your favorite hang-out isn’t all that fancy.

It’s comfortable, though: you’ve got places to sit, flat surfaces for your stuff, and your friends are always around. It wasn’t always that way, though, as you’ll see in Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights by Ann Bausum.

For years, it’d been illegal in many cities to dance with someone of the same sex. With a few rare exceptions, being gay could get you fired from work, rejected by family and generally ostracized; if you were a man wearing women’s clothing, you could be arrested immediately. But New York’s Stonewall Inn allowed dancing, drinking, cross-dressing and the police looked the other way because, says Bausum, the Mafia had ties to the Stonewall and bribes kept things running.

By June 1969, this covert freedom started causing problems: “closeted homosexuals” involved in an international bond scandal were spotted at the Stonewall by “organized crime operatives” with blackmail on their minds. The New York Police Department was ordered to close down the Stonewall. In the hot early morning hours of June 28, they raided the packed bar.

It didn’t go well.

As partiers and staff were arrested, a crowd began to form to taunt police – and it grew as people ran to pay phones to call friends. Some of those arrested were freed; others were roughly handled. Bausum says that one of the latter, a lesbian, asked the crowd if they were going to do anything about it – and they did.

Although it can become somewhat florid for the sake of drama, Stonewall is a nicely surprising book filled with history that few younger people may know.

The surprise comes in what author Ann Bausum shares, which seems tame by today’s news, perhaps even quaint: nobody was seriously hurt, and the single death was accidental and barely related. That almost made me afraid readers might forget that the riot marked the coalescence of activism for gay rights, but Bausum anecdotally reminds us repeatedly of Stonewall’s importance.

This book is meant for teen readers ages 12 and up, but it might be a challenge for those on the younger end and it certainly can be enjoyed by adults unfamiliar with this event. If that’s you, then Stonewall is rock-solid.

Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights

by Ann Bausum

© 2015 Viking

$16.99 / $19.99 Canada

120 pages

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Book review: ‘The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQI Activism’ Sat, 29 Aug 2015 19:55:28 +0000

Right Side of HistorySomebody got you started.

That’s the hard part and, oftentimes, that’s all you need: a forward-thinking person to lay the framework so you can roll with a project, adding, subtracting, shaping, refining. Somebody just needed to get you started; you can take it from there, as you’ll see in The Right Side of History by Adrian Brookes.

Like most years, this summers’ Pride Parade was a raucous event. And why not? There’s plenty to celebrate: new laws, old friends, and a sense of better – which can make it hard to remember that “Such gains didn’t occur in a vacuum…” says Brookes. This book, “a chorus of voices untamed,” is a collection of explanation.

To begin, Brookes writes of Isadora Duncan, a “free spirit” who, when ladies were expected to be proper, danced on-stage with abandon, bared her breasts in public, and slept with whomever she pleased – male or female.

Hayden L. Mora writes of gay life in the early twentieth century, when clubs for “same-sex attraction” began to appear in larger cities, though being caught in a compromising situation then could result in a loss of citizenship. For Henry Gerber, the choice was mental institution or U.S. Army; he picked the latter and came back from World War I, “determined to begin organizing gay men…”

The “father of the gay liberation movement” and founder of the Mattachine Society got his fire from another organization’s strike. A well-liked gay African American boy, lovingly called “Pinhead” as a child, grew up to be Martin Luther King, Jr’s “right-hand man,” while a nerdy white doctor (who happened to sleep with men) changed our notions of male sexuality. Activists today fight for intersex infants, asking doctors to delay sex-assignment surgery. Conversation launched a lesbian organization, and people have stepped into activism roles because of Anita Bryant, out-of-the-closet writers, politics, personal discoveries, and a 54-ton quilt.

And that parade you marched in? If you lived in San Francisco, you might like to know that Pride Parade routes are exactly the same as a funeral march walked by strikers and their families in 1934…

Lately, it seems as though I’ve been seeing a plethora of books on Stonewall, as if that one event is where LGBTQI activism began. It’s not, of course, and The Right Side of History proves that.

Though it’s far from definitive, author Adrian Brooks collected his own work and that of several contributors to inform and inspire readers who likewise want to make change or to know where change came from. I liked browsing the short biographies here, but I noticed one quirk: some of the profiles seemed to be a reach. Yes, they were very interesting, and yes, they were about people who stood their ground, but were they LGBTQI activists? Perhaps not always …

Even so, what you’ll read here may make you want to do something. At the very least, it’ll give you understanding for those who paved the way. And if that’s information you need, then find The Right Side of History … and just start it.


The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQI Activism by Adrian Brooks, foreword by Jonathan D. Katz, PhD

c.2015, Cleis Press                                  

$18.95 / $27.50 Canada                        

243 pages

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Book review: ‘Holy Cow!’ by Boze Hadleigh — A book that isn’t just horseplay! Sun, 23 Aug 2015 22:00:02 +0000

Holy CowFrom the time you were old enough to communicate, you took to words like a duck to water. You’ve verbally hammed it up ever since.

Yes, it’s probably driven your friends and family batty, all this talk-talk-talk of yours. And yes, there are times when what you say is a bunch of bull, but you’re not trying to start a beef. You’re just having fun because, as in the new book Holy Cow! by gay author Boze Hadleigh, language isn’t for the birds.

No doubt about it, we humans love our animals. We love them so much that we sprinkle references to them in our daily conversation, mostly without even thinking about it. Our shaggy dog stories are sometimes just that – but where did those old sayings, clichés, discouraging words, and tender nicknames come from?

The truth, as Hadleigh shows, is an interesting, yet convoluted, tail.

In many cases, animalistic words came about as description: Oxford, England, for instance, was once a place where oxen forded a river. Tell someone there’s a dogleg in the road, and they’ll know what you’re saying – plus, a road like that might make them sick as a dog.

And then there are the words that really make you scratch your head: Great Britain’s hedgehog pudding isn’t made of the spiny mammals, and dogs and monkeys are much more likely to ape you than is a copyCAT. And about that famed cat curiosity? It might’ve been targeted at another type of animal…

Or, let’s say somebody’s made you mad. Calling him a dog goes back many years – perhaps back into the mid-1800s when “the only good dog was a useful dog.” The word-that-rhymes-with-witch has always been directed at women; its first near-appearance in film was in 1939, and that was pretty scandalous. Call someone a rat and, well, that’s rather self-explanatory.

The modern street use of the word “heifer” is pretty wrong, unless you’re in a barn.

There really is more than one way to skin a cat (catFISH, that is). A sawhorse and a clotheshorse are similar in origin. And if you think a kitty really has nine lives, well doggone it, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

Ahh, language lovers. I can practically hear you howling for this book now – and for good reason. Like a dog with a bone, you won’t want to let Holy Cow! go.

Starting with canines and ending with birds, bees, and bugs, author Boze Hadleigh goes whole hog in explaining where many of our favorite expressions originated. But this book isn’t just horseplay – Hadleigh includes words that are archaic (but need resurrection), as well as localisms and words you’ll want to add to your vocabulary. That all adds up to fun that’s useful and, for dyed-in-the-wool linguists, it’s a golden egg.

So let’s talk turkey: if it’s been a dog’s age since you last read a book about language, it’s time you find this one. You won’t sound hackneyed or feel like a dinosaur with Holy Cow! Naw, this book is the cat’s meow.


Holy Cow! by Boze Hadleigh

c.2015, Skyhorse Publishing                       

$14.99 / $19.99 Canada                 

303 pages

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Book review: ‘After Woodstock’ by Elliot Tiber Sun, 16 Aug 2015 22:00:32 +0000

You can do it all.

That’s what we’re told these days, from the time we’re able to understand language until the moment we run out of life. You can become whatever you want, they say, with a little luck and hard work – and so author Elliot Tiber did. In his memoir After Woodstock, he shares.

Though their decision to purchase and operate a run-down motel in upstate New York was a disaster from the beginning, Elliot Tiber’s parents refused to give up the “shambles of a resort” they’d dreamed of owning. Tiber, a dutiful Jewish son, “had been sucked into this black hole” fourteen years earlier, and he was stuck.

But in the summer of ’69, something “just short of a miracle” happened: Woodstock. For more than a week, the motel was full of guests (at $750 a night) and when it was over, the hippies were gone, and the mud was cleaned up, the family was flush with cash.

Seizing opportunity, Tiber took his share and left “my largely miserable past behind.”  He bought a new Cadillac and headed for Los Angeles, where two friends had invited him to live with them in exchange for decorating an old mansion they’d bought. Tiber was also excited to see the HOLLYWOOD sign: “the letters weren’t exactly straight; well, neither was I.”

Months after arriving, though, it was apparent that California wasn’t the place he ought to be. Tiber’s father was dying, so Tiber returned to New York, mourned his father, fought with his mother, sold the motel for her, and fell in love with a Belgian student who had to return home after his studies were done. Months later, Tiber followed André to Europe, learned French, and started writing in earnest: TV skits, movie scripts, and memoirs.

But true love never runs smoothly, of course, and though they enjoyed dancing at leather clubs together, André started going alone. Tiber never knew exactly what André was doing but he had his suspicions, and since a “gay disease” was rumored to be circulating, Tiber was concerned…

After reading After Woodstock, I think you’ll agree that author Elliot Tiber is the Forrest Gump of gay memoirs.

Tiber has done it all: organized Woodstock, crossed the Mafia, hobnobbed with celebs, made movies, appeared on TV, the list goes on and on. It’s almost exhausting – maybe because this book could have easily been two books: Tiber packs a lot – an awful lot – into this memoir, which can be overwhelming. Yes, he’s got a wicked funny bone, and yes, this is an appealing look at gay life from the Stonewall years forward, but it can be too much. While I didn’t not like this book, there were times when I needed a break from that frenzy.

I think stop-and-go readers will be able to get past the rompishness of this tale, and biography lovers will easily be able to ignore it. If, in fact, you like a little madness with your memoir, find After Woodstock and you’ll have it all.


After Woodstock by Elliot Tiber

c.2015, Square One Publishers

$24.95 U.S.

462 pages

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Book Review: ‘Bobby Wonderful’ is sure to strike a chord for many caregivers Sat, 08 Aug 2015 22:00:36 +0000

“It’s perfect!”

Once upon a time, those words were music to your ears – but then you grew up. You learned then that a made bed didn’t make the man, good enough generally was and, as in the new book Bobby Wonderful by Bob Morris, sometimes it’s better to ignore perfection and focus on a life – or lives – well-lived.

As Bob Morris watches his husband, Ira, struggle with his mother’s ageing issues, Morris understands the emotions Ira’s going through. Caring for an elderly parent “has become the new normal” Morris says, and he should know: he helped tend to his own parents at the ends of their lives.

As his mother lay dying first, Morris remembered how, when he was a child, she encouraged him to see beauty in the world around him. She loved music and was “a good mother” whose messy, painful death brought out the worst in Morris and his brother. Oh, how they fought, though her passing also showed Morris how much he truly loved and admired his older sibling.

At the funeral, Morris only wanted to talk about his mother but “nobody seems to know how.”

Not long afterward, on a “sunny summer Monday,” Morris’ father tried to commit suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. Though he’d seemed to heal well from his wife’s illness and death – at age 80-something, he’d plunged back into the dating scene – his “quiet despair about his failing heart,” previously unnoticed, shook the Morris brothers to their cores. Things became worse, and as their father began to desperately “hound” Morris for pills to end his life, Morris looked for ways to enhance his father’s days but time was running out and they both knew it.

During his last hospitalization, the elder Morris told his sons that he wanted off life support. It was a wish they let him have.

“Caring for your parents is an opportunity,” says Morris. But “We have no parents now, nobody to love us in the way they did. And we also have no worries now, no concerns for a suffering so close that it often felt like our own.”

Some 65 million of us, says author Bob Morris, are caregivers; most are caregivers for someone over age 50. That could be why this memoir will strike a chord for many baby boomers but, aside from common-bond feelings that children of ageing parents will find familiar, Bobby Wonderful is also a love letter wrapped inside a very beautiful, moving story. Morris’ cherished memories of his parents’ good times seem to buffer the pain of loss, and that he shares those vivid personal recollections is a delight. Still, readers get real peeks of irritation here, exasperation, even anger sometimes, which totally fit in this memoir. I would have, in fact, been disappointed without them.

My best advice is to grab tissues before you start this book. You’ll have abundant reason to use them, especially if you’re caring for your own parents. If that’s the case, for you, Bobby Wonderful lives up to its title.


Bobby Wonderful: An Imperfect Son Buries His Parents by Bob Morris

c.2015, Twelve

$25.00 / $27.00 Canada

192 pages

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This memoir turns out to be a nice surprise Thu, 06 Aug 2015 19:00:19 +0000

The song went ‘round and ‘round in your head.

Maybe that’s why it’s called “a round.” You know how it works: one group starts to sing and, when they get to a certain point, the next group begins anew and so on, until the endings lap like waves. But, as in the new book Course Correction by Ginny Gilder, the things we plan don’t always go merrily, merrily, merrily.

The first time Ginny Gilder ever saw a rowing team in action, she was 16 and didn’t quite know what she was seeing. Everything about that boat, its rowers, and the motion spoke of serenity and control – things Gilder lacked in her young life.

She was “a goner.”

Two years later, while enrolled at Yale, she finally got a chance to try the sport, though the women’s rowing coach strongly discouraged her. Gilder was physically shorter than is optimal for a rower and, because Title IX (ensuring an end to gender discrimination at federally funded institutions) had only recently passed, she’d never seriously engaged in sports before. She was out of shape and inexperienced, but determined.

She started training, running and practicing. Within six weeks, she was competing.

“Everything hurt,” she says, “including my butt. My hands sported new blisters, my lungs felt like they had been rubbed with sandpaper … I had never felt happier.”

For the rest of that year, Gilder threw herself into her newfound love, barely socializing except with teammates at workouts, training and competitions. Rowing helped her focus and forget about the home life she’d escaped: her family’s wealth, her father’s infidelity and her mother’s mental health issues. Rowing helped hide her self-consciousness and lack of self-esteem.

She saw her teammates swagger and confidence, and she saw two of them try out for the U.S. Olympic team in Montreal. At least one teammate was gay and didn’t try to hide it; says Gilder, “I couldn’t imagine being that bold or comfortable …” Her self-doubts were exacerbated by family naysayers and by Gilder’s own inner critic – a voice she had to silence before she could excel at the sport she needed to her core.

She also had to come to terms with all aspects of herself – including her sexuality.

I’m very happy to say that Course Correction, while sometimes a little rough in a first-time-author way is, overall, a nice surprise.

Between a breathless story of the making of an athlete, author Ginny Gilder writes of the past that caused her to lose faith in herself, even as she was gaining strength, physically and intellectually. That uncertainty of self – a big part of this book – led to many regrettable decisions, and is portrayed so well that it’s hard not to feel empathetic. That empathy only leads us to want more.

Add in heart-pounding accounts of races and trials and you’ve got a nice memoir about a subject that’s largely unsung by an author to watch. And if that sounds like an ideal read to you, then try Course Correction. This book is but a dream.

Course Correction: A Story of Rowing and Resilience in the Wake of Title IX

by Ginny Gilder

© 2015 Beacon Press

$26.95/$32.00 Canada

272 pages

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Summertime reading! Here are some great ideas Tue, 28 Jul 2015 18:07:58 +0000

There’s too much stuff in your house.

Too much stuff leads to frustration. Frustration leads to cleaning. Cleaning leads to finding (more) stuff you forgot you had… like the bookstore gift certificate you got seven months ago.

Uh oh.

So now what? You’ve read all the Buzz Books – so what get with that new-found gift certificate treasure?  Read on for some great ideas….


Could you survive in the wilderness? That’s a question that’s asked of a college sophomore after a plane crash in “Girl, Underwater” by Claire Kells. Life is good for nineteen-year-old Avery Delacorte but on her way home from school, the plane she’s on crashes and she’s one of a handful of survivors. So is an irritating fellow member of her swim team… Pair it up with “Stella Rose” by Tammy Flanders Hetrick, a book about a woman who tries to raise a teenager after the girl’s mother has died. She barely knows the girl… but how much did she really know about the teen’s mother?

If you’re still in need of a beach read, look for “Soil” by Jamie Kornegay, the story of a scientist who tries to live off the grid and instead dies. When his corpse shows up on a farm, well, read the book and find out…  When you’re done with it, try “Aquarium” by David Vann, the story of how a friendship between a lonely little girl and an old man who meet because of their love for the fish at a local aquarium. Hint: what happens is not anything that’s good….

Oh, how I love a good old-fashioned western. If you do, too, then look for “Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral” by Mary Doria Russell. It’s the story of that one day in Tombstone, and its aftermath. Well-researched, it reads like a novel but feels like a history book.


The news has been filled all year long with extreme weather stories but “What Stands in a Storm” by Kim Cross tells the story of one for the record books. It was April 27, four years ago, when Alabama was hit. And hit. And hit. This isn’t a book for the faint of heart, but weather fans will want to read it. You’ll also want to read “The Mercy of the Sky” by Holly Bailey, the story of the tiny town of Moore, Oklahoma, and the tornado that ripped through it just over two years ago.

Summertime is a great time to read, but if you feel as though you can’t find even a few minutes for a book, then peek at these. First: “100 Things You Will Never Find” by Daniel Smith is a book about lost treasure, lost cities, and lost artifacts. Start it, and you’ll lose track of time. Also look for “Knowledge is Beautiful” by David McCandless, a fun book of graphs and facts on pages made perfect for browsing. Then, find “Lonely Planet’s Instant Expert” by Nigel Holmes, and learn to do tricks and gain skills to wow neighbors, kids, and your friends. Round off your reading with “Between You and Me” by Mary Norris, a book about words, language, and punctuation (or irritating lack thereof).

So you love music. You take it with you wherever you go, so why not read “Beale Street Dynasty” by Preston Lauterbach, a story of Memphis, a rich man who got his money in a surprising way, and the people he influenced who, in turn, changed the nation.

With so many rumors circulating about religion, what’s the truth?  In “The Handy Islam Answer Book” by John Rendard, PhD, you’ll find the answers to the things you wonder: history, legal matters, and basic beliefs, all at your fingertips. Also in this series, “The Handy Nutrition Answer Book” by Patricia Barnes-Svarney and Thomas E. Svarney will answer your “What should I eat?” conundrums.

If a move is in your plans at all in the future, then “RightSize… Right Now!” by Regina Leeds is exactly what you need. In 8 weeks, says Leeds, you can de-clutter, pack, and move in an organized fashion without stress – and that goes for any relocation, from home to home or cubicle to corner office.

If you’re spending the summer single and hating it, then look for “Getting Back Out There” by Susan J. Elliott. This is a book about love, but it’s different: this one helps you do the homework first, so you’re truly ready to dip your toes into the dating pool again. Then, you’ll get help making sure true love lasts. And, just in case (because you might need it eventually), look for “Five-Minute Relationship Repair” by Susan Campbell, PhD and John Grey, PhD – because that little lover’s spat should lead to a lover’s chat. Oh, and try this one, too: “30 Lessons for Loving” by Karl Pillemer, PhD. It’s a book filled with advice from folks who’ve been happily married for years and years and years.

Here’s a book that every citizen may want to read: “400 Things Cops Know” by Adam Plantinga. It’s a book filled with stories, advice, and anecdotes told by a veteran patrolman who isn’t afraid to lay it on the line, but who also entertains while he informs. There’s useful advice here, things you didn’t know, and things you’ll be glad you know now.  See if you don’t like reading “The Handy Military History Answer Book” by Samuel Willard Crompton afterward. It’s a book that will fill in the blanks for anything you don’t already know about our armed forces and that of other countries.

Anyone who’s binge-watched Amish Mafia this year will want to read “Renegade Amish” by Donald B. Kraybill. This book – part true crime, part peek into Amish culture – is also perfect for fans of the legal process. Another true crime book you might want to try is “Death by Cannibal” by Peter Davidson. Just don’t take it to the lunchroom with you.

So you’ve read a book that everybody’s raved over… and now you want to know the truth from another angle. In “The Wild Truth,” author Carine McCandless picks up where Jon Krakauer left off in the story of one young man in the Alaska wilderness. McCandless is the subject’s sister. And there’s your truth.

How does your garden grow?  There’s no contrariness to “The Triumph of Seeds” by Thor Hanson, a book about how the lowly seed moved into just about every corner or our lives and changed the world.

So you have a cool new cabin to vacation in this year. But did you ever wonder about the quirks of your new abode?  In “Atoms Under the Floorboards: the Surprising Science Hidden in Your Home” by Chris Woodford, you’ll learn things like why you can’t see light, how going underground in the winter is a good thing, and why a bicycle is such a lovely piece of machinery.

Speaking of your home, shouldn’t it be a sanctuary?  Of course it should, which is why you need “Elements of Style: Designing a Home & A Life” by Erin Gates. This beautifully illustrated book will help you create a gorgeous home, with advice on color, furniture, linens, walls, flooring, and accessories. Think: SPA and then pair it up with “At Home with Madame Chic” by Jennifer L. Scott, a book about living well, stylishly.

Want to learn something new and interesting this summer while keeping your brain flexible?  Grab “Numericon: A Journey Through the Hidden Lives of Numbers” by Marianne Freiberger & Rachel Thomas. This lively trivia-type book is perfect for people who love to play with numbers and those who want to know more about how they work. Yes, there’s math in here. Are you surprised? And if you need another book to challenge your brain with math, look for “Finding Zero” by Amir D. Aczel, who is a mathematician. Will you like it?  If you’re into numbers, you can count on that.

For the person who wonders what’s Out There, “Secret History: Conspiracies from Ancient Aliens to the New World Order” by Nick Redfern offers plenty of food for thought. Who really killed Martin Luther King, Jr.?  Who – or what – is mutilating cattle, right in the middle of fields?  These and other keep-you-up-at-night things can be found here…

If you’re reading this guide, then you’re undoubtedly a fan of the printed page. In “BiblioTECH” by John Palfrey, you’ll learn why, in this age of information-any-time, we must work hard to preserve our libraries.

Has your child spent most of the summer inside with a game of some sort?  Then you both need “How to Raise a Wild Child” by Scott D. Sampson. This book will teach you and your child how to explore nature, the outdoors, wildlife, plant life, and more, and how you’ll learn to crave it. Pair it up with binoculars and a magnifying glass…


You may remember the big things you learned in History Class, but what about the behind-the-curtain things that few knew?  In “A Grizzly in the Mail and Other Adventures in American History” by Tim Grove, you’ll learn a few. What’s the deal, for instance, about the cotton gin? How did a mule figure into American history? Read on and learn. Pair it up with “The Handy American History Answer Book” by David L. Hudson, Jr., JD, a Q&A book that puts to rest all those things that make you say, “Hmmmmm….”

If you’re a Civil War buff, you can probably rattle off all kinds of dates and battles – but what about the behind-the-scenes people who had a hand in the War? Learn about them in “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy” by Karen Abbott. This book tells the story of four women who went undercover on behalf of the Blue or the Grey: what they gave up to do it, and what happened when they did. And speaking of influential women and the American spotlight, “Whatever You Choose to Be” by Ann Romney might be a great book for you to find. It’s quick – it doesn’t have many pages, but it does have plenty of advice.

History doesn’t have to be dry. Case in point: “Playboy on Stage” by Patty Farmer with Barbara Van Orden, contributions by Will Friedwald. This is a history of the Playboy clubs, from start to the closing of the very last one, not 30 years ago. In between, you’ll read about the people who performed for customers, and memories of those who worked there.

There’s an election coming up, just in case you hadn’t noticed, and “The Fat Boy with the Bomb and 200 More of the World’s Craziest Politicians” by Brian O’Connell, pictures by Norm Chung will make you want to laugh it off. Best part: it’s not just our politicians that get skewered; the whole world gets equal opportunity! For another look at politics, the White House, and the presidency, from the POV of someone who was there, look for “And the Good News Is…” by former presidential press secretary, current Fox News contributor, and host of The Five, Dana Perino.


If you’re a fan of old-time Hollywood, then you’ll love “Hope” by Richard Zoglin, a huge and sweeping account of the life of comedian Bob Hope. Are there secrets in here?  Was the Road to Zanzibar a long one? Pair it up with “In the Company of Legends” by Joan Kramer and David Heeley, a compilation of profiles featuring some of the screens biggest stars of yesterday. Bonus: PICTURES!

Admit it: there’s always been a part of you that’s wanted to run away and join the circus. Katie Hickman did, and in “Travels with a Mexican Circus,” she explains how she ended up traveling with and performing beneath the Big Top in a most unlikely place.

Basketball fans, it won’t be long before your season returns. In the meantime, look for “Not a Game: The Incredible Rise and Unthinkable Fall of Allen Iverson” by Kent Babb. It’s an all-around look at a player – his childhood, his past, his rise and fall – that fans seem to either love or hate, but I think you’ll love this book.


What’s in your noggin?  A pretty remarkable organ, that’s what, and in “The Brain’s Way of Healing” by Norman Doidge, M.D., you’ll read about the exciting aspects that science is learning about the gray matter between your ears. Match it up with “Creatures of a Day and Other Tales of Psychotherapy” by Irvin D. Yalom, a collection of case studies on living and dying.

So you can “feel it in your gut.”  That takes guts, and in “Follow Your Gut” by Rob Knight with Brendan Buhler, you’ll see how right you are when you utter those words. This TED talk in book form will prove how what’s behind our belly buttons is also behind our allergies, obesity, and more.

What’s it like to live with Asperger’s Syndrome?  In “Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate” by Cynthia Kim, you’ll get a good look. Kim is a writer who also runs her own publishing company; here, she offers advice, comfort, and personal stories, making this a book for those who have ASD and for those who love them.

Spiders, snakes, being alone, loss. If you’ve got fears (and who doesn’t?) and you can see at least some humor in them, then “Why Am I Scared of Everything?” by Bethany Straker is the book for you. Using a fictional character and lots of illustrations, this book pokes gentle fun at the things that frighten us, and it offers sage advice that might help you forget your fears – or, at least make you laugh a little. Pair it up with something serious: “The Evil Hours” by David J. Morris, a war correspondent and former Marine who tells what it’s like to live with PTSD.

Here’s something to make you smile: “The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness” by Amit Sood, M.D. How can you be happier in four easy steps?  Step one: find this book. Step two: read. Then pair it up with “A Fearless Heart” by Thupten Jimpa, PhD, a book about being compassionate and how, by helping others, you can help yourself.

You might not want to think about it when the sun’s shining and the birds are singing, but “The Conversation” by Angelo E. Volandes, M.D. is a book to help you plan the end of your life, how you want to be cared for, and what you don’t want. With this book, you can start one of those difficult talks that nobody wants to have but everybody should.


Younger readers may want to ask: what was it like in the beginning of the AIDS epidemic? “Visions and Revisions” by Dale Peck will show you. From the POV of an activist, this book is also somewhat of an autobiography and yes, a rant.

Caitlyn Jenner did it. Laverne Cox did it.  If this is your year to do it, then you’ll want “Transgender Persons and the Law, Second Edition” by Ally Windsor Howell, LL.M. This hot-off-the-presses book will help put your mind at ease when it comes to nagging questions on employment, health care, personal safety, and more. Nice touch: websites you can visit to learn more.

Students of LGBT history will definitely want to find “Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin,” edited by Devon W. Carbado and Donald Weise, foreword by Barack Obama, afterword by Barney Frank. Back in 1963, in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, Rustin was an openly gay man with strong political ties and influence, and was an organizer of the March on Washington. This powerful collection underscores his legacy through some fifty years of his life.

Here’s a philosophical question for your summertime: what would you do to keep your sibling alive?  In “The Bone Bridge” by Yarrott Benz, the author finds out, as a young teen, that he has a blood disease that can kill him. His brother is match for transfusions – but his brother is also homophobic and the author is gay. WWYD (What Would You Do)?

In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling, “Under This Beautiful Dome” by Terry Mutchler is particularly moving. It’s the story of two women – a journalist and an Illinois State Senator and their relationship. It was a secret, at first, and they worried about discovery (which could ruin careers). Then, when one of them becomes very ill, they worried about how she could be supported by the woman she loved.

Everybody thinks that Stonewall started the gay rights movement, but in “Barbara Gittings: Gay Pioneer,” author Tracy Baim shows that the woman who’s been called the Mother of the Gay Rights Movement was working on LGBT rights many years before (and after!) Stonewall. This book, loaded with photographs, is a well-done celebration of an activist, friend, and woman with a vision of the way things could be.


Everybody knows that new customers are hard to get these days… so why not ensure that the ones you have, you keep, in a way that’s convenient for everyone?  In “The Automatic Customer” by John Warrillow, learn how to join the subscription economy. Think: Birchbark. Think: Barkbox. Think about it, then read “Mindsharing: The Art of Crowdsourcing Everything” by Lior Zoref and let social media do your marketing and decision-making.

So there’s a wedding in your future – or maybe you’ve just started a new relationship – and you sometimes wonder about nagging issues of harmony (or lack thereof). In “The Couple’s Guide to Financial Compatibility” by Jeff Motske, CFP, you’ll learn how to avoid trouble in one major category of getting along. Surprisingly, though, money isn’t the only thing this book tackles. Check it out and you’ll see…

The rules of business seem to change, and management is no different. In “Widgets” by Rodd Wagner, you’ll learn a new method of managing employees with empathy in mind. Also look for “Changing the Conversation” by Dana Caspersen, a quick-bites kind of book that will make conflict resolution a breeze.

If you’ve committed yourself to strengthening your leadership skills this year, take a look at “Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work” by Tracy Brower. This book will teach you how to help your employees to make the most of time, both at work and at home – thereby bringing success to you both. Pair it up with “Chief Customer Officer 2.0” by Jeanne Bliss, a book about making your business as customer-driven as possible, and how it will help your company grow.


Dog owners know what it’s like to have that One Dog – and we’re always happy to read about that of others, so “Good Dog”, an anthology of takes from David DiBenedetto and the Editors of Garden & Gun is one to try. This is a compilation of tales (or is that tails?) from authors you know and authors you don’t. Add to that “The Rescue at Dead Dog Beach” by Stephen McGarva, a book about a man who was on vacation and made a startling discovery that changed his life. Bring tissues, that’s all I’m saying. Oh, and don’t forget “Sleeps with Dogs” by Lindsey Grant, who is a pet sitter. This is a fun book because it’s about dogs… but not just dogs. Grant dishes about owners, too, and how great is that?

Here’s a book to keep by your bedside: “Horses” by Bob Langrish and Nicola Jane Swinney. It’s a gorgeously-illustrated book filled with dozens and dozens and dozens of portraits of different breeds of equines, plus enough information to whet your appetite. If you have a horse, you can’t be without this book. Come to think about it, you can’t be without this book if you don’t have a horse…

If you’ve promised yourself a new hobby this year, look for “Peterson Reference Guide to Birding by Impression” by Kevin T. Karlson & Dale Rosselet. This is a new way to birdwatch, with an emphasis on more than just habitat and pretty feathers. Pair it with “Fastest Things on Wings” by Terry Masear, who is a hummingbird rehabilitator.

CHILDREN’S BOOKS – small kids

For the child who’s already become a bit of a Royal Watcher, “Mr. Chicken Lands on London” by Leigh Hobbs will be a big hit. In this story, Mr. Chicken (who looks a little mean, fangs and all) is eager to start his vacation in Great Britain. Your kids will love the story the first time, but be sure to pay attention to the illustrations!

CHILDREN’S BOOKS – middle-graders

For the child who loves reading about history, “Why Would a Dog Need a Parachute?”
by Jo Foster
is a Q-and-A-type book about World War II. Your child will learn about different kinds of shelters, how evacuees lived, and how some of them became spies. Add to it “Dr. Dino: How Fast Can You Fart?” from Dr. Dino’s Learnatorium – a book filled with fun facts on the human body – and your child will be a smartypants by time school starts.

For the kid who loves to draw or paint, “Cool Art” by Simon Armstrong would be a great before-you-go-back-to-school gift. Including, but going beyond, the masters, this book explains painting, color, technique, painter bios, and more. Pair this book up with a nice package of colored pencils and a drawing tablet. Here’s another choice for the creative kid: “Nick and Tesla’s Special Effects Spectacular” by “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith. It’s part mystery, part novel, part movies, and it includes special effects projects for your science-loving kid.


For the wordsmith in the family, “The Weird World of Words” by Mitchell Symons is pure delight. Symons has authored lots of trivia-type books and this latest one deals with language and the quirks it contains. The best word to describe it?  “Mine.”

For the young dog lover, “Ellie’s Story” by W. Bruce Campbell will be a welcome treat for the summer. It’s about a dog who was born to rescue people. She’s highly trained but she needs to do more. For readers ages 12 to adult: perfect.

Leadership + golf. Is it possible?  In “Art of the Deal: Golf – Access to Success” by Washington D.C.’s own Rose Harper will show you how you can use your golfing skills to enhance your career. Bonus: there’s plenty of biography in this book, to make it interesting.

Some days, you have it… and some days, you wish you did. That’s the time when you need “Grown-Up ABCs Momma Taught Me” by Houston’s Flo McAfee. This quick-to-read book is filled with light boosts to help turn your day around. Pair it up with “i-Comfortable Victim” by Texas’ own Victoria E. Broussard, Esq., a novel of success that’s tainted by one woman’s deep, dark, and long-buried secret.

So you’ve been watching your calories this summer, but you might need a little help. Find it in a novel: “Fit Happens” by Louisiana’s own Sonia Marie Trimble. This book is about how one woman finds it within herself to shed the pounds, work the muscles, and find the life she deserves.

If you’ve been struggling all summer with business woes, look at “Light a Fire Under Your Business” by California firefighters Tom Pandola and James W. Bird. This guidebook on using leadership to inspire your employees will teach you to create the kind of corporation atmosphere that will grow your business and help everyone to reach for their best.

Don’t spend one more month of this year alone. In “Please God Send Me a Husband” by Miami’s own Monique Rainford-Bourne, M.D., you’ll learn, through lessons and anecdotes, how to stop looking for the wrong man and find Mr. Right… and you’ll do it with God’s help and guidance. Bonus: this book is purse-sized, and perfect for reading anywhere.

For the child who loves history – especially early American history – then look for “The Legend of Jocko: Child Hero of the American Revolution” by Miami’s Waymon Eugene LeFall. It’s the story of a little “Negro” boy who lived in the years before this country was a country. When his father volunteered for General Washington’s army, the boy snuck away and joined them, too – and gave his life for the cause. Kids ages 5-to-11 will love it.

Now the literary housekeeping: titles change. Books go out of print.  Things happen, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for, ask the nice lady or gentleman at the bookstore for their recommendations and expertise… because they really ARE the experts.

And there you are: a whole bunch of ideas for you to look for, add to your I-want-to-read-this list, or to find at your bookstore or library.

Happy Reading!

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The perfect antidote to those sticky social situations Thu, 23 Jul 2015 17:52:34 +0000

Who loves a party? You do, that’s who! You love the invitations, the decorations, and the balloons. You love the cake and ice cream, and the games are fun. If there’s a magician or a clown, that’s even better.

But what if the party wasn’t quite right? What if the guest list made you upset? In the new book Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown, a little girl learns how to make things all better.

One day at school, Stella’s teacher said she had something special for the class. They were going to have a Mother’s Day celebration and everybody could invite their mommies as special guests.

That was fine for Jonathan and Leon and Carmen. Howie had two mothers, and he was sure they’d both come. It was fine for all the other kids, but it really worried Stella because she had two dads. That meant she’d be the only one at the party who didn’t have a mother.

All week long, Stella fretted. She worried. She couldn’t stop thinking about it. Even her friends noticed she was sad but when Stella explained her situation, they didn’t quite understand. Leon wondered who made Stella’s lunch. Howie wanted to know who read bedtime stories in Stella’s house. Carmen asked who kissed Stella’s boo-boos.

But lunch and bedtime and boo-boos weren’t “the problem.” Finally, Jonathan made a suggestion: Why didn’t Stella bring her whole family? She should bring all the people who made her lunches and gave her hugs and kisses.

Stella’s Daddy liked that idea. Her Papa did, too, but Stella “wasn’t so sure.”

A few days later, when it came time for the class to get ready for the party, Stella worked very hard. The decorations went up, the invitations were made, and party day arrived! So did Howie’s two mothers and Jonathan’s grandma – plus a whole family of people who belonged to Stella! And that was OK. It was more than OK, in fact, and they had the best Mother’s Day party ever.

But Father’s Day was coming up soon. What would Stella do next?

Some sticky social situations, sadly, have no lower age limit. Still, there’s always a solution, as your child will see inside Stella Brings the Family.

Head-on, and with no fuss, author Miriam B. Schiffer deals with an issue that’s actually been around for a long time: what happens when a celebration occurs and a child is absent the “right” parent to laud? In this case, Schiffer gives her main characters a nice fix for what could be an upsetting day – and then she takes things a little bit further in a sweet, casually-told story with illustrations by Holly Clifton-Brown that are the perfect accompaniment.

The audience here, I think, is right around the 4-to-7 age group, and preschool classes will want this book on their shelves. For sure, if your family has two mommies or two daddies, Stella Brings the Family is something your child will invite you to read again and again.

Stella Brings the Family

by Miriam B. Schiffer, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown

© 2015 Chronicle Kids

$16.99/$22.99 Canada

36 pages

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Book review: ‘Dangerous When Wet’ — not your average mother-and-gay-son memoir Thu, 04 Jun 2015 17:01:42 +0000

Mother knows best.

Long before you were old enough to complain, for instance, she knew when you were uncomfortable or ailing and she fixed it. She told you to ignore detractors. She helped you follow your heart. She reminded you to take a sweater. Mom always knew best – except, as in the new memoir Dangerous When Wet by Jamie Brickhouse, when her counsel could derail your life.

Jamie Brickhouse “had no business being a child.”

Then again, he never was a child, really. Starting at age five (an age his mother wished she could freeze him, Peter-Pan-style), he was his Mama Jean’s sounding board, fashion advisor and cheering squad. He recalls the fascination of seeing her put on make-up; his days were spent watching her sew and going to downtown Beaumont, Texas, to shop and visit the beauty parlor. He also dimly recalls his first drink at age five.

Though his mother warned him that others would never love him like she did, his first grade teacher came close. Brickhouse adored that woman who shared school gossip with him and invited him into her home. Later, after a playground friend became his “first boyfriend,” that same teacher warned Brickhouse that the boy was a “sissy.”

By junior high, he realized that he was, too, but since Mama Jean had had a fit when Brickhouse’s older gay brother came out and had offered a psychiatrist to Brickhouse if he was “like that,” Brickhouse denied his sexuality.

Years later, he also denied his HIV status to her, just like he denied his alcoholism.

From the time he was a toddler, Brickhouse had had an obsession with sex. His love of drink also came early and the two intersected when he went to college. Even after he found the love of his life, he couldn’t let go of either vice: many nights after work as a book publicist, he drank until he could barely function and often woke up in the arms and homes of strangers.

His boyfriend knew what was going on.

Brickhouse hoped Mama Jean never would …

For some reason, I’ve been awash in mother-and-gay-son memoirs lately. Dangerous When Wet is the newest one, and only a little different than the others.

Don’t get me wrong: this wasn’t a bad book, but it doesn’t really stand out a lot. Author Jamie Brickhouse is a funny guy, but I would say that charm is more prevalent in this book than are laughs. That may be, perhaps, because his thumb-sucking, profane, force-to-be-reckoned-with Mama Jean is ultimately like so many other moms: an exasperating reason for eye-rolls to their children, but adorable to others.

The small bit of humor lies with her antics, at any rate. The alcoholism, the black-outs, the promiscuity: not so much.

I do think this book is worth a try. I enjoyed it enough, but if you’re drowning in similar memoirs, too, you could just as easily skip it. Dangerous When Wet isn’t the worst book of this genre, but it’s not the best, either.


Dangerous When Wet: A Memoir by Jamie Brickhouse

© 2015 St. Martin’s Press

$25.99 / $29.99 Canada

288 pages

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Not quite the tell-all memoir you might expect Thu, 28 May 2015 16:15:22 +0000

According to what you read in the check-out line at the grocery store this week, another celebrity has released a tell-all.

The thing is, you’re sure nothing in it will be surprising, nor are you scandalized. Really, is anything private anymore? Can anyone keep a secret for long? Read Frank by author and former Congressman Barney Frank and decide.

From the time he was 10 years old, Barney Frank was fascinated by politics. By age 14, he understood two things: “I was attracted to the idea of serving in government and I was attracted to … other guys.” He also thought that he had to keep the latter quiet “forever.”

Growing up in a liberal Jewish household in New Jersey, Frank’s political beliefs were formed early. He volunteered to work on Adlai Stevenson’s second presidential run, went to Harvard as a liberal with the occasional conservative viewpoint, and worked for voting rights during Freedom Summer. His volunteerism taught him a lot, which qualified him to work for the mayor of Boston in 1967, where he honed his political talents, opinions and negotiation skills. By 1972, he told himself that “an all-out war on homophobia” would be part of his activism henceforth.

Throughout his early political life, however, he was surprised nobody asked him “the question.” He says, “… there did not appear to be any public comment on the fact that a 32-year-old man was the state’s most ardent advocate of gay rights.” When he was finally asked, despite his promise to himself, he denied his sexuality; shortly thereafter, he launched a run for Congress that he didn’t think was winnable as a gay man.

After the election, he “decided to adopt a hybrid status” to be out privately but not publicly. That changed by late 1989, when he faced action from his congressional colleagues over his long-time relationship with a male prostitute.

Undaunted, Frank continued to work on behalf of LGBT rights and consumer issues. His career always came first but by mid-2005, he says he “wanted to enjoy a personal life,” having once claimed that he hoped to retire at age 75, in 2015.

“This,” he says, “was one of my better attempts at a personal prediction: I was only two years off.”

Reading Frank is something like taking a tour in a working artists’ studio: it’s a mess, but there are colorful and interesting things to see here and there.

On the latter, there are enough asides and tidbits to keep readers going and, though they’re woefully underrepresented, we’re treated to some personal, non-political anecdotes. Understandably, however, most of what author Barney Frank offers is of a political slant: mostly-linear details of his accomplishments, opinions on what happened and occurrences that are matters of public record – a little braggadocio, a little observational and a lot of ho-hum.

Fans of politics, I think, will be far happier with this book than will others, since that’s largely the focus inside. If you’d rather have a more personal memoir, though, know that Frank is merely a tell-some.

Frank by Barney Frank

© 2015 Farrar, Straus and Giroux

$28.00/$32.50 Canada

387 pages

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A fine memoir about a time past and a life well-loved Thu, 21 May 2015 16:00:37 +0000

Throughout your life, your parents ignored many things.

That time in high school when you snuck out to party? They knew, but they looked the other way. Same thing with wearing make-up, missing curfew and that one regrettable hair style. They often “didn’t see” more than you’ll ever know.

Problem is that sometimes, they ignored too much. Did they, for instance, know who you really were? In the new book Bettyville by George Hodgman, one man wondered.

Elizabeth Baker Hodgman – Betty, to most people – didn’t sleep much.

At age 90, she was prone to wandering, fussing at the kitchen, piling and restacking paperwork and playing the piano in the middle of the night. She was “suffering from dementia or maybe worse.”

Unfortunately, that also meant her son, George, didn’t get much sleep, either.

An out of work editor and freelancer, George Hodgman had moved to Paris, Mo. from New York for what was supposed to be a week. Or a month. Or a year to take care of his mother. Betty didn’t like it; she hated needing someone. Hodgman didn’t like it, either; too much had changed.

“I was Betty’s boy,” he says, and he’d been that way all his life. Hodgman loved his father fiercely, but he absolutely favored his mother. Still, he desperately wished he’d been able to tell his parents he was gay, that he felt alone, that he’d survived too many failed romances, that he’d had substance abuse issues. Surely, they knew but no one ever talked about it.

Now, as he cared for her, there were times when Betty infuriated Hodgman. She could be rude and stubborn, prone to fits of anger for no reason, and loud. She flatly refused any thoughts of nursing homes or assisted living. The problem was her dementia, Hodgman reminded himself repeatedly. He understood that she was rightfully fearful because she knew she was losing herself and “I can only imagine how scary it is …”

And yet, “I think I have survived because of Betty, more than anyone,” Hodgman said as she eased away. “There are so many things I will carry when I leave Bettyville with my old suitcase.”

Without a doubt, you’d be forgiven for reaching for a tissue while you’re reading this book. Heck, you might want a whole box of them – but there’s a lot more to Bettyville than heartstring-tugging.

I found joy inside this story, in between its inevitable sadness. Author George Hodgman keenly remembers his small town childhood from all sides: churchgoers and alcoholics, kindness and bullying, adolescent crushes, baffling foes and off-limits subjects that no small-townie discusses. We meet, through the eyes of Hodgman, Betty’s friends and family and we’re told a story about a time past, a life well-loved, and losing a mother long before she’s really gone.

Be prepared to laugh a little, but be prepared to cry, too, as you’re reading this fine memoir; especially if you’re a caretaker for an elderly parent. For you, for sure, Bettyville is a book that can’t be ignored.


Bettyville: A Memoir by George Hodgman

© 2015 Viking

$27.95 / $32.95 Canada

279 pages

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‘I Left It on the Mountain’ — Kevin Sessums delivers a powerful memoir Thu, 07 May 2015 17:56:40 +0000

I’m sorry.

There they are: two words you learned (or should’ve learned) as a toddler to make amends, set things right, receive forgiveness and move on.

I’m sorry. Please forgive me.

If acknowledged, those words are cathartic and weight-lifting. If ignored, they can crush. Or, as in the new book I Left It on the Mountain by Kevin Sessums, they can do both over the course of a lifetime.

On the morning of his 53rd birthday, Kevin Sessums woke up in a funk.

It wasn’t his workload that his body had “already begun to rebel at;” he was scheduled that evening to attend an Oscar party with Courtney Love. No, what plagued him was that he’d signed up to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain, a pilgrimage of 500-some miles.

Sessums wasn’t sure what he hoped to gain by walking the Camino. He’d been told that the trek was spiritual, one “that pilgrims have walked for over two thousand years.” He’d been told that it would change him.

Change was what he realized he needed.

As a child growing up in Mississippi, Sessums was a “sissy boy” and he knew that he’d disappointed his father. Efforts to align with his father betrayed his mother in ways that hurt her. But because both his parents died when Sessums was nine years old, he couldn’t ask for their forgiveness.

Molested at thirteen, now HIV positive and feeling abandoned as an adult, Sessums had been bingeing on drugs and sex for months when a friend suggested the Camino. The journey “beckoned” – but not without questions.

“How,” Sessums mused, “do I fully combine the spiritual with the carnal?”

Weeks later, the answer arrived in pieces as he chose the more difficult path of the Camino walk, up hills and through mud, fighting blisters and exhaustion but noticing men and miracles. Answers would come as he learned to “let go” and as he met people he enjoyed, “including now myself.”

But that’s not the pinnacle of this powerful memoir – not by a long shot. And yet, my emotions ran the gamut from “OMG” to “Ho-hum” while reading I Left It on the Mountain.

To start, author Kevin Sessums is a first-rate memoirist. He opens his heart and soul and lets you see everything that’s there: warm childhood memories, recollections of time spent with “heightened acquaintances,” love of (and frustration with) family, painful years of grief, loss and fear. This unfiltering and the diary part of his Camino journey – the passages about passages, if you will – both underscore his talent.

Readers, however – especially readers unfamiliar with New York society or the pop-culture-fashion magazine industry – may struggle with frequent, unfamiliar name-dropping.

I also would be remiss if I didn’t mention the presence of very explicit, brutal sex …

Still, despite eye-poppers and flaws that really aren’t flaws, there was a bigger part of me that couldn’t put this book aside. It’s beautiful, it’s ugly, and if you skip reading I Left It on the Mountain, you may never forgive yourself.


I Left It on the Mountain by Kevin Sessums

© 2015 St. Martin’s Press

$25.99 / $29.99 Canada

273 pages

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Book review: ‘A Matter of Breeding’ Thu, 23 Apr 2015 17:45:19 +0000

The cur at the corner of your couch is one of the best dogs you’ve ever had.

He’s smart, he’s friendly and he loves the kids. Ever since he was a puppy, he’s been scrupulously clean, inside and out. He watches over you, he makes you laugh, and you can’t imagine life without him.

So what kind of dog is he? The answer is complicated, as you’ll see in A Matter of Breeding by Michael Brandow.

Like most Manhattan-based dog walkers, Michael Brandow met plenty of pooches. He was paid to walk them, play with them, and help them burn energy – and in the meantime, he saw canine fads come and go.

A number of years ago, Brandow walked a lot of Jack Russell terriers. Then he saw scads of Shiba Inus, beagles, Frenchies, each “dog du jour” replaced by another in short order, each with a different “standard” for their breed. But those physical traits weren’t always in the dogs’ “own best interests,” though they’re mandatory in the show ring. Measurements, coat color, head size, paw shape, they’re all required for purebred dogs – even when genetics and health demand otherwise.

It didn’t begin that way, says Brandow; in fact, “breeds as we know them are … new inventions …” Dogs used to be just dogs and if a mutt could do a job, that was fine because they were all mutts anyhow.

But then dogs became status symbols, complete with individual breed clubs and fusses over curly tails versus high tails, and black coats instead of brindles. The British initially set those pesky standards, a sort of class war raged in England and North America, the aristocracy spoke up, the pedigree industry “showed an uncanny ability” to make certain dogs fashionable, and dogdom was never the same.

But the dirty little secret? Purebred dogs are hardly that; most were mongrel-bred at some point in their ancestry. Says Brandow, of your dog and his, “… they’re all mutts at the end of the day.”

When you bring a dog home with you, you naturally expect to have many happy years with him. Here, LGBT author Michael Brandow sounds the alarm: happy years might not be possible.

For a dog lover, that’s horrifying, as is this: purebred Bulldogs have major, human-made health issues. The low-slung look of modern German Shepherds isn’t natural. Docking tails and cutting ears is almost never necessary. That made me cringe, though Brandow explains how those cosmetic issues are increasingly being rejected.

But A Matter of Breeding isn’t just informative; it’s also an outraged rant against dog shows, the pedigree industry, breeders and owners of purebred dogs. Eventually, it feels incessant, and that tends to overwhelm and even numb a reader. It also can detract from the books’ main point.

And yet, though it’s not easy reading, I do think this book is worthwhile. Just beware, it could start a few arguments, too. Depending on where you sit, with mutt or unmix, your side in A Matter of Breeding could land someone in the doghouse.


A Matter of Breeding by Michael Brandow, foreword by Dr. Marc Bekoff

© 2015 Beacon Press

$18.00/$20.00 Canada

288 pages

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This true crime story will keep your attention Thu, 09 Apr 2015 19:00:25 +0000

Sooner or later, it happens to us all.

You happen to meet someone and things go well. You spend time together and soon, you’re in love. And then something happens and you fight, you break up, and it’s the worst. Your heart is shattered and you think you might die.

The good news is that you don’t. Or, as in Alice + Freda Forever by Alexis Coe, someone does die because her former lover can’t take “no” for an answer.

When teenager Alice Mitchell met slightly younger Freda Ward at the Higbee School for Young Ladies in Memphis, nobody was surprised that they became close. In the 1890s, it was common for “proper American women” to enjoy friendships with other women that included sleepovers and deeply affectionate gestures. In Memphis, they called it “chumming,” and it was perfectly normal.

But Alice and Freda took their friendship further: they fell in love.

Family and friends weren’t sure what to think: Alice’s mother suffered psychological problems, Alice’s father mostly ignored her, and her best friend saw nothing amiss. Freda’s mother was dead and her father was grieving; her sister noticed, though, and figured the relationship was typical – until she intercepted love letters from Alice to Freda, professing faithfulness and planning an elopement.

Alice had decided she could live as a man and support the couple, perhaps in St. Louis. Freda agreed – or did she? She loved to make Alice jealous by flirting and talking about boys, and when her family finally ended the relationship with Alice, she seemed to easily forget about their love and their plans.

But Alice didn’t forget. Enraged, she stalked Freda for weeks, trying to get her away from her family. She thought that if she could talk to Freda, everything would be alright, but when Freda ignored Alice just outside a downtown storefront, Alice suddenly understood that she’d never have Freda’s love again.

And if Alice couldn’t love Freda, then nobody would …

Sounds like the basis for a great novel, doesn’t it? Girl meets girl, girl loses girl, tragedy ensues, The End?

Nope – not by a long shot, because Alice + Freda Forever is all true.

In her introduction, author Alexis Coe explains how she became nearly obsessed with the story of star-crossed lovers, cold-blooded murder and unrequited love, and why she knew this story needed telling. What’s nice is that, in setting the scene for this tabloid-like tale, Coe writes in a voice you’d want for this kind of book: one that evokes black-and-white movies and Sherlockian dramas. But since we know whodunit, the mystery is solved and there’s little left to do but follow, with modern eyes and jaws wide open, the aftermath, complete with scandalized city, sordid trial and a difficult choice for the defendant’s life.

Meant for readers ages 16-and-up, I surely think an adult could enjoy this true crime story. With an old-timey atmosphere, murder reminiscent of a Victorian detective novel, chaste romance and mild edge-of-your-seat action, Alice + Freda Forever is a book I happen to think you’ll like.


Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe, illustrations by Sally Klann

© 2014 Pulp, an imprint of Zest Books

$16.99 / $21.99 Canada

223 pages

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Book review: ‘A History of Loneliness’ Thu, 26 Mar 2015 19:37:01 +0000

Throughout your life, the faith you’ve held has sustained you.

In times of fear, you’ve prayed for courage. On troubled days, you’ve asked for favors. You’ve thrown gratitude heavenward, and you’ve demanded condemnation from the Higher Power you know. Some prayers are answered, some are not.

But what if your religion failed you or, as in the new book A History of Loneliness by John Boyne, if it quietly eased away?

Once Odran Yates’ mother informed him that he had “a vocation,” Odran never questioned that he would someday be a priest.

She told him that, shortly after their family of five became three in a tragedy they rarely discussed. She said it after she’d become devout and made Odran and his sister, Hannah, attend Mass every Sunday – and her proclamation made sense to him. So, as a 16-year-old, Odran went to Clonliffe College seminary in his native Ireland, where he roomed with Tom Cardle, the boy he considered his best friend.

While Odran was certain that he was perfectly suited to be a priest, Tom was another matter. Once, while in seminary, Tom tried to leave but his father brought him back, black and blue, and left him. Odran had wondered if that was why Tom was prone to fits of strangeness.

He’d lost contact with Tom years ago, but Odran had heard rumors that his friend was moved a lot, parish to parish. That seemed odd, and it’d been upsetting that Archbishop Cordington wanted Odran to leave his beloved position as librarian at a boys’ college to take over in Tom’s latest move. The Archbishop promised that it would be a short-term change, but weeks would become years.

With his sister ailing, his nephews estranged and the job he loved lost, Odran hated being a mere parish priest, and he “didn’t know what to think.”

“But there’s the lie,” he said. “… I did know what to think. Only I could not bring myself to think it.”

Respectfully outraged, timely, scandalous and loaded with more than a little controversy, A History of Loneliness shimmers like a multifaceted diamond. Indeed, I barely know where to start – perhaps with the character of Odran.

Odran is a simple man, a clueless go-along-to-get-along kind of guy who likes to think of himself as responsible and intuitive. He’s a likeable lad but not really friendship material; he’s predictable, gossipy and staid except on the occasions when he doubts his faith and his vows. That’s when he surprises himself, as well as us but author John Boyne doesn’t stop there: in a setting of modern-day Ireland and Rome, Boyne populates this tale with close-lipped, complicated people; gives it dialogue rich with Irish brogue; and hands his readers plenty of exceptional back-plots.

That adds up to a stunner of a novel that feels like reading a movie, one that needs to jump to the top of your To-Read list today. But first – clear your calendar. Once you start A History of Loneliness, you don’t have a prayer.


A History of Loneliness by John Boyne

© 2015 Farrar, Straus and Giroux

$26.00 / higher in Canada

352 pages

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Lee Lynch’s experiences are LGBT history at street-level Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:41:26 +0000

Ahhh, the good old days.

You hear that a lot from people with short memories. Life was slower in the good old days, less complicated, less structured. But was it truly good?

The answer isn’t easy; in your life, you’ve seen plenty of changes, positive and negative, and so has Lee Lynch. In her new collection of essays, An American Queer: The Amazon Trail, she remembers them.

Back in 1960, when then-teenage lesbian Lee Lynch was outed to her parents, few people “were even capable of believing … that a 15-year-old could be sexually active.” It was obviously a more innocent time but still, Lynch says, “Hypervigilance settled deeply into my very muscles.”

Dancing with someone of the same sex was illegal in some places then, and entering a lesbian bar was a nervous, gutsy move. At one point, Lynch and a girlfriend were denied a camping spot because they were lesbians. Even vacationing where she didn’t have to hide and was “surrounded for once by my own” was a gleeful, rare delight; Lynch knew other lesbians, but she knew that knowledge couldn’t be public.

But the times, they were a-changing.

As years went by, Lynch became an activist for gay rights and women’s issues. She noted how politics – especially those impacting the lives of certain sectors of society – became harshly divisive. She saw the beginning of the AIDS crisis, the bigotry that it brought and the friends it killed. She later noticed with gratitude how, in preventing the loss of human rights, “People from all over are offering to help.” Lynch made friends with some straights, and marched in her first Gay Pride parade.

“Today,” she says, “because our history has become visible, it has also started to look more like our present.”

And marriage? “What a lovely question.”

I struggled for awhile with An American Queer: The Amazon Trail, not because of what’s said but because of how it’s arranged.

Author Lee Lynch offers readers so much: written with a gentle, almost stream-of-consciousness voice, this book is partly memoir and partly LGBT history with a personal touch. Lynch’s essays are approachable, comfortable, and enjoyable to read, and how she writes about the past is more relatable for casual readers, I think, than are similar books by academics. This is the kind of thing – the kind of writing – you want on an easy curl-up-and-read day.

I questioned, however, the inclusion of the books’ first few chapters. Those early essays from the beginning of Lynch’s writing career are terribly dated and, because of their conversational tone, they felt out-of-place to me, maybe a little too homey. I don’t think that’ll be an issue for older gay or lesbian readers, but it could be off-putting for younger ones; and they’re the readers who could most benefit from this book.

My advice is to give it a whirl, stick with it, and you won’t be sorry. In An American Queer: The Amazon Trail, Lynch’s experiences and her thoughts are LGBT history at street-level, and that’s pretty good.


An American Queer: The Amazon Trail by Lee Lynch

© 2014 Bold Strokes Books

$16.95 / $18.95 Canada

258 pages

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Jason Schmidt shares a powerful, emotional coming-of-age tale Thu, 26 Feb 2015 18:12:34 +0000

Your people understand you.

That’s because you speak the same language, dance to the same music, and wear the same uniform. You might not be related by blood or ceremony, but you belong to them and they to you. You’re family but, as you’ll see in the new book A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me by Jason Schmidt, they won’t always catch you when you fall.

Killing his father would have been simple.

Jason Schmidt knew he could smother his dad or overdose him and nobody would ever suspect. His father had been sick awhile anyhow and if he died, nobody would look twice, although Schmidt sensed he’d regret it.

He didn’t need any more regrets in his life.

Born in the early ‘70s, Schmidt remembers being a self-sufficient child: his earliest memory was leaving his mother’s house (at age three) to ride a mile on his tricycle to his father’s place.

That was just before his parents battled, his mother left for good, his father “got busted,” and Schmidt was sent to Southern California to temporarily live with his grandparents, who shipped him to Oregon when his father got out of jail. There, Schmidt and his dad lived in a series of “leftover” houses with a variety of “flower children, baby boomers” and hippies who taught Schmidt about sex, drugs and avoiding outsiders.

When he was seven, he and his father relocated to Seattle, where they moved in with his dad’s boyfriend – thus, Schmidt learned that his father was gay. Three years later, another boyfriend got sick with a “weird fever” and then Schmidt’s father “came down with the same bug.” Schmidt pretended to cry when the diagnosis of AIDS was confirmed.

By the beginning of his senior year, Schmidt – whose school attendance was spotty, at best – had nonetheless caught up with his peers. He had a girlfriend, an understanding of welfare fraud, a high IQ, anger issues and a dying father – but no stability, money, or plan for the future. He was 16, just barely holding things together, and he couldn’t even think of what would happen when he graduated.

And then a “nice old man,” an angel with cleaning supplies, stepped into his life.

The best way I can describe A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me is to say that it’s a large book.

I’m not just talking page count: beginning with his earliest memory and moving forward to young adulthood, author Jason Schmidt shares a powerful, emotional coming-of-age tale of an unstable childhood, of the beginning of AIDS, and of people purposely living on the edge of society with little-to-nothing, all told in a voice dripping with sarcasm, irony and anger.

That voice. That’s what hooked me. I laughed. I got teary. I loved it.

Though this book is meant for teens, I think it’s better-suited for readers ages 16-and-up, due to adult language and themes. If you can handle that, then A List of Things that Didn’t Kill Me is one you’ll be glad you didn’t miss.


A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me by Jason Schmidt

© 2015 Farrar, Straus & Giroux

$18.99/$21.99 Canada

432 pages

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A personal account of being a gay soldier in the U.S. military Thu, 05 Feb 2015 17:02:40 +0000

The phone call began another very long day. It arrived approximately 10 seconds after you walked to your desk, the first of that kind of interruption, followed by dozens of urgent (to the sender) emails and six cubicle drop-bys. Alas, you didn’t get much done that day.

Sometimes, you just want to be left alone to do your work and live your life. Other times, as in the new book Soldier of Change by Stephen Snyder-Hill, you need to stand up and speak out.

Growing up in small-town Ohio, Stephen Snyder-Hill says he’d always felt “this darkness I couldn’t understand.” His mother also noticed it, but he couldn’t explain to her that he loathed himself.

“When people say that being gay is a choice,” he says, “I always remember trying to unchoose it.” That didn’t work, though he spent his teen years trying to be like other guys, trying to work through the shame he felt.

Nearing graduation, he started thinking about joining the military; he came from a long line of soldiers and enlisting seemed like a good way to pay for college. He was first stationed in Germany, and then went to Iraq as a “fire support specialist.” That was where he started journaling and where, following a friendly-fire near-miss, he decided that he was “going to finally start living my life for myself.”

That included embracing his sexuality.

After leaving the army, Snyder-Hill began the slow process of coming out and he started “feeling like maybe … my purpose on this earth was to be exactly who I am.” He graduated from college and, realizing that he missed the military, he re-upped – just before “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” went into “full effect …”

Knowing that the military would, in essence, force him to become a “professional liar,” Snyder-Hill kept quiet about his sexuality. He endured indirect taunts from fellow soldiers and he learned to hide his love of and marriage to another man. Finally, fed up and coincidentally presented with a chance to ask a question of the 2012 Republican candidates in a national debate, he crafted a query he thought might change things.

And, he says, “I hit send.”

I liked Soldier of Change, but not just because of what author Stephen Snyder-Hill says. I liked the way he says it.

Reading this book is kind of like having a beer with a buddy. It’s chatty rather than stuffy with a bit of brevity sprinkled here and there, yet Snyder-Hill’s outrage comes through loud and clear as he takes his story further, writing about life as a gay man during DADT days, his activism, and the work he’s done on behalf of gay and lesbian soldiers. This book is genuine, and I liked that, too.

I think this is an important story to read if you need to know where LGBT rights have been and who’s brought them forward. It’s also one to enjoy if you want an informal, easy-to-like memoir. Even in this post-DADT time, Soldier of Change is a book to call for.

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Jane Lawless is back in ‘The Old Deep and Dark’ Thu, 22 Jan 2015 22:20:21 +0000

Your favorite Hollywood star is in the headlines – again.

By now, it shouldn’t surprise you. He’s in some sort of scrape a couple times a year, probably just so he can keep top-of-mind. Staying in the news; that’s the way stardom works.

Then again, as you’ll see in the new mystery The Old Deep and Dark by Ellen Hart, he could have secrets he wants good and buried.

When Cordelia Thorn bought a crumbling old theater in downtown Minneapolis, she hoped to restore it to its former grandeur. The basement of the building held a century of performing bric-a-brac, proof that many stars had strode across its stage.

The theater – renamed the Thorn Lester Playhouse – had also been the site of a rumored gangland murder back in the ’30s. That didn’t bother Cordelia – it was “tradition” to have a ghost in an old theater, just as it was good business to bring back stars from the stage’s heyday. She was considering, in fact, bringing back Kit Deere.

It had been many years since Kit had appeared onstage in Minneapolis, though she was still considered “theatrical royalty” in Minneapolis. Still acting, and now living in Nashville with her husband, country singer Jordan Deere, Kit had a dream life, until Jordan called for an ominously mandatory family meeting.

Booker Deere, Kit’s son, had been fully aware of his parents’ unique lifestyle, and he knew that long-kept secret was about to blow sky-high: his father had penned a “novel” that was a little too close to the truth. Booker knew that absolutely nobody in the family wanted that book published. Nobody.

But who would want it quashed enough to murder Jordan Deere?

Private Investigator Jane Lawless definitely had her hands full: she was trying to keep her restaurant smoothly running, trying to help her lawyer-father in his defense of Kit, and trying to understand what was going on with her new girlfriend, Avi.

The former could take care of itself. The latter, well, it was probably over anyhow. And the Deere investigation? That was complicated; more so when the skeletal remains of three people tied to Kit were discovered …

As mysteries go, The Old Deep and Dark is OK.

There are plenty of distractions here to keep whodunit fans guessing, at least for a while. The characters – though there are way too many of them – are fine: quirky enough to be interesting, but not nasty enough to completely hate. It’s good to see Jane Lawless again in a setting that’s cozy and familiar, though the story itself contains implausible plotlines including a lawyer who pushes the boundaries of ethics and a family secret that seems unkeepable for the decades that author Ellen Hart wants us to accept.

Ultimately, though I’m so-so on this book, I think Jane Lawless mystery fans will rejoice at a new installment with their favorite PI. If you’re new to this series, however, this isn’t the book to start with. If you’re new, you may find The Old Deep and Dark to be too shallow and light.


The Old Deep and Dark by Ellen Hart

© 2014 Minotaur Books

$25.99/$29.99 Canada

296 pages

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Book review: ‘The Story of Fester Cat’ Thu, 15 Jan 2015 23:00:11 +0000

Every now and then, you catch your cat staring off into space, and you wonder what he’s thinking about.

Food, maybe; he’s always hungry. Outside, perhaps, or where his catnip mouse is hiding? Then again, he could be pondering the meaning of life; you never know, with a cat.

Don’t you wish you understood what’s going on inside that furry head? Read The Story of Fester Cat by Paul Magrs, and you might get some idea…

Fester the Cat wasn’t cut out for the life of a stray.

Miss Bessy (who really was a boy-cat) made fun of Fester for wanting a better life, but Fester didn’t listen. The house he found – the warm house where two men lived – was welcoming, and there was food. Bessy said the men were gay and it wasn’t “natural,” but Fester didn’t care.

It took him awhile to move in, which was just as well. Paul and Jeremy seemed to be just getting used to one another, too. Paul worked at home and made sure that Fester had lots of places to sleep. Jeremy had a stressful job that he really wasn’t happy doing, so Fester made sure to “sing” to Jeremy quite often.

Life in the cottage was good – Fester had his own garden, and he saw his old street friends occasionally. He had all the food he could eat, sunny places to curl up, scratches on his chin’s “Special Spot” and, though he wasn’t altogether keen on it, Paul and Jeremy took Fester to the “hairdresser” now and then. Fester knew the “hairdresser” was really a veterinarian, and he tried not to be too ungrateful.

But months living on the streets are hard on a cat and Fester’s “hairdresser” discovered a problem with his thyroid. Medicine helped that, but there wasn’t much to be done about a small stroke he suffered. The stroke led to headaches and wobbly legs, and Fester was embarrassed that he couldn’t do steps any more.

Paul and Jeremy were very nice about it, but they had their own issues to fix.

Heaven knows, I tried so hard to like this book. I truly did. Instead, what I really wanted to do with The Story of Fester Cat was to throw it in a litter box and send it somewhere far, far away.

Yes, I do have to admit, I was charmed by about three sentences in this cat-“written” story (obviously penned by human Paul Magrs). Unfortunately, those sentences were superseded by an insufferably cutesy tale that strained my adult sensibilities; repeated (and sometimes painfully detailed) mentions of doing “poo;” a colorfully-slangy description of a cat’s sexual organs; a whole chapter on intestinal worms; and the non-word “Ungow!” over and over – once, in a passage that reminded me distinctly of Ulysses. No, seriously.

I tried. And I think, minus the bodily functions, physical descriptions and worms, The Story of Fester Cat might’ve even been a good kid’s book. But for an adult – even for the most determined cat lover – don’t bother to think about it.


The Story of Fester Cat by Paul Magrs

© 2014 Berkley

$16/$18 Canada

295 pages

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So many books, so little time Thu, 08 Jan 2015 22:37:44 +0000

It’s easy to feel that way when faced with an entire bookstore full of possibilities. How do you pick? How do you know what’s good?

Start here, with Bookwatch’s best of 2014 …

Let’s start with fiction:

Throughout the year, every time something bad happens, you’re reminded to hug the ones you love. Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer, the story of a woman who is at the end stages of a terminal disease, and a man in another state who has fallen in love with a child he’s fostering, will actually make you want to do that. Bring tissues. That’s all I’m saying.

My list wouldn’t be complete without my annual nod to Emma Donoghue. Her novel Frog Music, a big story of murder and lust set in 1870s San Francisco is a must-read for this year. It’s a gauzy tale – in fact, it seems at times like a dream, as though the main character, Blanche Beunon has imagined the whole friendship she had with Jenny Bonnet and the reason for Jenny’s death. Bonus: it’s based loosely on a true event.

I almost guarantee that you won’t see The Last Time I Died by Joe Nelms on any other Best Of list. It’s here because it was one of those books that just struck me: Christian Franco, a loser in life and love, learns that he can re-visit his childhood by being brought back from the edge of death. Early trauma left him with holes in his memory. Reviving gave him answers. But he had to die again and again and you won’t be able to put this book down until you know what happens.

They say we all have a doppelganger, and Recognition by O.H. Bennett is based on that idea: on a rainy night, as a young widow heads home to pick up her son, she sees a beggar who is her late husband’s double. Many years ago, he went missing and was presumed drowned – but did he? You’ll wonder, too.

And finally, a tie: A Wanted Woman by Eric Jerome Dickey and I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes are both thrillers; I couldn’t decide which I liked better. Be aware that the Dickey book leans toward violence and profanity, while the Hayes book is more espionage-like. Both kept me on the edge of my seat for days.

And then there are my non-fiction picks:

The Baby Boom by P.J. O’Rourke will bring back memories for anyone born between 1947 and 1964. O’Rourke recalls the usual things that boomers will remember – playing outside till dark, getting that first color TV – but the real appeal comes when he finds something you’ve long-forgotten, and he expounds upon it. This book is like time-travelling to your childhood.

Lovers of the Old (or new) West will love Badluck Way by Bryce Andrews, the story of cowboying, ranch life and the end of both. It’s also a tale of conservation: wolves were a big problem on the ranch where Andrews worked, and they cost his employer a good amount of money. But where’s the happy medium between raising cattle and being a steward to the land and its wildlife? This book doesn’t have all the answers, but it’ll make you think.

I’m normally not a big fan of biographies that include “recreations,” but Death of a King by Tavis Smiley was a great exception. In this book, Smiley envisions the last year of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: his friendships, his dilemmas, the heartbreak he knew and caused, the work he did, and that which he might’ve wished he didn’t do. I liked this book because it’s thoughtful, and because it makes Dr. King into an ordinary man. Smiley makes King approachable.

If you’ve read other Best Of lists this year, you’ve probably found Being Mortal by Atul Gawande there – and for good reason. It’s about the end-of-life, aging, and how medicine perceives both. Gawande urges readers to take charge of the end of their lives. That’s powerful stuff, in a powerful book.

And lastly, another tie: The Removers by Andrew Meredith, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty, and The Skeleton Crew by Deborah Halber all deal with bodies. Dead ones. The Meredith book is a father-son memoir in a coming-of-age way; the Doughty book is a memoir about her years working in a crematory; and the Halber book is about how everyday people spend their time comparing missing persons lists with online lists of unclaimed bodies. I liked ‘em all. I couldn’t decide.

And then my best of children’s books:

For the littlest kid, Don’t Push the Button by Bill Cotter is a near-guaranteed gigglefest. There’s a monster inside this book, and a red button. Whatever you do, well, read the book with your favorite 3-to-6-year-old and see.

Post-apocalyptic novels have been done to death, but H2O by Virginia Bergin really struck me as unusual. The premise of this book is that planetary dust has caused contaminated rain. Anybody who gets wet dies – bloody, painfully, and fast. That includes the heroine’s parents, sibling, friends, neighbors and everyone she loves. Or maybe not, because there’s a wicked cliffhanger here and I loved it.

I also liked Noggin by John Corey Whaley, a disturbingly plausible book about a young man who’s suffering a terminal illness. His only hope is to have his head cryonically frozen, and to wait for a donor body. But can everybody in his life wait for him to return?

As I read Endangered by Jean Love Cush, I wasn’t sure whether or not it was an adult book or a teen read. I decided it was both: it’s the story of a young teen who gets arrested for a murder he didn’t commit, but it’s also the story of his mother, who tackles the justice system, the law and everything she never thought she’d have to deal with on behalf of her son. Timely and sobering, this is another one of those books you just can’t put down.

And finally, Skink No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen is a great way to introduce your teen to the humor of this adult author. In this book, a teen goes missing and it’s up to her cousin and a Vietnam-veteran-former-mayor-possibly-insane-conservation-minded madman to find her. What’s not to like, hmm?

And there you are: fifteen books you just can’t miss. The best of the year.

Happy reading and Happy New Year!

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Book review: ‘I Am Jazz’ — a one-of-a-kind tale Wed, 31 Dec 2014 18:11:38 +0000

You are a one-of-a-kind kid.

There’s nobody else like you. Nobody has eyes like yours, or fingers like yours, or ears that fold like yours. You think for yourself, have your own likes and hates, and people love you just the way you are.

In the new book I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, pictures by Shelagh McNicholas, you’ll read about a girl who’s just like other girls … only different.

Jazz is a little girl who loves the color pink. It’s been that way for as long as she can remember; she also loves silver and green, maybe because they’re sort of mermaid colors and Jazz loves mermaids, too.

Like a lot of girls, Jazz spends her days doing “favorite things.” She likes to dance and sing and pretend that she’s someone famous. She draws, plays soccer, swims and she loves makeup and dress-up. But when Jazz was a very little kid, there were people who didn’t want her to do any of those things.

That’s because Jazz has “a girl brain but a boy body.” She’s transgender, and she was born just like that.

For sure, that caused a lot of confusion when Jazz was small because her family didn’t understand. Though she looked like a boy, she had to remind them that she was really a girl inside and reminding made her sad.

Her brothers said that pink and mermaids were “girl stuff.” Her sister laughed when Jazz talked about “girl thoughts.” Their parents made Jazz wear boy clothes (ugh!) until they saw a new doctor. The doctor said that Jazz was transgender – and since Jazz’s parents love Jazz “no matter what,” they decided to let her be herself, to wear pretty pink clothes and play with the toys she liked.

That wasn’t an easy thing for others to accept at first, but it’s getting better. Some people are understanding, while some kids still tease Jazz and call her names – but then she remembers that those are the ones who don’t really know her very well. Those are the kids who can’t see the important parts of a person. They’re kids who can’t understand different, and “different is special!”

I really like this book. I like it’s perky, friendly cover and the kid-magnet colors that artist Shelagh McNicholas uses. I like the basic premise, and the answers it offers curious kids, parents and teachers.

Those are the things that struck me immediately about it. Looking deeper, though, I discovered what truly makes I Am Jazz so valuable: it’s a unique, no-secrets tale written in a kid-friendly, easy-to-grasp, matter-of-fact way, told in part by author Jazz Jennings herself. That, with co-author Jessica Herthel, makes this story glow with a personal, upbeat and spirited touch that’s relatable for all children.

Meant for 4-to-8-year-olds, I think kids up to age 10 could very much appreciate this book, especially if there’s a transgender child in their school. For them – and for any adult who may need it – I Am Jazz is a one-of-a-kind tale.


I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, pictures by Shelagh McNicholas

© 2014 Penguin Dial

$17.99 / $19.99 Canada

32 pages

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Book review: ‘My Thinning Years: Starving the Gay Within’ Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:12:22 +0000

“You look great!”

When you’re dieting, there are no sweeter words. Losing weight is work, sacrifice and lots of self-control. For sure, it’s not for wimps.

But how much is too much? Can you shed your past while you shed pounds, too? In My Thinning Years by Jon Derek Corteau, you’ll read about gains and losses that have nothing to do with a scale.

From a very young age, Jon Derek Corteau feared his father.

A salesman who traveled a lot, the man was loud, controlling and abusive to the entire family, both physically and mentally. Corteau remembers when he was small, and his father screamed at him for singing in front of family friends. When Corteau confessed to playing dress-up in preschool, his father withheld food. Years later, after the family moved from Ohio to the Boston area, Corteau’s father forced Corteau into sports, vowing to “make … a real man” of him.

Corteau fiercely hated sports but he played anyhow. He desperately wanted his father’s approval; football, basketball and baseball seemed the way to get it.

But the older Corteau got, the more relentless the abuse became. He started staying with friends as much as possible, avoiding his own home. By then, he’d “internalized” his father’s homophobia and, in doing so, began to fear his own feelings and his confusion about his sexuality. He prayed to God to deliver him from being gay. He developed an unrequited crush on his best guy friend.

Disgusted with himself, loathing his father but unable to stop trying to win his love and approval, Corteau became depressed and, he says, “I started thinking about killing myself.”

He couldn’t, so he began running. When he realized that exercise and weight were things he could control, he ran even more. He cut fat from his diet entirely, and then he avoided almost all foods and began to starve.

“I knew that my father would rather I be dead than be gay,” he says. “There was noting I could do but obey the orders I was given, until I disintegrated into nothingness … and no one was going to stop me.”

In his preface, author Jon Derek Corteau (who obviously lived to tell the tale) says that he almost didn’t write this book, until he realized that My Thinning Years might inspire others to “let hope in” when faced with abuse for being gay.

For sure, victims who start this emotional rags-to-riches story will know they’re in the company of a kindred spirit because of what Corteau bravely shares. Those heartbreaking recollections make this a hard book to read for anyone (including LGBT allies, who will be horrified) but, at the same time, it’s also hard to turn away from the firm promise of triumph we’ll get in the end. “It Gets Better” was never more apt than here.

I think that if you’ve taken an anti-bullying stand this year, you will surely appreciate what’s inside this book. It may not exactly be a pleasure-read, but My Thinning Years is thick with meaning.


My Thinning Years: Starving the Gay Within by Jon Derek Corteau

© 2014, Hazelden

$14.95 / $17.50 Canada

240 pages

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Marching toward equality Fri, 12 Dec 2014 17:33:52 +0000

Two new books – Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by former Republican Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace by former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta – give insights into Washington’s slow, deliberative but irrevocable move toward ending the discriminatory policy that disrespected qualified and patriotic Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual service members.

Duty gives an excellent account of the secretary’s role in working to repeal the shameful 1990’s era “Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell” policy. This policy required LGB service members to hide their true identities even as they volunteered to potentially sacrifice all for the love of their country.

Gates became Secretary of Defense in 2006 at the request of President George W. Bush and served President Obama until 2011. Despite being raised a “rock-ribbed” Kansas Republican, Gates had personally decided “that repealing ‘Don’t-Ask-Don’t Tell’ was the right thing to do.” However, he objected to being “blindsided” by President Obama’s announcement in his 2010 State of the Union speech that he would repeal the law. It was a similar political misstep for open service by former President Clinton that led to the disastrous “DADT” in 1993.

Despite President Obama’s naivety on the issue, Gates willingly did the heavy lifting to convince the military commanders that repeal was necessary and Congress was ready to repeal it. Gates took on the duty “to train both leaders and troops so there would be minimal, if any, impact on unit cohesion, discipline, morale, or recruitment and retention.”

Gates learned from troops and commanders that “every argument made about what men and women in uniform felt or thought about DADT, pro or con, was either based on assumption or was entirely anecdotal.” He decided DADT repeal would not pose unmanageable military problems but instead that open service would improve the military.

Gates was an effective soldier in the political fight of 2010 to repeal an abhorrent bipartisan DADT law. When questioned by troops with anti-gay views, he responded, “[W]e would do what the commander in chief and Congress directed, but we had to prepare properly [for the repeal].”

The Senate Armed Services Committee summoned Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen to testify on DADT. After 17 years of senior military opposition to gays serving openly, Mullen testified, “Mr. Chairman, speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing homosexuals to serve openly would be the right thing to do.”

History was made, political minds were changed, and the repeal of DADT was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in December 2010. It was a case of Republicans and Democrats working together in a Congress free of rabidly bigoted players such as the late Sen. Jesse Helms that brought an end to a disgraceful law that an unfriendly Senate had forced on Clinton 17 years earlier.

While historic strides have been made toward equality, much work remains to be done for transgender professionals. The repeal of DADT did not include transgender individuals, who can still be kicked out of the military for no good cause. The transgender exclusion must end before President Obama leaves office. I firmly believe my Republican friend from Nebraska, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, can help end this final shameful injustice to patriotic and courageous transgender service members.

Panetta, a former California Democratic Congressman, served as secretary of defense from 2011 to 2013. Upon release of his memoir, Worthy Fights, Panetta has become a vocal critic Obama’s ineffective leadership.

Panetta praises Gates for his leadership in working with the Joint Chiefs to bring them on board with DADT repeal. Panetta served to finalize the repeal, again with help from the Joint Chiefs. By 2011, Panetta found, “[F]or all the debate and worry over ending the ban on gays in the military, the actual implementation was strikingly without incident.” He eloquently concludes, “A major obstacle to equality fell almost silently.”

Panetta’s accomplishment for gay and lesbian service members was he “hammered out an agreement with the chiefs that would allow gay service members to sign affidavits that they were in a long-term, committed relationship, and to allow those partners the same benefits as other military spouses.”

In sum, both Duty and Worthy Fights are enlightening looks into government military and political decision-making on justice for gay and lesbian service members. Real change came about as a result of the efforts of a staunch conservative Republican, Gates, and a liberal Democrat, Panetta. Both were convinced of the righteousness of equality for brave gay men and women willing to wear the uniform, pledge to defend our Nation and our Constitution, and have the courage to face down those who hate America.

There is also an important message here for equality fundraisers who constantly demonize Republicans. Gates did great work for our community. Another Republican, Ted Olson, has done great work on marriage equality. Ten Republican Senators voted for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). I am convinced that other Republicans can, like President Obama on marriage equality, will evolve on LGBT issues. Given results of November’s election, equality fundraisers must also evolve on their approach to GOP lawmakers. I suggest they start now.

Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, by Robert M. Gates, Knopf, 640 pages, $35

Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace, by Leon Panetta with Jim Newton, Penguin Press, 512 pages, $36

Human Rights Advocate Jim Patterson is a writer, speaker, and lifelong diplomat for dignity for all people. In a remarkable life spanning the civil rights movement to today’s human rights struggles, he stands as a voice for the voiceless. A prolific writer, he documents history’s wrongs and the struggle for dignity to provide a roadmap to a more humane future. Learn more at

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Book review: ‘This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids’ Thu, 04 Dec 2014 18:20:23 +0000

You didn’t know what to expect.

When your child told you he’s gay, it came as a bit of a shock even though you kinda knew already. As he was telling you, though, he was nervous, you were nervous, but the conversation went well.

You love your gay son or daughter– but you have about a thousand questions. So maybe the next thing to do is to read This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids by Dannielle Owens-Reid and Kristin Russo.

Who would’ve thought that two little words – “I’m gay” – would cause so much confusion? That’s what you’ve felt ever since your son or daughter came out to you and that’s “completely normal.” Working through this journey will undoubtedly be something new – but then again, aren’t there always a lot of firsts in parenthood?

It’s possible that this may be new to your child, too. He may’ve only recently understood that he’s gay and talking about it “can sometimes be scary!” Patience is key here, as is having a home environment that’s accepting. And yes, you can gently (and calmly) ask respectful questions; you are, in fact, encouraged to do so. It’s the only way you can understand your child better.

Knowing that your child is gay is not license to broadcast it, however. Telling others largely depends on many factors and situations, and it’s really up to the feelings of you and your child. Again, communication is important so you’re both clear on who to tell, and when. It’s also important to understand that this is a process for loved ones, as well as for you, and that you’ll need to “give some room” for their responses.

Expect changes in your child, but remember that she’s still the same kid. Know your child’s rights in schools, restrooms and bullying issues. Talk to your child about sex, and be firm on house rules – especially for sleepovers. Keep a close eye out for any signs of depression or suicide. Be patient, strive for understanding and talk, talk, talk.

And when it comes to your faith, remember this: “Nearly every religion hinges on love” and you love your child. Isn’t that what matters?

Maybe you knew. Or maybe the news had you totally gobsmacked. Either way, you’ve got questions and This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids has answers.

Springing from the Web site that authors Dannielle Owens-Reid and Kristin Russo created (, this book offers succinct advice, sensible comfort and a glossary of terms that the authors encourage parents to know. I liked that it’s comprehensive and not overwritten, and that it’s browse-able and not necessarily meant for cover-to-cover reading. That’s helpful, because the questions you may ask now are “very different from the questions you may have a year from now.”

If your child has just come out – or if you suspect she might – then this book may be the best information you can have. Find This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids and you’ll know more of what to expect.


This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids by Dannielle Owens-Reid and Kristin Russo

© 2014 Chronicle Books

$18.95 / $22.95 Canada

240 pages

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Book review: ‘A Cup of Water Under My Bed’ Thu, 20 Nov 2014 21:37:40 +0000

What’s inside?

Good question – and once you learned that you can determine the answer by taking things apart, well, nothing was safe. The hidden parts, an object’s guts, were always more complicated and more interesting than what was on the outside.

Isn’t life like that; what you don’t see is sometimes better than what you do? Unraveling her story for examination in A Cup of Water Under My Bed, author Daisy Hernández, lets us find out.

Until she was in kindergarten, Daisy Hernández’s entire world sat in Union City, N.J. Her parents, her Cuban father and Colombian mother, spoke only Spanish at home – although Hernández learned a smattering of English here and there; more, once she was sent to Catholic school.

English always held a certain fascination for her but Hernández’s three tías insisted she keep up with her Spanish, which she resented. There were words that didn’t translate easily from English to her parents’ language, so there were things she couldn’t share with her elders. To “make that leap … to leave for another language hurts.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, when she told her father that she wanted to be a writer, he told her she’d “gone crazy.” Still, Hernández pursued her dream, maybe because storytelling was in her blood. Her mami loved sharing tales of her own immigration from Colombia, how she’d heard that money grew on trees but, instead of finding cash on the ground like leaves, she’d had to find a factory job.

Such stories of strength in her mostly-female household gave Hernández a map of life and relationships. She learned about men and whom to marry, disappointing her mami and tías with her first Colombian boyfriend. American boys, they told her, were better because “Anything made in America works” but, at seventeen, Hernández was sure she was in love.

That Colombian boy taught her a lot about sex. So did a feminist body-awareness class she took early in her college career, which was where she suddenly understood a long-held feeling that, once articulated, would hurt her mother and cause a rift with her favorite auntie.

“I love kissing boys,” Hernández says, “but a girl. I could kiss a girl.”

My first impression of A Cup of Water Under My Bed led to heavy sighing. It starts with a dismaying tale of invisibility and poverty, which made me think I had another pity-party memoir in my hands.

Ach, I was wrong.

With wit and respectful grace, author Daisy Hernández shares stories of love for family, of strong (despite herself) roots, and of assimilation and claiming who you are without losing who you were. These tales are sprinkled, essay style, with powerful anecdotes of self-discovery that I couldn’t get enough of. I also enjoyed the unwavering tone that Hernández takes, speaking her truth, firmly, no arguments.

That no-nonsense attitude mixes nicely with quiet humor and familial devotion to make this a don’t-miss for memoir fans. And if that’s you, then have A Cup of Water Under My Bed. You’ll like what’s inside.


A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernández

© 2014 Beacon Press

$24.95/$27.95 Canada

200 pages

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Book review: ‘Male Sex Work and Society’ Thu, 06 Nov 2014 19:10:11 +0000

Money does strange things to a fellow.

It can lead to greed, dishonesty, mistrust, even murder. It changes friendships and families. Money puts people on a shelf and it puts food in a man’s stomach, which is what you needed back when you did what you did.

You’re not proud of it – or maybe you are since, according to the authors of Male Sex Work and Society, edited by Victor Minichiello and John Scott, sex for money has gained social acceptance.

When most people think of sex workers, female prostitutes come to mind. There is evidence, however, that The World’s Oldest Profession may have had practitioners of both sexes all along.

It’s a widely accepted fact that ancient Greek and Roman men took younger males as lovers, and acted somewhat as mentors. That was appropriate behavior – encouraged, even – as long as the older man didn’t “exploit” his younger friend. Slaves and former slaves, however, were a different matter: they “were forced to engage in survival sex,” usually for an insultingly low price.

That was the case in 1607 when the Jamestown colonists tried to tough out their first winter: documents exist that mention exchanging certain favors for stolen biscuits. Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, British male sex workers enjoyed tolerance – as long as they represented themselves as their true biological gender. Transgender people were arrested for cross-dressing.

By the late 1800s, those attitudes changed, too. Both Europe and the United States saw a great number of biological males who dressed and worked as female prostitutes. Many worked in all-male brothels; some specialized in women as clients and others worked the streets.

It’s believed that the preponderance of male sex workers by the 1960s were gay, although gay writers in those Stonewall years sometimes made issue of the sexual identification of clientele. Were customers of gay sex workers straight or gay themselves?

The answer today, according to male escorts, is that a “significant percentage” of male customers are straight and “many” are married. Furthermore, modern male sex workers utilize paid advertising, which makes it easy for clients to consciously choose partners based on specific preferences. And now, as it was centuries ago, male sex workers most commonly said in a survey that they choose to sell sex for economic reasons.

By its very nature, pleasure reading should be a pleasure. Alas, Male Sex Work and Society is not.

But let me define that further: this is not a bad book – it’s just way more academic than I expected, more than a curl-up-by-the-fireplace read should be. The essays here feel like college theses or doctoral dissertations; indeed, in their acknowledgments, Victor Minichiello and John Scott say how much they enjoyed working with contributing scholars. There’s a definite place for such erudite work, but it’s probably not by the easy chair.

Overall, again, this isn’t a bad book. It’s good, but I think academes and social workers will get much more from it. For casual readers, Male Sex Work and Society is probably not worth the money.


Male Sex Work and Society, edited by Victor Minichiello and John Scott

© 2014 Harrington Park Press

$50.00 paperback / $120.00 hardcover, higher in Canada

512 pages

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Book review: ‘All I Love and Know’ Thu, 23 Oct 2014 15:23:25 +0000

Everything’s gonna be alright.

You tell yourself that a dozen times a week. Something lost? It’ll be alright. Deadline missed? It’ll be fine. It’ll work out, it’s OK, you’re all good.

Keep repeating it, and maybe that’ll make it so. But, as in the new novel All I Love and Know by Judith Frank, it won’t make it easy.

It wasn’t until they were in the middle of their flight to Tel Aviv that Matt Greene had time to process the phone call that came the day before. He remembered dully that he’d been the one to break the news to his partner, Daniel, that Daniel’s twin brother and sister-in-law were dead by an act of terrorism.

When they were younger, Daniel and Joel were nearly opposite: Daniel was the quiet twin, while Joel was the center of attention. There’d always been rivalries, of course, but Joel was supportive of Daniel’s sexuality, and Daniel was overjoyed when Joel married Ilana. By the time six-year-old Gal and baby Noam were born, he and Joel were getting along better than they ever had; even so, Daniel was surprised when Ilana told him that she and Joel wanted him to raise the children, should anything happen.

But Daniel wasn’t sure how he’d do that now. He and Matt were a couple, but he wasn’t sure if he loved Matt enough to co-parent with him. Matt had strong political ideologies, which also bothered Daniel, since he was committed to raising Gal and Noam with a love for Jerusalem – but first, they’d have to weather a court battle against the children’s maternal grandparents, then a slow separation from the only home the kids had ever known and a move to Massachusetts.

Matt was excited about the custody arrangements. It would mean big changes for them all, but he grew to like his stay-at-home-dad status. Yes, Gal was having problems at school and Noam was behind in his development, but those were things he and Daniel could take care of.

Until they forgot to take care of their relationship …

Heartbreaking. That’s one word that describes All I Love and Know. Also: desperate and urgent. And long. Very, very long.

Indeed, author Judith Frank packs between these covers a story that spans well over a year, and it can feel like it, too. Just when you think you must be near the end, another thread begins anew. There are also three or four surprisingly (for a book like this) explicit scenes here that I wasn’t expecting.

So why, then, did I bother to finish it?

Because it’s good. Frank describes the depths of grief so keenly that it’s hard not to feel it in your own gut. When her characters find self-capability that they didn’t know they had, we’re delighted, too. And when clashes happen, we take sides.

Those are all signs of a decent book with a slight case of newer-author-itis, and that’s something most readers will find forgivable – because, overall, All I Love and Know is a pretty alright book.


All I Love and Know by Judith Frank

© 2014 Wm. Morrow

$26.99 / $33.50 Canada

432 pages

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Book review: ‘Charity & Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America’ Thu, 09 Oct 2014 15:35:09 +0000

Sometimes, you wonder how Grandma coped.

For most (if not all) of her life, she lived without a computer or cell phone. She made meals for her family without a microwave, sewed her own clothing and enjoyed each of the four channels she got on her small-screen TV.

So how did she do it? Conveniences aside, was her life really all that different from yours? Or, as in the book Charity & Sylvia by Rachel Hope Cleves, is everything old, new again?

Born in the midst of the American Revolution, Charity Bryant was destined from the outset to have an interesting life; she was a sickly infant birthed by a sickly mother who died days after Charity entered the world. Before she passed, though, Silence Bryant christened the baby after her spinster-sister, an act that may have “pointed [Charity] to a model of womanhood that differed significantly from her [mother’s].”

Somewhat coddled by her elder siblings but detested by her stepmother, Charity grew with a “passion for making friends with other young women …” At this time, intimate “romantic relationships” among same-sex friends was lightly encouraged by parents and carefully watched – at least until the couple “gave reasons for concern.”

And Charity wholeheartedly offered exactly that. She was “the cause of tensions in a number of communities” and, since she was a “mannish”-looking teacher of young women, was the victim of “vicious gossip” that kept her on the move. Girls, you see, had only recently been allowed an education, and their schools had reputations for an “erotic atmosphere.”

It didn’t help that Charity was a bit of a female rake, and left a string of broken hearts in the wake of her escapes. A renowned poet, she and her amours filled stacks of letters with romance and steam, love and longing, though Charity seemed to want to remain footloose. She “believed in marriage, just not for herself.”

But then, in 1807, while on the run from yet another sullied reputation, Charity left Massachusetts and moved to Vermont. There, she met Sylvia Drake, a relative of her hosts, and there was a “spark …”

OK, so I have to admit that, with its teeny-tiny print and erudite look, I was expecting Charity & Sylvia to be dry as a dead creek bed. I’m likewise happy to admit I was dead wrong.

Starting with the birth of the woman on whom author Rachel Hope Cleves focuses most, this book opens with a slice of life during the Revolutionary War. We then move back and forth in narrative, but Cleves never lets us forget the time and space that her subjects inhabited, the social mores, the historical aspects, nor the seemingly-inconsistent attitudes toward romance and sex that our forebears held and that which we’ve been led to believe they had. I found that deeply fascinating and highly entertaining.

I think that if you’re a fan of history (LGBT or otherwise), this is something you’ll relish. With chaste retelling and its abundant details, Charity & Sylvia is your grandmother’s book – and yours, too.


Charity & Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America by Rachel Hope Cleves

© 2014 Oxford University Press

$29.95 / $32.95 Canada

267 pages

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Book review: ‘The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out is Good Business’ Thu, 25 Sep 2014 18:26:15 +0000

The view from your office is quite magnificent.

When you moved into that space, you also got the perfect desk, a credenza to match and a plushy, throne-like chair. It’s a workspace anyone would envy.

Yes, your office is well-appointed. But your closet …? Not so much. Therefore, according to John Browne in his new book The Glass Closet, maybe it’s time to come out of it.

Starting as a young man in 1969, John Browne rose through the ranks at oil-giant BP until 2007, when he resigned as chief executive. He might’ve still been there, if not for an unfortunately splashy scandal that seems tame today: Browne is gay. When “a tangled skein of allegations” pulled him out of the closet, he resigned from his job, fearing that his life was over.

Obviously, it was not, but he discovered that his experiences aren’t unusual.

Even though there have been strides made, and though nearly all Fortune 500 companies have in place policies to prevent discrimination based on sexual preference and identity, more than 40 percent of American LGBT workers remain closeted on the job. According to a survey, 90 percent of transgender employees report problems at work.

“Years of progress have reduced the risk of harassment,” says Browne, “but they have not completely eradicated it.” Coming out is still risky, as evidenced by the interviews he completed with people who mostly asked that their last names not be used.

Businesses, Browne says, should understand that inclusion levels the “playing field” and widens the choices available in the “war for talent,” something Fortune 500 companies already know. Extending benefits to same-sex partners serves to retain workers, and policies supporting LGBT employees also send a positive message to other minority groups. Marketing and ad departments must remember that the LGBT community is “traditionally under-served” but represents an “often sizeable opportunity.”

As for LGBT workers, Browne recalls how much effort it took to keep his secret, and how much it weighed him down. Still, “[n]o matter how skilled you think you are at hiding your true self, those closest to you … will see you through the closet door.” Coming out is risky, but “the risk will be worth the reward.”

Color me irritated.

Seemingly meant for business, The Glass Closet is not exactly business-related for the first third of it. Instead, author John Browne begins with his life story, and a tired LGBT history that includes little-to-nothing about the world of work.

That doesn’t leave much room for biz-related information in this too-short book – but getting past those first pages is where the irritation subsides. Browne continues by offering eye-opening stats; several interviews to prove that there are others experiencing similar issues; and points to ponder, interspersed with helpful info for employers and employees, both LGBT and straight.

If you’re interested in a biography, that’s here. The real appeal of this book, though, I think, is for the starter help it offers, and the modicum of support. For those small, brief, shaky reasons, The Glass Closet is worth a look-through.


The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out is Good Business by John Browne

c.2014, Harper Business

$27.99 / $34.99 Canada

240 pages

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Book review: ‘Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East’ Thu, 11 Sep 2014 19:47:54 +0000

Throwing a dart at a board.

That’s one way to decide where you’ll go on vacation. You could also call a travel agent, hop in a car, or head to the backyard. No matter what you do with those precious weeks of vacay, you’ll definitely use them.

So how about a whirlwind tour of the Far East and its bedrooms, hotels and furtive parks? Sounds good? Well, before you book that trip, you might want to read Gaysia by Benjamin Law first.

It stands to reason: if most of the planet’s population lives in Asia, then the Far East is the gayest place in the world. Benjamin Law suspected that and, as an ethnically Asian gay Australian, he was geographically in a good location to prove it. He decided he’d find his “fellow Gaysians: the Homolaysians, Bi-Mese, Laosbians and Shangdykes.” But first, he’d go to Bali.

There, he found a “relaxing island getaway” that happily embraced gay men; where clothing was optional, even discouraged, at many resorts; and “moneyboys” were willing to do anything for a fee. Sessions of “jiggy-jiggy,” says Law, were a “creative” way out of poverty for (sometimes straight) boys and young men but since the rate of condom use was low, the rate of HIV was high.

In Thailand, which has a “long history of transexualism,” Law attended a beauty pageant for “ladyboys.” Acceptance for these beautiful girls was evident nearly everywhere – but with no legal recognition, they had few rights as women.

Gay Chinese men are pressured by their families to marry, and many of them enter mutually-beneficial agreements with lesbians under the same pressure, Law discovered. Others marry straight women, but keep mum.

In Japan, “drag queens and camp gays” are accepted, but lesbians are all but hidden. Harmful myths about contracting (or not contracting) HIV are common in Myanmar; so common that “roughly 240,000 people” live with it, and four out of five “die waiting for medication.” And in India, Law found an antiquated anti-gay law; a counselor who fought against it; the world’s only openly gay royal; and a (rumored-to-be-closeted) yoga instructor who claimed to cure homosexuality…

I was somewhat taken aback when I first started this book: with a brief introduction and little-to-no fanfare otherwise, author Benjamin Law jumps feet-first into his travelogue, profanely and bluntly.

Fortunately for readers, his humor and sense of the absurd smooth the abruptness of what he finds. That helps a lot and before long, you’ll be well immersed in Gaysia and the open (and closed) atmospheres that Law uncovers.

That’s not to say, though, that this is a completely rompish book. Yes, Law has unusual adventures here, but in between the funny asides and sharp perceptions, he offers serious observations to show that Asia may be halfway around the world, but it’s closer than we think.

This book is explicit and profanity-laden, but it’s also funny and charming and worthy of being tucked in your carry-on. Take Gaysia with you on your next trip, and you certainly won’t be bored.


Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East by Benjamin Law, foreword by Aaron Allbright

© 2014 Cleis Press

$16.95 / $20.95 Canada

283 pages

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Book review: ‘Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space’ Thu, 28 Aug 2014 22:47:03 +0000

And the cow jumped over the moon.

You spent many years wondering if that were possible, although countless nursery rhyme books said it was so. Yes, a human could surely go there, but a bovine?

Eventually, you learned the truth: men and women can overcome gravity, but cows stay grounded. And in the new book Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space by Lynn Sherr, you’ll learn some truths that weren’t so widely known.

Born at the end of May, 1951, at a time when girls were usually directed toward domestic interests, Sally Ride was raised in a California household that was supportive of off-the-beaten-path lives. The Ride girls (Sally had a younger sister) never heard “I love you,” but they were encouraged to happily find their own interests.

In this atmosphere, strong-willed Ride grew to desire what was then considered to be a boys’ interest: she would “devote” herself to science. It was tennis, however, that took her to college in Philadelphia; her game was near-pro-quality, though she knew she lacked the discipline needed to play professionally. With that in mind, Ride headed back west and enrolled at Stanford, where she majored in physics.

It was there that she fell in love, and then fell in love again when the first relationship fizzled due to distance. It was also at Stanford where Ride, who had always assumed that NASA would forever be off-limits to her, first learned that America’s space program was recruiting women.

She applied. A few months later, she interviewed and tested and, after training and not just a few faux pas from NASA, was ultimately, famously chosen to be the first American woman in space. Ride’s life as she knew it had changed forever.

But what about the people who were close to Ride? Author Lynn Sherr believed that she was; she and Ride had been friends for years. Just days after Ride’s death, though, Sherr and the world learned that Ride had hidden a major part of herself by keeping secret a committed 27-year same-sex relationship.

In her introduction to Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space, Sherr explains how this book came about: her years of knowing (but not-quite-knowing) Sally Ride and the shock of learning a “private” truth. She also writes about the cultural atmosphere in which Ride accomplished her greatest dream, the space program and NASA, and the additional issues to which Ride devoted her life.

Sherr also gives readers a good sense of Ride as a person, rather than the heroine that history tends to offer. For that, I was glad: it’s always nice to perceive those we hold in esteem as human, so reading of Ride’s overwhelmingly by-the-book, reticent nature was welcome, almost comforting.

This is a personable book that doesn’t seem quite as shocking as I’m sure it might have been once – but it’s still enjoyable and, for followers of the space program, LGBT issues and dreamers alike, it’s a must-read. For you, Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space will send you over the moon.


Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space by Lynn Sherr

© 2014 Simon & Schuster

$28.00 / $34.00 Canada

376 pages

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