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My Daughter He: Transitioning with Our Transgender Children

Candace Waldron. Stone Circle Press, $16.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-9914474-0-4

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This memoir and guidebook from Waldron reaches out with a compassionate voice to those dealing with the emotional and practical difficulties of parenting a gender variant child. By acknowledging that the parent’s journey can be an often uncomfortable one, Waldron counters the urge to devalue our own experiences when they no longer match with our child’s current reality. Each chapter has three parts, entitled “Recollections,” “Research,” and “Reflections.” In “Recollections,” Waldron tells the story of raising her son Kai, née daughter Kendra, through his process of trying on new roles and fighting suicidal despair, before finally emerging as a happy young man during his senior year in high school. “Research” provides well-organized information on the science of sex and gender and about appropriate medical treatment for transgender young people, including a discussion of their options upon reaching puberty. “Reflections” returns to the personal, but in universal terms, offering advice on productive things parents can do for themselves, their transgender child, and their other children, and on social issues like disclosure and dating. Waldron’s style is warm without falling into either cutesy mommy tales or overwrought handwringing, tapping into the grief that many parents feel when they realize that their children are people of their own and not just an extension of the parents’ dreams for them. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Blue Tent Sky

Brian D. Aitken. Beard Face, $8.99 e-book (314p) ISBN 978-0-9906554-2-8

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As a result of a messy divorce, Aitken, a law-abiding citizen, has to move from Colorado to New Jersey. While he’s moving some of his things to his new apartment, he is detained by police and his car is searched. Although he is legally transporting his personal firearms from his parents’ home to his own, he is arrested and charged with illegal possession. The NRA gets involved in his case, and Aitken becomes the poster child for the gun rights movement. The judge seems determined to make an example of him, so Aitken goes to jail; there, he is treated well by guards and is held at arm’s length by prisoners. His sentence is finally commuted by New Jersey governor Chris Christie, but, nevertheless, Aitken is tied up with legal battles and his ex-wife won’t let him see his son. Aitken has mined the transcripts of his trial carefully, and the presentation he makes here is that of a man in the wrong place at the wrong time being used for political ends. Readers of all political stripes will sympathize with his experience, but he is too quick to blame a leftist conspiracy for gun control, running the risk of alienating readers who might have a different attitude about citizens owning guns. But Aitken does present a solid, clearly written memoir that will make readers more thoughtful about gun legislation. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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MS Madness: A Giggle-More, Cry-Less Story of Multiple Sclerosis

Yvonne deSousa. SDP Publishing, $14.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-9899723-6-9

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A week before Christmas in 2009, deSousa, a writer and blogger in her late 30s, receives a diagnosis that explains all of the mysterious symptoms she’s had for months: relapse-remitting multiple sclerosis. She’s thrown into a disorienting world of self-administered shots, exhaustion, and memory loss. Rather than descend into pity or bitterness, she decides to enjoy her favorite holiday while relying on her Catholic faith, a sense of humor, and family. DeSousa considers herself lucky: unlike her sister, who also has MS, she doesn’t need a cane or a brace to walk. That attitude, which helps her navigate the difficult early months, comes through right away in the book. At first, deSousa continues to hold down a stressful job and teach Sunday school, in part because, even with insurance, she worries about the mounting costs of dealing with the disease, but eventually, her disability forces her to quit working. She describes her deliberations over whether to spend 83¢ on a fountain soda, and her joy at discovering that the soda is actually free. With her new free time, she discovers previously untapped interests like writing and earns a scholarship to a writing conference and is published. In this heartfelt memoir, deSousa proves that while there is much to be frustrated and dispirited about, it’s possible to face quagmires with grace. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Out of Grace: An Unlikely Journey Through Guatemala’s Haunted Lands

Cynthia Renwick. CreateSpace, $15 trade paper (210p) ISBN 978-1-4997-9003-0

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In well-written prose, Renwick chronicles her 10 months in Guatemala in 2002 while on a Fulbright Fellowship. Ostensibly in the Central American country to study the evolution of textile design following Guatemala’s convulsive civil war of the 1980s, Renwick quickly realizes her time abroad will be a personal exploration rather than an anthropological one. Beginning her journey in Guatemala City—or Guate, as it is called by the locals—Renwick is shocked by the poverty, violence, and crime that she encounters. She abandons her Methodist faith and begins searching for something else to fill this void. Despite strict warnings from the embassy against traveling in the countryside, Renwick finds refuge on picturesque Lake Atitilán and soon moves to the hippie town of San Pedro. Weaving together Mayan culture, Guatemalan history, and stories of shamanism, the narrative sometimes loses steam as we learn about drug-addled expats and wandering foreigners who have settled in this lakeside town. Although Renwick’s naïveté about poverty can be distracting and results in stereotypical descriptions, her beautiful imagery deftly portrays the multifaceted life of Guatemala. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Travellers’ Guide to Hell

Michael Pauls and Dana Facaros. Tinselhouse, $8.11 e-book (202p) ISBN 978-1-86011-910-1

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A witty and (appropriately) irreverent spoof on tourist guides, this Beelzebubian Baedeker tells intrepid vacationers everything they need to know about the hottest of all travel spots. It features chapters on how to research your trip (“Think of satanist groups as cultural embassies”), the best way to get there (indulge in the seven deadly sins), what to eat there (don’t!— remember Persephone?), and tips on day trips to Limbo (“a real must, has that neither-here-nor-thereish atmosphere”) and Purgatory (“a hot-and-bothered boot camp for the soul”). The tongue-in-cheekiness of their humor aside, Pauls and Facaros pack an impressive amount of data into their breezy commentary. Their conception of Hell’s topography, accommodations, and personnel is synthesized from Scripture; centuries of literature, mythology, and folklore; and the writings of popes, theologians, mystics, and visionaries. Funny, oddly informative, and illustrated with modified artistic renderings of Hell and its denizens, this book provides insights into our culture’s enduring fascination with a place where no one really wants to go. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Shot Down: The True Story of Pilot Howard Snyder and the Crew of the B-17 ‘Susan Ruth’[em] [/em]

Steve Snyder. Sea Breeze Publishing LLC, $27.95 (360p) ISBN 978-0-9860760-0-8

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Snyder shares the story of his father’s WWII bombing crew and their fate after being shot down over Belgium. He uses his personal relationship with the surviving crewmen and their families, as well as interviews, wartime letters, and official histories, to reconstruct the experiences of the crew from enlistment through to the war’s end. The book unfolds in three stages: it opens with a well-told account of industrial-scale aircrew training in the U.S., moves into an exploration of the life of U.S. airmen in England that is valuable for its insights into the social life and the daily routine on a U.S. bomber base, and finally describes the crew’s experiences after they are shot down and attempt to evade capture and survive the war. Throughout the book the author is careful to set the larger context of the war without losing readers to unnecessary acronyms or overly technical discussions. This is a great introduction to the history of the U.S. air war in Europe, humanized by the experience of a single bomber crew. Maps and illus. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Guestbook

Andrea Hurst. CreateSpace, $3.99 e-book (338p) ISBN 978-1-4781-6314-5

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This dramatic but lightweight contemporary romance begins Hurst’s Madrona Island trilogy with a pleasantly cozy atmosphere and a troubling narrative. When Lily Mitchell finds her affluent Los Angeles lifestyle crumbling along with her troubled marriage, she flees to fictional Madrona Island in the Pacific Northwest, where her late grandmother ran a well-loved bed and breakfast. Though Lily, a phenomenal cook and baker, initially struggles with self-doubt, she begins to carve out a niche on the island, selling baked goods, considering whether to reopen her grandmother’s business, and running hot and cold with her new beau, Ian. While occasional moments of skillful prose stand out—mostly descriptions of beckoning Puget Sound landscapes or tantalizing edibles—they aren’t enough to offset wooden characters and perplexing plot developments. Scenes from the perspectives of other characters, particularly Lily’s estranged husband, often add more confusion than clarity. Elements of Lily’s journey toward fulfillment are heartwarming, but fans of well-plotted romance will be disappointed. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Unidentified Funny Objects 3

Edited by Alex Shvartsman. UFO, $15.99 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-0-9884328-4-0

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Science fiction often takes itself seriously, addressing social issues or trying to predict the future, but Shvartsman’s anthology series proves that humorous SF can work just as well, especially when it skewers the genre’s own clichés. In James Miller’s “The Right Answer,” a down-on-his-luck man has a chance to access alien technology, but first he has to pass a test. Jody Lynn Nye pairs a pregnant detective with a symbiotic alien in “Infinite Drive.” Karen Haber’s “That Must Be Them Now” depicts aliens awaiting the arrival of a new species. In nonalien news, Jeremy Butler uses gene testing to help people find their place in society in “The Full Lazenby,” while James Beamon offers a young android assistant to a nursing home resident in “The Discounted Seniors.” Out-and-out jokes make very few appearances; these tales could be standard SF, but they look at their ideas with a humorous twist, bringing a smile, if not a laugh, to the reader. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Crime’s Coming of Age

Clint Miller. CMG, $12.99 trade paper (206p) ISBN 978-0-692234-66-2

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Offbeat doesn’t begin to describe Miller’s caper novel, which centers on simultaneous plots by 17-year-old Kitty Banks and her 11-year-old brother, Kat. When robbers hit the bank owned by their father, Kitty, who’s the bank’s greeter, reacts by mentally rewriting her college admissions essay to describe her heroic actions to foil the thieves. In the real world, Kitty is taken hostage, but she soon turns the tables on her captors, whom she recognizes from school. In an effort to get revenge on her parents, who favor Kat, Kitty leads the crooks to her house to steal her father’s money. Meanwhile, Kat fakes his own kidnapping after he breaks into his mother’s safe and makes off with bags of gold bars. He later tries to convert the precious metal into cash. The plot only gets more ludicrous, and the book only demonstrates how hard it is to successfully mix crime and humor. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Downriver Horseshoe

Scott Miles. Stolen Time Publishing, $10 trade paper (206p) ISBN 978-0-692-22269-0

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In this compelling collection of 11 stories by a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Miles gives readers a voyeuristic look into the lives of cursed characters from the industrial south side of Detroit, known as Downriver. In “Fungoo’s Hockshop,” downtrodden Duke Peterson would rather go to prison than back home to his invalid wife. Simon Touhy, who works on a ski hill converted from a landfill in “Mt. Trashmore,” falls in love with a woman’s prosthetic leg that he finds in the snow. In “Stripped,” a harmless gesture by two warehouse buddies at a strip club turns lethal, and the husbands/fathers in “Altoona” and “Losing Focus”—one returning from a rotten family vacation, the other recovering from testicular cancer—struggle between domestic obligations and the urge to flee, with radically different outcomes. Miles writes tight sentences, with genuine dialogue and unexpected imagery (one man’s eyes are “the color of laundry detergent”). The women in these stories play cursory roles, pushing plots to ensure the cynicism and darkness of the male protagonists. Miles frequently writes in the first person, lending greater intimacy to stories that consistently ring true. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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