click on title or authors’ names for link
Books Bill Recently Read & Recommends
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel by David Wroblewski
I have piles of books all over our home. Next to my desk stands a bookcase jammed with books, in stacks, spines out so I can read the titles. Upon the top of the case rest several small stacks of books, maybe 15 in all. The best of the best. At least for me. These are the books that gripped me for their intensity and use of words. Books that I read in small doses and had to pause to absorb the impact, to let the visions and images sink deep, to contemplate the story and how it was impacting me. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle now rests up there with the best of the best.
Edgar Sawtelle, mute since birth, but with full hearing and senses, is raised on an old farm converted to a family kennels where they breed and train their own strain of dogs that can only be purchased at 18 months by owners who qualify. Wroblewski explores Edgar’s life through creativity and sensitivity, plus the viewpoint of several others close to the story. Several short chapters surprised me as they are written from the point of view of several of the dogs. It works. Amazingly well. The book is basically a tragedy filled with marvelous insight into the lives of a family facing the loss of the husband and father and how it impacts young Edgar. There is hope suffused with an underlying, but growing tension of more tragedy to come.
Rich and deep, I highly recommend it for all readers YA & adult! I would give it 10 stars, but can’t. 5 Stars!
When I Spoke in Tongues – A Story of Faith and Its Loss by Jessica Wilbanks
How does one live meaningfully, truthfully and honest to oneself? These are some of the questions Wilbanks addresses in her well written memoir of growing up pentecostal, leaving her childhood and family beliefs, yet struggling as an adult with the loss. Thought provoking and encouraging, this is a well developed story of her struggles with fundamentalism and her journey to acceptance. 4 Stars!
The Man Who Fell In Love With The Moon by Tom Spanbauer
The book is wild. Spanbauer’s writing is incredible and mesmerizing. He’s known for writing dangerously, yet with beautiful prose and thought inducing stories. Half-Indian and bisexual, Shed grows up in a brothel in the wilds of Idaho around the turn of the 20th century where he becomes part of a non-DNA family. He leaves to search for his biological beginnings and returns to a different and more dangerous town. This book is a trip! Hang on and take a ride! 5 Stars!
Boy Erased by Garrard Conley
Reading two memoirs about moving away from fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism over the winter holidays was almost too much. Though with my evangelical background and journey out of it, I shouldn’t have been surprised at a book like this one, or When I Spoke In Tongues (see above). Yet, I am. I’d like to rant and rave, but won’t. Suffice it to say, wherever one is at on the spectrum of belief to non-belief this is an important book regarding the dangerous world of Biblical literalism and the hold it still maintains in many evangelical churches and their pastors and parishioners world views. Read it, but if your blood pressure doesn’t rise… 5 Stars!
A Wounded World by Crit Kincaid
A Wounded World touches many emotional buttons: bullying, differences, privilege, cliques, disability, death and hope. Lots of hope. This book can be read by any age from junior high through senior citizen, which I am. At times, there’s a mystical element to the story, a touch of time travel near the end that helps wrap the story up and wonderful writing. Anyone over 13 is or has been a teenager and the author deftly describes those feelings as a physically and emotionally damaged teen boy deals with tremendous loss, bullying, meanness, rejection and faces more loss from the death of his ailing grandmother who has raised him since he was nine. How he grows into self-acceptance and self-forgiveness entranced me and kept me up late reading. I highly recommend this book to all ages from junior high/middle school to advanced senior citizens! 4 Stars!
A Cup of Water Under My Bed, a memoir by Daisy Hernandez
I’ll be truthful, I just started this book and the writing is superb! A Cuban-Columbian in the U.S., she describes her multi-faceted life, coming-of-age, coming out and success. Did I say the writing is suburb? Can’t wait to finish, an early 5 Stars!
Three Short Novels by by Wendell Berry
A popular and prolific author and poet, these three novels connect the reader to insightful characters, nature and the land. Very enjoyable reads! 4 Stars!
Illegal Citizens: Queer Lives in the Muslim World by Afdhere Jama
An interesting and informative read about LGBTQ persons in the mideast living in primarily Muslim environments. Short stories about real persons and the struggles and joys of creating their lives in repressive home, religious and governmental environments. Sad, but upifting. Definitely made me thankful for life in the USA and wary of the dangers a theocracy can bring. A solid 3 Stars!
Message Of Love and Every Time I think of You by Jim Provenzano
A two book series dealing with disability and LGBTQ. A high school sports injury leaves Everett paralyzed from the waist down shortly after meeting and falling in love with Reid. Excellent research and depiction into the life of a paraplegic and what it takes to live and love being gay in the 1980’s. 4 Stars!
Christianity Is Not Great: How Faith Fails by John W. Loftus
A fascinating and educational read for believers and nonbelievers that challenges traditional religious beliefs. It’s good to be challenged! 5 Stars!
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
WOW! A touching, at times distressing, tale of a cold, distant mother and her two adult daughters in a family barely held together by the warm husband/father who then dies, leaving one to wonder how the women’s fragile relationship can survive. Early on, I almost tired of the angst of the daughters, but after her husbands death, the mother agrees to finish the fairy tale she started telling them when they were young. Her tale turns to life during the Leningrad siege of WWII and the daughters and reader realize it may be autobiographical. Personal growth, acceptance and love happens in this well constructed novel. The interview with the author at the end of the book adds more to a wonderful experience. I highly recommend it! 5 Stars!
The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World by Bart D. Ehrman
Bart Ehrman’s writing on religious and biblical matters is concise, easy to understand, well thought through, informative and persuasive. A former evangelical christian, he now is an unbeliever, yet writes with clarity and understanding. An excellent read for believers and nonbelievers. 5 Stars!
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker
Confession! I did not read the entire book, yet I still highly recommend it! Guess what! The world is not getting worse. Pinker shows through 75 graphs refreshing and encouraging results based upon fact, reason, science and progress, plus his in-depth, detailed writing. The doom and gloom of religion, current politics distracts us from the true progress mankind is making, and it started and continues with enlightened thinking, not millennia old myths and superstitions many of us have been raised to believe. I loved it! So, here’s the reason(s) I didn’t finish it. I requested it from the library, there’s a long waiting list, it came in shortly before my partner and I left on a meandering road trip that left little time for reading and it was due shortly after we returned. I skipped around in it, and read enough to know that someday I will read it in it’s entirety. 5 Stars!!!!!!
Now I’m Here by Jim Provenzano
I can see why Provenzano is an award winning author. Now I’m Here tells the touching story of two guys coming of age, young love, moving away from each other and their drab Ohio 1980’s surroundings and later, a little older and wiser, returning to each other. The story is told uniquely; narrated by a third person who occasionally pops into the story only to reappear to wrap up the sad, but inspiring ending. Well told & something nearly everyone will enjoy reading. (If you think the gays are responsible for the ills of the world, don’t bother.) 4 Stars!
I Am Evan by Marla Bowie
This is a touching, moving book dealing about a teen boy dealing with a dysfunctional and abusive home life. Only his love for his autistic young sister and his enjoyment of music keep him going. Things get worse, he ends up in foster care, which helps him, along with a loving teacher, gain the strength to move on with his life. Deep, excellent characterization of Evan’s thoughts and emotions and growth. Highly recommend it for teens and adults. Loved it!!!!
The Portland House: a ’70s Memoir by Jim Landwehr
A warm, fun, touching read of life in a big family! 5 Stars!
The Girl in the Ice: A gripping serial killer thriller by Robert Bryndza
A good thriller! 4 Stars
The City of Palaces: A Novel by Michael Nava
Historical fiction set in Mexico City that is deep, thoughtful, interesting, educational & warm. 5 Stars!
Goodbye, Saturday Night by Thomas Conner
Wonderful southern setting of friendship and discovery. Sadly, the author recently died. 4 Stars
And if I Fall by Robin Reardon
Another coming of age for a gay teen, as usual, well written. 4 Stars
You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers
A fascinating true story of family, face blindness and forgiveness. 5 Stars!
Lou Sullivan: Daring To Be A Man Among Men by Brice Smith
A well written & researched biography of a female-to-male transgender pioneer activist. 5 Stars!
The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
A young woman’s discovery of self and love. Well done! 4 Stars
The Kinda Fella I Am: Stories by Raymond Luczak
Short stories of gay men with various disabilities. A wonderful read! 5 Stars!
The Humanist Approach to Happiness: Practical Wisdom By Jennifer Hancock
Very interesting and informative. Responsibility, Compassion & Ethics are the main thrust. 4 Stars
Book Title: The Wisdom of Stones
Author: Brian Peyton Joyner
Strongly Recommend Reading!
A well written book I highly recommend! Ben is raised by his grandparents in the Bible Belt South and feels a call to serve in the ministry. Yet, as he comes of age, he encounters a dilemma. How can a gay man serve the Lord? I appreciated the realistic manner the author, Brian Peyton Joyner, treated the conflict inherent in conservative Christianity between a literal translation of the Bible and life today. Ben’s struggles felt honest and I was realistically pulled into his inner conflicts. Joyner’s use of trading stones for a story from his grandfather added depth to the book. And his grandfather’s story of inter-racial love parallels the struggles of LGBTQ people today with many brands of religion. As a gay man steeped in evangelicalism who has also moved away from that brew, I strongly recommend this book!
Book Title: Pick Your Teeth With My Bones
Author: Carrie Newberry
Just Read It!!
I read a lot, but rarely fantasy. Then I heard Carrie Newberry read a piece of her nonfiction and decided to read her book. WOW! A shapeshifter who’s centuries old and is messed up emotionally comes across as normal as you and I sitting down at a coffee shop. Normal is relative, which the reader quickly grasps in this fast-paced, exciting book whose characters are well developed and have all kinds of unique quirks, attitudes, and psychological hang-ups from parenting, childhood and life—just like most of us, or at least me.
Danger and mystery abound. As does suspense of all kinds—will Kellan and super-hunk Tony ever get it on? Plus, Kellan, as part wolf, identifies much of her experiences through her sense of smell which adds a tremendous element to the book. The fantasy elements blend seamlessly with reality (maybe that’s not unusual considering the setting is Madison, Wisconsin, one of my favorite places) and provide a book that is hard to put down. It left me panting, or salivating, for the next one.
Buy it! Read it! You won’t regret it!
Book Title: Sin Against the Race
Author: Gar McVey-Russell
Well Done! A Wonderful Read!
Growing up as a white preacher’s kid, living much of my adult life in evangelicalism, and finally coming out as gay at a mature age (retirement is mature, isn’t it?), I think I have a good understanding of LGBTQ issues within white conservative church culture. Sin Against the Race opened my eyes to the issues with LGBTQ persons in black churches and communities. Coming of age is difficult enough for most people, coming of age as gay even more difficult, and for Alphonso, as the son of an influential community leader backed by the predominate black church—well, it’s not easy.
Gar McVey-Russell paints the delightful, nuanced, layered picture of a sub-community of LGBTQ persons centered around a neighborhood grocery store and their struggles within their larger black community. It’s a struggle between power and change, between old ways and new, between young and old, gay and straight, religion and inclusiveness—and in these chapters—between Alphonso and his high powered, connected father who we find, eventually recognizes his own internal struggles with his father, Alphonso’s grandfather. There is tragedy, loss, humor, pain—both physical and emotional—and redemption. I love a book with redemption.
An integral part of the book includes jazz and blues. Lyrics, singers, bands and their sounds float through the reader’s mind as backdrops and settings for the action and scenes. Masterfully done, it adds a richness and depth to the book. Be prepared for a lot of characters to keep track of, and, who says what was mildly confusing a few times, but not enough of a distraction to slow me down or stop me from flipping the pages!
Well Done! A Wonderful Read!
Book Title: Waiting for Walker
Author: Robin Reardon
Waiting for Walker involves a family tragedy the parents can’t handle together and so they split up. Their teen-age son, Micah, struggles with his identity, the tragedy, his parents’ divorce, his fear of sharks, and keeps to himself accompanied by his camera. And then Walker, a wealthy teen-age boy raised in an overprotective environment because of his secret, who loves the sea and sailing, meets Micah. Combine Micah and Walker learning who they are as individuals with several incredible surprises and plot twists and you have a fascinating book! One of the most absorbing things about this book deals with intersexuality. Walker was born intersex and comes to the realization that he is a boy and he is gay; which was deftly handled by author Robin Reardon in a manner that was informative, yet not pedantic. Few authors would tackle this subject and deal with it so appropriately and in a manner that keeps your interest!
Well worth reading.
Book Title: The Power Club
Author: Greg Gildersleeve
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by: Bill Mathis
ThIs is a good Middle School book. Damon Neumeyer has special powers. So do other kids in his middle/junior high school. In fact, every family in their neighborhood and in the section of the city they live has at least one child with special powers. They live in ‘The District,’ an area families whose children have special powers are forced to live in and require permission to leave. The people outside the district are afraid of what these kids could do with their powers if they choose to use them for evil. The kids are not allowed to use their powers in public unless they’re at school or a member of a special club who have permission from the district authorities and are 12 years old or older.
Damon can exhale a cloud around himself, others, the room or as he grows older even large areas. A cloud so dark people can’t see one another and stumble around blindly. Damon can see them in black and white, sort of like x-ray vision. He can inhale the cloud to clear it away. Damon discovers other kids slightly older than him have a club and is discouraged when he isn’t allowed to join, at first because of his age, later because the group isn’t sure he can handle the responsibility with his powers. Eventually he is allowed to join and even becomes the president with the goal of using their powers to do good and stop crime. Other kids in the club can move extremely fast, fly, transport themselves or objects, grow to a huge size and see/predict future events.
The author well describes the anxiety and emotions of 12 to 14 year-old youth. The wanting to belong, the need for acceptance, trying to become more mature and independent, yet still dependent upon their parents. Damon experiences all these rituals of entering adolescence, plus the extra burden of being special. Readers of all ages will readily relate to his stage of life.
Damon and The Power Club do use their powers for good to foil a robbery of the local candy store. There are others who use their powers to do bad things. Several live in the district and Damon endures several scary and challenging incidents. The power for evil is also shown in the book by adults with powers who snuck out of the district to live and try to war against the ‘ords,’ the ordinary people. These small portions of the book were abrupt, jarring and slightly confusing to me.
Overall, I enjoyed this book (and I’m an old man!) and after many years of working with youth feel that people of all ages will as well. Especially 10 to 15 year-old youth who enjoy sci/fi adventure.
Book Title: Girlfriending – A Collection of Stories
by Christopher T Werkman, published by Rogue Phoenix Press
A collection of stories?
So, a bunch of stories about girlfriends?
I could write about a few of my past ones, but a collection? Plus, it’s doubtful my words about them would be as interesting as these.
I’m so glad I purchased and opened this book! I recently finished reading two books dealing with intense issues and the idea of short stories appealed to me. Ordinarily, I’d select a few short stories, then pick up another full-length book, read it, followed by a few more shorts. Not this time. These stories are addicting. Many are penetrating. As a writer, I was fascinated by Werkman’s ability to present a different voice in each of the 27 readings. None of them sounded the same in terms of content, narrative style, themes or outlook. A noteworthy accomplishment.
At their essence, I felt these writings are about the relational dynamics between two people, usually a male and female. Importantly, the perspective varied between male and female. Unless we are cloistered, off alone, praying and fasting in some ivory tower, most of us are in relationships or have been or will be or want to be. More than that, though, these stories burst with layers of humanity. Deep, rich layers of a person’s thoughts, mental processes, desires, failures, successes, foibles, scars and experiences. These are about humans like you and me, our best friends, our partners, wives or husbands or girlfriends or boyfriends, people we wished we might be like, even our weird friends and neighbors that we may not envy. Some are about our secret selves, our wannabe Walter Mitty life.
From the retired cancer survivor—can’t-decide-if-he’s-lonely-or-not—widowed state trooper instructing scuba to an attractive woman, to the man who regularly visits funeral home viewings of departed single woman he doesn’t know, but who—according to their obituary—might have made a good girlfriend, to the young lady who lost part of her leg to a shark attack and must visit the ocean on the date and place where it happened each year and whose girlfriend overcomes her fears to join her in the water, to a woman fearfully preparing to skydive and then loving it, each piece resonates with character, depth and feeling. Some will make you laugh, some cry, many both. Some might even make you angry. Several made me put my Kindle down to roll the story around in my mind, and then gasp at the insight.
Don’t ask me which story was my favorite. Just as I’d think one was, another one would outweigh it. None of them were weak enough to criticize. Each person will like some better than others, that’s the joy of collections. Reading Girlfriending was a refreshing, wonderful, entertaining find. And it was about way more than girlfriends. At least some of mine. Thank goodness.
Buy it. Read it. Tell others to do the same.
I recently finished, Hey, Joey Journal by Colleen June Glatzel published by Rogue Phoenix Press. Following is my review. The short version is BUY IT! Here’s the long:
Climb in. Buckle your seat belt—and the chest harness. Cinch them tight and hang on!
Reading Hey, Joey Journal, a novel by Colleen June Glatzel (published by Rogue Phoenix Press) is one heck of a ride. A roller coaster that leaps with humor and struggles with despair and at times left me gasping for air over some of the memorable insights of Rosie Dwyer, the main character. I also gasped because, at times, I wasn’t certain the wheels of the coaster car were going to meet the rails again and I wondered how far Rosie could go emotionally before crashing and burning.
Rosie is a senior in high school. From her diary, named Joey Journal, I learned Rosie’s father died during the summer before classes started, but that topic is like the elephant in the room. She doesn’t give any details upfront and there was a growing realization that this was an underlying cause of some of her behaviors. Or so I thought. Turns out, there was more to the story as the author skillfully revealed.
Rosie is an individualist, opinionated, talented, sarcastic, and funny. She calls her parents by their first names. She senses the moods of her family, classmates and teachers by the color of the aura she sees around them. At times, she feels her peers pity her because of her father’s death. Or is it her weirdness? She is talented, bright, can be a leader, a spark, while at other times she demonstrates behavior that is confusing, antagonistic and distant. Are such inconsistent behaviors because she’s a typical high school senior trying to navigate peer pressure, relationships and adulthood? Are they because she appears unwilling to deal with her father’s death? Or, does she have mental health issues? I wondered as I veered from scene to scene at breakneck speed or slowly climbed the next hill of despair. “My body used to be in constant motion, but now I’m constantly going through the motions,” Rosie confides to Joey Journal at one low point in the story. Another time she notes, “There are these moments that move us, but time makes us move along to the oncoming moment. It sucks.” Wise words.
There was no choice but to hang on for the ride. This story is that good. It enticed me to keep reading by dribbling hints about her father’s death and the development of other characters, but never enough information so I thought I had Rosie figured out. Until the wheels do leave the track and Rosie crashes, yet doesn’t burn. Everything is not over as the first-time author finally reveals all the details of Rosie’s father’s death and other pertinent experiences. It is very well written.
It seems easy to find books, both fiction and nonfiction, about courageous people who persevered through life threatening disease, overcame physical trauma or loss of limb, and succeeded in life. Such books are inspiring. But few books deal with mental illness in a manner as impressive as this author did. She strikingly shows the prevalence of mental illness in a progressive, accepting, nonjudgmental manner. Life is life. We are each unique. We are each of value.
The top of my overflowing bookcase is reserved for books that move me, leave lasting impressions, and are my favorites. Hey, Joey Journal by Colleen June Glatzel now rests there.
Buy it. Read it. Tell others to do the same.
It takes guts to authentically describe one’s life. Author Julie Beekman bravely leads us through her discordant young life with a sense of awe that she survived and a wry sense of humor that helps the reader absorb the trauma she lived through. Adopted as an infant, her loving father’s early death, a mentally ill, abusive mother, sibling abuse, and multiple foster care placements are described in detail, and kept me worried as to what else could happen next to her. Yet, I was unable to quit reading. I enjoyed her opening and closing chapters, but sure as heck hope Julie writes a sequel! This is a favorite book of mine.
Main character Sarah Jones amazed me! Her young, age appropriate thoughts and mental processes, plus her wisdom and growing grasp of relationships and life during the tumultuous civil rights era in a small, Arkansas town were incredible. Sanderia Faye’s writing is straightforward, yet glimmers with nuance and the reality of life in an African American community and family filled with change, intergenerational conflict, religion, and integration. It is an unforgettable story that shows how far we’ve come in terms of race, but truly how far we still must go. Wonderful, thought provoking, at times laugh out loud, and other times a stab in the gut, Mourner’s Bench is on my ‘favorites’ book shelf.
All I can say, is READ IT!