Spring Book Escape

Spring Book Escape

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Another Life Altogether Elaine Beale Fiction

Thirteen-year-old Jesse has grown up trying to keep up appearances, despite her mother’s mental illness, her father’s neglect and her own blossoming lesbianism. When she finds herself thrust into a small town, however, her ability to separate herself from her family, and from her own identity, becomes seemingly impossible and threatens to leave her completely exposed.

Beale gives readers a crash course in British culture, which provides an often-comical backdrop to the heavy issues the young protagonist faces. Although not all readers will be able to relate to the family issues from which Jesse works so hard to break free, Beale does a commendable job of framing them in a way that all readers who’ve made it through tumult-filled teen years can empathize. The story doesn’t rely on too many nail-biting moments or shocking twists, but rather draws its strength from the underdog its main character personifies that leaves readers pulling her from page one.

— Jen Colletta

Female Force: Ellen DeGeneres Sandra C. Ruckdeschel Graphic Novel

For those who still think of graphic novels as comic books comprised of fantasy tales with large-busted women in tiny bikinis wielding two-handed swords — and who obviously haven’t read Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” about growing up in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution — think again.

Blue Waters Productions’ “Female Force” series tells the life stories of notable women in politics, with biographies of Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Michelle Obama, Caroline Kennedy, Princess Diana and Sarah Palin. The latest in the series moves beyond politics to detail the career rise of comedian Ellen DeGeneres.

Despite the cheesy series name that makes them sound like part of the Justice League, the books do raise the profile of the genre, and are both informative and entertaining. For instance, did you know that a young DeGeneres started doing comedy to cheer up her mother during her divorce?

The novel details DeGeneres’ childhood in Louisiana, her early career as an oyster shucker and a paralegal and her current CoverGirl status. And, thankfully, it doesn’t shy away from, gloss over or apologize for her lesbianism, from the death of her first girlfriend to coming out and the cancellation of “Ellen,” to her relationship with Anne Heche and her present marriage to Portia de Rossi. The author even frames the wedding against the backdrop of the Proposition 8 fight in California, noting that DeGeneres and Rossi married in 2008 during the six-month window that same-sex marriage was legal.

The one bit that became tedious was the author’s inclusion of herself dancing through the book, a reference to DeGeneres’ trademark dancing on her talk show. As a reader, the draw is to DeGeneres’ story, not to a relatively unknown author.

— Sarah Blazucki

Follow The Model: Miss J’s Guide to Unleashing Presence, Poise and Power J. Alexander Nonfiction

J. Alexander’s book walks a fine line between autobiography and self-help. (And since he’s an expert on how to walk, it’s never a problem for him.)

As if to lead by example, “Follow The Model” tells readers how Alexander went from being a Bronx teenager making his own high-fashion knock-offs to being Miss J, the out, world-renowned TV personality and runway-model coach, best known for his work on “America’s Next Top Model.”

And to think, he almost became an accountant.

The book’s not meant to be a how-to guide, but to show readers that purpose, direction and focus can lead them to their life’s goal if they are patient and work hard.

Along the way, Alexander regales readers with the ups and downs of his journey, from getting past the velvet rope of Studio 54 and catching the attention of giants in the fashion industry to a close call with HIV, finding his dream home in Paris and his foray into fatherhood.

“Follow The Model” is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the world of fashion.

— Larry Nichols

Monday Hearts for Madalene Page Hodel Nonfiction

In American culture, “love” is often a four-letter word. Take Valentine’s Day, when detractors posit that if you really love your partner, you’ll treat them special every day, so why waste time/effort/money/thought on doing something special on Feb. 14? Or that Valentine’s Day is just a holiday made up by Hallmark to get more money (not true; it was first introduced by Geoffrey Chaucer in “Parlement of Foules”).

Enter “Monday Hearts for Madalene.” If this book doesn’t tug your heartstrings, you don’t have one. It’s not so much the 100 photos of hearts made out of various objects — crayons, metal shavings, flowers, candy, candles. It’s the story behind them.

Author/artist Hodel created the hearts for the woman she loved – Madalene Rodriguez. Hodel left them on Rodriguez’s doorstep on Monday mornings for her to find on her way to work. Eleven months after they met, Rodriguez died of ovarian cancer. Hodel continued to make Monday Hearts for Madalene as a tribute, sending photos of the hearts to friends and family, an intentional, outward expression of love.

The hearts themselves are beautiful creations. Some are whimsical (“Cray-O-La Heart,” “Peeps”), some are made of a single material (“Autumn Heart”), others use many items (“Ornaments”). Some are simple (“Birthday in the Night Sky”), some are highly coordinated (“Our Tribe”), some are intricate (“Lovevolution,” “Dragons Cascading”).

And they resonate with love.

— S.B.

The Moonlit Earth Christopher Rice Fiction

Rice penned another winner with “The Moonlit Earth,” due out April 6 and, in a directional shift from his previous novels, has created a tense tale of blackmail and espionage. Deftly weaving family, intrigue, suspicion and surprises, Rice has concocted another unpredictable page-turner that crosses international and nationality lines.

Rice writes from the point of view of protagonist Megan Reynolds, who must unravel the mystery of a terrorist bombing in a Hong Kong hotel that implicates her gay brother, Cameron, and threatens his life. Saudi Prince Aabid romantically pursues Cameron, putting him in the middle of international, business and cultural conflicts. Some of the most thought-provoking moments in the book concern the relationship between the prince and the Southern Californian.

Megan and Cameron’s cousin Lucas is portrayed early in the novel as the wealthy, generous and thoughtful close relative, but his darker side slowly emerges. Lucas’ actions eventually threaten the lives of the entire family. There are twists to the characters and conversations that cause the reader to pause and reconsider what simple, overheard remarks may mean. But fortunately, guessing is only part of the fun: The actual reading is the kicker.

Majed, a bodyguard/assassin, is a complex and mysterious character who frequently contemplates his place in the world. But, if Majed is conflicted over some of his actions, it is also true that he is very comfortable with others. Rice chooses to write with thought-provoking subtlety about this deep man; it wouldn’t be fair to readers to say more about him here.

Rice continues to spellbind with this latest offering and, whether you are a fan or haven’t read his previous books, be sure to read this one.

— Scott Drake

Pride/Prejudice Ann Herendeen Fiction

If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if those caste protagonists of early 19th-century literature would just throw down and lay together already, here’s your book.

In this tale set in 19th-century England, author Herendeen re-imagines what happens between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet — and a few other characters. (Note: Darcy and Charles Bingley are intimate by page 5.)

The sexed-up version adds spice to the oft-dry tales about virtue, good manners and matchmaking, with lots of male-male and male-female coupling. Thankfully, Bennet is still the strong character that made her interesting in Jane Austen’s original “Pride and Prejudice” and the plot parallels the original, “filling in the gaps,” as it were.

Now we just need to read “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”

— S.B.

Robin and Ruby K.M. Soehnlein Fiction

“Robin and Ruby” takes readers on a weekend of adventure down the Garden State Parkway — from Philadelphia to the Jersey Shore — as the title characters, a brother-and-sister pair who were first introduced to readers in Soehnlein’s “World of Normal Boys,” seek to separate their past from their future.

As Robin, a gay college student spending the summer in Philadelphia, and sister Ruby struggle to find their way across state lines to one another after a wild weekend — saturated with drugs and alcohol just as much as unexpected sexual encounters — they find their paths clouded by their younger brother’s death, which calls their relationships and their faith into question.

A coming-of-age novel set in the mid-1980s, “Robin and Ruby” tells the siblings’ stories in alternating chapters, and the depth Soehnlein provides to each character absorbs the reader so completely that the other sibling seamlessly fades to the background until his or her turn resurfaces. The entire book takes place within just two days, but Soehnlein allows the reader to traverse so far into the minds of the main characters that their past and future are masterfully fused into the present. With extensive mentions of local LGBT institutions like Giovanni’s Room, this is a must-read for locals.

— J.C.

Sex, Dreams & Self Control Kevin Thornton Nonfiction

Out musician and actor Thornton has managed to distill his one-man show into a dark comedic read.

Thornton’s almost-stream-of-consciousness style takes readers through the strangeness that was his small-town Indiana childhood, highlighting his first and often complex forays into masturbation and his experiences with the church. Those two worlds become more intertwined as the book motors on, evidenced by the poem “After-Bible-Study-Hand Jobs.”

Then there’s the spider that gives him spiritual advice through his dreams. No, really. And he/she/it is the most sympathetic entity in the book.

Thornton’s misadventures continue through college, where he manages to get into even more awkward sexual experiences before he finally has a spiritual epiphany in, of all places, an Olive Garden.

“Sex, Dreams & Self Control” may not be the deepest story of sexual discovery ever written, but it is fast and entertaining, and should have most readers rolling with sympathetic laughter.

— L.N.

The Summer We Fell Apart Robin Antalek Fiction

The lifelong impact of parental missteps on their children is front and center in “The Summer We Fell Apart,” Antalek’s debut novel.

The book spans 15 years in the lives of the four Haas children, who find their relationships and career paths inextricably affected by their dysfunctional upbringing. Each of the brothers’ and sisters’ stories are told separately but eventually converge, demonstrating the inevitable bonds between siblings that the characters eventually take comfort in.

One of the brothers, George, is gay, and while his sexuality is not a major source of conflict in the novel, his relationship with his partner is held up as one of the most successful in the book. In a family riddled with neglect and abuse, George and the eventual “normalcy” he and his partner find are welcome characterizations of same-sex couples.

— J.C.

Tangled Web Lee Rowan Romance

“Tangled Web” is a historical romance that follows in the footsteps of last year’s Running Press releases “Transgressions” and “False Colors.” This love story of gentlemen is set in Regency London in 1816 and concerns quite a different societal class than one might associate with a Charles Dickens novel of the same era: This delightful story captures the period in a well-woven tale of two men of different generations but similar backgrounds who meet by circumstance.

Brendan Townsend has been rooming with Tony Hillyard in Oxford, where they have been discretely having sex for several months when Tony takes Brendan to a mollyhouse under false pretenses and proceeds to perform sexual acts on a stage with a masked stranger. Brendan is horrified and immediately moves back in with his family. In London, he performs his duties as escort to the dances and dinners his sister Ellie must attend to meet the proper husband.

Tony gets blackmailed by the mollyhouse owner and asks Brendan to help, who asks his brother James to help him find someone who can “deal with these things.” James writes a letter of introduction to his former commander Major Phillip Carlisle in Kent. The major is a widower of 10 years who breeds horses on his estate and Brendan instantly falls for the older man, who in turn resists the once-upon-a-time urges he had years before.

Out in the open, all is proper and dignified; but blackmail, the murder of a local lad involved with smuggling and a few gentle turns of events propel the reader until the final confrontations and revelations come to light.

This is a great book to read to warm the heart and take away the chill of winter loneliness.

— S.D.

Tomorrow May Be Too Late Thomas Marino Memoir

“Tomorrow May Be Too Late” is subtitled “A Love Story,” but there is little in the book about love, nor is there much of a story. Marino recites dates, times, outfits, songs and conversations from 20 years ago with such unbelievable clarity, the story is, well, tediously unbelievable. This book could be titled “Journal of an Egomaniac” or “My therapist told me to write this to see if it might help.”

What is the book about? Good question. There is no plot, direction or anything that resembles a storyline other than a bad relationship and all of its misery. It is a series of vignettes on how favorably Marino thinks of his body and looks while he is dancing, how many different ways he can describe his partner Tom Shaw’s butt, the mistakes he made with letting Shaw spend his money and fighting with him to the point of drawing blood.

Rinse.

Repeat.

Oh, there are gratuitous sentences of frequent, hours-long, incredibly perfect sex every time they make up or just get drunk and do it, but even that part of the book is dull. Marino writes about their sexual escapades as if he were recapping a commodities report rather than infusing passion, sweat or even physical exertion.

If you want to know about what makes a relationship doomed from the start, read the first 30 pages. And read it in the store with a coffee so you don’t doze. Better yet, go to a local club and console someone who is crying in his beer. You will get a more interesting tale of woe and spend your money on something more enjoyable in far less than the painful eight hours you would spend reading this book.

— S.D.

Workin’ It: RuPaul’s Guide to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Style RuPaul Nonfiction

Part how-to manual and part Chicken Soup for the Drag Soul, “Workin’ It” contains what seems like every nugget of wisdom that drag icon RuPaul has accumulated over her long career.

But if you ever wanted to know how much time, effort and energy goes into the art of drag, this is the book to read. Every minute detail of RuPaul’s drag regime is laid out in the pages of this colorful tome: her diet, her gym routine, how she puts on her makeup, what to pack for traveling, colonics, etc. Better to learn the ropes here than on the street.

Plus, there are enough photos of the drag diva to fill a coffee-table book. These photos run the gamut from full-on glam to period gangster. There’s also a shot of RuPaul playing both Barack and Michelle Obama.

The photos and RuPaul’s mantras are a pleasant distraction from the numerous rules contained in the book: a lot of never do this and don’t do that, which ramps up the preachy factor but is good advice all the same.

Whether this will unlock your inner fierceness is entirely up to you, but at the very least, “Workin’ It” is a feast for the eyes.

— L.N.


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