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review 2020-10-09 21:35
The Lost Shtetl by Max Gross
The Lost Shtetl - Max Gross

The book begins with the tale of an unhappy marriage in the isolated shtetl of Kreskol. Gross lovingly depicts the tiny community with all its faults and blessings. Readers will know the "reveal" is coming. In all respects Kreskol is an ordinary 19th century community, but in reality it has simply been cut off from the modern world and bypassed by the horrors and (perhaps dubious) wonders of the 20th century.


Three individuals, the unhappy Lindauers escaping their unhappy marriage and the judgement of the village respectively, and the worthy, but unloved, Yankel is sent after them, or at least to find a magistrate to deal with the unprecedented crisis. They discover a very different world from the one they've known, but filled with many of the same dangers. Modern civilization is a thin veneer over what the Jews of Kreskol have been taught to expect from gentiles.


Modern Poland, and the world, does not know what to do with such a community. The novel in discussing how Kreskol was spared for a hundred years talks of the deprivations of war, racism, and progress that swept up their peers in the years before and after the Holocaust. The Holocaust itself is a terror of such great magnitude, how can it be explained to one who had never heard of it before? How can Kreskol survive when faced with the pressures and temptations of the modern world?


Gross has created a wonderful novel here that reminds us of the past, but also forces us to think about the lies we ourselves can prefer over the truth.

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review 2020-07-10 21:50
Rainbow Revolutionaries by Sarah Prager
Rainbow Revolutionaries: Fifty LGBTQ+ People Who Made History - Sarah Prager

A lot of amazing stories here - but, why Wen of Han and no other east Asian person? I'm gonna have to check the book over again.


This was a placeholder for the review I meant to write last week - but, of course, Booklikes was down. I'll get back to this at some point.

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review 2020-07-04 00:02
The Bright Lands by John Fram
The Bright Lands - John Fram

'The Bright Lands' hit me in some unexpected places. This is a supernatural horror novel, but the foundation of it is a rural, working-class town with not much else going for it except "the good ol' days" and the success of its football team. The novel is set in Texas, but I saw parallels with my own town in Vermont.


The plot involves Joel, a successful financial wizard, getting a strange text from his younger brother Dylan that leads him to flying back home for the first time since he was publicly outed and humiliated at the end of high school. He's flown his family to him in New York rather than return to that place.


The night he returns to town his brother, the star of the football team, vanishes. Joel's ex-girlfriend is on the police force and, while working out their differences, they investigate the disappearance and uncover a lot more than they expected.


I can't go further into this without revealing too much, but on top of the supernatural dread, there were some real gems of small-town, homophobic existence. I want to say so much more, and I CAN'T, urghh. The most outlandish parts of this book are so real. As a gay man I often can only look on  bemused and sad at the knots a community will twist into, even in this day and age, around an obvious truth. 'The Bright Lands' is about many things, but its mostly about the cankers that form around secrets and the cost paid to maintain them.

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review 2020-06-27 20:51
The Story So Far by Jane Eklund
The Story So Far - Jane Eklund Ball

I enjoyed this novel following the long relationship between a young librarian and an older, famous, but closeted, author of historical romances. The librarian is writing down the story many years after the start of their romance and reflecting on how they have both changed. This is a gentle, humorous, love story that goes beyond two people. 'The Story So Far' encompasses adult friendships, found family, cultural changes, queerness and aging with affection and wit.


Our narrator and The Author are not given names, lending the book the feel of a tell-all. The author's background as a poet is also clear in the lyrical descriptions and mental monologues peppered throughout the book. The work is fiction and not autobiographical, but feels authentic and personal. 28 years separate the two women and the dynamics of their relationship shift over time, the book is sectioned off by decades as we follow our narrator's career, her other romantic relationships and the family she forms with her gay neighbor Jeff, his partner, and other friends. 


What 'Story So Far' does best is show how love influences you. What love gives and what it takes away. The characters were so real and the voice of the book so honest it was hard to put down - not something I usually say about character-driven novels.


There are some quirks to the book, throughout her life the librarian has inner conversations with Socrates, Hildegard of Bingen, and Suzanne Pleshette, which could have been developed more.  I loved that there are some running jokes about the literary-named dishes she is taught to make by her lover Max and her housemates. I wish there had been more to those scenes as more than ever it is refreshing to read about happiness.


A great find, I'm so glad to have been given a copy of this book by the publisher.


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review 2020-06-13 21:27
The New One by Mike Birbiglia
The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad - J. Hope Stein,Mike Birbiglia

Mike Birbiglia is one of my favorite stand-up comics and I loved the movie for 'Sleepwalk with Me', so it was pleasure to be able to read this.


Birbiglia cuts to the heart of fears surrounding parenthood and reflects on how life tends to put us in really compromising situations. Reading this I am more fervent than ever in my desire to never have children, but 'The New One' has a lot to offer, even to parents. As ever, Birbiglia tackles his insecurities in a super funny and super uncomfortable way with complete honesty.


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