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LGBTQ+ Reviews, Booklists and Other Related Content on BookGuide

Since 2004, when the Lincoln City Libraries first consolidated all of our online “adult” readers advisory resources into a collection of pages that we branded “BookGuide”, we’ve regularly featured content with an emphasis on LGBTQ+ stories, interests, history and authors.

Following questions from curious customers, seeking a way to locate all the reviews, booklists, etc., of interest to LGBTQ+ readers, we present this index to all the readers advisory content for adults and Young Adults that is otherwise scattered throughout the BookGuide pages on our site. We hope you find this a helpful tool in browsing our current and past LGBTQ+ reading and viewing recommendations.

Book Discussion Group:

Charles H. Gere Branch LibraryLet’s Get Books Together!
Gere Branch — Meeting Room #2
2400 South 56th Street
Last Wednesday of Every Month, 6:30-7:45 p.m. – CURRENTLY ON HIATUS!


Currently on hiatus. Monthly book discussions of titles of interest to the LGBTQ+ community and supporters — either of the two following links for more information:

Archive of Past Discussed Works


Award Winners: The Otherwise Award (Science Fiction & Fantasy focusing on Gender Issues)
Award Winners: The Stonewall Book Award (fiction and non-fiction books of exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience)
Booklist: Queer Horror (a Top 10 list of LGBTQ+-themed horror fiction)
Booklists: Rainbow Reads (a set of multiple LGBTQ-themed booklists for adults and teens, both fiction and non-fiction, created in conjunction with Pride Day in 2019 but still highly relevant)
Booklist: Rainbow Reads — 2022 (New LGBTQ+ Books for Kids, Young Adults, and Adults)
New in Jun Booklist: Rainbow Reads — 2023 (New LGBTQ+ Books for Kids, Young Adults and Adults)
Booktalk Booklist: Lincoln’s Gayest Booktalk (Bethany Branch, October 19, 2018) (L.G.)
Booktalk Booklist: Lincoln’s Gayest Book Talk – 2019 Lincoln’s Gayest Book Talk – 2019 (L.G.)
Booktalk Booklist: Not Your Mama’s Romance Novels – 2022 (Alicia G. – volunteer presenter)
Booktalk Booklist: Reading Recommendations from Let’s Get Books Together! Book Group — LBGTQ+ Graphic Novels (Let’s Get Books Together!, January 8, 2020)
Lincoln Community Playhouse Booklist: TBD (To Be Determined) (January 2018)
New in Jun What is Your Favorite Book/Author – 2023 Pride Festival Booth (June 2023)

Reviews in the monthly Staff Recommendations pages (in reverse chronological order):

2023 Reviews

Some Like It Hot (Official Broadway Cast Recording)
music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman, and a book by Matthew López and Amber Ruffin (Hoopla Music, and hopefully on CD eventually)

The 1959 film Some Like It Hot, directed by Billy Wilder and starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe, is considered by many film critics and fans to be among the greatest films ever made, a certainly one of the best Comedy films of all time. This stage musical, which opened on Broadway in 2022, is scheduled to close before the end of 2023, and features much of the same plot as the film, but has been expanded to explore issues of racial disparity and gender identity.

Joe (Christian Borle) and Jerry (J. Harrison Ghee) are best friends and musicians, trying to break into a big-name club in Chicago during prohibition. Though do they receive a break, they then witness a gangland slaying and have to go on the lam to avoid being rubbed out by the mobster whose club they were performing in. Desperate, they decide to impersonate women, and join the all-girl band Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopaters, leaving Chicago and traveling by train to California. Joe becomes Josephine, and Jerry becomes Daphne. Joe falls for Sugar Cane, a young woman with dreams of California stardom. When they reach San Diego, the Syncopaters are booked to perform at the glamorous Hotel Coronado, owned by quirky eccentric millionaire Osgood Fielding III, who immediately finds himself attracted to Jerry’s alter-ego Daphne.

Sue, Sugar Cane and Jerry/Daphne are all portrayed by actors of color in this production, and some of the new songs refer to the societal hurdles they face as musicians and performers. Jerry also finds himself far more comfortable in the skin of Daphne than he does of himself, and Osgood reveals that he likes Daphne, no matter who s/he is. The arrival of the pursuing mobsters leads to chase sequences and the revelation of Joe and Jerry’s actual identities…but it’s all okay in the end.

Featuring music by Marc Shaiman with lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman (both of whom did the music for the musicals Hairspray, Catch Me If You Can and the film Mary Poppins Returns), this musical is filled with rousing song-and-dance numbers as well as more introspective, pensive songs. The musical opens with the fast-paced “What Are You Thirsty For?” and “You Can’t Have Me (If You Don’t Have Him)”. I particularly enjoyed “At the Old Majestic Nickel Matinee”, “Let’s Be Bad”, “Dance the World Away” and “Ride Out the Storm”. And, of course, the title song “Some Like It Hot” is really catching as well. Personally, I enjoyed listening to this on CD, with a booklet that included extensive liner notes that helped explain what’s going on.

This is definitely a 21st Century take (with updated societal views) on a 64-year-old film masterpiece. Both are excellent in their own separate ways. I’ve been a fan of actor Christian Borle for many years, and while he does a terrific job as Joe/Josephine, it is J. Harrison Ghee who steals the show as Jerry/Daphne, and won the Tony Award for Best Lead Actor in a Musical.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the original classic film starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe, or Hairspray by the same creative team as this musical.)

( Wikipedia entry for the Some Like It Hot musical )

See Donna G.’s review of the film Some Like it Hot in the March 2011 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!


Reviewed in October 2023 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

by N.R. Walker with audio narration by Anthony Ferguson (Hoopla Audio)

This is a well-done mystery with a decade’s long serial killer, and a slow romance between the main characters that takes place in New South Wales, Australia.

Sydney Detective August Shaw works the cold cases for his police department and has had some success in closing a few. But he has not been able to resolve a string of apparent suicides that he believes could be Australia’s worst serial killer. Then Senior Constable Jacob Porter, from (fictional) Tallowwood, calls with a death similar to those suicides, and the victim is a police officer. Porter is an indigenous officer who grew up in Tallowwood and loves his job, but this death has initially shaken him. This provides Shaw with the excuse he needs to continue his search for the serial killer.

The author weaves us a good tale as we follow clues and dead-ends, and perhaps obstruction, along the way. The slow-burn, quiet romance between Shaw and Porter is a given, though you wonder with Shaw’s roots in Sydney and Porter’s ties to Tallowwood how this will all work out. I love an epilogue and everything is sewn up there very nicely.

Antony Ferguson, the reader, does an excellent job with each character, and gives us Australian accents that are understandable to U.S. English-speakers. If you intend to binge this book, give yourself 10 hours and 13 minutes to do so.

( official N.R. Walker web site )


Reviewed in October 2023 by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Taxes and TARDIS
by N.R. Walker, narrated by Nick Russo (Hoopla Audio)

Brent Kelly is a self-employed San Antonio electrician who takes his tax info in to his accountant every year in a shoebox. But this year she is out for a prolonged illness and he’s now assigned to Logan.

Logan Willis, a soft-spoken guy originally from Britain, is your typical geek – black glasses, socially awkward, completely mystified by sports, but also a big Dr. Who fan. He’d initially thought the previous accountant had been exaggerating about the shoebox.

This would make a good Hallmark romance. A low-angst story – with one big misunderstanding – that you know will work out by the end. You watch the two figure it all out over Dr. Who, Torchwood, pizza, and pool, meet some of their friends, watch Brent rescue Logan’s sister when the electricity at her bookstore has an issue, and the epilogue is perfect.

Nick Russo, the narrator, does a fine job with both Brent’s soft Texas accent and Logan’s British speech. An easy, sweet romance at only 3-hours/9-min.

( official N.R. Walker web site )


Reviewed in October 2023 by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

The Spare Man
by Mary Robinette Kowal (Kowal)

I’ve greatly enjoy the Lady Astronaut series of alternate history SF novels by Mary Robinette Kowal, looking at the early days of space exploration. I’ve also enjoyed her short stories in the various short SF fiction magazines, like Asimov’s Science Fiction.

So when I saw that a new stand-alone novel by Kowal, The Spare Man, had been released in the Fall of 2022, and that it was a loving SF take on the old “Thin Man” stories of Dashiell Hammett, I knew I couldn’t pass it up.

Tesla Crane is an inventor, and heir to a family fortune, who suffered a crippling accident that left her with a damaged spine (hardware, drugs and psychological tricks help her to cope) and PTSD. She has recently gotten married (on very short notice) and she, her new husband, and her service dog (the unbelievably cute Gimlet) are traveling aboard a luxury cruise spaceship, when a murder occurs and circumstantial evidence seems to show that Tesla’s new husband is the killer.

It is then up to Tesla, with Gimlet’s help, and the long-distance threats of her extremely foul-mouthed but loyal attorney, to investigate and try to save her husband. All while there are threats that more murders might occur.

For a murder mystery (set in space), this is a fairly light and frothy little treat. Like the Thin Man novels it emulates, our central characters come from a privileged background but don’t see themselves as “above” the rest of society. There’s LOTS of drinking, both in social settings and in private — in fact, each chapter opens with a cocktail recipe, mostly alcoholic. The relationships between Tesla and her retired detective husband Shal, and between Tesla and Gimlet, are absolutely charming. The circumstances of the sleuthing leave the reader in no doubt that Tesla will solve the mystery, but at the same time, there’s the mystery of how she’ll solve it to keep us intrigued. Though the central characters are heteronormative, there’s also a strong genderqueer flavor to many of the supporting characters, giving this one a thumbs up for fans of positive LGBTQ+ roles in fiction.

I got the sensation that this could be the first in a new series, but time will tell. In the meantime, this was a pleasant if somewhat predictable “mystery with a sci-fi setting”. If you like The Thin Man and don’t mind the outer space milieu, or even just like witty banter in your SF novels, give this one a try!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the other works by AUTHOR, or the classic The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett.)

( official Mary Robinette Kowal web site )

Read Susan S.’s review of The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowall, in the August 2019 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!


Reviewed in September 2023 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

hooplaThe Mastermind
by Amy Lane (Hoopla)

The Mastermind is the first book in the Long Con series by Amy Lane. It features recurring characters, a “Leverage” TV show type of criminal activity, a gay romance in each book, and created family.

In this book, Danny and Felix meet as young men in their late teens/early twenties, and grift and thieve their way through parts of Europe – but they only steal from those who can afford the loss, as a way to survive, and to right any wrongs.

This book alternates between the past and current times. In the past, we learn about Danny, Felix, and how they met Julia — and how the three of them create a family without her abusive father learning the truth about her son. In current times, a now-media magnate Felix is facing false accusations that he must defend himself against. By now son Josh has created his own thieving crew and becomes involved in the behind-the-scenes machinations to prove Felix’s innocence.

Aside from the romance between Felix and Danny — and their reunion and efforts to patch up their relationship — watching the crew put together the sting to clear Felix was fun to watch and satisfying. I will admit this is not my favorite of the series, but it provides background on the characters for the future installments.

The rest of the series (The Muscle, The Driver, The Suit, and The Tech) are also available as ebooks on the library’s Hoopla app. The newest title The Face Man is coming out October 31, but it’s unknown if the library will acquire it immediately.

If you’re seeking a fun, angst-filled, exciting story of a group of friends who have become family and work undercover on their own to play Robin Hood, you should enjoy this series.

( official Amy Lane web site — )


Reviewed in September 2023 by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Lavender House
by Lev A.C. Rosen (Rosen)

San Francisco, 1952. Evander ‘Andy’ Mills has just been fired as a police inspector because they found out he’s gay. His plan is to drink all day and take a permanent bath in the bay, but a high class woman comes into the bar and offers Andy a case: find out who murdered her wife. Irene Lamontaine was the famous owner and scent designer for a large soap business. Her secluded country estate, Lavender House, is home to a found-family of queer people. It’s a place where they can be themselves openly, but big business is always a motive and the relationships among the people living in Lavender House have their tensions.

This historical mystery was lovely to read for the setting. The author clearly put a lot of work into researching the San Francisco area of the time. Despite being about a murder, I found it to be a story that moves from despair to deeply rooted hope as Andy discovers a form of community he’s never known.

It felt a lot like the film Knives Out due to physical and social setting, except with better human beings.

( official Lev A.C. Rosen web site )


Reviewed in July 2023 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

In His Sights
by K.C. Wells (Hoopla Digital)

A murder mystery, a romance, and a psychic – three of my favorite combined tropes.

A serial killer is targeting Boston’s gay population, leaving puzzling clues for the police. The victims are killed in the same fashion, and a Scrabble letter tile is always left behind leaving the police to wonder if the tiles are random or will ultimately spell something – and can they anticipate the spelling clue to possibly figure out who’s the next victim or who’s the killer?

After several months of frustration, the police chief decides to bring in a psychic. Homicide detective Gary Mitchell is stunned at this tactic, as are the rest of Boston PD. But the chief points out that Dan Porter has had success with NYPD and Chicago PD.

The story moves between the killer and our main characters, but we don’t learn whodunit until the end.

Both Gary and Dan are gay, giving the reader a slow burn romance as they get to know each other while trying to sort out the clues Dan picks up from the various homicide scenes.

This is the first book in the Second Sight series, but as this title has been out only since May, 2023, subsequent titles have not been published yet.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Bishop Special Crimes series by Kay Hooper (psychic FBI agents) or The Psychic Eye cozy, mystery series by Victoria Laurie.)

( official K.C. Wells web site )


Reviewed in July 2023 by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

What is Your Favorite Book/Author – 2023 Pride Festival Booth — reading recommendations from attendees at Lincoln’s 2023 Pride Festival who stopped at the libraries’ booth, June 9/10, 2023.

The Scourge Between Stars
by Ness Brown (Brown)

If the cover of The Scourge Between Stars reminds you of the film ALIEN (1979), you’re very much on target! This is a fantastic read for anyone wanting another story about an isolated crew hunted by something completely new to them, especially when queer representation or its slim novella length is a plus. One difference is that while Alien has a theme of corporate space exploitation, The Scourge Between Stars concerns interstellar migration following environmental collapse.

Contact has been lost to the rest of the migration fleet. Jacklyn, who was born on the enormous ship, is unwillingly in charge after the captain — her father — locked himself in his quarters. Something that functions like invisible turbulence has severely damaged their ship. Things are terrible before Jacklyn starts to hear something moving in the walls.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes or All the White Spaces by Ally Wilkes.)

( official Ness Brown web site )


Reviewed in June 2023 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

The Mimicking of Known Successes
by Malka Older (Older)

This science fiction novella is billed as “a cozy gaslamp mystery and sapphic romance set on Jupiter.” Yes, the Earth has become uninhabitable and everyone has somehow managed to relocate to ring stations within the atmosphere of Jupiter. Forget feasible: this is a cool setting to visit!

The mystery concerns a scientist who disappeared from a small station on the edge of the settled areas. The obvious conclusion would be that he jumped or was pushed into the cold, crushing gases of the planet. Investigator Mossa — a woman of little small-talk — takes the case and crosses paths with her college girlfriend, Pleiti, a scholar who works with the missing man. Most of the story is told from Pleiti’s perspective. There is an obvious and intentional riff on the relationship between Holmes and Dr. Watson compared to Mossa and Pleiti.

I found the case progression a little hard to follow at times, but that could well be my fault. What I really enjoyed was the little reveals about humanity living on Jupiter (of all places), plus the slow burn re-acquaintance of former lovers. This is the start of a series. Book #2 is scheduled for release in February 2024 with the title: The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles. I, for one, am a sucker for wordy, evocative titles.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal.)

( official Malka Older blog/web site – not updated lately ) | ( Malka Older entry on Wikipedia )


Reviewed in June 2023 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

The Weight of It All
by N.R. Walker (Downloadable Audio from Overdrive)

Henry Beckett is a successful actuary who has just been dumped by his long-time boyfriend. Graham complains that Henry has put on a lot of weight and isn’t accompanying him to hiking and biking events any more, and moves out. Henry is devastated, and recognizes that he much preferred the wine tasting and food activities, that he wasn’t as active as he had been eight years earlier, and he’s horrified at the amount of weight he’s put on. So he joins a gym with the goal of winning back Graham.

Enter Reed Henske. His new personal trainer.

Gee, how is this story going to end?

Henry and Reed hit it off right away. Both are quick-witted with terrific senses of humor. They initially bond over the new recipes Henry is trying. We spend the book watching Henry get over Graham and progress through his health and exercise routines, while he and Reed find more common ground as their friendship builds into a romantic relationship.

This is a low-heat, low angst story with likeable side characters that takes place in Australia. I enjoyed being able to simply follow the main characters and their friends as their stories unfolded without worrying how this was going to end. Much of the humor was laugh-out-loud and I liked the main characters and their friends, and appropriately disliked Graham (then later felt sorry for him) and his buddies. I was in the mood for a simple, easy tale that kept me involved and this fit the bill.

The narrator, Joel Leslie, does an excellent job of distinguishing between the main characters, and giving a sense of their emotions. Also, his Australian accent was not heavy enough to be unintelligible to a US reader.

( official N.R. Walker web site )


Reviewed in June 2023 by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Rainbow Reads — 2023 — A series of updated handout booklists for Kids, Young Adults and Adults covering new releases this year in the LGBTQ+ publishing field was released in May 2023.

by Morgan Brice (Hoopla Audio)

A hundred years earlier, an evil warlock was betrayed by his 12 witch-disciples. Rhyfel Gremory was hanged by the sheriff and deputies in an old railroad tunnel, but the witches escaped. Every 12 years one of the witches kills the oldest male descendant of the posse to recharge their power and keep themselves virtually immortal.

Seth has just returned home from the military, and he and his brother Jesse go camping near that tunnel. They know the story of the allegedly haunted tunnel, but are unaware of what really happened there, nor that they are descendants of one of the members of the posse. Seth manages to survive and spends the next two years learning about magic, spells, and demons to avenge Jesse’s murder. Along the way he meets Evan, who is also a descendant but unaware he’s in danger.

This is the first book in the Witchbane series as we follow Seth and Evan as their relationship progresses, and we meet others who also battle demons. The well-written stories are not particularly gory – considering the subject matter – but I really enjoyed the supernatural hunting, how they track down the various witches, the friendships they make along the way with others doing the same work, and watch as they settle into their relationship. It’s not clear sailing though, and danger is ever present.

This series is by the same author who gave us the “BadLands” supernatural series (reviewed in March, 2023), which actually I liked better than this one, but I still enjoyed the Witchbane books. Kale Williams, the narrator, does a fine job of creating the voices and emotions. If you like urban fiction, paranormal fantasy, the supernatural, witches, spells, demons, magic, vampires, zombies, ghosts, battles, and MM romance you should enjoy this series. The library has all five novels and the novella on Hoopla audio. Read in order beginning with Witchbane.

( official Morgan Brice web site )

See Charlotte M.’s review of the Hoopla Audiobook version of Badlands by Morgan Brice, in the March 2023 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!


Reviewed in May 2023 by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me
by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (YA PB (Graphic Novel) Tamaki)

Toxic teen relationship leads to strained friendships and hurt feelings. Can Freddy find it in herself to end it with her girlfriend, who keeps breaking up with her? Best Audience: Teens/New adults., and fans of Coming of Age stories.

( official Mariko Tamaki Twitter feed ) | ( official Rosemary V O Twitter feed )

This was one of dozens of Graphic Novel reviews submitted by library staff during our 2022 In-Service Training day on 9/23/2022, all collected on A Day Full of Graphic Novels

Reviewed in April 2023 by Ali B.
Read Aloud Lincoln

formatdvdBodies Bodies Bodies
(DVD Bodies)

Bodies Bodies Bodies is variously characterized as a satire, a whodunit, a black comedy, and a horror film. I say “yes” to all of these! I found it strongly reminiscent of Glass Onion, though more realistic and messy. A group of college-age rich kid friends (and a couple of their current partners) are having a house party during a storm with drugs, TikTok video filming, and intense ongoing personal conflicts. They start to play a social deduction game where someone plays the murderer and others tapped in the dark have to play dead. Then the storm knocks out power and one of them is truly dead.

This film’s lighting is striking. Much of the film is lit only by cell phones, flashlights, and glow sticks, yet it never feels too dark for the audience to clearly see what’s going on in the foreground. The characters are intense, as concerned about their relationships, their image, and their secrets as they are about being the next to die. The opening scene shows two of the young women making out for a couple of minutes while discussing the upcoming visit. Without giving the audience enough information to make sense of what they’re saying, you can feel their deep insecurities and needs, which sets the tone for the whole story. Bodies Bodies Bodies succeeds in holding tension for the whole runtime and has a reveal that will make you want to watch it all again.

Bodies Bodies Bodies was written and directed by women and is queer inclusive. Other recommended watch-alikes are Heathers (1989) and the interactive drama PS4 game Until Dawn (2015).

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )


Reviewed in April 2023 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

by Morgan Brice (Hoopla Downloadable Audio)

Simon Kincaide is a 35-year-old, former college professor with a PhD in Folklore and Mythology. He’s also a Medium and a Clairvoyant. He now owns and operates Grand Strand Ghost Tours in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, selling supernatural paraphernalia and books on local stories of ghosts and pirates, and giving ghost tours downtown.

Vic D’Amato, 31 years old, is a homicide detective recently transplanted from Pittsburgh. He doesn’t believe in any of this woo-woo stuff.

Problem is, a serial killer is targeting victims with psychic abilities.

This is a well-written paranormal/romance/murder mystery as Simon and Vic figure out their relationship as they also try to figure out the murders. The major characters are slowly unfolded for us, and the secondary characters are also well-developed.

If you enjoy the old TV series “Night Stalker,” with Darren McGavin as a journalist who discovers all sorts of supernatural creatures while he’s covering murders in his town — and no one believes him — then you might like this as well.

Currently there are five books in this series as paperbacks, ebooks, and audio books. The library has the first four available on Hoopla audio.

( official Badllands series page on the official Morgan Brice web site )


Reviewed in March 2023 by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Detransition, Baby
by Torrey Peters (Peters)

First of all, based on the title, I was initially reluctant to read Detransition, Baby. My concerns that the narrative would promote the idea that transgender individuals are destined to de-transition, was misplaced. Instead, it was a compelling tale of three women, one divorced and cisgender (her gender identity corresponds with the sex registered for her at birth), one trans (her gender identity does not correspond to that registered for her at her birth), and one detransitioned trans woman (she transitioned from male to female as a young person but later decided to reverse that transition) and how the three of them deal with an unexpected pregnancy. These three personal journeys are braided together, sharing their flaws, fears, and desires, as they each explore what it means to be female. The author asserts, that like trans women, divorced women understand what it is like to have to start from scratch, having to create a future that is not reliant upon their assumptions from the past, having to make up their own definition of where to go from here as a woman.

In interviews, the author Torrey Peters, who is trans herself, explains that she wrote the book for transgender friends, that they need books by and about them with true points of view. I think that’s what I loved most about the book; it was a window into a world that I’ve brushed up against, having a trans kid of my own, but I am still an outsider with much to learn. One thing I hadn’t understood before reading this book is how the AIDS epidemic has affected the trans community; I hadn’t realized how much higher the rate of AIDs is for trans women even when compared to homosexual men. It seems the epidemic created a motherless generation who are trying to figure out how to mother themselves and their little sisters, making the topic of motherhood, not just what it means to be female, of prime importance.

Like any story, each person’s narrative is both true and untrue. I’ve read many reviews that disagree with one character’s interpretation of feminine motivations; while I agree her particular extreme take on gender roles is challenging, I found it challenging in an interesting way. There were scenes that I found to be uncomfortable, but they also led me to think deeply about my own assumptions.

This is that kind of book. The author does not baby the reader; she assumes that you have a familiarity with the topic or that you are ready to put the work in to understand. It’s not for everyone, but those who make the effort will be rewarded with thought-provoking characters and situations.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs by Jennifer Finney Boylan.)

( official Detransition, Baby page on the official Torrey Peters web site )


Reviewed in March 2023 by Carrie K.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

formatdvdEverything Everywhere All at Once
(DVD Everything)

Everything Everywhere All at Once is currently a front-runner for the Academy Award for Best Picture of 2022, after having pulled in many other film industry awards over the past couple of months. It has been nominated for 356 awards, and has won 335 of them.

This is a highly surreal and imaginative blend of “slice of life”, science fiction, fantasy, martial arts and many other types of films. Michelle Yeoh stars as Evelyn Wang, struggling owner of a financially-failed laundromat, and unhappy wife to Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan), as well as mother to unhappy daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) and daughter to disappointed patriarch Gong Gong (James Hong). Facing foreclosure on the family business by slovenly IRS auditor Deirdre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), Evelyn appears to suffer a break from reality, when an alternate universe version of her husband appears, warns her that her help is needed to save a multiverse of realities from ultimate destruction, then leaves her to deal with the chaos that ensues.

A reluctant Evelyn then finds herself jumping from reality to reality, never quite grasping what’s happening to her, but making use of elaborate skills (including spectacular martial arts) that each of her alternate world counterparts have. The gunfire-rapid changes of settings and realities are counter-balanced by absolutely terrific performances from everyone in the cast, particularly Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan (who played Indiana Jones’ kid sidekick in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and one of the Goonies in The Goonies, both back in the 1980s) — he has REALLY turned into an excellent actor!

Everything Everywhere All at Once will not be for everyone. But if you’re willing to be patient, and perhaps view it more than just once or twice, you’ll be rewarded by picking up on the multiple layers of storytelling, and perhaps you’ll agree that it is definitely worthy of being considered the best picture of last year!

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official Everything Everywhere All at Once web site )


Reviewed in March 2023 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

The Winners
by Fredrik Backman, narrated by Marin Ireland (Compact Disc Backman)

Fredrik Backman returns to the characters and settings of Beartown and Us Against You to conclude a trilogy of devastatingly emotional storylines in The Winners. Beartown (2017) was a One Book – One Lincoln finalist in 2018, and introduced us to the small forest towns of Beartown and Hed (in Sweden, though it is never explicitly said), where both communities entire identities were tied into their individual hockey teams. When a rape occurs involving Beartown’s star player and the daughter of the team’s general manager, society breaks down. In Us Against You the possible dissolution of Beartown’s hockey team leads to a new configuration of star players, new types of friendships, and new antagonisms.

In The Winners, a few more years have passed, and Beartown hockey is once more on the rise, while a devastating storm destroys Hed’s hockey facility and causes even more friction between the two towns’ fanbases as the two teams must share an arena. Brewing resentments and hatreds slowly percolate beneath the surface, as old friendships are rekindled or re-explored, and characters who found themselves uprooted in the previous books face new beginnings.

Backman’s storytelling style, in which, throughout the book he throws in little asides about the long-term future of all the characters, makes you realize that before this book is done, there is going to be a life-changing event that impacts every single one of these people who readers have grown to admire and care about. The tension is slowly ratcheted up bit-by-bit, with occasionally moments of levity. But by the final few chapters you are on the edge of your seat, concerned with who will survive to the final page.

I really admired actress Marin Ireland’s narration of The Winners. She manages to create unique voices for nearly all of the characters, making me emotionally buy in to their journey. I generally listened to audiobooks-on-cd in my car, and I can honestly say that I was talking back to my CD player and my eyes were misting over as this story came to its climax. An excellent book, and I’ll only drop it from a “10” to a “9” for some minor pacing issues. Still highly recommended.

(You really, REALLY, have to have read/listened-to Beartown and Us Against You before you read/listen-to The Winners. Seriously, take my word for it! Otherwise, the rest of Fredrik Backman’s novels should also appeal to you, although this trilogy is Backman’s darkest works — the rest are significantly darker and more humorous than these three.)

( official The Winners page on the official Fredrik Backman web site )


Reviewed in January 2023 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

by Ever Dundas (Dundas)

HellSans has a lot going on, but the first thing you’ll notice is that there are two options for where to start reading. The book as a whole is divided into three parts labeled:

  • Part One or Two: Icho
  • Part One or Two: Jane
  • Part Three: HellSans

I opted to start with the Jane narrative which follows the protagonist, Jane, the billionaire head of a personal assistant robotics company who is having a very bad day. As you might guess, the other option is to follow the other protagonist, Icho, who is secretly working on a cure for HellSans Allergy and is also having a very bad day. Not for sensitive readers.

The titular “HellSans” is a typeface which produces euphoric “bliss” effects in most people who look at it. It is, of course, used heavily by government and news agencies. Some people are immune to this effect. Still others have a severe allergic reaction to seeing or even visualizing in the typeface. This has led to social ostracization to the point where allergic people are not legally considered human. The personal assistance robots are free to kill them. So, as you might imagine, there’s a lot of political analogy and satire happening in this book.

This all might have made for a fine sci-fi novel, but once you’ve gotten through both of the first parts and into the final section, this book gets bold. There’s metatexual play and the stakes change dramatically. I was left with as much appreciation for what HellSans *does* as I did for how it told the story.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks, or Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin.)

( publisher’s official HellSans web site ) | ( official Ever Dundas page on the Scottish Book Trust web site )


Reviewed in January 2023 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Elle(s): The New Girl
by Kid Toussaint (writer) and Areline Stokart (YA PB (Graphic Novel) Toussaint)

Elle is the “new kid” at her school, and has a little trouble fitting into the social cliques. Mainly because she has six different personalities, most of which only come out and become dominant when she is anxious or stressed. And, unfortunately, in the “new school” environment, that is frequent. Fortunately, she’s got a support structure of a group of new friends, particularly her best friend, Maelys, who recognizes that there’s something different about Elle and wants to help her cope.

Writer Kid Toussaint does a great job of capturing modern teenage angst and the struggle to develop a strong, unique personality in an environment encouraging conformity. And artist Aveline Stokart does an incredible, beautiful job with their painted artwork, creating a lush, detailed world, people with distinctive characters. Elle’s six different personalities (referred to as “moods”) are denoted by six different hair colors and mood/color palettes. There are also shadings of paranormal elements, as some of the latent personalities wish to take over from Elle’s normal default mood.

I strongly recommend this graphic novel, and look forward to additional forthcoming volumes in what is planned to be a series.

( official Aveline Stokart web site ) | ( official Kid Toussaint Instagram feed )


Reviewed in January 2023 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

2022 Reviews

The Geek Who Saved Christmas
by Annabeth Albert (Hoopla Audiobook)

A cozy, gay holiday romance, between two men in their early 40’s, that should be on the Hallmark Christmas Romance channel. A favorite troupe of mine with Neighbor #1, Gideon, who’s totally into all the holidays and decorates his house accordingly. Next door to him is Neighbor #2, Paul, who’s the grumpy guy who doesn’t decorate.

During one of their few interactions, Gideon learns that Paul’s brother is arriving for Christmas with his girlfriend, and he hopes to propose to her on Christmas Eve in front of the Christmas tree. Gideon offers to help Paul decorate and provide the perfect backdrop. They are together nearly every day as Gideon transforms Paul’s barebones house into a homey, comfy, wonderland as they get to know each other.

Of course this has a Happy Ever After and we get an epilogue for the following year (I love epilogues). You end up liking both fellows and wish you had next door neighbors just like them. Not to mention, I also approved of a lot of Gideon’s decorating ideas.

The reader, Tim Paige, does an excellent job of voicing each character and you have no trouble discerning who’s speaking in the story.

A fun, easy listen at only seven hours.

( official Annabeth Albert web site )


Reviewed in December 2022 by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Legends & Lattes: A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes
by Travis Baldree (Baldree)

Legends & Lattes is a book with serious buzz. The author, a professional audiobook narrator, drafted it during National Novel Writing Month in 2021 then self-published it on Amazon in February 2022. It became an instant word-of-mouth success thanks to social media. Traditional publisher Tor Books hustled to put out a trade paperback by November 2022. Nine translations are currently in progress. And, of course, there’s an audiobook version performed by the author. An amazing success story!

The story opens with Viv, an orc warrior, delivering the fatal sword strike to an enormous monster. She wrenches a fabled stone out of its head and walks away into retirement on the spot and without explanation to her Dungeons & Dragons style adventuring party. Viv has a secret plan: open a coffee shop in a city where the ley-lines and the stone will bring fortune. She’ll need all the luck she can get, as she has no experience running a business and the people in this city have never heard of coffee. What she does have is patience, strength, and way of sizing up people (all of whom are considerably smaller than herself). Some of the obstacles seem like they’d be easier if she picked up her sword, but she wants a fresh start with herself as well. On top of all this, one member of her old adventuring band is not satisfied with how things were left off.

This book is as cozy and warm as the coffee shop Viv and her new friends create.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis or A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher.)

( official Legends & Lattes page on the official Travis Baldree web site )


Reviewed in December 2022 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

by Gretchen Felker-Martin (Felker-Martin)

Manhunt is one of the most gross and gory books I’ve read. The sci-fi setting is that a pandemic has transformed anyone with high testosterone into monstrous beasts. It’s *almost* a gender plague book crossed with zombie apocalypse. The difference here is that the pandemic doesn’t know anyone’s gender, only their testosterone level. The story centers on two trans women, one trans man, and one cis woman who are trying to find safety in this hellscape of transformed men (mostly) on one side and a military legion of TERF women on the other.

From glancing at other reviews, it’s clear that many people dismiss this book as gratuitously violent and insensitive for portraying rapes. It is hard to read; I’ll give them that. For many — even most — readers, this book is not for you and that’s an okay thing for both you and the book. But I think I get it. A while back I read the book Ice by Anna Kavan. That book is also about an apocalypse with horrible sexual violence written by a woman. In both cases, the point is to show something extravagantly horrible on the main stage that we normally expect people to endure, to hide, to be quiet about. We’re comfortable with that status quo: the hellscape already here. Authors should be able to scream about it.

Plus, under all the gore, it’s often a funny and poignant book. Strongly recommended to no one in particular.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosiński or Ice by Anna Kavan.)

( publisher’s official Manhunt web page ) | ( official Gretchen Felker-Martin Twitter feed )


Reviewed in December 2022 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

How Y’all Doin’? Misadventures and Mischief From a Life Well Lived
by Leslie Jordan (CALL)

When actor/singer/comedian Leslie Jordan died in late October (after suffering a “medical incident” while driving and fatally crashing his car), I had no idea how sad I was going to be. It wasn’t that I was an ardent fan of his, who tracked down everything he’d ever appeared in. But, his bubbly, sarcastic, Southern gay personality had been a staple in film and TV comedies and dramas for decades, and it didn’t seem possible that he was suddenly gone. So I was especially happy to be able to enjoy his voice as he narrated the audiobook version of his 2021 best-seller How Y’all Doin’?

Despite always being sort of a cult-favorite actor for many fans, it wasn’t until COVID-19 hit and everyone sequestered themselves in their homes in 2020, that Leslie achieved mega-fame. Despite not even initially knowing what Instagram was, he launched a new Insta account, where he shared his personality and quirky musings, and managed to gain 5.8 million followers. Which led to this, his second book (his first, My Trip Down the Pink Carpet (2008) isn’t in the libraries’ collection). Leslie wanders back and forth in his career and personal life, not holding anything back as he shares recollections filled with both hilarity and strong sentiment. Despite his seeming befuddlement with technology and social media, his stories of his explorations of Instagram are among the highlights of this incredibly entertaining and informative autobiography. Leslie makes this book feel like he’s sitting and chatting with you.

I got this as an audiobook-on-CD through the libraries’ InterLibrary Loan service, but if you can do downloadable audio, the Lincoln City Libraries do have it available through our Hoopla streaming service. I had tried reading this book in print format when it came out in 2021, but just couldn’t get into it. But when he read it aloud, How Y’all Doin’? became one of my favorite reads of 2022. He’s one of those performers I think I would have loved to meet in person. Strongly recommended, for anyone with an interest in celebrities, behind-the-scenes on the entertainment industry, the acting profession, and LGBTQ+ personalities.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try My Trip Down the Pink Carpet, also by Jordan, but only available through InterLibrary Loan.)

( official Leslie Jordan web site )


Reviewed in December 2022 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

The Magic Fish
by Trung Le Nguyen (YA PB (Graphic Novel) Trung)

A young queer boy uses fairy tales to connect with his Vietnamese-speaking mother. A language story. A gender story. A family love story. Threaded together with fairy tales. The boy speaks English as his first language, while his mother speaks Vietnamese. The boy is queer and he’s scared to tell his mother/parents. Mom uses a fairy tale to reassure him that they can write their own ending. Together.

( publisher’s official The Magic Fish web site ) | ( official Trung Le Nguyen web site )


Reviewed in December 2022 by Carrie K.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

by Kiersten White (White)

Hide is a thriller/horror novel about a young woman in her late teens or early 20s who agrees to participate in a weeklong hide-or-seek game for a prize of $50,000. All fourteen contestants are put on a bus and their phones are confiscated while they’re sleeping. Sounds sketchy; is sketchy. When they arrive at the play area, it turns out to be an abandoned amusement park with a fence and watch towers around it.

If you’re getting Battle Royale or Squid Game vibes here, you aren’t far off. An extra twist is that the protagonist, Mack, survived her father killing the rest of her family by hiding in the house when she was a young girl. She has survivor’s guilt and doesn’t want to connect with anyone. Several of the other contestants, however, have great personalities that draw Mack out of her protective shell and give the reader more people to cheer for. This is a highly engaging read, first as the true nature of the contest is revealed and then as the dwindling number of contestants try to change up the game.

Kiersten White is a well-established young adult writer. Hide is her adult debut, or at least that’s how it’s being sold. This is one of those books that could easily pass as upper young adult or lower adult. Either way, it has a wonderful map of the amusement park in the end papers and it’s the same map in front and back so readers borrowing library copies can flip back and forth to see the whole map. Such thoughtful design!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Battle Royale by Koushun Takami or The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.)

( publisher’s official page for Hide ) | ( official Kiersten White web site )


Reviewed in November 2022 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Paper Girls
by Brian K. Vaughn (author) and Cliff Chiang (artist) (741.5 Vau)

In the late 1980s, a group of four paper girls set out on their routes and encounter time travelers, supernatural beings and their future selves, in this nostalgic graphic novel series consisting of 6 volumes. Now made into an Amazon TV series, reminiscent of Stranger Things, but with a group of hard-core young women.

( publisher’s official Paper Girls web page ) | ( official Instagram account for Brian K. Vaughn )

This was one of dozens of Graphic Novel reviews submitted by library staff during our 2022 In-Service Training day on 9/23, all collected on A Day Full of Graphic Novels

Reviewed in October 2022 by Jackie S.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

They Never Learn
by Layne Fargo (Fargo)

They Never Learn opens with a murder that works out perfectly as planned by the book’s English professor protagonist. Scarlett Clark hunts men who get away with abusing women and girls, and she’s been making these deaths look like accidents or suicides for years in multiple cities.

Meanwhile, a young student is starting her Freshman year on the same university campus. Carly Schiller is swept up in the drama of her classmates and friends, soon discovering dangers below the surface.

This violent thriller rapidly switches between both engaging narratives until the inevitable collision. I enjoyed the sharp, bold, all-too-realistic writing.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass or Getaway by Zoje Stage.)

( official They Never Learn page on the official Layne Fargo web site )


Reviewed in September 2022 by Garren H.
Public Service — Bennett Martin Public Library

What Moves the Dead
by T. Kingfisher (Kingfisher)

What Moves the Dead is a novella retelling of “The Fall of the House of Usher” that is a delight for readers every step of the way. You (likely) know how things are ultimately going to go, but both the characterization and the sense of place are brilliantly heightened. For me it felt like reading the actual book Dracula for the first time after seeing spin-offs that mimicked the supernatural lore but gave no hint of just how much fun it is to read that story the way it was written.

Three character stand out in particular. The unnamed narrator from the Poe story has a name — Lieutenant Alex Easton — and origin as a soldier from a small European nation that carves turnips over their windows and has over a dozen sets of pronouns in their language for cases like referring to children differently from adults and for “sworn soldiers.” Easton is one of these soldier who goes by ka/kan, whatever else might have been used outside of professional soldiering. Ka’s a practical person who has seen a lot in war and isn’t given to fancies, even in gloomy places like this. Ka horse, Hob, doesn’t say anything but is quite the expressive character, at least according to Easton’s inner monologue. (This really felt like Geralt and Roach from the Sapkowski books.) Finally for the stand-out characters, there’s Miss Potter. She’s a naturalist, here in this desolate patch of land to paint mushrooms. (Not Beatrix Potter, but her aunt.) Nothing like an unflappable Englishwoman along for uncanny events. Do yourself a favor and peek at the endpaper art if you see this book on a shelf. Really sets the tone.

Recommended for fans of Silvia Moreno-Garcia, or — of course — fans of Edgar Allen Poe.

( official What Moves the Dead page on the official T. Kingfisher web site — T. Kingfisher is the pseudonym used by Ursula Vernon for her works for YA and Adults )


Reviewed in September 2022 by Garren H.
Public Service — Bennett Martin Public Library

Flung Out of Space: Inspired by the Indecent Adventures of Patricia Highsmith
by Grace Ellis and Hannah Templer (741.5 Ell)

Fascinating and provocative graphic novel biography of famed author Patricia Highsmith, best known for her dark psychological thrillers as well as the ground-breaking lesbian novel The Price of Salt (a.k.a. Carol). This novel telescopes some of the events, and uses composite characters in place of some of the real people in Pat’s life. However, at its core, it appears to accurately portray Highsmith and the difficult relationships she had with nearly everyone in her life. She was notoriously prickly, living as a conflicted lesbian at a time when her psychoanalysts attempted to use early conversion techniques to turn her into a heterosexual (unsuccessfully). She was a hostile, arrogant, creative type, who resented having to write comic book stories — there are scenes in this graphic novel in which someone tries to set her up on a date with Stan Lee — but even after achieving success with the mainstream novel Strangers on a Train (which was then adapted to film by Alfred Hitchcock), she continued to remain unhappy. Her thrillers are iconic (including The Talented Mr. Ripley), with the amoral villains often the central characters. But she, herself, was known to be an avowed racist and anti-semite. For this graphic biography, Ellis and Templer somehow manage to make her a sympathetic character, despite all the negative personality traits. I found this to be a fascinating read — the artwork is beautiful, using a limited color palette emphasizing orange, black and peach colors, and the reader is encouraged to understand the difficulties in Highsmith’s life.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the actual novels of Patricia Highsmith, particularly Strangers on a Train and The Price of Salt/Carol (both of which figure prominently in the plot of this graphic novel), or the biography Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks, 1941-1995.)

( publisher’s official Flung Out of Space web site ) | ( official Grace Ellis web site ) | ( official Hannah Templer web site )


Reviewed in July 2022 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Playing With Myself
by Randy Rainbow (Biography Rainbow)

Randy Rainbow, if you are not already aware, is the fellow on social media who parodies anyone and everyone through Broadway musical show tunes and his own witty lyrics. Turns out he’s actually very shy so even though he moved to NYC, in the end he didn’t have the confidence to try-out for anything. So he worked for several years in show business periphery jobs, finally began a blog, and one day posted a musical parody created in his studio apartment with his cell phone, laptop, green fabric stretched along his walls, and software editing programs available to anyone. And the rest, as they say, is history. Though it took him several years to get there.

His biography is linear, starting with his youth in Florida, his experiences in children’s theater and through high school drama clubs, then finally his move to NYC and his various jobs there. A lot of name-dropping occurs but that’s half the fun of this biography. Turns out he can be as star-struck as any of us.

There’s swearing and standard Rainbow snark that we’ve come to expect from viewing his videos. I enjoyed his behind-the-scenes stories of how several of his videos came about. His reminisces of growing up, struggling in NYC, figuring out a career, and meeting people are funny, sometimes sad, and always entertaining. (P.S. He has a website, and you can buy your own pair of the pink eyeglasses!)

If you’re a fan of Randy Rainbow, this is a fun, light, enjoyable read. Playing With Myself is also available from the library as a downloadable audio book narrated by the author himself, and as a downloadable e-Book.

( publisher’s official Playing With Myself web page ) | ( official Randy Rainbow web site )


Reviewed in July 2022 by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Fortune Favors the Dead and Murder Under Her Skin
by Stephen Spotswood (Spotswood)

For the May meeting of the libraries’ Just Desserts mystery book discussion group, participants were encouraged to sample the first 1 or 2 entries in ANY new mystery/suspense/thriller series, and report back to the group to share info about characters, setting, time period, writing style, etc., and whether or not they would continue with the series in the future. I randomly stumbled across the second in the new “Pentecost & Parker” series, tracked down the first, and proceeded to read them both to report back to the Just Desserts members. I am SO glad I found this series, as I absolutely loved both of these books.

Set in the late 1940s, Fortune Favors the Dead introduces our central narrator, Willowjean “Will” Parker, and her boss, legendary New York City private investigator Lillian Pentecost (something of a female Sherlock Holmes/Hercule Poirot). Will ran away from home at 15, joined a traveling circus as a roustabout and was subsequently taught the skills to serve as an assistant to many of the circus performers (knife throwing, animal handling, high wire and trapeze, etc.). With circus business on the decline, Will is encouraged by the circus owner to take a job with Ms. Pentecost, when Lillian recognizes skills in Will that could prove useful in her line of work. Lillian, meanwhile, suffers from multiple sclerosis, which creates increasing numbers of physical limitations to what she can do…so she desperately needs a “leg-man” to assist her with a lot of the physical investigations. In Fortune Favors the Dead, three years after they’ve first teamed up, Pentecost & Parker investigate a locked room mystery in which a socialite was brutally murdered — not long after her husband killed himself.

In Murder Under Her Skin, the murder of the tattooed lady in the circus Will used to travel with, calls Pentecost & Parker to a small town in Virginia, to try to prove that Will’s mentor, the circus’ knife thrower, didn’t commit the murder. The dramatic difference in setting, from New York City to Stoppard, Virginia provides a unique look at how Lillian Pentecost operates, and also gives us more insight into the background and emotional motivations of Will Parker.

This series is marvelous. Lillian and Will are terrific characters, who I want to learn more about. Will, through her actions, shows herself to be bi-sexual, and that very fact proves to be critical to solving the case in Fortune Favors the Dead. How this is handled, especially regarding characters living in the late 1940s, is impressively portrayed. Will’s patter throughout the novels is very reminiscent of the “tough guy” patois more commonly associated with male detectives of the noir and hard-boiled mystery sub-genres, and she is a refreshing and welcome addition to pantheon of private investigators. And the tidbits we learn about the background of Lillian in Murder Under Her Skin make her even more intriguing as a character. I can’t wait for the third volume, due out in December 2022! Highly recommended!

( official Pentecost & Parker and Stephen Spotswood web site )


Reviewed in June 2022 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Services

Rainbow Reads — 2022 — A series of updated handout booklists for Kids, Young Adults and Adults covering new releases this year in the LGBTQ+ publishing field was released in June 2022.

All the White Spaces
by Ally Wilkes (Wilkes)

All the White Spaces is historical suspense set in 1919 and 1920 during the age of early expeditions to Antarctica. Jonathan grew up listening to his older brothers obsess about joining one of these expeditions, but they’ve both recently died in the Great War. Jonathan himself feels smothered by his family’s expectations because he was assigned female at birth, so he becomes an expedition ship stowaway.

This book follows the conventions of gothic suspense where small things start to go awry, followed by increasing levels of disaster and hardship and unnatural strangeness. As a fan of naval stories and stories about danger and isolation, this was a perfect genre blend for me. If you happen to be familiar with Shackleton’s expeditions, this story is loosely modeled after his 1914 expedition but this is a slightly different world where there is no Ernest Shackleton and Antarctica holds an extra danger.

Be prepared for a tough read with lots of death and suffering, including for the sled dogs. It’s also a story that waxes poetic about this desolate winter country. If you weren’t already familiar with the three types of twilight, you will be after reading this book!

(Recommended to fans of Moby Dick by Herman Melville. If you enjoy this, another recent read-alike is The Arctic Fury by Greer Macallister.)

( official All the White Spaces and Ally Wilkes web site )


Reviewed in May 2022 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians
by Austen Hartke (Downloadable Audio)

I read this book as part of an LGBTQ+ and Allies small group that I’m a part of, at my Church. The point of the group is to be a source of support for each other as well as to better educate ourselves and hopefully those around us.

This book is written by a Trans Man who wants to share his experience not just with transitioning, but with his life as a Lutheran Pastor and the effect his transition had on that role. He interviews several other members of the Trans community, asking them to elaborate on their own spiritual journeys and how Transitioning has played a part in that. There are many, MANY places in this Bible that are supportive of Trans people, which was refreshing, to say the least!

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I found this to be encouraging, enlightening, and very educational. I listened to the audio version provided by my library, but I also obtained a print copy, which I have marked up with highlights and plan to re-read often. It’s got a plethora of resources for the reader. I learned so much while reading this book–not just from the book, but also from the discussions it sparked in my small group.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who is struggling with the correct verbiage with regards to the Trans community; I’d also recommend it to anyone who would like to be a source of support or who simply has questions.

( official Transforming web site ) | ( official Austen Hartke web site )


Reviewed in April 2022 by Tracy T.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries

Cuando Amamos Cantamos: When We Love Someone We Sing to Them
by Ernesto Javier Martinez (j466.3 Mar)

I pulled out this bilingual book to recommend for the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday. I am a big fan of Maya Christina Gonzalez’ books, and this one makes for a beautiful collaboration between Gonzalez as illustrator alongside author Ernesto Javier Martinez. A father teaches his son about how serenades are sung to those we love. The young boy realizes he has loving feeling towards his new friend (who is another young boy). It’s a lovely story of family acceptance. Author and professor Ernesto Javier Martinez also made a short film of this same story.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Sing, Don’t Cry by Angela Dominguez, What You Don’t Know by Anastasia Higginbotham, Call Me Tree by Maya Christina Gonzalez, Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez Neal or Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love.)

( official When We Love Someone We Sing to Them page on the official Ernesto Javier Martinez web site )


Reviewed in February 2022 by Naomi S.
Eiseley Branch Library

Nonbinary: A Memoir
by Genesis P-Orridge (Music 781.66 P-Orridge)

Genesis P-Orridge was a multi-disciplinary artist who is probably best known for being one of the founders of the industrial music genre in the 1970s. Gen was also one of the earliest people to work in live art installation works that have come to be known as “performance art,” and continued to work in other artistic media throughout their life. Writing this book turned out to be one of their last creative acts, as they died of leukemia in 2020 while still working on the text. The book was ultimately published in June of 2021. While there have been numerous interviews over the decades with Gen, and bits of their life story have been a part of lots of documentaries on industrial music and culture, Nonbinary is the first in-depth look at their life, particularly the early years.

In fact, the emphasis of this book on developmental years was one of my biggest takeaways. There are lots of other places to find out more about the history of early industrial music, and P-Orridge’s contributions to it in the bands Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, but well over the first half of this book covers the time period before 1975, the beginning of Throbbing Gristle. More recent times, from the 1990s to the present, figure in only the last 50 or so pages. Of course, this emphasis on early times is likely not intentional, since Gen died before the book was formally complete. But in some ways, I think it makes the book both more interesting and more essential for understanding their unique and creative life story.

I also think that the short afterword to the book by author and thinker Douglas Rushkoff really helps to frame the overall text — you might want to read it first, and then get into the book proper. Rushkoff briefly summarizes how the book project came into being — it was essentially done when Gen’s health became too compromised to continue traveling for performances — and he observes a particular quality about the whole book that I think comes through loud and clear. Let me quote him, because I think it’s a great lens through which to read the whole text. I wish I had read it before I read the whole book:

“What helped me get Gen to turn the corner was when I suggested they not write their autobiography, but rather their experiences with others. Gen’s eyes lit up at the thought of sharing their adventures transitioning from man to medium, as they themselves transitioned from life to — well, whatever is next. Predictably, then, this volume may seem just a bit mosaic to some readers. Well, what would you expect from a cut-and-paste artist who was no more dedicated to crashing civilization than crashing their own identity? The reading experience you just had was to my mind a bit like experiencing Genesis the person. Fluid. Changing. Self-annihilating. Nonbinary in the sense that the subject and object, figure and ground, merge and intertwine.”

Gen’s official start to the book is a prologue that retells their first meeting with novelist William Burroughs in London in 1972. The event clearly stood out to Gen as a kind of confirmation along the creative path, and the beginning of an encouraging relationship that continued through to the end of Burroughs’ life in 1997.

Then we’re taken back to the very earliest years of Gen’s life, and some biographical background on their parents. Among some general parental backgrounds, they recount in great detail the story of Gen’s father narrowly surviving the Battle of Dunkirk in WWII, and report an otherwise fairly normal childhood. The resided in Manchester, England, with maternal grandparents living next door during Gen’s single-digit years, and moved around a couple of times during grammar school years. They sang in grammar school choir. At the age of 15, they discovered the beat writers, which led to British counterculture magazines of the time, and then the underground music of the 60s, and soon Gen’s focus had settled on the arts. This, combined with a near-death experience, eventually led to the kinds of art and music that P-Orridge is famous for.

I don’t want to give away all of the historical details in Nonbinary right here, but suffice it to say that if you’re a fan, I think you’ll learn a lot about Gen’s life that you might not have read about previously. What I do want to emphasize is how Gen’s musings about their past lead to a couple of spots in the book that nicely summarize their contributions to the arts. One, which is fairly obvious but important nonetheless, is founding the industrial music genre. Genesis recalls, “On September 3, 1975, I went for a walk in London Fields in Hackney, London E8, with Monte Cazazza. We were talking and trying to come up with a name not for the band but for the music Throbbing Gristle was making, and we kept using the word ‘industrial.’ Industrial music.” They go on to explain their thoughts about the context, and are pleased to reflect that industrial music remains a living, growing genre of music 45 years later.

The second major takeaway, in my estimation, relates to Gen’s approach to music having little to do with musical skills in the conventional sense. While they have mentioned in many previous interviews the notion that Throbbing Gristle was intentionally a band of non-musicians figuring out how to approach music in new ways, there is a fairly concise explanation of the band’s early working methods in the book. Briefly put, they would jam while recording, Gen would go through these tapes and copy promising parts onto another tape, and then the band would learn how to recreate those more compelling passages and organize them into pieces.

Although they weren’t approaching music from the conventional paradigm of learning technique and music theory, they were learning how to create, refine, and reproduce particular kinds of orchestrated content that suited their needs. Aspects of this approach have become common musical practices since the early industrial era. They worked with lots of tape recorded extra audio in the form of “field recordings” of found sound, an obvious precursor to sampling culture. They reassembled bits of interesting music into new compositional wholes, a process very similar to contemporary production practices, and built into certain kinds of software packages like Ableton as the primary way to approach raw materials. And we also see lots of people producing music who aren’t coming from conventional musical backgrounds. Some come from other artistic disciplines, often from the visual arts. All of these pioneering practices, from the musical to the technical, are well represented in the book.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music by Alexander Reed, or Spectrum Compendium: Archival Documentation of the Post-Industrial Underground, Spectrum Magazine Archive 1998-2002 by Richard Stevenson.)

( publisher’s official Nonbinary: A Memoir web page ) | ( Wikipedia page for Genesis B. P-Orridge )


Reviewed in February 2022 by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

A Light Amongst Shadows
by Kelley York and Rowan Altwood, narrated by Kale Williams (Hoopla Audio)

A Light Amongst Shadows is the first book in the Dark is the Night series, and takes place in 1860’s England at an isolated boarding school. I enjoyed this book so well I purchased all the titles (five so far) in the series.

James Spencer has been sent away by his family to Whisperwood School for Boys. This school is for boys unable to afford the high-end schools or who aren’t desired at home by their families. But James manages to find friends among his fellow students and settles in nicely — while he attempts to get used to the paranormal goings-on in the place such as the crying, screaming, and claws scratching at the door to his room at night.

The staff pretend none of this is going on, claiming any sounds heard are the result of the wind on an old building. But apparently these noises have been routine for decades. Then, one of the boys disappears. The head of the school claims the boy’s family took him home, but James and his friends know otherwise, especially when they learn boys have regularly turned up missing from this school.

A well-written story that gives you a feel for its time period, slowly unfolds the romance between the two major characters, and the chilling mystery of the ghostly activities. The narrator does an excellent job of quietly relating this gothic story. I liked this reader so well I also purchased the CD version of this book.

Don’t listen to this at night if you’re home alone.

( official Kelley York web site )


Reviewed in February 2022 by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Light From Uncommon Skies
by Ryka Aoki (Aoki)

Light From Uncommon Skies is an uncommon blend of genres that includes both a demon trying to collect on a musician’s soul and a family of interstellar refugees running a doughnut shop. Mood-wise it ranges from dire abuse on the page to the warmest feelings of friendship.

The book has two main themes that have a common real-life connection of Asian American experience. First, it’s a book about music: violins and violin-making in particular. Katrina is a young, trans woman who has been surviving abuse and has little left beyond her violin. She finds a notorious teacher who has a Hellish agenda, but also shows her the most consideration she’s ever experienced. Second, it’s a book about war refugees finding their place in a new land. It’s just that these refugees have come from light-years away. The doughnut shop they run is inspired by the real life Cambodian American immigrant, Ted Ngoy, who worked for Winchell’s until he started his own chain of doughnut shops in Southern California, as discussed in Ryka Aoki’s post (

This is a story with great dynamic range from despair to hope, with artisan details on performance, lutherie, and a broader variety of cooking than the donuts. I wanted to be friends with everyone here…except the demon.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers or American Gods by Neil Gaiman.)

( publisher’s official Light From Uncommon Stars web page ) | ( official Ryka Aoki web site )


Reviewed in January 2022 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Another Kind
by Cait May and Trevor Bream (jPB (Series) May)

The cover art on this thick graphic novel for youth is what first grabbed my attention, and I’m glad I followed through with this one, as it was a terrific read.

This graphic novel, by the “writing and art team” spouses Cait May and Trevor Bream is part X-Files, part The Fugitive, part “family bonding” and part coming-of-age. Six children, ranging in age from 6 years old to 16, forcibly reside in a hidden government base in the Nevada desert, colloquially known as “The Playroom”. Each of the six is an “Irregularity” — a type of being that is outside of the human norm. One is a selkie, another a werebear shapeshifter, a third is an alien child, a fourth is half-human and half-Yeti, and a fifth is a Will-o-the-Wisp creature from the world of faerie. The sixth, and youngest, is the most precocious little girl with a headful of tentacles for hair. The “irregularities” are kept away from human society but are trained to make the fullest use of each of their special extra-human abilities.

When evidence is found that someone has hacked the computers (and the physical building) of the top-secret containment facility, two agents are tasked with sneaking the six “kids” to a new, safer locale. Only…one of those is a turncoat, whose aim is turn the children over to “The Collector”, who is trying to get his hands on anyone associated with the paranormal. The kids escape and begin a cross-country journey to a whispered place called sanctuary. As they travel, and encounter various individuals, each of the six tells the others of their (usually tragic) backstory and what led to their confinement.

Each of the characters is fascinating and likeable, and the overall story is a thinly-veiled allegory for accepting and appreciating that which is perhaps different from the social norm. The artwork is excellent, and the storytelling is alternately humorous, emotional, chilling and high-spirited. The storytellers manage to tell a particularly dark and forboding tale, with some violence and prejudice, without overwhelming younger readers or oversimplifying it for adult readers. I was sorry to see Another Kind end…but it was left open-ended enough that they could continue it in future volumes! Oh, and although this is classified in the kids’ collection, its storytelling is sophisticated enough that teens and adults will also enjoy it.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Backstagers by James Tynion IV.)

( publisher’s official Another Kind web page ) | ( official Cait May artist web site ) | ( official Trevor Bream Twitter feed )


Reviewed in January 2022 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

A Touch of Ruckus
by Ash Van Otterloo (j Van Otterloo)

A Touch of Ruckus is dedicated “to those who take the back seat to keep the peace.” Tennessee (Tennie) Lancaster is a 12 year old kid who feels like it’s her job to smooth things over for the adults in her family and manage her younger siblings. She’s hypersensitive to everyone else’s needs and neglects her own. On top of that, she has a superpower — or “superburden” as she calls it: when she touches some objects with her bare hands, she will experience other people’s memories. Even though she wears gloves, she still accidentally knows more about the worries of everyone around her than she would like.

Tennie is supposed to help her grandmother clean up her rural Appalachian house that’s surrounded by misty hills and forest that Tennie has always loved to visit. She meets a new friend, Fox, who has a superpower of their own and who claims there are ghosts in the woods. It quickly becomes apparent that there ARE ghosts, but whose ghosts and what are they raising a ruckus about?

One thing I loved about this book and Ash Van Otterloo’s previous book, Cattywampus, is the beautiful use of Appalachian language, most of which was also used by my Southern grandmother. I also appreciated seeing nonbinary and bisexual characters in a children’s novel along with the main theme of not having to the shoulder the weight of the world by yourself. Despite some cold-air-on-the-back-of-your-neck thrills and chills, this is overall a cozy read that feels like coming home.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff or Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger.)

( publisher’s official A Touch of Ruckus web page ) | ( official Ash Van Otterloo web site )


Reviewed in January 2021 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

2021 Reviews

An Amy Lane Christmas Bundle
by Amy Lane (Hoopla eBook)

Five short and sweet gay holiday romance novellas by Amy Lane. I had encountered all of these short stories previously as ebooks (and they all are still available individually in that format from your bookstore) and was very pleased to learn they had been collected into this anthology (which is also available from bookstores in a hardcopy format).

“If I Must” follows two roommates. Ian is a genius mathematician who gets so caught up in his work that he essentially needs a caretaker to ensure he eats. Joel is an organized computer programmer who tries his best to keep Ian on track. Then Joel heads home for a short holiday visit with his family and everything falls apart for Ian.

“Christmas with Danny Fit” involves an unmarried accountant who cares for, and lives with, his widowed mother – who doesn’t appreciate what all he does for her. He decides it’s past time for him to make a change so he begins to diet and buys exercise videos by his favorite exercise guru Danny Fit, and makes plans to purchase a home and move in. Of course he meets a guy along the way. Let the holiday romance begin.

“Puppy, Car, and Snow” Ryan works as a soul-less corporate lawyer, but for the past three years his personal life has been everything he could ask for after he met Scott. They are traveling to Ryan’s parent’s cabin for Christmas with his family, but Ryan’s disapproving mother is sucking the joy out of the holidays, and unfortunately they get snowed-in. Will their relationship survive?

“Turkey in the Snow” Hank is a staid banker whose sister has dumped her 4-year-old daughter on him and left. He’s trying his best to provide what a little girl needs but is out of his element. Flamboyant Justin is the childcare worker at Hank’s gym and is able to assist with the care of a little girl anticipating the holidays. And of course they begin to notice each other.

And my favorite, “Going Up” (the entire reason I purchased this anthology): Zach lives in the penthouse apartment of his father’s building. One day the express elevator breaks so Zach walks down a couple of flights to catch the regular elevator and encounters a man in a costume. Sean is working as a substitute history teacher and routinely dresses up as a historical character to keep his students’ attention. Zach now decides he likes riding the regular elevator and ensures he rides at the same time to “accidentally” run into Sean each morning. Who among us has not done something similar? It was fun watching this one unfold.

Five short and sweet holiday romance stories, each one can be read in an afternoon. .

( official Amy Lane web site )


Reviewed in December 2021 by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Hey Gurl, It’s Christmas!
by Randy Rainbow (Compact Disc 394 Rai)

Randy Rainbow is a comedian and singer, who first popped up in the pop culture zeitgeist around 2010, doing comedy videos in which he intercuts video of himself with video of various celebrities and/or newsmakers, to make it appear as if they were having phone conversations. His videos got a lot of traction, and then his popularity exploded in 2016 when he turned to making political parody videos set to music. Again, his style was to intercut images of himself with the politicians he was mocking, to make it look like he was interviewing them, but now he created full-fledged musical numbers — liberally borrowing well-known Broadway hit songs but applying his own all-original thematic lyrics. Randy has dozens of these bitingly satirical videos out there, from 2016 to 2021.

In the Winter of 2020, Randy released his first album, this holiday-themed collection of seven songs — Hey Gurl, It’s Christmas! Of the seven, one is a political parody — “Trumps Favorite Things” (set to “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music”). One is a completely original song — the title track. And the other five are well-known Christmas songs, with a Randy Rainbow twist. Randy has guest performers with him on several tracks — Kathy Griffin and Alan Cummings are psychoanalysts helping Randy as he deals with the repercussions of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”. Broadway superstar Norm Lewis duets with Randy on a mashup of “Merry Christmas Darling/What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” And another Broadway diva, Lorna Luft shares the crooning duties on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” with Randy.

Other than the political parody song, the two tracks that are most Randy-like (sassy, sarcastic, and flamboyant) are the opening number, “Hey Gurl, It’s Christmas”, where he collaborates with Broadway hitmaker Marc Shaiman, and the upbeat “Make Someone Happy” that wraps up the disc. It’s a short collection, and in true Randy Rainbow style, there is quite a bit of…colorful…language, so if you’re easily offended by casual swearing, this isn’t for you. But if you’ve enjoyed Randy’s online video parodies for the past 5+ years, you’ll love this holiday collection!

(If you enjoy this, Randy has a new album, A Little Brains, A Little Talent, which just came out in November 2021, not yet in the libraries’ collection. Or look for his parody videos online, especially on YouTube.)

( official Randy Rainbow web site )


Reviewed in December 2021 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

The Very Nice Box
by Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman (Blackett)

The Very Nice Box is a contemporary office culture satire mixed with a finely characterized look at dealing with trauma. Ava is a product engineer for an IKEA-like company. Her current design project is the Very Nice Box, a large general storage box that she’d rather think about than the car accident she survived that killed her parents and her girlfriend.

Her focused life is disrupted by vandalism to her car amid environmental protests of the company, then by a hotshot new boss who is trying to inject “1000% positivity” into the workplace, which she doesn’t think is appropriate to engineering concerns. Things start to tangle farther when she develops feelings for her ever-optimistic boss. He does, after, take care of his dog: a trait Ava trusts.

This was a read that gave me strongly mixed feelings throughout, but I was completely satisfied with how it all wrapped up. Recommended especially to fans of Robin Sloan.

( official Laura Blackett web site ) ( Eve Gleichman on Twitter )


Reviewed in November 2021 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

by Alex McElroy (McElroy)

the_atmospherians by Alex McElroy caught my eye with its cover that looks like a social media post with water drops on it. What I found was a story of two friends with recently failed careers trying to start a rural cult to rehabilitate toxic men. As you might guess, this doesn’t go smoothly.

For me, the broad-level plot was catching at first, floundered a bit midway, and then had a strong finish. The best value in this story, however, is in the satirical bits and pieces and very lovely turns of language throughout. This would make a great book for book club discussion simply because so many aspects of gender are talked about and referenced. It’s difficult to tell where the author themself stands, but maybe diving in and exploring these ideas was the point. It’s a weird book that embraces its own weirdness.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon.)

( official the_atmospherians page on the official Alex McElroy web site )


Reviewed in November 2021 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

The Darkness Outside Us
by Eliot Schrefer (YA Schrefer)

What do you get when you take the enemies-to-lovers trope, a murderous space ship AI, and the premise of the game “Among Us” and put it into freeze-dried space ready smoothie? Eliot Schrefer’s The Darkness Outside Us.

This book had been on my radar already for a while — an LGBTQ+ representative science fiction novel is right up my alley. However, when the book became the center of a controversy involved with a local literary festival, it jumped to the top of my to-be-read list. With action, romance, and a mid-point twist worthy of the best sci-fi thrillers, The Darkness Outside Us stands out for much more than its place in the center of a censorship controversy.

Ambrose Cusk is more than just the prodigal son of one of future Earth’s two remaining nations — he’s the champion for humanities future. Chosen to go on a rescue mission to save his sister, Minerva, from her failed mission to colonize Pluto, Ambrose is hoping to not only save his family but the hope of mankind as well. Along with him on his mission is a representative from the other of Earth’s nations, a mysterious boy his own age named Kodiak. Though they’ve never met, they’re expected to live and work together in a joint effort to save Minerva and the planet’s future. Of course, things don’t start off well, with Ambrose waking up after being comatose from an accident with the ship’s launch and Kodiak refusing to communicate. Slowly, the two boys come together and begin to get to know each other with the help of the ship’s AI guiding them to complete essential tasks to ensure the success of their mission.

But all is not as it seems (after all, if things went according to plan, we’d have a much shorter and far less interesting book). After a few solid chapters full of relationship building, cute almost-dates eating freeze dried space food, and emotionally charged backstory reveals, we take a sharp twist from a budding romantic enemies-to-lovers space romcom to a heart-pounding thriller complete with existential dread, a murderous AI, and timorously unraveling mental states (for both the characters and the reader). This book had me on the edge of my seat for the majority of the second half, and the pay-off was more than worth the rise in blood pressure. Eliot Schrefer ends on a refreshingly hopeful note that doesn’t cheapen any of the tension or twists.

Schrefer’s writing is enrapturing, with a tone that is engagingly straight forward supported by the perfect juxtaposition of exhilarating fast paced action and slow, heart pounding tension. While the setting is contained almost entirely on the two main character’s space station, Schrefer builds the single setting into an entire complex world full of tantalizing details and easy to miss clues that delightfully reveal themselves as the novel goes on.

Plus, there’s an adorable helper robot. I love a little robot in any context.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, The Martian by Andy Weir or Interstellar, a film by Christopher Nolan.)

( official The Darkness Outside Us and Eliot Schrefer web site )


Reviewed in November 2021 by L.G.
Gere Branch Library

Shortbread and Shadows
by Amy Lane (eBook)

This series follows a coven of modern-day male witches (best friends, who all live as neighbors and roommates on a dead-end street) who screw up a spell. Now two of their friends are caught in a time/space rift in their house, the neighborhood animals are behaving in a scary, weird fashion (birds flying upside-down, squirrels marching in single file), and a vague darkness is spreading throughout their cul-de-sac.

Along with trying to figure out the spell, Book #1 deals with baker Bartholomew’s crush on Lachlan, the woodworker whose booth is usually next to Bartholomew’s booth at local fairs and conventions where they both sell their wares.

Each book in this series follows the romance and courting of one of the friends in their coven, along with trying to sort out the spell, and resolving the hex they inadvertently created. This story arc will continue through the entire series.

Shortbread and Shadows is a sweet, light-hearted, easy read of witches, spells, and romance that provides an enjoyable afternoon. At this time, available from the library as an ebook on Hoopla.

Book #2, Portals and Puppy Dogs is also available on Hoopa as an ebook. Book #3, Pentacles and Pelting Plants is due out October 19.

( publisher’s official Shortbread and Shadows web page ) | ( official Amy Lane Twitter feed )


Reviewed in October 2021 by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. (as Told to His Brother)
by David Levithan (j Levithan)

Lucas’ older brother, Aidan, disappears in the middle of the night with no clues about what happened. Six days later, he appears in their windowless attic when the house is full of people who have been searching for him, or his body. When Lucas asks Aidan where he was, he answers: Aveinieu. And he says he got there through the dresser in the attic.

Their parents, the police, and everyone in town is glad Aidan is home safe, but they want to know where Aidan really was. This is a book about people who care about kids, but want another another truth than the one they’re hearing. Especially (but not exclusively) applicable to queer kids.

The suspense kept me reading until I finished this short book in one evening, and the ending was satisfying. I bet you’d have a riot from students if you tried to drag this book out in small classroom read-aloud sessions. Excellent!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis or Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire — recommended for adults and teens, not kids.)

( publisher’s official Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S web site ) | ( official David Levithan web site )


Reviewed in October 2021 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

How to Become a Planet
by Nicole Melleby (j Melleby)

Pluto is a kid who loves visiting science centers, watching meteor showers, and working in her mom’s pizza restaurant by the beach. Or at least she did until she had to skip the end of seventh grade and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

This summer, Pluto has a list of goals that she believes–if she accomplishes them — will mean she’ll go back to the Pluto she was before. She meets a new friend who has a list of her own and they find they can help each other. This story is filled with references to astronomy, especially about the planet Pluto’s re-designation and the Challenger disaster. While Pluto-the-person’s struggles can be tough to experience with her at times and there’s no magical “fix,” tweens and adults readers both can learn a lot about what it looks like to live with depression and learn how to thrive again.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Benefits of Being An Octopus by Ann Braden or Focused by Alyson Gerber.)

( official How to Become a Planet page on the official Nicole Melleby web site )


Reviewed in October 2021 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

by Anna North (North)

Outlawed is a western set in the 1890s, but not exactly the one in our history books. A flu epidemic several generations before killed 90% of Americans (or at least that many white Americans). The United States government dissolved. Much of white American Christianity shifted focus from Jesus’ death and resurrection to the baby Jesus as a fertility god, with a new manifest destiny to repopulate.

Ada is the daughter of a revered midwife, but she turns out to be infertile herself. Everyone knows infertile women are likely to turn into witches and curse other women with infertility, kill babies, and bring general disaster to their community. Ada is forced to flee into hiding to escape execution. She still wants to learn what causes infertility, but she finds a community of other outcasts making their own way in the world with guns in their hands.

This was a delightful read for me, especially when it came to Ada learning how to be an outlaw. It’s a violent adventure with broad racial and queer representation. I’d recommend it to western fans and to people who have never read a western novel in their lives.

A book club selection by Reese Witherspoon.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey or The Grace Year by Kim Liggett.)

( official Outlawed page on the official Anna North web site )


Reviewed in October 2021 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Surrender Your Sons
by Adam Sass (YA Sass)

Surrender Your Sons is a thriller for high school readers about a boy, Connor, being kidnapped and taken to a small island near Puerto Rico. He soon realizes this is a secret conversion therapy camp. Conversion therapy is a practice that’s currently (2021) banned for use on minors in almost half of the States and Puerto Rico. It’s legal in Nebraska. The idea is to force queer kids to become straight and/or cisgender through psychological and sometimes physical abuse.

Connor connects the camp to a strange note from a disabled man he took care of and soon finds out the man was once a camper. Was he injured as part of the process? This story is combination escape thriller and cold-case mystery. Things get messy in terms of both bloody violence and, well, people are complicated, including terrible people.

I found it hard to put down.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth or The Grace Year by Kim Liggett.)

( official Surrender Your Sons page on the official Adam Sass web site )


Reviewed in September 2021 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Radio Silence
by Alice Oseman (YA Oseman)

Radio Silence didn’t go where I expected, but I enjoyed my time with it. It starts with a Big Coincidence. Frances is a head girl (British thing) at her school who lets everyone think she’s only about studying and school spirit, but she secretly makes fan art of her favorite sci-fi podcast, Radio Silence. Soon after the anonymous podcast creator asks her to become the official artist for the show, she finds out she personally knows the creator…from kissing his sister just before that sister ran away from home. So, a bit awkward.

But now the two of them can become fast friends who know each other’s big secret. What follows is a messy exploration of relationships, both platonic and sexual, among a small group of teens. It’s a story about what people are willing to share and want to hold back, even from the ones closest to them. It’s also a story about pressure put on teens to attend university as the one valued entrance to adulthood. I’ve read some other reviews that complain about this story meandering. Yes, it does, but so do real life relationships and sorting out what one wants / who one is. Radio Silence makes space to respect these realities and is a better book for it.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender or I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver.)

( official Radio Silence page on the official Alice Oseman web site )


Reviewed in August 2021 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Services

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet
by Becky Chambers (Chambers)

I enjoyed reading this recently for my science fiction club’s monthly Book Discussion meeting in June 2021. This particular volume, published in 2014, is Chambers’ first novel in her Galactic Commons series, which has reached four volumes as of 2021. Set in a distant future, in which human beings are just one small part of a multi-species federation of trade and exploration, the main events of this novel focus on the crew of a tunneling vessel — blue collar workers who are hired to punch a hole through space to create a short-cut between the areas of known space and the edge of a portion of space peopled by a galactic empire that is negotiating to join the others.

This is a character-driven novel, though the plot does move forward in bits and pieces. Chambers is far more concerned with introducing a large and diverse cast of humans, aliens and artificial intelligences. Her “worldbuilding” skills are spectacular, and you’ll find yourself invested in the lives of this hardworking spaceship crew. On the other hand, you may also find yourself overwhelmed with characters from extremely diverse cultures — in Chambers’ world, everybody seems to be wholly accepting and embraces all those differences, with hardly any major character conflicts among the central cast (other than one token “curmudgeonly” crewmember whose apparent role is to serve as the singular source of internal conflict). There are numerous elaborate and intriguing set pieces, where the characters (and we readers) learn more about their universe.

I enjoyed this very much, but I missed having a storyline where the plot (i.e. “what’s happening” as opposed to “who its happening to”) was more critical. And a few of the more “out there” character quirks seemed a bit heavy-handed. And yet…I was sorry to see this story end, and I look forward to reading more in her Galactic Commons stories. Highly recommended for fans of social science fiction, or of exotic alien races, or of the adventures of blue-collar futuristic workers and “fringe” members of society instead of mainstream. In other words, if you liked Firefly more than Star Trek, this will probably appeal to you.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the rest of The Galactic Commons series by Becky Chambers, the TV series Firefly or the science fiction novels of Ann Leckie.)

( official The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet page on the official Becky Chambers web site )


Reviewed in July 2021 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Services

Queering Kansas City Jazz: Gender, Performance and a History of a Scene
by Amber R. Clifford-Napoleone (Music 781.65 Cli)

This is a recent book published by University of Nebraska Press that addresses untold stories of music history that are not far from Nebraska geographically. The history of Kansas City jazz is a pivotal moment in jazz history that’s a highlight of most jazz history books. KC is arguably the birthplace of bebop, and bebop is the music from which most strains of jazz ever since are most closely related.

But the history books published so far haven’t looked at the broader scope of entertainment and culture that was offered in Kansas City at the same time. As author Amber R. Clifford-Napoleone frames it in her introduction: “numerous works have explored the intersection of leisure culture, identity politics, and jazz in New York, Chicago and other jazz scene cities, but neglected to explore the way that non-normative gender performance, combined with working-class women, racial segregation, and space, created Kansas City’s jazz scene.” This fascinating book explores these previously-forgotten dynamics in the story of KC jazz, and in doing so, we find a more diverse and culturally complex scene while correcting the historical record. While you won’t learn a lot more about jazz itself in this book, you’ll discover a broader and more thorough picture of the times and places where bebop was born.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History by Scott Knowles DeVeaux or Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch.)

( University of Nebraska Press’ official Queering Kansas City Jazz web page ) | ( official Dr. Amber R. Clifford-Napoleone staff page at the University of Central Missouri )


Reviewed in July 2021 by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

by Stephen King (Compact Disc King)

I’ll be the first to admit, there was a point at which I “burned out” on Stephen King, and one King story started to feel like any other King story…so I stopped reading everything he put out. But, at the same time, I’ll also equally admit that pretty much every King story I’ve tried in the past 10 years has still impressed me, and Later definitely falls into that category.

King has released three novels through publisher Hard Case Crime, which specializes in “pulp” fiction, epitomized by the “tough guy” novels of the 1950s and 1960s, but brought up to modern sensibilities. The first two were The Colorado Kid and Joyland. Later is the third, and my favorite of those three. I enjoyed Later as a book-on-cd, narrated by actor Seth Numrich.

In Later, the central protagonist is Jamie Conklin, who’s telling the story in retrospect as someone in their early twenties. We first see him as an 8-year old and again in his early teens. Jamie is the son of a single mom, and (as often is the case in King novels) has a paranormal ability. He can see dead people, for the first 3 or 4 days after they’ve passed away, usually hanging around the places that were significant to them in their lives, before they fade out and are gone for good. He can also speak to them — and any question he asks them they have to answer truthfully. His mother is aware of this unusual ability but prefers not to think about it. Until an emergency situation happens, and she needs to make use of his particular skill to ensure their financial stability. That action has repercussions from that day onward, both good and bad.

The characters are sharply defined in this one, from Jamie and his mom, to her female ex-lover, a corrupt cop who knows Jamie’s secret, to an elderly professor friend, to all the somewhat muted “ghosts” that Jamie converses with. Perhaps the most memorable character is this story’s “big bad” — a paranormal threat that Jamie, as a pre-teen, must figure out a way to face down. Numrich is a superb narrator for this title, bringing Jamie to glorious life and allowing us into his mental processes, while also still making us realize that for most of the story, Jamie’s just a kid.

Highly recommended, particularly in the audiobook format. Honestly, this just makes me want to sample even more of King’s recent works.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Doctor Sleep, King’s sequel to his classic, The Shining, read in audiobook format by actor Will Patton.)

( official Later page on the official Stephen King web site )

See Tracy T.’s review of the audiobook of The Colorado Kid by Stephen King in the April 2016 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!
See Tracy T.’s review of Joyland by Stephen King in the February 2015 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!
See Scott C.’s review of the audiobook of Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, in the March 2014 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!


Reviewed in June 2021 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Winter’s Orbit
by Everina Maxwell (Maxwell)

Winter’s Orbit is a standalone, slow-burn, arranged marriage romance set amid interplanetary intrigue. It opens with Prince Kiem being informed by the Emperor that he’s going to be marrying Count Jainan the next day to preserve a treaty. No, they haven’t officially even met. And Jainan’s partner died only weeks ago in a shuttle crash that *might* not have been an accident.

Kiem is a good-hearted, socially adept young man with a reputation for reckless behavior, though he’s been turning that around into a great deal of charity work lately. Jainan is a reserved Engineer and amateur martial artist who comes from a vassal planet. They both almost immediately develop a huge crush on the other fellow, but hide it when they think the other isn’t interested. Meanwhile, there’s trouble with the treaty due to all kinds of shady happenings that may be extremely close to home.

I thoroughly enjoyed this fun, thrilling, sensitively told story about finding a healthy relationship and confidence in one’s own strengths.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi, A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine or Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston.)

( official Everina Maxwell web site )


Reviewed in April 2021 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

The Memory Theater
by Karin Tidbeck (Tidbeck)

The Memory Theater opens on two children living in a twilight paradise called the Gardens where stately lords and ladies dance, play croquet, and hunt the older children for their feasts. It reminded me of stepping into a Maxfield Parrish painting combined with the bloodier end of fairy tales.

Several characters leave the Garden, striking out into the world — or rather worlds — on desperate quests. If you like stories that combine wildly imaginative fantasy worlds with realistic historical fiction from our own world, this may be an “over the hills and far away” adventure for you. The prose frequently borders on lyrical without being syrupy and there are plenty of small moments that made me appreciate the author’s thoughtfulness. I will be seeking out more of their books soon.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, or The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Sunsany.)

( The Memory Theater page on the official Karin Tidbeck web site )


Reviewed in April 2021 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

by Jordan Ifueko (YA Ifueko)

Raybearer was one of those books with an enormous amount of online hype and a pretty cover. I was hooked from the first chapter, which reads like a little fairy tale in itself. Tarisai is a girl who isn’t allowed to leave her mother’s mansion. She’s to study hard to pass an Imperial test and not ask questions about why or even who her mother is. She sneaks out and meets her father, who is a magic creature who grants wishes. He gives her a vision of how her mother trapped him and tried to wish for the death of someone. That wasn’t allowed, but she forced him to make a child with her whom she could give one command. So Tarisai learns she was conceived by rape to gain a prince’s trust, love him, and then kill him.

This is a fantasy book about an empire that’s based more in Yoruba and other West African cultures than European culture. There’s strong worldbuilding around the magic of the Raybearers: an imperial line of rulers who are nearly — but not quite perfectly — immune to all deaths but old age. A small group of people bound to a Raybearer by love and magic may kill him. Meanwhile, the whole empire is on the verge of renewing its pact with the underworld, where they must send children with a particular birthmark down as sacrifices or else monsters will attack them all. The odd thing is that these birthmarks appeared on children across the empire until a generation or so back when they all began to appear in a single nation.

This is a great read if you like villains who are ruthless, but for good reasons. While there are revelations and resolution at the end of this book, it is clearly the start of a longer adventure with a group of vibrant, relatable characters.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor.)

( official Jordan Ifueko web site )


Reviewed in February 2021 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Ghosted in L.A.: Volume 3
by Sina Grace (writer) and Siobhan Keenan (artist) (YA PB (Graphic Novel) Grace)

The Ghosted in L.A. series comes to an abrupt conclusion in this, the third graphic novel that compiles issues #9 through #12 of the comic-book series. In the earlier two volumes, college student Daphne Walters followed her boyfriend from their small town to Los Angeles, only to discover that that romantic relationship was over. Distraught, and uncertain why she was even in L.A., Daphne ended up stumbling into the grounds of an apparently empty mansion, Rycroft Manor, where she encounters a group of ghosts, all tied to the property. She ultimately became the “eyes and ears” of the ghosts, befriending them and bringing some of the comforts of the modern world into their cloistered existence. But her encounters with the paranormal are often fraught with unexpected dangers, including one of the specters who didn’t appreciate her meddling. In the second volume, the female indie rocker that Daphne has a crush on dies under odd circumstances, and her ghost ends up joining the others at Rycroft Manor.

In this third volume, writer Grace and illustrator Keenan wrap up most of the loose plot threads, in unforeseen ways. One major plotline that is touched on is Daphne’s ultraconservative former college roommate, who becomes a threat to all that Daphne holds dear, and a violent entity that had been entrapped in the Manor’s basement is accidentally released. In many ways, this volume felt a bit rushed, as though the artistic team knew the series was coming to an abrupt end and they needed to bring everything to a conclusion quickly. I liked several of the characters in this series, but, ultimately, volume three left we vaguely unsatisfied. None-the-less, if you’ve read the first two volumes, I do recommend this one so you know how all the storylines conclude. Strong emphasis, especially in this third volume, on LGBTQ relationships between several of the ongoing characters.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the first two volumes of Ghosted in L.A. by Sina Grace and Siobhan Keenan, Heavy Vinyl: Riot on the Radio by Carly Usdin, or Fence by C.S. Pacat.)

( publisher’s official Ghosted in L.A. web site ) | ( official Sina Grace web site ) | ( official Siobhan Keenan Twitter feed )


Reviewed in February 2021 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Phoenix Extravagant
by Yoon Ha Lee (Lee)

Phoenix Extravagant has a striking cover featuring a red East Asian style metal dragon flying over a low roof. This caught my eye because it looks like a great metal album cover. It didn’t have anything to do with heavy metal music, but it did turn out to be a fantasy set in Korea during its occupation by Imperial Japan. Okay, the words “Korea” and “Japan” aren’t in the book, but the details about things like flag designs and geography make it clear that it’s loosely based on this historical situation without being historical fiction.

Jebi is a young artist who has been working hard to pass an art examination and find steady work with the occupiers. They know their older sister wouldn’t approve of collaboration, but times are hard. Beyond Korean folklore being visibly true in this story, there is a police force of metal people in the city that turn out to be powered by magical sigils. Put that together with what’s on this book’s cover and you have a good idea of what Jebi is about to find themself stumbling into. But wait until you find out what the empire is doing to acquire the pigments for these sigils.

I would consider this a “new adult” level book that’s aimed primarily at readers in their 20s. It’s great for people into painting, Korean history and folklore, sympathetic characters in conflict with each other, or who just want a fun adventure story that looks at politics and the dynamics of occupation. Phoenix Extravagant is also the book with the most non-binary people I’ve encountered so far. It’s unclear whether this book will have a sequel. There’s an opening for more, but the story here does come to a satisfying and sublime conclusion.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman or Dragon Pearl also by Yoon Ha Lee.)

( publisher’s official Phoenix Extravagant web page ) | ( official Yoon Ha Lee web site )


Reviewed in January 2021 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

I Hope You’re Listening
by Tom Ryan (YA Ryan)

I Hope You’re Listening is a young adult mystery novel about a seventeen year old, Dee, who is secretly the host of a nationally famous missing persons podcast. This has become her way of coping with an event ten years when her friend was kidnapped in front of her and never found. She’s avoided doing an episode on that disappearance because she wants to keep herself out of the spotlight, but now another young girl has gone missing in the same location and her fans are asking her to feature the case.

Meanwhile, an online tabloid reporter is digging into the identity of the podcast host. And a new family has just moved in next door and their daughter is giving Dee some seriously traitorous blushes, and—what’s this? — she’s a fan of the podcast?

This book does a great job of giving a small town mystery feel that’s also extremely contemporary. I loved the winter setting and vibrant, realistic characters.

( official I Hope You’re Listening and Tom Ryan web site )


Reviewed in January 2021 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

The Luminous Dead
by Caitlin Starling (Starling)

The Luminous Dead was the book I read in 2020 that hooked me the hardest. It opens with the main character, Gyre, already descending into a cave system alone. Well, almost alone. She’s wearing a powered caving suit and there’s an topside operator, Em, monitoring her.

For Gyre, this is about a life-changing payment for completing the job. She’s skilled but she didn’t meet background requirements so she faked her resume. Things start smoothly enough, but Em is not very talkative. Gyre starts finding bodies of previous cavers and seeing inconsistencies between suit sensors and her own eyes. Is the growing risk worth the payout?

This is a fantastic read if you like adventure stories with a mystery to unravel. This book keeps the cast of characters small but well-developed. Thoroughly immersive.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Descent by Jeff Long, or Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.)

( publisher’s official The Luminous Dead web site ) | ( official Caitlin Starling web site )


Reviewed in January 2021 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

2020 Reviews

by David Gerrold (Gerrold)

I had wildly mixed feelings about Hella by David Gerrold. On the one hand, it’s about planetary colonization in the second or third generation when the Earth colonists are still tenuously holding on, but they’re just getting confident enough to start engaging in open conflict among themselves. The planet is filled with plants and animal life in a way that feels like a dinosaur-era location, but weirder. If you’re the kind of science fiction reader who enjoys reading about humans vs. environment, you may also really dig the first half or so of this book. It does have an odd shift to being almost all about humans vs. humans after this and in a way that isn’t strongly connected with the first half, which other reviews haven’t liked. Personally, I didn’t mind but it’s a little messy in that way.

On the other hand, the author tried to add diversity in a way that ends up being worse than if he had written this the way he would have written it in the 90s. Specifically, the main character (and his brother and his mother) are all transgender. The main character is also autistic. The author is neither and seems to have “done his research” exclusively by reading outdated research papers. He is gay, however, so the gay bits are okay.

Overall, not something I’d recommend to everyone, but by now you probably know if this might be a good book for you. Yes, the book title is from the slang “hella” meaning “extremely”.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers.)

( publisher’s official Hella web page ) | ( official David Gerrold web site )


Reviewed in December 2020 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library – Public Service

Plain Bad Heroines
by emily m. danforth (Danforth)

Plain Bad Heroines by emily m. danforth (who prefers lowercase) is a delightful big, red book about a troublesome big, red book. In a 1902 Rhode Island girl’s boarding school, several teens have become obsessed with Mary MacLane’s red-covered memoir that’s bursting with feelings, including feelings of longing for another woman. And then the mysterious deaths begin.

Meanwhile in the present day, a horror film director has recruited Hollywood’s top “celesbian” and a relatively unknown girl to play the leads in an on-location film about the spooky “happenings” from over a century ago. Not an entirely safe idea. This dual-timeline story does a pleasant job of harmonizing the voices of gothic historical and Twitter/Instagram-savvy contemporary fiction.

Plain Bad Heroines is more gothic suspense than outright horror, so it’s great for readers who want to be a little scared without going too far. There is a strong sense of place and even a map at the start of the book, which are elements I love. It also has ink illustrations by Sara Lautman, reminiscent of Edward Gorey. And footnotes! Lots of footnotes that mix humor and historical notes. What I’m saying is that it’s an especially pleasurable book to hold and read from a book construction point of view.

I recommend Plain Bad Heroines to readers who like spooky New England, Truman Capote, spiritualism, greenhouses, queer history, and stories where the story touches on literature both inside and outside of the fictional world. emily m. danforth received her Ph.D in English-Creative Writing from University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and lives in Rhode Island.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try House of Leaves by Mark J. Danielewski or Wilder Girls by Rory Power.)

( official Plain Bad Heroines and emily m danforth web site )


Reviewed in December 2020 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library – Public Service

Ghosted in L.A.
by Sina Grace (writer), Siobhan Keenan (art), Cathy Le (colorist), DC Hopkins (lettering) (YA PB (Graphic Novel) Grace)

This graphic novel compiles the first four issues of an ongoing comic-book series by Sina Grace (writer) and Siobhan Keenan (artist). The storyline centers on Daphne Walters, a young woman who follows her long-time boyfriend from the Midwest to Los Angeles to attend college. Only, when she gets to L.A., he dumps her, she has an antagonistic relationship with her new college roommate, and after a disastrous first date with a guy who seemed to be interested in her, she finds herself trespassing on the grounds of an unoccupied mansion (with a large swimming pool). It is there that she encounters a group of ghosts, who occupy the mansion. She convinces them to allow her to stay in the mansion and serve as their hands and feet, and meanwhile they serve to give her sounding boards to try to figure out who and what she is going to become, as she’s a bit lost in life.

The characters are all fascinating, the artwork is terrific, and the pacing is marvelous. The plot was a little light in this first compilation, but I attribute that to needing to set everything up and in motion, and I anticipate future volumes to have a bit more “story” to them. Overall this is a charming and engaging light fantasy series, and I look forward to reading more of them as they’re released.

( publisher’s official Ghosted in L.A. web site ) | ( official Sina Grace web site ) | ( official Siobhan Keenan web site )


Reviewed in November 2020 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Gay Guerrilla: Julius Easton and His Music
edited by Renee Levine Packer and Mary Jane Leach (Music 780.92 Eas)

Let’s talk a little about Julius Eastman, a composer and singer whose work has mostly languished in obscurity since his death in 1990. During his lifetime, he was known for his incredible voice, which was well captured on the 1971 Unicorn Records edition of Peter Maxwell Davies’ “Eight Songs For a Mad King.” The piece is a feature for a notoriously difficult solo baritone performer, full of extended techniques with a five-octave range. As a composer, Eastman was known as a bit of a provocateur in the east coast new music scenes of the 1970s and 80s. As interesting as his music was—and is—his choices of titles sometimes led to controversies, causing the titles of his works to be left off concert programs. Truth be told, he remains ahead of his time in that regard—we can’t say the names of several of his works on the radio or print them in a newspaper over 40 years after their composition, either.

But there is far more to the work of Julius Eastman than pure provocation, and what provocation there is embedded in his works seems very prescient toward contemporary discussions happening in the arts and sociopolitical circles. As a gay black man working in a mostly straight white environment and community, Eastman didn’t hide his struggles to find peace in a society that often seemed to reject him and those like him. As the decades have passed, and we continue to wrestle with these issues as a society, perhaps it’s no surprise that there is a resurgence in interest in Eastman’s music in the last decade, including performances, retrospective recordings, and now the first book that looks critically at his work: Gay Guerrilla: Julius Easton and His Music.

Gay Guerrilla is in the form of essays, many of which are written by musicians and educators who knew Eastman in some capacity during his career. After an excellent foreword by composer and trombone virtuoso George Lewis, we get a biographical sketch of Eastman’s early years, in which it becomes clear that he had unusual musical gifts from an early age. In his early professional life, he enjoyed the beginnings of musical success, like a Grammy nomination and an arts grant in 1973, while also experiencing racism after moving to a white neighborhood. These incidents started to come together in his work.

Later sections of the book focus on both personal recollections, some analysis of compositions, and tales of his work as a vocalist. I was particularly struck by music writer Kyle Gann’s section on the resurgence of interest in Eastman’s work. Having known him since the mid-1970s, Gann speaks knowingly of how “those of us who love Eastman’s music despaired that we would never hear it again. But thanks to the miracle of modern musicology, his music is back, recorded, and being played, and he has a place in history.”

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Mavericks and Other Traditions in American Music, by Michael Broyles or It’s Our Music, too: The Black Experience in Classical Music, by Earl Ofari Hutchinson.)

( Wikipedia page for Julius Eastman )


Reviewed in November 2020 by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

The List of Things That Will Not Change
by Rebecca Stead (j Stead)

The List of Things That Will Not Change is a finely crafted, heartfelt book about a girl whose family life has changed and is about to change again.

When the book opens, it’s been several years since Bea’s parents divorced and she has become used to her schedule of living in two homes. On the day her parents told her they were separating, they gave her a notebook and a numbered list of things that will not change. Number Six was, “We are still a family, but in a different way.” Now, her dad tells her there’s another family meeting and Bea worries what it could be this time, but he tells her he’s going to marry his boyfriend. A little later in the book, Bea realizes this also means she’s going to be gaining a sister like she’s always wanted!

The thing that stood out to me the most about this book is the way it models emotional intelligence for kids in so many ways. Bea and her parents have set up signals to check in on each other or to say they love each other with hand squeezes. Bea is seeing a therapist which demystifies and destigmatizes therapy for kids reading the book. This also gives the opportunity for Bea to be mindful about how feelings can layer on top of each other and how her body responds to feelings like anger and guilt.

All characters are well-rounded with things happening that sometimes only adult readers are likely to notice, but other times kids are likely to pick up on before Bea does. There’s a bit too much time hopping for the age group, so I’d recommend making a time chart if reading with younger kids.

The biggest frame of suspense about how the sound of corn growing ties into Bea’s life is lovely but maybe abstract for kids. However, they will all want to know how the wedding will go, whether Bea and her new sister will get along, how Bea and the classmate that Bea is bullying will work out, whether Bea’s cousin will recover from Bell’s Palsy, how the colonial breakfast project at school will play out with Dad’s fiancé attending, and what happens after you maybe get bitten by a bat.

It’s not clear that any of the specific disabilities (like eczema) and experiences in this book are from the author’s personal experience, but it all seemed sensitively written to me.

It’s a sweet book that had me misty-eyed a lot. There’s just so much good stuff for kids here while staying firmly in the perspective of a kid their age who is not always doing the right thing the first time but gets there by the end.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Blended, by Sharon Draper.] [ publisher’s official List of Things That Will Not Change web page ]


Reviewed in October 2020 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
by Becky Chambers (Chambers)

A wonderfully diverse crew, both in personality and species, who works in space!

“They are offered a job tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet. It’s a lucrative job, but a host of unexpected mishaps force the crew to depend on each other.”

This space opera novel follows the lives on the crew, from their own points of view and through their problems as they arise, leading to an inclusive and captivating novel that will keep you enthralled well past your bed time!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey, Dune by Frank Herbert or On Basilisk Station by David Weber.)

( official The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet page on the official Becky Chambers web site )

See Scott C.’s review of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in the July 2021 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!


Reviewed in August 2020 by by Rio B.
Bennett Martin Public Library – Public Service

Killed at the Whim of a Hat
by Colin Cotterill (Compact Disc Cotterill)

During the period while the libraries have been closed to the public, I’ve been trying to sample some audiobooks in my car’s CD player on the ways to and from work — particularly authors I’ve not tried before. One of those was British author Colin Cotterill. Cotterill had already established himself with 8 novels in the Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery series (since continued to 15), when Killed at the Whim of a Hat came out in 2011. The series is anchored by a mid-30s female Thai crime reporter, Jimm Juree, who finds her life in chaos when her mother, the head of her household, uproots the entire family from the big city in the north of Thailand and settles them down in a south Thailand coastal village, operating a run-down tourist hotel. Desperate to keep herself involved in crime reporting, Jimm jumps (actually rides her bicycle) at the chance to investigate when an old VW van is discovered buried in a farmer’s field — and has been for several decades — with a pair of dead hippies’ bodies in it. While investigating that, a modern day murder occurs at a nearby monastery — a visiting Abbot (essentially an “internal affairs” investigator for the Buddhist church) is killed. When Jimm attempts to investigate that as well, she befriends a chief suspect and sets out to prove a friendly nun could not have committed the murder.

The plot is very complex and twisty, but it is primarily the characters that drive this novel. Particularly the witty, sarcastic and world-weary Jimm — in her 30s and without much prospect of finding a suitable husband (much to her mother’s dismay). Jimm has a shy bodybuilding brother Arny, a transgendered brother (now sister) Sissi, whose computer hacking skills come in handy, plus Grandpa Jah (a retired by-the-books cop, whose laconic attitudes belie serious investigative skills). And there’s her seemingly-dotty mother, Mrai, who Jimm fears is becoming senile, but who comes up with the most thoughtful observations when least expected. In this entry volume in the series, Jimm befriends several of the local police officers, particularly the flamboyantly gay Lt. Chompu, who’s perhaps the book’s most memorable character. I can’t wait to see what additional stories there are with Jimm Juree.

The audiobook narration by Kim Mai Guest really brought this story to life, with its exotic setting and colorful characters. Not being a Thai speaker, I kind of wished I had a printed character sheet to track who was who, as the names were all very hard to follow. But it was still fun to listen to.

Cotterill has had two more Jimm Juree novels published that were set after Killed at the Whim of a Hat, plus a prequel novel, set before the family uprooted from their previous lives. There have also been a dozen or so individual short stories published digitally, featuring Jimm and family. I’m sorry more novels don’t appear to be forthcoming.

( official Killed at the Whim of a Hat page on the official Colin Cotterill web site )


Reviewed in June 2020 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library – Public Service

The Collapsing Empire
by John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire is the beginning of a science fiction trilogy called The Interdependency, which was completed in April 2020. It’s a story about environmental change that’s about to kill all of human society across dozens of star systems and the politics of doing something about it. This is unabashedly an analogy to our planet’s climate change situation.

The setup is that humanity is inhabiting all of these star systems due to a series of one-way wormholes called the Flow. Most of the action takes place in the ruling system which has the most wormhole entrances and exits “Hub,” and the system that’s the hardest to reach “End.” The political body that stretches across all of these systems is called “The Interdependency” because no system is self-sustaining due to all noble families having monopolies on essential goods and services. This was set up on purpose millennia ago by one woman who wanted to force everyone to get along.

That’s all well and good until a few Flow physicists start realizing that the wormholes are about to change…and then one winks out of existence. The physicist for a major noble family believes the end result is that End is going to become the new Hub, so the family plots to take over the planet — and rule of the Interdependency — before everyone else notices. A father-son team of Flow physicists on End come to a different conclusion: the Flows are all going away, not shifting.

This means a scientist who’s great with data and not great with politics needs to tell everyone that they’re all about to die and they need to act before it’s too late, and it might already be too late. Meanwhile, the noble family who wants to take advantage of the situation doesn’t want anyone to suspect something unusual is going on, and they have no qualms about murdering their way to the top. Caught in the middle of this is a young woman who wasn’t supposed to be heir to the Interdependency, but now she’s newly in charge and low in everyone’s estimation.

But they have no idea how hard she’s willing to go to save humanity. She has something no one else does: access to every leader’s mind stretching back to the beginning.

As with all Scalzi books, this is action-packed and filled with verbal badassery. The villains are a delight. One reluctant hero uses curse words as her punctuation marks of choice. There’s more than a little connection with Herbert’s Dune books, but this is both more light-hearted for much of its tone and more hard-hitting to read because it’s so relatable to our real life.

Most major characters are not white. One major character is pansexual.

Unfortunately, the noble house of Amazon has a monopoly on the audiobooks for this series, so you can’t listen to Will Wheaton joyfully cussing his way through this series via library checkout.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the Dune series by Frank Herbert, or the Expanse series by James S.A. Corey.] [ publisher’s official Collapsing Empire web page ] | [ official John Scalzi blog ]

See Scott C.’s review of John Scalzi’s Hugo-winning novel Redshirts, here on BookGuide in January 2013
See Scott C.’s review of John Scalzi’s essay collection Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, here on BookGuide in January 2013


Reviewed in May 2020 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library

To Be Taught, If Fortunate
by Becky Chambers (ebook)

To Be Taught, If Fortunate is a science fiction novella by Becky Chambers, who is best known for her Wayfarers series beginning with The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

To Be Taught, If Fortunate takes place in a much closer future than the Wayfarers series, when humanity has just begun to send expeditions to other stars that are likely to support life. The story is in the form of a mission report from one astronaut on a team of four who are in this first wave of interstellar explorers. Ariadne O’Neill, the crew’s engineer, chronicles what they discover on four planned landing spots in the same system.

This story leans heavily toward the hard science fiction side of the spectrum, as opposed to space fantasy. As with any hard science fiction involving interstellar travel, something beyond current capabilities is needed. In this case, it’s a state of medical hibernation combined with an engine that accelerates their ship to a significant fraction of the speed of light for a decade or two. Thanks to special relativity, it’s a formula that adds up to never seeing the people they love on Earth again, and knowing Earth society will have changed significantly when they come back. During hibernation, their bodies are also “somaformed” to produce moderate enhancements like additional muscle mass for a higher gravity planet. Taken together, this is a reflective narrative about loss, and change, and the joy of encountering new worlds. These themes are echoed large with regard to Earth and small as Ariadne wrestles with personal identity.

If you like the immediate newness and strangeness of brave explorers first touching down on a planet, this is a book for you. But it’s more than that. Chambers writes from a personal and family connection to science as a slow community project. The interstellar missions are not being carried out by a government, but by a global support network of people who wanted to make space exploration by humans happen again, without regard to profits or nationalistic pride. Our four astronaut-scientists don’t just take pictures for a few days and leave. They spend years on these worlds, developing study methods and carrying them out meticulously.

To Be Taught, If Fortunate is also a deeply queer book. These four astronauts have been training together for years before their mission to the stars. They come off, overall, like a communal partnership. Fans of Chambers’ Wayfarers series will see something of Aandrisk culture in them. In this small crew there is–at least–bisexual rep, trans masculine rep, and asexual representation.

Recommended to fans of exploration science fiction, literary fiction, and queer fiction of any genre.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, Blindsight by Peter Watts, or Dawn by Octavia Butler.)

( official To Be Taught, If Fortunate page on the official Becky Chambers web site )


Reviewed in April 2020 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Redwood and Ponytail
by K.A. Holt (j Holt)

K.A. Holt came to Nebraska in 2018 to receive her Golden Sower Award for ‘House Arrest,’ a book about poverty and taking responsibility for a younger sibling in a hard time.

Her latest novel-in-verse is Redwood and Ponytail, the story of two seventh grade girls from wildly different social circles who feel drawn together in a way they haven’t experienced before. As Holt explains in the Acknowledgements page at the end, this is the book she wished she could have read in middle school or high school: a story about girls discovering that they like girls.

Kate is a ponytailed cheerleader who is driven to be “the best” by a mother who likely has borderline personality disorder. When she fills in as the team’s falcon mascot, she finds unexpected joy in putting energy into being herself instead of going for cheer captain as her mom plans.

Tam is a “redwood tall” volleyball player who hangs with the goofballs and has a high-five for everyone, even if not everyone acknowledges her. This year, both girls are noticing each other, having lunch together, and starting to hold each other’s pinkies as they walk down the hall.

Stylistically, I appreciated the Greek chorus between chapters that acts as agents of foreshadowing and hype. The story opens at a moment of crisis near the end of the story that involves a fire, then we go back to the start of the school year. A refreshing difference from so many middle grade school stories is that peer bullying doesn’t figure strongly into this book.

Redwood and Ponytail is a fun, suspenseful read about self-discovery and self-assertion that’s just right for kids at the age where they start having crushes.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee, Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee, One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock, Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, by Ashley Herring Blake or Hurricane Child, by Kacen Callender.)

( official Redwood and Ponytail page on the official K.A. Holt web site )


Reviewed in February 2020 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Full Disclosure
by Camryn Garrett (YA Garrett)

Full Disclosure is a young adult novel that was actually written by a teenager. It’s about a high school girl who was born HIV positive. Simone knows she’s lucky that she can live a healthy life so long as she takes her medication, but she wishes she could have sex without having to disclose her status and risk the disaster that happened at her last school.

Things do seem to be going well with a boy she’s crushing on, until she gets an anonymous note in her locker: someone knows! And if she doesn’t stop talking to the boy, they promise everyone is going to find out.

Meanwhile, Simone is directing her school’s production of the musical Rent. This is book that goes behind the scenes more so than on stage. It’s a book with vibrant racial and sexual diversity that shares story beats with Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, but rings out as more thoroughly authentic.

Recommended for high-schoolers, some interested middle schoolers, and adults who like an upbeat story that also gets you thinking.

( official Full Disclosure page on the official Camryn Garrett web site )


Reviewed in January 2020 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Red, White and Royal Blue
by Casey McQuiston (downloadable audio)

I’m not usually a romance reader but this title came up in a newsletter I subscribe to for work. In some ways it was the classic romance trope, with the two disliking each other initially but growing to like each other as they get to know one another. Romance is difficult for everyone but especially Alex and Henry since not only are they young men but young men who are in the public eye. I loved how the characters were developed and the secondary characters also had lives.

( official Books page on the official Casey McQuiston web site )


Reviewed in January 2020 by Susan S.
Eiseley Branch Library

Reading Recommendations from Let’s Get Books Together Book Group – January 8, 2020 – Graphic Novels

2019 Reviews

hooplaLet It Snow: Minnesota Christmas, Book 1
by Heidi Cullinan [Hoopla eBook]

One of my favorite tropes for a romance novel is strangers trapped together in a blizzard. You’re welcome.

Frankie is a hair stylist from Minneapolis who easily gets lost while driving. Throw in a blizzard and he’s pretty well guaranteed to lose his way. He’s traveling from Duluth, Minnesota, after a visit with his parents, when he takes a wrong turn, then crashes into the ditch while trying to avoid a moose. He finds an unoccupied cabin and tries to settle in for the duration.

Except the cabin is not unoccupied, but is owned by Arthur, who shares the cabin with two of his best friends – Marcus and Paul. They work as loggers for a local company, though Marcus is actually a lawyer who was treated badly by a boyfriend in the Twin Cities and has returned home to lick his wounds, and Paul and Arthur are talented fix-it men who would like to open their own repair shop. The cabin is located outside of Logan, MN, the small town where they grew up. When they return to the cabin they are surprised to find Frankie sleeping on the couch.

The guys aren’t trapped in the cabin for the duration of the book. After the first blizzard, they use their snowmobiles to return to town for supplies, and to assist their fellow residents deal with the aftermath of the first big snowfall, and prepare for the next one arriving in a few hours. They help evacuate people to the town shelter during the power outage, deliver food from the local restaurant and grocery store to stranded townsfolk, and shovel sidewalks. And we meet Marcus’ mother who is in the dementia unit at the local nursing home. All this is going on while Marcus and Frankie get to know one another.

Cullinan’s romances always end happily, so while the ending is a given, the journey is the point. Her characters are believable, three-dimensional people who are working through some kind of personal issue. Family and friends, and community responsibility are among the values her characters possess.

This is the first book in the Minnesota Christmas trilogy, but in reality there are five books to date that revolve around these core characters and the town. Each of the three guys gets their own book (my favorite is Book #2, Sleigh Ride where Arthur falls for Gabriel, the world’s best librarian as far as I’m concerned) and the characters populate all of the books.

This is a fun, engaging, quick read with a guaranteed happy ending.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try A Fortunate Blizzard, by L.C. Chase.)

( official Let it Snow page on the official Heidi Cullinan web site )


Reviewed in December 2019 by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Beautiful on the Outside:A Memoir
by Adam Rippon (Biography Rippon)

Figure skater Adam Rippon was not expected to make the 2018 Olympic team at 28 years of age. But the planets aligned and the fates smiled for he suddenly began pulling together some of his best performances when it counted. He ended the Olympics with a Bronze Medal in the Team Competition, and is now retired from figure skating.

We follow him from his youth where he pretty well fails at all athletic attempts, but he syncs with figure skating. He quickly advances through the skating ranks and is regularly winning junior competitions on sheer natural talent. He’s the oldest of six children, then his parents divorce, so it’s quite a hardship for the family for the costs involved. They can afford a coach only a few days a week, they barter for ice time at area rinks, and they drive several hours each day to get him to practices.

Reading his story, one wonders how much farther he could have gone if finances hadn’t been an issue. Or if he’d had coaches who could have assisted him with the emotional side of competition as well as the technical aspects. Considering his circumstances, it’s amazing how far he got. You learn a lot of what it takes to be an elite athlete, and get some inside information on how US Figure Skating works. Somehow, during the worst of times he was able to push on through and continue with skating.

He also discusses the difficulties of being a closeted gay man while competing, and his concerns that other athletes and US Figure Skating will reject him. He eventually came out before the Olympics.

He’s funny, honest, and endearing. Some are stories we’ve already heard from him in other interviews. I’ve been following him on Twitter and Instagram before he made the Olympic team, and enjoy his humor — “When I qualified (for the 2018 Olympics), I told myself I was going to have the full Olympic experience, because it was only going to happen once, unless I really got into archery around forty and went to the Summer Games.”

He’s now a spokesperson for several companies, and has his own YouTube channel broadcasts.

This book is recommended for fans of Adam Rippon and figure skating in general.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Landing It: My Life On and Off the Ice by Scott Hamilton, My Sergei: A Love Story by Ekaterina Gordeeva, A Skating Life by Dorothy Hamill, or Zero Regrets by Apolo Anton Ohno.)

( publisher’s official Beautiful on the Outside web site ) | ( official Adam Rippon Instagram feed )


Reviewed in December 2019 by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library

The Parker Inheritance
by Varian Johnson (j Johnson)

If you pick up The Parker Inheritance for a kid, be sure to check out The Westing Game (1978) by Ellen Raskin at the same time. Not only do these two books share the similarity of a riddle-filled letter with a millionaire’s inheritance as the promised prize, but the characters in The Parker Inheritance read and talk about The Westing Game during their own puzzle challenge.

In the present-day timeline, Candice and her mom have moved to her late grandmother’s house for the summer. Things start to look up when she finds out that Brandon, the boy next door, is also a voracious reader. When they exhaust their current haul of library books and go adventuring in her grandma’s attic, Candice finds a mysterious letter addressed to her. The letter promises an inheritance that will be split between the city of Lambert and the one who solves the puzzle.

To solve the puzzle, Candice and Brandon research city history, especially about critical events that took place in 1957 involving a secret tennis match between the white and “colored” tennis teams.

A good portion of the chapters take place in 1957, giving readers an immersive experience in Jim Crow era Lambert and a personal connection to the people that Candice and Brandon are learning about in yearbooks, photographs, and news articles. It’s worth looking at the physical book The Parker Inheritance because the page edges are darkened for the flashback chapters. You can also see time ripple across the cover, with Candice and Brandon riding bikes along a contemporary street that turns monochrome as it shows a scene from the 1950s. It’s a beautiful cover that rewards careful scrutiny as you read the book.

The Parker Inheritance is an authentic way to introduce the Jim Crow era to kids because–unlike some other commonly used books–it’s by a Black author and centered on Black kids, teens, and adults. It draws a line from racism in the 1950s to the racism that Black kids are still experiencing today. Colorism is clearly shown, even if the term for it isn’t used. This book doesn’t rely on shock value of the N-word, though that word is alluded to. It uses language of the time—most notably “colored” and “negro”—but lets readers know these terms are not as acceptable today.

Racial prejudice is not the only prejudice addressed in this story. In the current-day chapters, the kids experience and challenge homophobia. Some other reviewers have considered this to be “too many issues” for one book. I take strong exception to this because it would erase all queer people of color from children’s literature for having more than one degree of difference from a white/straight/male “norm.” That’s unrealistic even based on my own experience as someone who checks all the privilege boxes.

As a final note, this is not the kind of puzzle book where kids can be expected to figure it out ahead of time based on clues. There’s a *lot* going on. I was completely surprised and impressed by a key point in unraveling the mystery. But that’s okay. The story is engaging and would reward a re-read after knowing the mystery.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Escape From Mr. Lemencello’s Library, by Chris Grabenstein.] [ official Parker Inheritance and Varian Johnson web site ]


Reviewed in November 2019 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Out of Body
by Suzanne Brockmann (Hoopla downloadable audio)

Funny, paranormal, gay, male/male romance. I give this novella a PG rating.

It all begins on Halloween with a Ouija board when Henry’s best friend since college, Malcolm, suddenly disappears during the casting of a spell, and is presumed dead. Mal awakens to discover he’s a ghost; Henry is startled to learn he now has a ghost in the house.

Henry researches other spells to try to help Mal “move on” and some end up disastrously. Not to mention that Henry’s other friends think he’s going insane talking to himself – they don’t believe Mal is a ghost. Mal is convinced he’s a ghost with unfinished plans and that he’s to help Henry find a boyfriend, which also isn’t working out well because each is secretly in love with the other.

Hijinks ensue.

Brockmann writes with laugh-out-loud wit and interesting characters. She always provides an HEA (Happy Ever After) with her books and it was interesting to see how that worked out between a ghost and a very-much-alive human. But she made it work and I wasn’t anticipating the solution.

A quick, enjoyable story you can devour in an evening.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Old Loyalty, New Love, by Mary Calmes (as a Hoopla e-book). Shape-shifters, more of an “R” rating.)

( official Out of Body page on the official Suzanne Brockmann web site )


Reviewed in October 2019 by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library

hooplaSpell Cat
by Tara Lain (available only as an eBook and eAudiobook via Hoopla)

This is the first book in the Aloysius Tales trilogy featuring the ancient and powerful cat familiar Aloysius – who seems to be more aware than one would normally expect in a cat.

We encounter conspiracies, political intrigue, magical skirmishes, the Russian mob, romance, and LIES. With all this going on history professor Killian Barth, secretly a witch, is the Witch Master for his tribe and must marry a witch. But of course, he’s fallen in love with the new quantum physics professor, Blaine Genneau – a human male.

In this universe witches are unknown to the regular population, so Killian’s first problem is convincing the logical physics guy that he really is a witch. Then we deal with the rest of the intrigue and problems, assisted by a handful of witch students in Killian and Blaine’s classes.

I admit, I suspected a specific solution might be the resolution and I turned out right in that matter, but getting there was still fun and interesting. Each book in this trilogy includes a male/male romance along with the intrigue and witchery.

There are two additional books, at this time, in this series with the final book focusing on the mysterious Aloysius and how he came to be.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Winter Oranges, by Marie Sexton. A young man has been hiding inside a snow globe for years and cannot escape.)

( official Spell Cat information on the official Tara Lain web site )


Reviewed in October 2019 by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library

formatdvdRocky Horror Picture Show
(DVD Rocky)

Brad Majors and Janet Weiss get engaged and go to visit the teacher who brought them together. On their way they get a flat tire and decide to walk to a castle they passed to use their phone. The castle is owned by Dr. Frank-N-Furter — a cross-dressing alien from Transylvania — and he is hosting a party to celebrate the unveiling of his newest creation. The house is filled with dancing groupies and shenanigans ensue. While originally frightened by what they encounter, eventually they begin to partake and broaden their horizons.

This 1975 film is a cult classic and I still listen to the soundtrack to this day. If you haven’t yet I would recommend seeing it in theaters — the Joyo in Lincoln still does showings around Halloween — so that you can take part in the live commentary.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Rocky Horror Picture Show Let’s Do the Time Warp Again (a 2016 live-for-TV remake starring Laverne Cox), and Shock Treatment, the 1981 sequel/spin-off from the original film.)

[The music for this show is available in a variety of formats, including sheet music, CD soundtrack and downloadable audio.)

(Note: The Rocky Horror Show is a stage musical production of this story, which is frequently produced by community theaters — Lincoln’s own TADA Theatre has a production of this running in October 2019! (page for this production no longer active) )

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official Rocky Horror Picture Show fan web site )


Reviewed in October 2019 by Carrie R.
Bennett Martin Public Library

formatdvdThe Happy Prince
(DVD Happy)

I’ve been fascinated by Oscar Wilde ever since seeing a stage production of The Importance of Being Earnest directed by my father at Nebraska Wesleyan in my youth, and then stumbling across numerous witty and biting quotes attributed to Wilde over the years. He’s a giant figure in the world of English literature, despite having only a limited selection of written works, including the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

The Happy Prince is written and directed by actor Rupert Everett, who also stars in it as Wilde, in the final few years of his life. Despite his superstar status as a British playwright, Wilde ended up dying destitute and nearly friendless, in a cheap Parisian hotel. Wilde lived a non-traditional life, reveling in the arts and partaking in “beauty” in whatever forms he found it. In the case of his interpersonal relationships, this means he found both women and men to be beautiful and had relationships with both genders. It was his relationship with the younger man, Lord Alfred Douglas, that led to his downfall. He was accused of being a “posing sodomite” by Douglas’ father, The Marquess of Queensbury. When Wilde sued the Marquess for slander, it backfired on him, and his relationships with Lord Douglas and other young men were brought into the public eye, resulting in Wilde being convicted of “Gross Indecency” and sentenced to two years of hard labor. While in prison, he was injured — injuries that plagued him the rest of his relatively-short life. He was also abandoned by most of his friends and supporters, and his relationship with his wife and two sons was destroyed. In order to find someplace where he would not be hounded by the ghosts of his past, Wilde settled in Paris, but was never able to revitalize his writing career. This film covers those final years in Paris, with flashbacks to some of the times of his life in England, ultimately leading to the circumstances that culminated in his death at the age of 46.

This film is sumptuous to look at — the production design and costumes are superb. The performances are all quite excellent, particularly Everett as Wilde (though at 60 he appears too old as Wilde, in my opinion). I can only give this one a lukewarm recommendation, though — the pacing is irregular, and the plot is told by jumping back and forth in time in a way that provides for little sense of cohesion. The “Happy Prince” refers to an elaborate story Wilde shares, first with his two young sons, and later with two Parisian street urchins.

The Lincoln Community Playhouse will be producing an Oscar Wilde festival, with two concurrent plays in late January and early February — Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest will alternate performances with “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde”, a play written by Moises Kaufman about the real life of Oscar Wilde and the three court trials that led to his downfall, conviction and imprisonment. [Note: Wilde (and 50,000 others) was pardoned in 2017 with the passage of “The Policing and Crime Act” (a.k.a. “The Alan Turing Law”), which decriminalized same-sex relationships in England.]

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to track down the film Wilde (1997), starring Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde.)

(Also sample Oscar Wilde’s body of work (novels, plays, essays) in traditional print and digital formats.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official The Happy Prince web site ) | ( Wikipedia page for Oscar Wilde )


Reviewed in November 2019 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Bingo Love, Volume 1: Jackpot Edition
by Tee Franklin and various others (741.5 Fra)

Bingo Love, Volume 1 is a graphic novel about two Black girls, Hazel and Mari, who meet at a church bingo event in 1963 and are best friends with secret crushes on each other for four years until they find out how the other feels. Their families pull them apart. They both marry men and have children and grandchildren. Decades later, at a church bingo event, they meet again and…let’s just say they don’t keep cool about it.

Bingo Love is a celebration of enduring love between women. It’s about beauty in old age. It’s also about complicated family situations. I would recommend it to anyone from older teens to those past retirement age. This is a happily ever after, after so much living.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Poppy Jenkins, by Clare Ashton, available through inter-library loan.)

( publisher’s official Bingo Love web page ) | ( official Tee Franklin web site )


Reviewed in September 2019 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library

This is How You Lose the Time War
by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (Mohtar)

This is How You Lose the Time War is a science fiction novella that reads like a cross between a short story collection and an epistolary novel (plot development through letters). Two very different versions of utopia in Earth’s far future are struggling against each other to ensure their own existence across timeline strands: one focused on technological advancement, the other on biological advancement. Each side sends its agents back Terminator-style to make changes through violence, rescues, nudges this way and that but seldom through direct confrontation. Then the top agent from one future leaves a note for the top enemy with the label: “Burn before reading.”

Soon, Red and Blue — as they call each other — find that they may be the only ones across the ages who can understand each other. Structurally, this book alternates between showing Red’s current mission, then how Red finds a creatively-delivered message from Blue, then Blue’s letter…and then the next chapter switches over to Blue’s point of view for her mission, discovery, and reading of Red’s message. The missions stretch from the age of dinosaurs to an age of spaceships, and then farther on. It reminded me of Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities with how eager I was to explore each new setting.

Red and Blue’s chapters were written by two authors, with no indication of which author went with which character. By the end, I had a strong feeling that turned out to be correct when I read an authors interview, but I think some of the fun here is in the guessing.

If you’ve ever enjoyed the enemies-to-allies trope, this is your sugar high. I expect this to contend for awards for literary fiction, science fiction, and queer fiction.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Honey Month, by Amal El-Mohtar, Three Parts Dead, by Max Gladstone, Use of Weapons, by Iain M. Banks, Red, White & Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston or Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino.)

( publisher’s official This is How You Lose the Time War web site ) | ( official Amal El-Mohtar web site ) | ( official Max Gladstone web site )


Reviewed in September 2019 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Wilder Girls
by Rory Power (YA Power)

Rory Power’s first novel, Wilder Girls, arrived with a great deal of pre-publication hype from the teen fiction world. For me, it lived up to the hype and I was looking for excuses for more reading time!

Wilder Girls is set on a small island off the Northeast coast of the United States, almost two years into a quarantine. Students and the two remaining faculty members of the Raxter School for Girls are infected with something that’s changing their bodies in strange ways, when it isn’t killing them in periodic flare-ups. The forest outside of school grounds has grown dense. The animals have grown fierce. Thankfully, the Navy has promised a cure and drops supplies on a dock on the other side of the island.

Hetty, Byatt, and Reese are the main trio of girls this story follows. They’re roommates who are helping each other cope with the long wait for a cure, even if their relationships are strained at times. When one of them is selected for the only crew of girls allowed to leave school grounds to pick up supplies, they discover secrets more dangerous than the infection.

This queer, feminist eco-thriller is recommended especially for fans of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy (beginning with Annihilation) and his standalone novel Borne.

( official Wilder Girls page on the official Rory Power web site )


Reviewed in August 2019 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library

My Brother’s Husband, Vol. 1.
by Gengoroh Tagame (741.5 Tag)

My Brother’s Husband, Vol. 1. is a Japanese graphic novel about a single father and his daughter — Yaichi and Kana — who take in a special guest. Mike is the Canadian whom Yaichi’s twin brother Ryoji married. Mike is visiting Japan after Ryoji’s death to see the places and meet the people Ryoji told him stories about.

As readers, we see things from Yaichi’s perspective as he struggles with his own prejudices against gay people and guilt over not fully accepting his brother. Kana is the voice of youth, excited to learn about her foreign uncle’s strange taste in food and show off her own country. Kana’s questions about homophobia stir her father into rethinking his own views farther.

This is a funny and touching manga volume about loss, more than one kind of “non-traditional” family arrangement, cultural exchange, and positive fatherhood. It’s billed as an “all ages” comic, but the use of a “WTF!” early on as well as the focus on internal consideration over action in some sections makes it most appropriate for either middle & high school readers OR for parents of kids around that age. It’s great for young people worried about coming out. I would even suggest it to people with a lot of anti-gay prejudice. I don’t see how anyone could get through this story without both laughing and crying along the way. I put Volume 2 on hold immediately!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Tea Dragon Society, by Katie O’Neill, or The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang.)

( publisher’s official My Brother’s Husband Vol 1 web site ) | ( Wikipedia page for Gengoroh Tagame )


Reviewed in August 2019 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Fence 1 + 2
by C.S. Pacat (YA PB (Graphic Novel) Pacat)

The intense characters on the covers of the first two entries in this series of graphic novels are what initially caught my attention — that, plus I’ve always been fascinating by the competitive sport of fencing.

Nicholas Cox, the illegitimate son of a former U.S. Olympic fencing champion, has followed his father into the sport, but without any traditional training. When he enters a fencing competition, he finds himself up against one of the rising talents in the sport, Seiji Katayama. Though Nicholas’ unorthodox fencing skills initially give Seiji some difficulties, the intense Japanese fencer quickly adapts and then destroys Cox in their match, belittling him in the process. This drives Cox into developing a revenge fantasy in which he can ultimately improve enough to take on Seiji and defeat him.

Which becomes somewhat ironic, when Cox is surprisingly able to an elite boys school with a stellar fencing program — and finds that his newly assigned roommate is none other than…Seiji Katayama. The other fencing students, and staff at the school, make for a large cast of recurring characters. There are lots of different personalities at play, with intense rivalries, growing friendships, and the complications of massively different social backgrounds. Throw all of that into the pressure cooker of a competitive sport the requires you to always be at the top of your game, and some fascinating stories are told.

Admittedly, I could have easily done without some of the subplots, involving flippant relationships and a cult of fannish adulation. But I’m willing to put up with those in order to find out what is ultimately going to happen to Nicholas, Seiji and the other fencing students. This was originally intended to be a short limited-series, but the publisher was so happy with the early issues of the comic that they allowed writer/artist C.S. Pacat to turn it into an ongoing, continuing series. These first two trade-paperback “graphic novel” books collect the first 12-or-so issues of the comic book, and each book ends on something of a cliffhanger. I look forward to reading the third volume!

( Wikipedia page for the entire Fence series ) | ( official C.S. Pacat web site )


Reviewed in June 2019 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Lincoln’s “Star City Pride Festival – Rise Up!” was held June 7th and 8th, 2019, in part to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots/Rebellion/Revolution that occurred in late June 1969, and also in part because June has been designated as Pride Month. The Lincoln City Libraries had a popular booth at the festival, for which several reading recommendation lists were prepared — LGBTQ+-themed reads in the categories of Adult Fiction, Memoirs, Mysteries, Science Fiction, Young Adult Fantasy and Young Adult Fiction. Those handouts proved to be popular, and we had requests to make them available online — they are archived here!

Here are copies of all six Rainbow Reads booklists, available in digital form:

The Moon Within
by Aida Salazar (j Salazar)

This novel in verse follows an 11 year old girl, Celi, of mixed heritage as she approaches her first period, experiences her first sexual attraction to a boy, and finds that her tomboyish best friend thinks of himself as a boy, at least sometimes. This is a book written with English/Spanish/Nahuatl code-switching without italics, and it’s such a joy to read in that style. Obviously, this is a book meant to show young people that it’s okay—great even—to begin cycles, which is why I find it interesting that her mother’s enthusiasm for making this okay for her daughter is itself a major point of stress for Celi. The other major conflict is Celi’s interest in firsts with a boy she’s been crushing on vs. being there for her best friend.

There is a wonderful amount of good stuff happening here. The dance and drum arts. The cultural blending, which includes spiritual and healing traditions. The moon metaphors. Loving family that still get on each other’s nerves. The visual poetry of the format. The amazing vocabulary made so inviting. No matter what, this could easily be the most important book many young people read.

I am holding back from 100% endorsement at this point for two reasons: (1) I’m uncomfortable with the lack of respect given to Celi’s own wishes even if it happens to work out for her & (2) I’m a cisgender reader of this cisgender writer who is trying to do the right thing for kids she calls “gender expansive.” The level of justifying cultural detail in here might be overdone compared to sticking to basic respect and friendship. Or it might be vital. I would leave that judgment to transgender or gender fluid reviewers.

Strong recommendation for checking this out. It’s a quick read that may be just what a young person in your life on the cusp of puberty needs to understand themselves or their friends.

( official The Moon Within page on the official Aida Salazar web site )


Reviewed in April 2019 by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Runaways, Vol. 1: Find Your Way Home
by Rainbow Rowell (writer) and Kris Anka (artist) (YA PB (Graphic Novel) Rowell)

The Runaways has had an unusual comic-book history. The first version came out in 2003-2004. A follow-up version was released from 2005 to 2009. The title was dormant after 2009 until Omaha author Rainbow Rowell was announced as the writer of an all-new version starting in 2017. This graphic novel is the compilation of the first self-contained storyline of the Rowell era (with art by Kris Anka).

Originally, the Runaways were mere children, the kids of parents who were ultimately revealed to bea group supervillains known as The Pride. When the kids found out their parents were villains, they ran away and formed a loosely-knit family made of each other. Ultimately, they discovered they had inherited special abilities from their parents, and were forced to fight against The Pride and destroy it. The current storyline, starting with Rainbow Rowell’s issues, is set a few years after the storyline that ended in 2009 — some of the Runaways have died or disappeared, and one of their members uses his evil father’s time machine to go back and try to prevent the death of another Runaway. He’s successful, but with a cost. The current group members include Nico Minoru (a powerful witch, who can never repeat the same spell twice), Karolina Dean (a powerful alien), Gertrude “Gert” Yorkes, a young woman with a telepathic connection to a futuristic dinosaur, Molly Hayes (a super-powered mutant), and Chase Stein (who seems to have his villainous father’s knack for creating high-tech devices).

This first Rowell graphic novel reunites the team, who had all gone their separate ways since their earlier break-up. By the end of this first new storyline, they’ve had to take on a seemingly friendly mad scientist and go on the run again.

The characters are fun, the dialog is snappy, and the art is beautiful. I look forward to seeing where Rowell and Anka take these characters in future adventures!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try other volumes in the graphic novel series — either the earlier graphic novels that compiled the 2003-2009 version of this comic book, or the volumes that follow this one, by Rowell and Anka. Also, a live-action television series was developed by Marvel Comics for the Hulu streaming service in 2017 (part of Marvel’s extended Marvel Cinematic Universe), which features the versions of these characters that appeared in the earlier pre-Rowell comic books.)

( official Runaways page on the official Rainbow Rowell web site )


Reviewed in March 2019 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

2018 Reviews

Julian is a Mermaid
by Jessica Love (jP Love)

I picked up this book because from first glance you can tell that this is a story about a young person figuring out who they are in this world. The cover is beautiful to me, and the illustrations inside are even more dazzling. I enjoyed reading this book because of the little glimpses of loving talk in a Spanish-speaking family. This book had a beautiful message to it, as abuela allowed Julian to dress up how they wanted to and even took them around to see others in similar jubilant garb.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Natsumi!, by Susan Lendroth, or Jerome By Heart, by Thomas Scotto.)

( publisher’s official Julian is a Mermaid web site ) | ( official Jessica Love web site )


Reviewed in September 2018 by Naomi S.
Eiseley Branch Library

The Backstagers, Vol. 1: Rebels Without Applause
by James Tynion IV (writer), Rian Sygh (artist) and Walter Baiamonte (colorist) (YA PB Tynion)

Being active in the local community theater culture, this youth graphic novel caught my eye on a library book display. The “Backstagers” are a group of oddballs and misfits who serve as the backstage crew for theatrical productions at an all-boys private high school. This first graphic novel follows new transfer Jory, as he looks for an after-school group he could potentially join. The on-stage Drama Club isn’t a good fit, but he immediately bonds with the quirky gang who build the sets, create the props, and run both sound and light for the shows.

If that were all that this story were going to cover, it would have been enough — “introverted loner finds group of fellow quirky oddballs that he can belong to”. However, this is also a storyline with a strong dark fantasy element to it. The doors at the back of the crew area lead to a series of tunnels, storerooms, and, ultimately, other doors to other dimensions. The tunnels and rooms change their configuration every time you enter them — sometimes even while you’re in them! In fact, an entire backstage crew from the late 1980s disappeared in the tunnels and was never heard from again.

While newcomer Jory is the central protagonist, every member of the Backstagers gang is a well-rounded character, and has a moment to shine — Hunter (the whiz with power tools), Aziz, Sasha, and Beckett (the light/sound board operator who’s created his own little fiefdom, powered by an energy crystal taken from one of the alternate dimensions in the tunnel labyrinth. This “Volume 1” paperback compiles four comic book issues, and the storyline continues/concludes in “Volume 2”. The art is pretty good, but the character of diminutive Sasha is drawn as if it stepped out of a cross-breed between big-eyed Disney animation and Japanese manga. That’s one element I didn’t care for.

Overall, this was an entertaining read, though the heavier the dark fantasy element became, the less I cared for the story. Your mileage may vary. I look forward to reading the rest of the story when the libraries add the second volume as a paperback.

( official The Backstagers web site ) | ( official James Tynion IV web site ) | ( official Rian Sygh web site )


Reviewed in May 2018 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

2017 Reviews

formatdvdTo Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything!, Julie Newmar
(DVD To)

Vida Boheme (Patrick Swayze) and Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes) tie for the winner of a drag queen competition in New York and win plane tickets to fly to Hollywood to compete in a national contest. After the competition they come across Chi-Chi Rodriguez (John Leguizamo), a down-on-her-luck drag queen who lacks confidence and decide to take her under their wing. Instead of flying they decide to buy a car and drive to Hollywood, however along the way their car breaks down in rural Nebraska – it doesn’t actually say it’s Nebraska but since it was filmed in Loma (and Lincoln and Omaha) I’m calling it Nebraska. The town’s mechanic says he can fix it but they’ll need to stay in town until the part arrives. They stay in a boarding house owned by the mechanic and his wife, played by Stockard Channing. The town residents are simple folks who have never seen drag queens before and believe them to be real women. They decide to make the stay worth their while and give the town and its residents a much-needed makeover.

My fiancé was shocked when he learned I had never seen it and forced me to watch it simply because it was filmed in Nebraska. I didn’t know what to expect from the title, but drag queens road tripping and getting stuck in Nebraska was nowhere on my list of theories. Much to my surprise I loved every minute of it. It’s filled with great one-liners and really has you rooting for them along the way.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Rocky Horror Picture Show, Thelma and Louise or available through ILL: “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” which was filmed right before this one, people say this was ripped off from it but it was already in production before that was released.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( Esquire Magazine article: When John Leguizamo Fixed Up My Hometown )


Reviewed in March 2017 by Carrie R.
Bennett Martin Public Library

2016 Reviews

formatdvdstonewalldvdStonewall: Where Pride Began
(DVD Stonewall)

This is a fictionalized account of the weeks leading up to the Stonewall Riots in June, 1969, that’s generally considered to be the starting point for organized gay rights.

The story is told mainly through the eyes of Danny, who is outed just weeks before his high school graduation. His father kicks him out of the house and he makes his way to NYC. He’s won a full-ride scholarship to Columbia and he’s doing everything he can to hang onto that scholarship.

Danny ends up at the Stonewall Inn with several gay men as they try to make a life and a living for themselves. This is made more difficult as corrupt police deal with the mafia-run gay bars that are given a heads-up as to when raids will be run on the underground bars that cater to the gay population. Finally fed-up with their treatment, they riot for several days.

This could have been a much better film, but it comes from Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day”) so a superficial treatment of this story didn’t surprise me. At the very least, this is a decent starting point for anyone unfamiliar with the Stonewall Riots.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Stonewall Rising, (DVD 303.766 Sto), by PBS’s American Experience, a well-done documentary on this topic.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official Stonewall movie web site )


Reviewed in November 2016 by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library

themartianchildThe Martian Child
by David Gerrold (Gerrold)

The Martian Child is based on the true story of Gerrold’s adoption of his son. Every adoptive parent can relate to the fear that the adoption agency will find the adoptive applicant lacking in some way, and he does a good job of running the reader through all the paperwork, the outside reading he did, and the overwhelming bureaucracy potential parents deal with. But in Gerrold’s case he was also dealing with being an openly gay man trying to adopt a foster child who had a large agency file outlining the boy’s many emotional and behavioral issues. His family, friends, and even the agency try to talk him out of this particular boy, but Gerrold is convinced this is the child for him. Afterall, the boy thinks he’s from Mars, and Gerrold is a science fiction writer – peas in a pod.

Told with humor and poignancy, we follow Gerrold through all his paperwork, and the home visits with the child, and after several weeks the boy is allowed to move from the foster home to Gerrold’s home on a trial basis. Eventually the honeymoon phase of their relationship passes and Gerrold has his hands full with a fearful boy with low self-esteem who has been dumped by his mother when a toddler, and abused at every foster home. Dennis is now acting out constantly by stealing and lying, and deliberately breaking things at every opportunity.

Gerrold is at his wit’s end but is determined to stick with his promise to this boy to never fail him. It is very moving to watch Gerrold work through these issues as he realizes his motivation for this adoption is to build a family, and family sticks. This revelation suddenly makes everything fall into place.

Most amazingly, a large number of children available for adoption announce that they are from Mars. They relate the exact same story of how they have arrived at earth, what their mission is, and that they will be returning to Mars. As he methodically presents his facts about this phenomenon the hair on the back of your neck will rise. SPOILER ALERT. If I didn’t know that this story would have a Happy Ending, knowing Gerrold writes sci fi and having grown up on Twilight Zone, I would fully expect this tale to end with Gerrold ineffectively chasing a Martian ship that has reclaimed his son.

Gerrold’s off-beat sense of humor and his slightly skewed views on everything he observes makes this book very enjoyable. It’s a quick read at 190 pages, and has a sweet epilogue.

David Gerrold won a Hugo in 1995 for Best Novellette, “The Martian Child,” which appeared in “Fantasy & Science Fiction” magazine in September, 1994. He expanded the story into this novel which was published in 2002. A movie based on this novel, The Martian Child, was released in 2007 starring John Cusak, but be aware the movie changes the father’s orientation to that of a straight widower.

( official David Gerrold web site )


Reviewed in September 2016 by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library

2015 Reviews

by Noelle Stevenson (YA Stevenson)

Nimona is the collected web comic by Noelle Stevenson which features the title character Nimona who works as the sidekick for the evil Lord Ballister Blackheart. Nimona can shapeshift into any creature or person and she constantly wants to make a mess of things for the kingdom. It is Nimona who is egging on Blackheart to get his revenge against his nemesis Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, while Blackheart wants to follow the “rules” of villainy. I was very much expecting this to be a simple comic making fun of fantasy tropes, however it is so much more as after a few chapters a real story develops and the characters come to life. It is in this book that the question is posed as to what exactly makes a villain or hero, and if someone is capable of being both. Nimona’s hilariously childlike behavior coupled with her desire to wreak havoc makes her such a funny character and she forms the punchline for many of the jokes. In addition to the excellent narrative and comedic writing, Stevenson’s artwork is amazing with her stylized drawings and bright color palate. It is also in Stevenson’s artwork that she shows the diversity of her world and it was such a great thing to see featured. I very much recommend this book to young adults who enjoy fantasy or adults who would love a comedic graphic novel.

( publisher’s web page for Nimona) | ( Wikipedia page for ND “Noelle” Stevenson )


Reviewed in July 2015 by Wyatt P.
Gere Branch Library

2014 Reviews

farfromyouFar From You
by Tess Sharpe (YA Sharpe)

Sophie repeats the months, weeks, and days over and over. No drugs for nine months, two weeks, six days. Not that anyone believes her. Four months ago, Sophie’s best friend was killed in what looked like a drug deal gone wrong. Sophie was there that night and everyone from the police to her parents believe that she is the reason for the deal, that she relapsed and brought Mina down with her. Sophie and Mina had their secret, but doing drugs together wasn’t it. Sophie is forced to attend a drug rehab center and then see a counselor to focus on her mental health. Anyone would need a counselor after seeing their best friend die. And Mina was so much more. Sophie never saw the killer’s face because of his mask, but knows the police are on the wrong track with the drug bust. Can Sophie figure out who killed Mina and why before the killer silences her, too? A fresh perspective on the difficulties of bisexuality in the modern world.

( official Tess Sharpe web site )

Reviewed in July 2014 by Sam N.
Gere Branch Library

betternatethaneverBetter Nate Than Ever
by Tim Federle (j Federle)

This book was recommended to me by a fellow theatre lover, and I’m very glad I took his recommendation…it was a terrific read! Classified as a youth book (j Federle), I still found it appealing as an adult. Nate Foster, at 13, is a picked-upon kid in school, younger brother of a star athlete and BMOC. He doesn’t really feel connected to his parents, and his only real friend is a girl (Libby) who transferred to his Pennsylvania public school from a performing arts academy. His one great love – shared with Libby – is musical theatre. He’s bullied by all the “normal” kids for not fitting in, and seeming to be “gay” because of his non-typical interests. He may not be able to sink a shot from the three point line, but he can perform monologues and sing entire show-stopping numbers from nearly any Broadway hit produced in the past 20 years. Nate is taking advantage of his parents’ absence for a few days, and his older brother’s obliviousness, to escape from Jankburg PA via a Greyhound bus to attend auditions for a new Broadway musical version of E.T. the Extraterrestrial. This novel chronicles his experiences on his own, and after he connects with his former-actress aunt, now a waitress in New York City, who’s estranged from the rest of the family, mainly for having the same kinds of goals that Nate now has. The characters are smart and witty, the dialog is filled with equal parts hilarious zingers and angst, and as a reader you really get a strong sense of what auditioning (as a kid) for a theatrical show must be like. Nate is going through a lot of things in his personal life, trying to figure out who he is and what he’s going to be, so expect a little soul-searching in addition to the humor. One of my favorite running gags is how Nate and Libby substitute the names of Broadway musical flops for swear words. Anyone with a love for the theatre, particularly musicals, should enjoy this charming book.

(I can’t wait to dig into Five, Six, Seven, Nate!, the sequel to this book, which picks up just a couple of months later…) (NOTE: The LGBTQ+ elements in this first volume are minimal, but become more pronounced in the second and third entries in this series!)

( publisher’s official Better Nate Than Ever web site ) | ( official Tim Federle web site )

Reviewed in February 2014 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

2012 Reviews

formatdvdBuffy the Vampire Slayer
(DVD Buffy)

In all the years we’ve been offering up Staff Recommendations here on the BookGuide site, I can’t believe nobody has recommended the DVDs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer! This being October, it seems only appropriate to recommend this incredibly iconic seven-season fan-favorite supernatural show. Joss Whedon took the idea he’d introduced in an unsuccessful 1992 movie (starring Kristy Swanson as Buffy), and turned it into a weekly television series in 1997. Sarah Michelle Gellar starred as Buffy Summers, latest in a long line of mystically empowered “vampire slayers”, whose mission is life was to hunt down not only vampires but all of the other supernatural menaces that threatened mankind. Problem was — she just wanted to be a normal high school student, without all the carnage and mayhem. Paired with her “Watcher”, the somewhat stuffy high school librarian Giles, Buffy quickly makes friends at her new high school is Sunnydale, CA — which sits on a gateway into Hell (The Hellmouth), and the supernatural proves unwilling to let her live a normal lifestyle. Breaking with centuries of tradition, which state that the Slayer’s life is a solitary one, Buffy and her friends…the Scoobies…proceed to go through three years of high school and four years of college, battling the threats to humankind. Filled with snappy dialog, absolutely terrific performances from the main cast (Giles, Xander, Willow, Angel, Cordelia, Oz, Faith, Tara, etc.) and each season’s “big bad” villain, cool effects and make-up, and great music, Buffy is a pop culture treasure. Whedon and company manage to use a wild and crazy concept of a teenaged demon fighter to tell emotional tales about the “real world” and what it takes to survive adolescence and young-adulthood. Three key episodes stand out above and beyond all the others: “Hush” (season four) is almost complete dialog-free as a group of demons steal everyone’s voices and float menacingly down the streets at night harvesting victims’ hearts; “The Body” (season five) features some of the cast members’ best performances, as Buffy finds the body of her mother, who has died unexpectedly but of natural causes; and “Once More, With Feeling” (season six), in which a visiting demon forces everyone to experience key emotional moments in the form of song and dance – all of the cast turn in bravura musical performances in an emotionally-wrenching storyline. Each of the seven seasons features an over-all story arc, with a primary villain that Buffy and company have to fight against in the season finale. Personally, I found certain seasons stronger than others — Season Two features Buffy’s vampire boyfriend Angel turning into the darker Angelus. Season Three features the Mayor of Sunnydale building up to a demonic “ascension” and also sees the destruction of the high school in the final episode. Season Six features a resurrected Buffy (killed at the end of season five) coming to terms with having been brought back to life, and shows gal-pal Willow (a witch) going to the dark side when her love (girlfriend Tara) is killed. the series wraps up many of its overall plots at the end of the seventh season, but leaves several plot threads dangling, which have been picked up in official “season 8” and “season 9” comic-book/graphic-novel follow-ups.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the spinoff series Angel.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this series ) | ( Wikipedia entry on this series ) | ( Detailed episode guide at )


Reviewed in October 2012 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

formatCDmusic2bornthiswaycdBorn This Way
by Lady Gaga (ompact Disc 771.66 Lad)

An extremely diverse album punctuated with Gaga’s eccentric interpretation of a variety of musical styles. For example, “You and I” resembles a country music theme (and even mentions “Nebraska” by name), “Scheibe” – a German techno rave, “The Edge of Glory” which mimics 80s pop culture, and of course: “Born this Way,” the anthem of Generation Z. A great CD, and instant classic for all the “monsters” out there.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Fame (CD), The Fame Monster (CD), Lady Gaga presents The Monster Ball at Madison Square Garden (DVD).)

( official Lady Gaga web site )


Reviewed in June 2012 by Jeremiah J.
Bennett Martin Public Library

formatCDbook2seriouslyimkiddingcdSeriously…I’m Kidding
by Ellen DeGeneres (Compact Disc Biography DeGeneres)

I’ve always enjoyed Ellen’s wry, scatter-brained sense of humor — I’ve been a fan of her stand-up routine since she first showed up on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show, way back in the late 1980s. I haven’t really followed her afternoon talk show, or the sitcom on which she “came out” publicly, but I’ve certainly followed the major ups and downs of her life in the entertainment news — It’s been hard to avoid! I’ve been enjoying listening to celebrity biographies on compact disc for the past year, and when I stumbled across hers, I was hoping it would be another great one. In the end though, I found Seriously…I’m Kidding to be an extremely light-weight volume, both in content and in tone of presentation. Ellen, who narrates her book herself for this compact disc adaptation, injects very little “life” into the words. Much of the content of this CD set feels like an extended stream-of-conciousness rambling. When she does focus in a little more directly on her topics, she still doesn’t go into much depth. Admittedly, I found myself chuckling at various asides that she makes, but for the most part, I kept waiting for some literary “substance” to show up and it never did. If all you want is some light, breezy observations on life — you’ll like this. If you’re looking for a celebrity autobiography that actually has something concrete to share about the life of the celebrity, look elsewhere…

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Ellen’s previous stand-up comedy books My Point, and I Do Have One (1995) and The Funny Thing Is (2003).)

(official Ellen’s talk show web site )

Reviewed in March 2012 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

artoffieldingThe Art of Fielding
by Chad Harbach

It’s true, I do love baseball, but I’m certain The Art of Fielding is not just for baseball fans. This surprisingly satisfying first novel by Chad Harbach centers around Henry Skrimshander, a scrawny small-town kid who is an absolute savant on the infield. Set in a fictional college campus, Henry is surrounded by a handful of rich characters, the sort you like all the more for their flaws. There is Owen, Henry’s self-described “gay mulatto roommate”, a strict environmentalist who spends his time between innings with his head in a book; President of the college Guert Affenlight, who finds falling in love a completely new experience in his 60s; Guert’s daughter Pella, who married too young and has returned home for something of an unconventional fresh start; and Mike Schwartz, the lumbering and arthritic captain (and glue) of the team. When Henry’s errorless streak is suddenly and unexplicably broken it sets in motion an unravelling of long held ambitions and expectations. The characters’ journey through the unpredictablility of love and life expectations makes The Art of Fielding a richly enjoyable book.

( Publisher’s official Art of Fielding web site ) | (Wikipedia page for Chad Harbach )


Reviewed in February 2012 by Steph E.
Anderson and Bethany Branches

2011 Reviews

formatdvdgleedvd-1Glee: The Complete First Season
(DVD Glee)

This show is worth every award its won. It has a fantastic cast, excellent storylines and awesome soundtracks. The whole series is about a Glee club at a high school in Ohio. They’re the underdogs at the school, and always getting slushies thrown in their faces. The story follows the formation of the Glee club and its ups and downs as well as its members ups and downs. What’s so great about the writing is that each character is different and has their own quirks, and each musical number is unique. Every new episode brings more drama and more comedy. It’s not a musical where they just break out into song at every chance — the music usually takes place during practice. It’s a fantastic series written about high school kids with real life problems

( Internet Movie Database entry for this series ) | ( official Glee web site from the Fox network )


Reviewed in April 2011 by Carrie R.
Bennett Martin Public Library

unbearablelightnessUnbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain
by Portia DeRossi (Biography DeRossi)

After being cast as Nelle Porter in “Ally McBeal,” Portia DeRossi’s life of bulimia and being in the closet became much more complicated. DeRossi writes, without a ghost writer, about how her battles with bulimia, anorexia, and sexuality were affected by her new celebrity status. DeRossi traces her time on “Ally McBeal” and her ventures into celebrity (a L’Oreal spokeswoman deal, a Blockbuster film, red carpets, meeting Ellen DeGeneres) alongside her daily weight, food allotments, and exercise. This is the most personal, honest memoir I’ve ever read. DeRossi simply explains what her life was like and what she was thinking along the way. DeRossi does not stop to apologize or agonize over the roughest parts. Rather, DeRossi picks them apart to explain, in the best detail I’ve ever seen, the truth about eating disorders. While the memoir is emotionally tough and heartbreaking at times, it is an amazing read written. Unbearable Lightness is by not just another Hollywood actor, but an amazing woman who has taken the time to reflect on her life and retell it for the world to understand and learn from.

( Publisher’s official Unbearable Lightness web site ) | ( Wikipedia page for Portia DeRossi )


Reviewed in January 2011 by Courtney D.
Bennett Martin Public Library

2010 Reviews

sheaintheavyShe Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Mother
by Bryan Batt (Biography Batt)

This biography is actually about TWO people – Batt, and his mother. If his photo or name is unfamiliar to you, Bryan Batt stars in AMC’s “Mad Men” as Salvatore Romano. In one interview about this book, Batt commented that he was fed up with memoirs by people complaining about their parents, so he decided to write a book about how great his mom has been. Batt was raised in New Orleans and after a New York trip with his mother to see “Cabaret” he was determined to become a song and dance man. Along with the story of how he became an actor on Broadway, we also learn about his mother and his life in New Orleans while growing up. You can practically hear her southern accent drip off the page. Batt was living and working in New York City when the terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and he describes some poignant moments of what life in NYC was like for a few days. Batt has some stories about Hurricane Katrina as well. A quick read, very interesting and entertaining. This reviewer was disappointed when the stories ended.

( publisher’s official She Ain’t Heavy… web page ) | ( official Bryan Batt web site – appears to be offline )


Reviewed in October 2010 by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library

2009 Reviews

artofdetectionThe Art of Detection
by Laurie R. King (King)

I hadn’t read any of the Kate Martinelli books before this particular title was selected for the Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group at the library. I’m not sure that I’ll go ahead and read any others, either. That’s not to say that The Art of Detection was unenjoyable…I did like reading it. The dual mysteries in this book — first, the investigation into who killed a Sherlock Holmes memorabilia dealer and hid his body in a gun battery outside of San Francisco, and second, the storyline in a possible unknown Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle — were both fascinating and kept me engaged throughout the book. What I didn’t care for was Kate Martinelli herself. She came off as a bit too harsh and judgemental, especially considering the fact that as a lesbian police officer, she herself has probably faced a lot of judgemental types. In the long run, I like the book — the interweaving of the plots from the two different time periods, plus the historical footnotes about Arthur Conan Doyle’s visit to the San Francisco area in the 1920s, made for an intriguing “what if” scenario. And there’s a doozy of a Twilight Zone moment thrown in at the end of the book, too. Holmes purists may or may not enjoy this one, and may also find Martinelli’s opinions about Sherlock Holmes fanatics a bit off-putting, but it was still an interesting read, and I do recommend it. Fans of the Martinelli series may be surprised to find that 9 years have passed since the previous Martinelli mystery, but for newcomers to the series, that’s not an impediment to the story.

( official Art of Detection page on the official Laurie R. King web site )

See more books like this on our Elementary… Sherlock Holmes booklist


Reviewed in June 2009 by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

2007 Reviews

tiptreeJames Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon
by Julie Phillips (B T49p)

From roughly 1967 until 1977 Alice B. Sheldon wrote acclaimed science fiction short stories under the male pseudonym James Tiptree Jr. As a genre, science fiction writing at that time was male-dominated, but Sheldon chose her male persona partly as a way to play out a life-long disconnect she felt between the woman she knew herself to be and the male traits that were inextricably part of who she was. As Tiptree, Sheldon carried on extensive correspondences with several well-known science fiction writers allowing her to explore topics as various as writing philosophies, politics, gender relationships, feminism and aging. In James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, Phillips explores Sheldon’s early life and influences as keys to explain her later struggles with depression, drug abuse and gender identity.

( official James Tiptree Jr. book page on the official Julie Phillips web site )


Reviewed in September 2007 by Vicki W.
Youth Services Coordinator — Bennett Martin Public Library

500greatbooksforteens500 Great Books for Teens
by Anita Silvey (028.535 Sil)

Parents if you need to pick out a book for your teenage son or daughter but are not sure what to bring home, then this is the book for you. 500 Great Books for Teens, is just what the cover says. Filled with 500 engaging essays about books that teens would enjoy reading, the author provides a well organized resource in which to find what you’re looking for by dividing her essays into 21 sections, including survival, romance, fantasy, history, politics and many others. Age levels and awards are provided for each book, which helps anyone narrow down the selections. The essays are very informative and would be a great way for parents to keep in touch with what their teens are reading. Reluctant teen readers can browse through the short essays and get a good idea of which type of book might interest them. Teachers, Librarians and Booksellers will also benefit from this book’s wealth of information. Most of the titles included in this book are new, but the author does provide some classics in each category. Be sure and read “Beyond the 500: Additional Titles of Interest” towards the back of the book. Here Anita Silvey provides 36 pages of booklists that include titles by time periods, geographical locations and those on audio. 500 Great Books for Teens is an invaluable resource for anyone that is connected to teen reading.

( official web site for the book and the author )

Several books aimed at LGBTQ+ readers are featured in 500 Great Books for Teens


Reviewed in May 2007 by Patty L.
Walt Branch Library

2006 Reviews

venetianaffairA Venetian Affair
by Andrea DiRobilant (B M5105d)

A Venetian Affair is DiRobilant’s account of the “impossible love” between his young patrician ancestor, Andrea Memmo and the half-English beauty Giustinana Wynne. To the Venetians of the 18th century, love was a consummate game. The rules were meant to be broken, and the more obstacles there were to happily-ever-after, the more attention they paid. Giustiana and her Memmo play out their personal drama against a backdrop of intrigue, war, duty and a Venice fading into its long twilight. This is an absorbing and emotionally involving love story-and it’s all true! For added impact, get both the book and the Compact Disc so you can hear the beauty of the Italian names and phrases when they’re properly spoken. A Venetian Affair is like a tragi-comic opera, and may leave you shopping for a Carnival mask and dreaming of gondola rides on the Grand Canal.

( official Venetian Affair and Andrea DiRobilant pages at the Random House site )

Reviewed in Marcy 2006 by Lisa V.
Eiseley Branch Library

2005 Reviews

perkswallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower
by Stephen Chbosky

This book, more than any other Young Adult fiction book I have read, captures the “outsider” feeling of many teens. It is dreamy, magical, and, one of the more powerful books I have ever read…for any age.

( The Perks of Being a Wallflower page at the Simon & Schuster Web site )

Reviewed in February 2005 by Benjamin C.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries

Click on the following links or photos to visit the Reviewer Profile pages for some of the library staff who provided the reviews above…

[ Charlotte M. ] | [ Garren H. ] | [ Naomi S. ] | [ Scott C. ] | [ Scott S. ] | [ Tracy T. ] [ Rio B. ] (photos below)


[ Susan S. ] [ Carrie R. ] [ Wyatt P. ] [ Jeremiah J. ] [ Patty L. ] [ Lisa V. ] (photos below)


[ Ali B. ] [ Carrie K. ] [ L.G. ] [ Steph E. ] [ Courtney D. ] [ Vicki W. ] [ Benjamin C. ] (no photos available)