Nancy

 Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”  

           - Mason Cooley

Plan B

Plan B - SJD Peterson

Reviewed for Hearts on Fire Reviews

 

Danny is such a girl:

 

“I grabbed my new white, waist-length coat with black fur trim around the hood and slipped it on. Yes, I’d bought it in the junior girls’ section and I fucking loved it. All soft and snuggly. Loved the way the fur felt around my face when I put up the hood. I’m a very tactile, as well as visual, guy.”

 

But there’s no question he’s all man:

 

“Sure, I took some ribbing for it, a few nasty insults tossed my way here and there when I walked by, even had some old guy ask me if I was a boy or girl. I answered by cupping the bulge in my pink skinny jeans and asking, “Would you like me to show you?””

 

After my disappointing experience with The Girl For Me, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t enjoy this story. There were lots of similarities in the plot, even in the main character’s name. It turns out my worries were unfounded. This story was told beautifully, with lots of humor and heart. Right from the beginning, I fell in love with Danny.

 

Danny is a busy theater major who doesn’t do relationships. He has big plans for the future, and no time for anything more than casual encounters. That all changes when he attends a frat party with his best friend, Bo, and is captivated by the rugged and muscular Lance, whose goal is to be a big football star.

 

Though Lance is very attracted to Danny, he sure has a funny way of showing it. He behaved terribly at the party and I’ll admit I didn’t like the way he treated Danny in the beginning. But Danny’s no pushover and he gave as good as he got. I love their relationship buildup and Lance’s conflicting feelings. He’s deep in the closet and not yet ready to take the next step in their relationship. It’s too late for Danny, as his heart is now involved.

 

Both men are young, selfish, and wildly immature at times. They make decisions hastily which creates a lot of unnecessary turmoil in their relationship, but what can you expect from 21-year-old college students? Since this story was told from Danny’s perspective, I could feel his emotions keenly, reminding me of the confusion and chaos of my own young life. I loved Danny and Lance, Bo and his girlfriend, Katie, and all the fully developed colorful supporting characters. The tense, heartbreaking and sad moments made the ending so sweet and satisfying. This story was a joy to read.

Steal Like An Artist

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative - Austin Kleon

This eye-catching little book was wedged into the corner of one of the couches in the student lounge where I work. I was there for a cup of coffee, and since it was a rather slow day, I decided to pick up the book and read. 

There’s a lot of common sense stuff in here for all types of creative people. You don’t have to be an artist or writer to benefit from these inspirational bits. They can help those who want to be more creative at work, or find room in one’s life for a hobby when time is in short supply. There are other tips for managing one’s life in order to be able to spend the time doing creative and fulfilling work. 

I really like this advice:

"Your brain gets too comfortable in your everyday surroundings. You need to make it uncomfortable. You need to spend some time in another land, among people that do things differently than you. Travel makes the world look new, and when the world looks new, our brains work harder."



It’s a short, fun book, and not a bad way to spend 30 minutes. Perfect to read in the student lounge, on the bus, or on the toilet.

Training Season

Training Season - Leta Blake


Posted at Hearts on Fire Reviews 

Matty Marcus is a very talented figure skater, but poor performance and an injury have kept him out of competition. Now he’s short on cash and in order to be able to compete in the next Olympics, he accepts a six-month housesitting job in Montana for a friend of his mom’s. The natural beauty and tranquil lifestyle allows him time to recuperate from his injury and focus on his training without all the distractions of his friends and city life. 

Rob Lovely is the handsome next-door neighbor and ranch hand that comes knocking on Matty’s door with an armful of firewood. Even though they are attracted to each other, Matty is preparing for competition and doesn’t need the distraction. But the heart wants what it wants and Matty and Rob inevitably fall in love.

I totally loved Matty’s flamboyant style and charming personality, and I loved how attentive he was to Rob’s 12-year-old son, Ben. But there were a lot of things that irritated me about him. His parents made a lot of sacrifices to get his career off the ground, and to me he took them for granted and squandered his talent. At least now he acknowledges his mistakes and is trying to make up for that. 

Rob is a really nice guy, and though I don’t understand his attraction to Matty, he brings stability to their relationship. Their sex scenes, however, left me cold. They were repetitive, lacking in chemistry, and very unromantic. I could have done without the BDSM aspect of this story, as it felt out of character and completely unnecessary. I know Rob wanted Matty to do his best, but I’m not convinced that pain and humiliation is the way to help him achieve his goals or address his self-esteem issues. I also was disturbed that Rob felt he knew just what Matty needed sexually without considering his feelings or getting consent before engaging in high-risk practices. 

On the positive side, there are a number of interesting and well-rounded secondary characters, male and female. I enjoyed reading about the grueling training and physical demands of figure skating and loved the breathtaking descriptions of Montana. The disturbing BDSM scenes detracted a lot from my enjoyment of this story, so I can’t rate it higher than average.

*Book provided by author in exchange for an honest review.

Two Boys Kissing

Two Boys Kissing - David Levithan

Don’t let the provocative cover stop you from picking up this book. It is about two boys, Craig and Harry, who are still good friends, but no longer together, locking lips to break the world’s record for the longest kiss. 

Enough time had gone by that when they started kissing again, the electricity was gone, replaced by something closer to architecture. They were kissing with a purpose, but the purpose wasn’t them; it was the kiss itself. They weren’t using the kiss to keep their love alive, but were using their friendship to keep the kiss alive. First for minutes. Then for hours.



Peter and Neil are an established couple whose kisses may not be nearly as intense, but are no less meaningful. 

Nobody is watching as Peter and Neil kiss. It is just a quick kiss as they leave the IHOP, before they head home. It is a syrupy kiss, a buttery kiss. It is a kiss with nothing to prove. They don’t worry about who might see, who might pass by. They’re not thinking about anyone but themselves, and even that feels like an afterthought. It is just a part of who they are together, something that they do.



Avery, the boy with pink hair who the world thinks is a girl, and Ryan, are dealing with the anxiety that is common in all new relationships. 

It is not as simple as Ryan looking at Avery and feeling they’ve known each other forever. In fact, it doesn’t feel like that at all. Ryan feels like he is just getting to know Avery, and that getting to know Avery isn’t going to be like getting to know anyone else he’s ever gotten to know.



Cooper is not in a relationship at all. He struggles with his loneliness, spending time on his computer texting strangers and having difficulty with parents who cannot accept him as he is. 

His mind is on fire now, and it will be hours until it cools itself back into the right temperature for sleep. He is angry at his father, angry at his mother, but mostly he’s come to feel that all this was inevitable, that he was born to be a boy who must sleep in his car, that there was no way he was going to make it through high school without being caught. He feels he’s been soured by his own desires, squandered by his own impulses. He despises himself, and that is the flame that sets his mind on fire.



Even though this was a fast and easy read, this is a powerful, moving, beautiful story that should be read by everyone. It deals with the past and present. It explores the lives, loves and struggles of a group of teenagers. It shows that as cruel and mean-spirited as people can be, they can also be kind, supportive and generous. 

I’ll admit I was reluctant to read this book because of the unusual narration. Told by the voices of men who lost their lives to AIDS, I saw my friend Mark’s ghost among them, observing the lives of boys who share some similarities but in many ways are living a very different kind of life than he was. 

We did not have the Internet, but we had a network. We did not have websites, but we had sites where we wove our web. You could see it most in the cities. Even someone as young as Cooper, as young as Tariq, could find it. Piers and coffee shops. Sports in the park, and bookstores where Wilde, Whitman, and Baldwin reigned as bastard kings. These were the safe harbors, even when we feared that being too open meant we were opening ourselves to attack. Our happiness had defiance, and our happiness had fear. Sometimes there was anonymity, and sometimes you were surrounded by friends and friends of friends. Either way, you were connected. By your desires. By your defiance. By the simple, complicated fact of who you were.



Mark would have been ecstatic that gays now have the right to marry in 17 states, but he would have lamented the loss of all the clubs and bookstores that closed once Internet changed the world. He worked in the computer industry and would have adapted, though. He would have embraced the chat sites and discovered that his social life would be as active as it was when he was frequenting the clubs. The easy access to all kinds of books, more than the stores ever stocked, would have made him happy too. He probably would have even stopped subscribing to those porny magazines I had to pick up from all over the apartment just before my mom dropped by. 

Minor complaints aside, I am sad that Mark died so young and missed so much. He was always out and proud, but even he would have appreciated how far we’ve come in spite of all the problems that still exist.

He would have loved this book. Even though it made me cry, it touched me deeply. It is full of love, hope and wisdom. As soon as I return the book to the library, I’m going to buy copies to push on other people. 

Very highly recommended.

The Gargoyle

The Gargoyle - Andrew Davidson

Posted at Shelf Inflicted

 

I’m usually suspicious of over-hyped books, but a friend at the library highly recommended it. 

A short way into the story, the narrator’s mom dies, his grandmother dies, he gets severely burned in a car accident, and his aunt and uncle die.  I felt beat over the head with all the suffering and seriously thought about giving up reading by page 50.  Then Marianne Engel, a woman with a history of mental illness, shows up in the nameless narrator’s hospital room telling a story about her previous life in medieval Germany.  That was the hook that drew me in.

The story jumps back and forth between stories about Marianne’s life as a nun and scribe, the narrator’s past as a mercenary soldier, and the tragic lives and loves of other people from different places that Marianne has known.  The contemporary part of the story deals with Marianne's passion for creating gargoyles, the narrator’s treatment and recovery from his burns, his drug addiction, former career in pornography, his growing friendship with his psychiatrist and physical therapist, and his love for Marianne. 

The thing that bothers me most is the narrator’s seemingly hasty transition from a drug-addicted, sex-addicted, selfish, friendless porn star to a man who finally develops a soul after he becomes smitten with a mentally ill woman who tells him stories.   This flaw was relatively easy to overlook, as I too, was swept away by Marianne’s stories - the religious imagery, literary references and beautiful, tragic tales of love that felt so very real. 

Highly original, magical, heart wrenching, and a real treat!

Winter's Bone

Winter's Bone - Daniel Woodrell

Posted at Shelf Inflicted 

This short novel has many things I enjoy in dark fiction – quirky, dysfunctional characters, a determined heroine struggling to survive and keep her family together, a bleak setting, a sense of hopelessness, people who pay the price for their bad choices. This is a quiet story that crept up on me slowly and haunted me for days afterward. 

Actually, it terrified me and made me glad I grew up in New York City. Sure, there were shootings, muggings, carjackings, and stabbings. You just had to watch your back constantly and try to stay out of the dangerous neighborhoods. Once I was home and the six deadbolts locked, I felt safe. 

16-year-old Ree Dolly has no sense of safety. Her mother is mentally ill and unable to care for her children, her dad has disappeared, her relatives are downright scary, and meth is a major source of the family’s income. 

I have never been to the Ozarks and have no idea how accurately this story portrays the region and its inhabitants, though I’m sure these characters really exist somewhere. 

What keeps me from giving a five-star rating, is the prose. At times, it felt overwritten, taking me out of the story. I also felt it was too brief, making the characters and relationships too remote. In the end, I wanted more than an empty, hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. 

The Gentleman's Madness

The Gentleman's Madness - Summer Devon, Bonnie Dee

Is that man a vampire? Does that manic gleam in his eyes mean he is about to feed? The blurb didn’t indicate there were vampires in this story, so I promptly put the cover picture out of my mind. I do love the title, however, and was thrilled to get the opportunity to read this historical romance set in London in 1887. 

John Gilliam is a learned professor. He is also homosexual and damned lucky “buggery” was no longer punishable by death. It was, however, still illegal. John was unfortunate to be caught with another man during a surprise visit by his father and a few friends and willingly submitted to treatment at a mental institution. Because John comes from a wealthy family, his living conditions are not nearly as bad as others. But he still had to endure isolation, humiliation and crude treatments such as hydrotherapy and twirling chairs which were of no help to mentally ill patients. During his incarceration, he meets Sam Tully, a kindly attendant who suffers from the same “perversion” that John does.

What is really scary is these crude and dangerous treatments lasted right up until the 1970’s.

 

http://www.davidmixner.com/2010/07/lgbt-history-the-decade-of-lobotomies-castration-and-institutions.html

 

I have some mixed feelings about this story. While I loved the slow burn of John’s and Sam’s relationship, their very different backgrounds, and the authentic historical details, I wish there were more vivid descriptions of the patients and their treatments. I am very interested in the history of mental health and wish that this story spent more time on the important subjects it touched on in a superficial way. Because of Tully, I never really felt that John was in any danger, and that eliminated a lot of tension from the story.

It was still a compelling and leisurely read, and I’m glad both men got their happy ending. While not a perfect story, I enjoyed it sufficiently and plan to try another by these authors.

*Book provided by author in exchange for an honest review.

Flawed Brilliance

Sharp Teeth - Toby Barlow

Posted at Shelf Inflicted 

Change

The pack feels something’s up
things feel different, shifted


Loneliness

Knowing someone isn’t coming back
doesn’t mean you ever stop waiting.


Complex relationships

He would follow. He would, honest,
but when he held her, dancing,
everything felt good but
not everything felt right.


Love and hunger

Her appetite has become tremendous in every way
they make love in the kitchen, the living room,
and she eats huge plates of pasta.


Violence

Her teeth hit his neck
The last things he sees are her eyes.


Tacos

Some carne asada tacos,
six bucks he can’t spare


Having read a couple of Ellen Hopkins’ books, I was not at all intimidated by the free verse style. There’s much in here to like. At times the atmosphere was charged with action and violence, and at other times there was a quiet beauty and sense of loneliness and loss pervading the story. There were lots of characters, some who stood out, while others were completely forgettable. For a novel about werewolves, there is a lot of humanity here. Yet, it left me vaguely unsatisfied. The pace was excruciatingly slow, the plot meandering until it all crashed together in the end, making me scratch my head in bewilderment. What should have taken me two days to read ended up taking longer than a week.

I’m wondering if reading it a second time would make me appreciate its brilliance more. 

Spirit Sanguine

Spirit Sanguine - Lou Harper

Posted at Hearts on Fire Reviews 

I like my vampires moody, ambiguous, and deadly. 


Though Harvey Feng is potentially deadly, you’d have to push him real hard before you get to see that side of him. Most of the time, he’s just a sweet, friendly guy without a mean bone in his body. He’s also a vegetarian and a Buddhist who rarely drinks human blood, instead drinking a formula of his own invention. Even though he’s not a mean vampire, it didn’t take long at all for me to warm up to him. Harvey is adorable and funny, even during the grimmest of circumstances.

Gabe Vadas comes from a family of vampire slayers, but he’s having second thoughts about his profession. In spite of his doubts, his Uncle Miklos’ words, “the only good vampire is a dead vampire” help him to focus on the task of pursuing and killing the attractive, sexy vampire he encountered in a crowded Chicago bar. Gabe gets a taste of Harvey’s strength and agility and the merciful vampire lets him go. When Gabe uses the electronic tracking device in his jacket to locate Harvey again, he is nearly successful at killing him. Gabe is puzzled by Harvey, so different from the vile and aggressive “bloodsuckers” he and his uncle chased in Europe. Gabe’s life is further complicated when Harvey asks him to see a movie. He is strong and clever while he’s pursuing rogue vampires, but resistant to exploring his deeper feelings about Harvey. 

Their story is divided up into three sections. In Seeing Red, Harvey’s and Gabe’s relationship develops. Though they are natural enemies, it is clear early on that they are smitten. Harvey learns a few things about Gabe’s past, and Gabe learns about the customs, behaviors and quirky habits of vampires. Harvey’s vampire friends, Stan and Ray, are introduced, as well as his cute, chatty friend, Dill, who badly wants to be turned into a vampire and ends up going missing. Gabe helps a frantic Harvey find Dill and winds up getting a job offer from Victor Augustine, Chicago’s head vampire. 

In The Cheerful Corpse, Gabe and Harvey work together with Denton Mills, a pierced and taciturn man with a special knack for seeing how people died, to solve the murders of two willing vampire snacks. The mystery was satisfying and fast-paced, and I enjoyed seeing Gabe’s and Harvey’s relationship grow. Gabe shows how protective he can be, and both men have a slight possessive streak that made me laugh. 


In Bad Blood, Gabe and Harvey’s investigation of mysterious deaths at a hospice lead them to the highest level of the vampire hierarchy in Las Vegas. Gabe starts to show his vulnerable side and their sexual role-playing becomes more intense.

This was a fun and satisfying story that kept me absorbed right up to the very end. I loved Gabe’s and Harvey’s very different personalities, their sizzling chemistry, the challenges they face, and the vibrant cast of secondary characters. 

I very much look forward to the sequel.

*Book provided by author in exchange for an honest review.

City of Truth

City of Truth - James K. Morrow

Posted at Shelf Inflicted 

 

I was feeling a need to revisit old favorites and couldn’t resist picking up this 1992 Nebula Award winner from the library. 

It was as enjoyable, humorous, smart and heartbreaking as I remembered it.

38-year-old Jack Sperry lives in Veritas, a modern city where its inhabitants all undergo a painful shock treatment known as “the burn” when they are young in order to render them unable to tell a lie. Without the little deceptions that preserve a person’s feelings, provide comfort, prevent conflicts, or make children happy (yes, there is a Santa Claus!), the world Jack lives in is an indifferent and emotionless place.

Jack gets satisfaction from his work as a “deconstructionist”, evaluating and destroying the art and literature from the “Age of Lies”. Yet, that doesn’t stop Jack from becoming interested in Martina, a “dissembler” who writes verses for greeting cards. His wife, Helen, feels they ought to turn her into the Brutality Squad for her poetic lies, but they have bigger issues to worry about.

Their young son, Toby, has been bitten by a rare rabbit and infected with the deadly Xavier’s Plague. The doctors in Veritas have told the truth, but Jack isn’t ready to give up. He doesn’t want Toby to learn the truth about his diagnosis, so he reads up on the mind-body connection in The Journal of Psychic Healingand learns that there is hope.

Jack wonders how Martina has overcome her conditioning, and wants to do so himself. He journeys underground, to the city of Satirev, where he meets others like Martina, people who engage in those deceptions that give hope, provide comfort, and make others happy. He hopes this will help Toby combat his illness. 

Despite the fact there were lots of white lies and hard truths going around, this was a story about love, trust, and the strong bond between parent and child. 

“Because, you see, it was like this: on his fifth birthday we’d taken Toby to the Imprisoned Animals Garden in Spinoza Borough. Fawns roamed the petting zoo at will, prancing about on their cloven hoofs, noses thrust forward in search of hand-outs. Preschoolers swarmed everywhere, feeding the creatures peanut brittle, giggling as the eager tongues stroked their palms. Whenever another person’s child laughed upon being so suckled, I was not especially moved. Whenever my own did the same, I felt something else entirely, something difficult to describe. I believe I saw the alleged God.”


Highly recommended!

Without You

Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical Rent - Anthony Rapp

I’ve wanted to read this for a while, but not before seeing at least the movie version of Rent. Off to the library I went and borrowed a copy of both film and book. I’m certain I would have appreciated this story, loosely based on Puccini's La Bohème, a lot more in its original version as a play, and had I been about 30 years younger. Back then I probably would have been able to empathize with a cast of talentless characters who wanted to succeed as artists, but who could barely keep a roof over their heads. Now, I just look at them with disdain and wish they would find a job.

If the characters were likable, I may have been able to forgive their flaws. They were miserable, whiny, self-indulgent, irresponsible and lazy. The story took place in New York, but nothing in the film reminded me of the city. The songs, while sung with passion, were loud and repetitive, and by the film’s conclusion, I could barely remember a single song or any of the lyrics. There are other films that deal with drug addiction, homosexuality, poverty and AIDS much more sensitively. Sadly, this was not one of them.

Even though I didn’t care for Rent, I enjoyed reading of the hard work, love, passion and joy that went into making the play.

“Chills shot up my arms and spine and the back of my head. I had never heard a song like it, especially in a musical; there was a directness and a simplicity and a groove to it that were thrillingly new to my ears. I felt everyone in the room lean forward into the music.”



Anthony Rapp, who played Mark Cohen in the play and film, wrote a very powerful, touching and honest memoir detailing his theater experiences, his relationships with cast members, family and friends, his sexuality, and his mother’s battle with cancer. Even if you haven’t seen, or are not a fan of Rent, this engrossing memoir is well worth reading. Anthony writes so candidly, openly and personally about his life and work, that I often felt I was sitting across a table from him rather than reading his book. 

Very well done.

Lost Memory of Skin

Lost Memory of Skin - Russell Banks

Posted at Shelf Inflicted 

Before reading this book, I never bothered looking at the National Sex Offender Registry. Maybe it’s because I don’t have children, or I don’t care to know that much about my neighbors, or I have my doubts that all the people listed are truly dangerous. Now that I’ve finished the book, I decided to go have a look. First, I found all 8 sex offenders in my area. After studying their faces closely, noting where they lived and how old they were, I looked at sexual offenders in other neighborhoods I’ve lived in and some from random locations. There were even a few women on the list. What in the world did these people actually do to get themselves in such a horrible predicament? 

There are lots of very bad people out there who should be behind bars for a long time. But most criminals – murderers, drug dealers, wife-beaters, gangsters, arsonists, burglars – regardless of the crime, serve a portion of or their entire sentence and are then free to live their lives, trying to blend into society, often without their neighbors knowing a thing about their past. Sexual offenders, after serving their time, must continue to endure public humiliation, making it very difficult to find a decent job or a place to live. There are vicious sexual predators and psychopaths out there, and the need to protect a person’s privacy must be weighed against the need for public safety. But not all sexual offenders are a danger to society. The young man who sleeps with a precocious girl who lied about her age, the guy who leaves the pub and gets caught urinating in a public park, the guy who takes upskirt photos with his cell phone, the teenager who sleeps with a younger teen. The peeping tom. And let’s not forget those who were falsely accused. Some of these crimes are creepy, others are just the result of poor judgment. Should these minor offenders be treated the same way as violent criminals who are likely to commit crimes again? Therein lies my problem with the National Sex Offender Registry. The definition of sexual offender is way too broad and lots of innocent people are suffering unnecessarily because of dumb mistakes. While we are busy protecting our children from people who may not pose a danger to them at all, we are not knowledgeable of the possible danger from the neighbor who was arrested for dealing drugs or the alcoholic who habitually drives drunk.

It was very easy for me to feel sorry for the Kid. His father left while his mom was pregnant with him. His mom, busy with her boyfriends, mostly left the Kid to his own devices, even ignoring his developing addiction to porn. He’s always been a loner, never had a girlfriend or any close friends for that matter, other than his pet iguana, Iggy. He joined the army, and then got discharged while he was in basic training for distributing porn films to his buddies. He’s tired of porn and wants someone real. He chats up a girl on the internet and they make plans to meet. Now, the Kid is living under a highway with other convicted sex offenders. He’s done his time, but his identity is public and his activities are monitored. In Florida, he is restricted from living 2,500 feet from where children are. So that doesn’t leave him many options.

Enter the Professor, a grossly overweight sociologist, and a man with his own secrets. He wants to interview the Kid for his research on homeless sex offenders. They form a tentative bond and gradually learn more about each other. The Kid remains reclusive, distrustful of others, with no plans for a future. The Professor shows him another way to live, while providing the basics he needs for his existence. He does, however, care very much for the animals he is now responsible for, an older dog and a parrot with damaged wings. For the first time in his life, the Kid begins to think better about himself and sees there are possibilities. 

I’m in awe of Banks’ ability as a writer to make me feel for such undesirable characters, some who have no doubt committed horrible crimes, others just guilty of making bad choices. I spent some time studying sex offenders in my sociology and criminal justice classes and once the classes were over, the subject got forgotten. This book highlights a problem that should be addressed in a more humane way, without sacrificing public safety and at the same time allowing the offender to have an opportunity for rehabilitation and a chance to live a normal life. It is thought-provoking, no matter how you feel about the rights of sex offenders. For many reasons, this is a difficult subject to explore, and I felt Russell Banks pulled it off admirably. I look forward to reading more of his work. 

Fairyland

Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father - Alysia Abbott

Posted at Shelf Inflicted 

 

Last year at this time, I was reading lots of sweet romances with holiday themes. This year I was drawn to bleak, sad stories in books, movies and TV.

Though I wouldn’t say that Fairyland is bleak, there were some extremely sad moments that triggered old memories and made me tear up.

Alysia Abbott had a very difficult childhood. She lost her mom in a car accident when she was two years old and was raised by her father, an openly gay activist and writer. With the current rise in same-sex parenthood and the legalization of same-sex marriage in 17 states, I believe that Alysia would face much less social stigma today than she did in the 1970’s and 1980’s. In her later childhood and teen years, when acceptance is so important to young people, Alysia had a hard time fitting in. 

As a small child I had no problem accepting Dad, in all his beautiful queerness. Whether in pants or a dress, he was still my daddy, the one who stirred my oatmeal with milk and honey, the one who pushed me on swings in the park each time I yelled “Again!,” the one whose lap quaked whenever he laughed his enormous up-and-down laugh.

But as I got older and became attuned to the world around me, I craved, more than anything, acceptance. His queerness became my weakness, my Achilles’ heel. Not only might it open me up to possible ridicule and rejection, it was something I could not contain. Fine, I thought, if Dad was gay, he was gay! But did he have to look so gay? And in public?



Though her father, Steve, had the opportunity to let Alysia be raised by relatives, he was adamant about raising his child on his own. Steve’s writing and editing work didn’t provide much money and he took odd jobs to provide for his family. He was very committed to his literary ventures and to the promotion of new writers, often at the expense of his own creative work. This dedication meant that Alysia had to fend for herself a lot. As difficult as her childhood was, in some ways I envied her life with a father who was open about his life and sexuality, was proud, political, and exposed his child to poetry readings and introduced her to writers. Other children grow up being babysat by the TV and live with parents who labor at jobs that may provide decent income, but no satisfaction. 

So, yeah, Steve may not have been such a great parent and I would probably have been dead a long time ago if I had the freedom Alysia did, but I admire his determination to raise his daughter on his own and enjoyed reading Alysia’s account of her father’s life and work, his journals that documented her growing years, and her growth and sacrifice while dealing with her father’s AIDS diagnosis, subsequent complications and death in 1992. 

I was enraged and sad all over again at the ignorance, stigmatization, and apathetic governmental policies that allowed AIDS to decimate the gay community. Steve Abbott, along with a huge number of writers, artists and other talented individuals were victims. It broke my heart to read of writer Sam D’Allesandro, his denial of his disease and refusal to get medical treatment. Just 31 at the time of his death in 1988, he was one of the first friends the Abbotts lost. 

Reading Alysia’s story brought me back to the early 80’s and my anxiety about my younger brother, who had already begun frequenting gay clubs that had signs cautioning men about a mysterious “gay cancer”. I also thought of my best friend, Mark, who died of AIDS in 1995 at the age of 36 and I remember hearing of new drugs that came along too late to help him.

This is a story about life, loss, grief and the depth of a father’s and daughter’s love. It is a story about the New Narrative movement in San Francisco. It is also a glimpse of history and AIDS politics and a grim reminder that in spite of treatment advances and a change in attitudes, the AIDS crisis is far from over. Alysia’s story is honest, intimate, heartbreaking and frustrating at times. Father-daughter relationships, no matter how loving, are complicated and never easy to navigate.

I came across an article by Alysia in the November edition of Out magazine that mentions the people that re-entered her life since she wrote her father’s memoir. 

It can be read here.

 

As she says, there is enough material to write another book. I hope she does.

North of Beautiful

North of Beautiful - Justina Chen

Posted at Shelf Inflicted 

Terra Cooper is blonde, beautiful, a talented artist, and dating a popular and athletic boy. She has everything going for her, or does she? 

Well, she has one physical flaw, a port-wine stain birthmark in the shape of Bhutan on her right cheek. Along with her daily exercise regimen, Terra skillfully applies an assortment of cosmetics and moisturizers to conceal the red stain that brings her shame. 

She lives in a small, boring town in Washington, has a father who is controlling and overly critical, and a mother who is overweight and passive. She wants to escape by attending a college far from home. When she gets accepted, her plans are thwarted by her father. 

While Terra and her mom are in Seattle for laser treatment to lighten her birthmark, they get into a minor collision and Terra meets Jacob, a handsome Chinese boy with a propensity for black clothing and a physical imperfection. 

Terra and her mom and Jacob and his mom decide to travel to China. Terra and her mom will be visiting Merc, Terra’s older brother now living and working in China. Jacob and his mom will be visiting the orphanage he lived in. Freed at last from her father’s biting comments and in a country where language, culture and customs are unlike anything she’s ever known, Terra reconnects with her mom, grows, changes, and learns new ways of being in the world. She gradually gains self-confidence, learns to accept herself, and becomes more open to life’s possibilities. 

This book was truly a joy to read. It is beautifully written, thought-provoking, sometimes sad, and ultimately uplifting. The characters were realistic, complex and well-developed with all their imperfections. The maps, geocaching sites, geographic details and cartographic information were all fascinating. 

Little Girl Lost

Little Girl Lost - Richard Aleas

Posted at Shelf Inflicted

Little Girl Lost begins with private investigator John Blake scanning the headlines and learning of the brutal death of his high-school sweetheart, Miranda Sugarman, who was most recently working as a stripper. When they were in high school 10 years ago, she had ambitions of attending college in Los Alamos and eventually working as an ophthalmologist. 

John Blake is young and idealistic, a refreshing change from the traditional hard-boiled, world-weary, cynical older detectives so prevalent in this genre. His youthful and clean-cut looks are out of place in the violent, sordid and grimy urban environment he has to work in. John encounters a lot of unpleasant characters while he is investigating this case, but he also has help from some good people, his boss, Leo, who is a former cop, and Susan, a stripper who knew Miranda and demonstrates a strong aptitude for detective work.

This was a very well-written, suspenseful, and atmospheric crime thriller. Some of the clues were a little too heavy-handed, making it relatively easy for me to figure out who the murderer was, but I enjoyed revisiting the city I grew up in, the characters, the situations, and John’s strong sense of justice and deep feelings for the woman he once loved. 

This is the first Hard Case Crime book I read, and I look forward to more. 

Locked Room

Locked Room - A Katla KillFile (Amsterdam Assassin Series) - Martyn V. Halm

The Katla KillFiles are brief stories that take place before the events in the Amsterdam Assassin series. If you like badass assassins, perfect crimes, and European settings, this is a perfect introduction. 

In this assignment, Katla Sieltjes is a freelance contract killer hired to discreetly kill a physician for medical negligence involving her client’s wife.

This story hooked me right from the beginning. I loved Katla’s methodical planning, familiarity with technology, and her agility. Now I know what a karambit knife is. She’s very clever, cold and calculating and I sure don’t ever want to be on her bad side.

While I loved the character development, I also loved the tension and details in this story that lend authenticity. 

I'm very curious about Katla's life, how she got to where she is, and how she keeps her personal life separate from work. 

Ignore the low ratings for this story and just take my word for it. It’s a lot of fun and free right now on Amazon.

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