Good Books and the Random Movie

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Location: Brooklyn, NY, United States

16 July 2018

You Only Live Twice: Sex, Death and Transition

You Only Live Twice: Sex, Death, and Transition by Chase Joynt and Mike Hoolboom is a memoir of two lives. Written in letters and responses, Chase and Mike tell of their childhood, coming out, transitioning, and second lives in this beautiful biographic novel.

Chase and Mike are, among other things, both film makers who are fans of the cinematographer Chris Marker. The first meet at the Orly airport in Paris where diehard fans gathered to mourn his passing.

Instantly taken with each other, they quickly decide to do a project together - a book of letters, the original style of novel. The result is a beautiful book of two interwoven tales. One of a trans man finding his way. And one of a man who finds out he is HIV-positive.

Chase or Mike begin a topic, and the other either tells his story, or comments on what was written by the first. Both are excellent writers able to capture feelings in words.

This is a beautiful book. Read it.

Joynt, Chase and Mike Hoolboom. (2016). You Only Live Twice: Sex, Death, and Transition. Toronto: Coach House Books.

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12 July 2018

Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamout Sellout

Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamout Sellout by Laura Jane Grace and Dan Ozzi is an autobiography of my favorite punk singer, the front woman of Against Me!

Laura Jane Grace is as famous for being transgendered as she is for her music. But it took her a long time to come to terms that she was born into the wrong body. There were hints in her music along the way, but it was a long time before she could admit to herself who she really was. And a long road from there to coming out and transitioning.

This is a raw, wide-open, memoir. Laura has kept journals since elementary school. With the help of Dan Ozzi, she puts her story down on paper, not skipping the hard parts - including drug abuse, being called a sellout for signing with a record label, and becoming a parent.

She chose the title as a statement. Very punk of her, but as it is a bigoted slur, she now cringes to hear others used the word that has not yet been fully reclaimed by the trans community.

This may be the most honest memoir you will ever read. Also, LGJ is flawless on stage - born to play the guitar for a crowd of screaming fans. She is also the author of one of my all time favorite albums: New Wave by Against Me!

Grace, Laura Jane. (2016). Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Sellout. New York: Hatchet Books.

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06 July 2018

Purple Hearts (Soldier Girls #3)

Purple Hearts by Michael Grant is the final book in his Soldier Girls trilogy (also know as the Front Lines series). This series explores WWII with the idea that, due to a court case about equality, young women were also drafted and allowed to fight on the front lines. Everything else about the novels are accurate to the war and time period.

Beginning with D-Day, this novel closes out the war for Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr and Rainy Schulterman.

Rio and her platoon are on ships in the UK awaiting deployment to the largest battle of the war. She is now a Sargent, in charge of keeping her people alive.

Frangie is in the same swarm of boats, ready to bring up the rear and provide medical aide. She will run into the fight whenever a soldier needs her help.

Rainy is in intelligence, about to be smuggled in to France to report on German tank movements. She will have no one but herself to keep her safe.

After the D-Day battle, they will still have to face many fierce and emotional battles: the Hurtgen, the Battle of the Bulge, and the liberation of concentration camps. This wonderful, terrible story is lovingly depicted by Grant via these women you would want watching you back in any fight.

Grant, Michael. (2018). Purple Hearts. New York: Katherine Tegan Books.

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28 June 2018

A Court of Frost and Starlight (Court of Thorns and Roses #4)

A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J Maas is the fourth book in her Court of Thorns and Roses series. - set in the fairy realm.

Everyone is rebuilding after the war. In the Night Court, Fayre and her friends are doing everything possible to repair the city and help those whose homes or lives were destroyed during the war.

This entry in the series is a treat for fans. The book takes place over a couple of weeks around the Winter Solstice. It is a holiday books where everyone figures out how to deal with the past few months - a nice looks at the more ordinary life in the fairy realm.

Maas is a great fantasy writer. Both this series and her Throne of Glass series are stellar. If you are not yet familiar, go get one today!

Maas, Sarah J. (2018). A Court of Frost and Starlight. New York: Bloomsbury.

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19 June 2018

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha #1)

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is book one in her Legacy of Orisha series - a great fantasy tale and an allegory for our lives.

Zelie Adebola remembers when magic exsisted, when her mother was a Reaper who could release trapped souls. She remembers the Raid when the king ordered the maji killed even though magic was already lost. And still today, those who have the mark of a potential maji - are treated as a lower class, their families always in danger from the soldiers.

Zelie lives in a fishing village. Her brother Tzain trains as a warrior athlete. Zelie trains to fight, but in the disguise of sewing classes. Mama Agba trains all the girls with white hair to fight. Zelie is about to earn her graduation.

Amari is the princess. She lives in the capital city. Her only friend is Binta, her personal servant. Her father is a tyrant of a man and king.

When something terrible happens, Amari can not stay. She steals an artifact from the time of magic. Her father sends the guards after her - not telling them who stole it - with her brother in the lead.

I can say no more without giving too much away. You will want to read this series. Adeyemi is a beautiful writer who has created a world that will draw readers in and not them go. Get a copy of this book today if you enjoy good stories, fantasy, or great storytelling.

Adeyemi, Tomi (2018). Children of Blood and Bone. New York: Henry Holt and Co.

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01 June 2018

Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean

Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean: How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved Out an Empire in the New World in Their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom - and Revenge by Edward Kritzler is the history of the Jewish men who traveled with explorers from Europe in the hopes of finding a land where their people could be safe and free.

In the fifteenth century, many Jews fled Spain during the Spanish Inquisition, others become Conversos. At the time, it was not safe for Jews anywhere in Europe - where they were scattered after being expelled from the land of what is now Israel with the destruction of the Second Temple. There were restrictions on where they could live, the type of jobs they could hold (which were often in commerce as the Christians of the time felt the fields were below them), and with whom they could interact. This was true all over Western Europe, creating a kind of loose alliance of people who knew they were the only ones who would look out for each other.

With the explorers of the new world, each ship had a Jewish man aboard - both doing his job and hoping to discover a land where he could move his family to safety.

During this time, the first country to openly welcome Jewish people, Holland, let to the oldest Jewish community in Europe, in Amsterdam. Rabbi Samuel Palanche ran the community as well as being an explorer and pirate who participated in many raids against the Spanish and visits to North and South America.

This book includes great tales of part of Jewish history few know about. Including in places like Jamaica, Barbados, Brazil, and the southern United States. Even the famous savior of New Orleans Lafayette is included. If you are interested in history or pirates, this is a must read.

Kritzler, Edward. (2008). Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean. New York: Anchor Books.

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31 May 2018


Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is the best book I have read this year. I have given copies away and recommended it to everyone I know who likes to read!

Homegoing is an epic family tale, following two branches of a family tree from 1700s through today. The family started in what is today Ghana. The book begins with two sisters. They live in different villages and do not know they are sisters. One, Effia, marries a British man and lives in the castle that controls the slave trade in the region. The other, Esi, is captured during a battle between two tribes and is sold to the British and send to the United States.

Each chapter is a new person in the line, alternating between the progeny of Effia and Esi, through all of the changes in Ghana and the United States. Gyasi highlights the major themes of African and African American history through personal stories of the characters.

I tend to like family epics. A couple of examples are The Night Counter by Alia Yunis and Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald. What Gyasi adds is a greater sense of how the social and political changes effect each generation and build on what that generation learned from the last.

If you have not yet read this, buy a copy TODAY! You will be drawn in by it. With each chapter you will fall in love with the next character while wanting more of the previous one (which you will get in many cases through the stories of their children). This book will live with you long after you finish it. I have read four books since this and still find myself thinking about it every couple of days.

Homegoing is on my list of best books I have ever read. I will always be grateful to my local bookstore for putting it on display.

Gyasi, Yaa. (2016). Homegoing. New York: Vintage Books.

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20 May 2018

The Long Sunset (Priscilla Hutchins #8)

The Long Sunset by Jack McDevitt is the eighth book in series featuring space pilot Priscilla Hutchins (now renamed the Academy series).  Priscilla Hutchins works for the Academy, the group that sends scientists into space to explore signs of other life.

While looking through the most powerful telescope yet invented, a signal is intercepted. It is a video of a waterfall with what sounds like classical music. This message sparks debate: do we send a ship to explore the area and maybe find intelligent life or should we worry about finding life that could follow a ship back and attack the Earth?

A team is chosen to go explore, if the okay is given by the Academy. Priscilla Hutchins, the captain of many a trip into the unknown, is chosen to fly what may be the last ship sent outside our solar system. They are not to make contact, but to find the source of the message.

What follows is the discovery of more than one planet containing sentient beings. One of which is in danger from a black hole slowly approaching.

McDevitt writes a great science fiction story. And Priscilla Hutchins is the captain you would want with you on any space exploration. Any fans of science fiction, good stories, or interested in how our society may progress should read this series.

McDevitt, Jack. (2018). The Long Sunset. New York: Saga Press.

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13 May 2018

Nantucket Rose

Nantucket Rose by CF Frizzell is a lesbian romance set on the beautiful island of Nantucket.

Maggie Jordan is about to open a bed and breakfast on Nantucket. She purchased an historical home in the village and has fixed it up. If all goes well she will open on time, have a great summer, and sell the B&B in the Fall. However, if the islanders get wind of the idea that she is there to flip the property her life will become very difficult. Nantucketters are very protective of their heritage and community.

Ellis Chilton's family has been on Nantucket since they were part of the whale oil business. She works for the Steamship Authority on the Ferry Eagle. She lives on the boat that was her grandfather's and then her father's. She grew up in an historic home in the center of the village that she lost due to a bad business investment.

Frizzell has written a great romance set in an idyllic location. This is a great beach read. Plus if you have not been to Nantucket, it is very worth the trip!

Frizzell, CF. (2017). Nantucket Rose. New York: Bold Stroke Books.

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05 May 2018

Freedom to Love

Freedom to Love by Ronica Black is a lesbian romance in the middle of a manhunt.

Brynn Williams is getting out of prison after five years. She took the fall to protect her sister and she is ready to be out and toeing the line.

Sargent Kat Vander is the officer who arrested Brynn. Brynn has no hard feelings. If they had not been doing something against the law, she would not have been arrested. Sgt Vander was just doing her job.

From the moment she gets out she is back in the family drama. Her sister Bea show up to get her in a stolen car, and high. On the drive back to their home town, their car is overtaken by an SUV that almost hits them. Next comes a police car.

As Brynn and Bea come around the next bend in the road, the SUV is shooting into the police car. They stop and try to help, though Bea does not think that cops deserve help. When the shooting stops, Brynn races to the car. It looks like the driver is dead, but the passenger can be saved.

Brynn forces her sister to drive them to the hospital. The whole time Brynn is trying to keep Sargent Kat Vander alive. Unfortunately, they broke the law, so Brynn has no desire to stick around and answer questions. And because of her family's reputation and Sgt Vander being unconscious, the rest of the force is convinced that Brynn had something to do with the shooting.

Black has written a fast-paced, lesbian romance between two women from different backgrounds. This is a great vacation read.

Black, Ronica. (2017). Freedom to Love. New York: Bold Strokes Books.

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03 May 2018

To Die But Once (Maisie Dobbs 14)

To Die But Once by Jacqueline Winspear is the fourteenth book in the Maisie Dobbs series - an historical mystery series featuring a psychologist and private investigator in London.

It is 1940 and the British Army is being forced out of France by the invading Nazis. In the UK, children who have been evacuated to the country are trickling home as no bombs have (yet) been dropped on London. Young men and women are working for the war effort.

Maisie's neighbors come to her about their son Joe. He is working with a painting crew on a government contract, painting on the Air Force bases in the South. But he has not called. They are worried. He is not the kind of young man who would worry his family on purpose.

Maisie's investigation will reveal an underworld connection - someone making a profit while putting the soldiers at risk.

Winspear captures the time period and the tensions, worries and fear that plague a society at war - and on the brink of invasion. Her characters are well created and her stories based on family tales of the wars. For anyone who likes to read, this series is a must.

Winspear, Jacqueline. (2018). To Die But Once. New York: Harper.

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24 April 2018

Branded Ann

Branded Ann by Merry Shannon is a pirate romance novel.

Branded Ann is the most feared pirate on the Spanish Main. Her ship, the Ice Queen, is painted completely white and sailors shiver when they see it coming for them. Part of Ann’s ferociousness stems from a cross shaped scar across her otherwise beautiful face.

Violet Watts is traveling to Jamaica with her new husband to start a new life. She had a rough life that she is happy to leave behind with the only man she has ever loved. But a couple of days short of the island, a white ship is spotted on the horizon.

Shannon has written a swashbuckling pirate romance about lesbians on the high seas. This novel is a great beach read.

Shannon, Merry. (2008). Branded Ann. NY: Bold Strokes Books.

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14 April 2018


Disobedience by Naomi Alderman is a book that will stay in your thoughts for a long time after you finish reading. 

Ronnit Krushka grew up in an orthodox Jewish community in London. She was raised by her father after the death of her mother. Ronnit always pushed against the role she was given as a girl in that community. Now she lives in New York City. She has not been back home to Herndon for years.

When her father dies, she decides to go back. She wants her mother’s silver candlesticks, the things that remind her the most of her mother. Since the rift with her father is no longer a factor, she tells her cousin Dovid that she will be coming. Ronnit wonders where her best friend from childhood is now, she surely left the community like Ronnit.

Ronnit plans to spend a week or two in the place she grew up. She will clean out her father’s house and see some old friends, as well as her favorite cousin. But the community seems strange after so long away. And the men who run synagogue and community – not because they are especially pious, but because they are rich – are not as scary as they once were.

Alderman has written a thought-provoking novel. The three main characters are well developed and humanely flawed. Each has a decision to make. While I was not in love with all the characters for the whole book, that may be why I am still thinking about them well after finishing. This is a great book. (Based solely on the movie preview, they have changed the story quite a bit for the screen version.)

Alderman, Naomi. (2006). Disobedience. New York: A Touchstone Book.

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28 March 2018

Tempest and Slaughter (Numair Chronicles #1)

Tempest and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce is the start to her latest Tortall series – one of the best fantasy worlds ever created in young adult fiction. If you have not read Tamora Pierce, get started today!

In the land across the Inland Sea from Tortall, Arram Draper is in magic school at the Imperial University of Carthak. As a foreigner and younger than his classmates, he does not have many friends. But when his magic gets out of control, showing the masters that his gift is strong, he is moved up to the higher classes. Here he is even younger, but meets Varice and Prince Ozorne, who quickly become his best friends and protectors.

Varice is a strong witch who is interested in practical applications for music. She spends much time in the kitchen learning cooking magic, even though it is thought of as a lower form of magic. Ozorne, seventh in line for the throne of Carthak, is focused on battle magic and types that will help him in the world of politics – even though as the seventh prince there is little chance he will see the throne.

Arram Draper is an especially strong mage whose focus will include water magic, healing arts and an ability to speak to gods – which fans of Tamora Pierce know is not necessarily a good thing!

This new series in the Tortall cannon, is as wonderful as fans would expect. Pierce is a master of story-telling. READ the Tortall books! Buy some today! Do not wait, you are missing out if you have not started yet!

Pierce, Tamora. (2018). Tempests and Slaughter. New York: Random House.

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14 March 2018

A Rising Thunder (Honor Harrington #13)

A Rising Thunder by David Weber is the thirteenth book in his science fiction, space opera featuring the amazing Honor Harrington. After years of war between the star nation of Manticore and the republic of Haven things were coming to an end when a new enemy snuck in and attacked Manticore’s home worlds. Combined with rising tensions with the Sol system this could spell trouble for Manticore.

Weber’s series features one of my favorite fiction characters. Honor Harrington started out as a captain in the Manticore Space Navy. Now she is one of the most powerful figures in her star empire. Filled with politics, military strategy, and (at this point) more characters than I can count, this is still one of my favorite series. If you are a fan of science fiction, strong female lead characters, space opera, politics, military fiction or just good story-telling, read this series. Start with this series, or the companion young adult series about Honor’s ancestor Stephanie Harrington.

Weber, David. (2012). A Rising Thunder. New York: Baen.

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20 February 2018

Conviction (Rebekah Roberts #3)

Conviction by Julia Dahl is the conclusion to her trilogy featuring Rebekah Roberts, a crime reporter living in Brooklyn. She works at a tabloid but gained some esteem when publishing an article with the Center on Crime, Culture and Media detailing the killing of an Orthodox Jewish woman in Gowanus.

Between chasing stories assigned to her, Rebekah attends a lunch for the Center, where she meets other writers they have worked with, including a woman who runs a homicide blog. She lists all deaths in the city, many of which are ignored by the press. People claiming to have been wrongly convicted of a crime have been sending letters to the blog. An in one of those letters, Rebekah finds her next big story.

In July of 1992 there was a triple homicide for which a teen foster son was convicted. After looking through the files, Rebekah sees little evidence linked to DeShawn Perkins, the teen serving a life sentence for the murder of his foster parents and foster sister. Rebekah’s investigation will open a past that a few want to remain hidden, as she is more and more convinced of DeShawn’s innocence.

Dahl has created a great, real and flawed character, in Rebekah Roberts. Her mysteries are wonderfully peppered with clues and revealed, at times, with nail-biting prose. This series also highlights Brooklyn and the Orthodox Jewish communities here. Read them!

Dahl, Julia. (2017). Conviction. New York: Minotaur.

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07 February 2018


Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier is a classic for a very good reason – you will keep thinking of this story far after you finish the book.

The main character, never named in print, is working as a lady’s companion. She is not from the noble class and has few options outside of a good marriage. She is in Monte Carlo as companion to an American woman she does not really care for when she meets Maximilian de Winter, the owner of he famous house on the cliffs – Manderley.

When her lady becomes ill and she finds herself with free time, she is surprise to find the she and Maxim get along quite well despite a large age difference. He is easy to talk to and they enjoy spending time exploring Monte Carlo.

Soon they are married. After some more travel in Europe, it is back to Manderley in England where the new Mrs. de Winters finds herself well out of her element. Maxim is busy with estate affairs and there is no one to guide her in the new role she is thrust into. She begins to wonder if Maxim is regretting their decision to marry.

The housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, keeps comparing her to the late Mrs. de Winters, or Rebecca. Rebecca’s shadow seems to hang over the house and the new, young wife feels that she is not living up to the standard Rebecca set.

In Rebecca, Du Maurier has created a thrilling novel of suspense where all is not as it seems.

Du Maurier, Daphne. (1938). Rebecca. New York: HarperCollins.

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