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review 2018-01-17 22:05
Two Boys Kissing / David Levithan
Two Boys Kissing - David Levithan

New York Times  bestselling author David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.

While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.

 

A very moving book, one that I would recommend that you buy for any young person in your life, regardless of their sexuality. But I doubly recommend that you buy it for any youth that you know who identifies as gay, lesbian or transgender. And I triply recommend it for any young person who is intolerant of sexual diversity. Remember to let them know that you love them and want the best life for them.

I would also say that if you know a parent, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend, sibling, etc. who is uncomfortable with the sexuality of a child, this would be an excellent way to open their hearts to the reality of the way that people are. We don’t all fit into neatly labelled boxes nor should we have to.

I’m of the generation that remembers when AIDS wasn’t spoken about. Back when governments and society tried to shove it under the rug. The many, many people who died before the disease was taken seriously. How it took the deaths of people like Rock Hudson to get the general population to care. As a result, I loved the “chorus” of those who have passed on, but remain to witness. Very much like a Greek chorus, commenting on what is happening in the book.

A quick but satisfying read.

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review 2018-01-11 20:05
It's All Relative / A.J. Jacobs
It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree - W.W. Jacobs

A.J. Jacobs has received some strange emails over the years, but this note was perhaps the strangest: “You don’t know me, but I’m your eighth cousin. And we have over 80,000 relatives of yours in our database.”

That’s enough family members to fill Madison Square Garden four times over. Who are these people, A.J. wondered, and how do I find them? So began Jacobs’s three-year adventure to help build the biggest family tree in history.

Jacobs’s journey would take him to all seven continents. He drank beer with a US president, found himself singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and unearthed genetic links to Hollywood actresses and real-life scoundrels. After all, we can choose our friends, but not our family.

 

I would call this a book about genealogy for people who aren’t really all that interested in the subject. It is genealogy lite. Which is not to say that it isn’t a good book or that I didn’t like it. I enjoyed it a great deal.

I’ve been doing genealogy since I was a teenager and discovered our family Bible, with my great-grandfather’s handwritten records of the family in it. It’s huge & heavy and he bought it from someone in a California train station for 25 cents back in the day. He was a lumberman and his family lived in New Brunswick (and he got migraines—he’s who I blame my headaches on!).

Maybe not the most exciting of stories, but you find all kinds of interesting tales when you start investigating. I haven’t made time for this pursuit for years, but reading this book has encouraged me to get thinking about it again.

I had read in a genealogy book that if you have European heritage, the very furthest apart you can be related to others with similar ties is 10th cousin. Jacobs’ research takes things a step farther: the farthest apart you can be related to anyone on Earth is 70th cousins. Start singing Kumbaya, folks, because we really do belong to the Family of Humankind.

The strange thing is, we do have a bias for treating our family just a little better than others—cutting them some slack when they do things that we don’t understand, for example. What better way is there to increase the kindness quotient in the world than to realize that we are all relatives and all deserve that kind of treatment.

Pie in the sky, I know, but both the author & I wish that it could come true.

Read for the PopSugar reading challenge to fill the “Book tied to your ancestry” choice.

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review 2018-01-10 16:49
Lincoln in the Bardo / George Saunders
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

 

The format of this book will mean that its not going to appeal to everyone. It is told in multiple voices—book excerpts, newspaper quotes, and numerous ghostly voices. It can feel a bit chaotic and I often found myself searching to determine who was speaking.


Despite that, if you can live with the writing style, this is a tale of grief and love. Not only between Lincoln and his son Willie, but the love of all the poor souls who inhabit the bardo in hopes of being “just sick” instead of dead. Saunders’ vision of what this half-life would be like is original and interesting.

I found it curious that Abraham Lincoln, a respected president today, could be so reviled during his tenure. The brutality of the Civil War, of course, was the reason for the mixed opinions, leading me to muse a bit about how the leaders of the last number of decades will be remembered.

This novel touches on all the big themes—love, death, politics, religion—sympathetically but with humour too.

Read to fill the PopSugar reading challenge—a novel based on a real person.

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review 2018-01-08 18:21
The Great Hunt / Robert Jordan
The Great Hunt - Robert Jordan

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow. For centuries, gleemen have told of The Great Hunt of the Horn. Now the Horn itself is found: the Horn of Valere long thought only legend, the Horn which will raise the dead heroes of the ages.  And it is stolen.

 

My second step on the Wheel of Time! The best part about it was that it got me feeling things about these characters. I mean, I wanted to bash heads together with Rand being all stubborn and Mat not helping himself a bit and Perrin not accepting who he has become! And despite that, I realize that these would be hard realizations to come to—they aren’t just country lads anymore. Plus, Nyaneve irritated me every bit as much as I appreciated her.

The echoes of the King Arthur story are strong—Galad, Gawyn, and Elayne have been added to the cast. And there was a reference to a sword in a stone that only the Dragon Reborn could use. References to the legendary warrior Arthur, who is born again in the Dragon—like Arthur Pendragon, who is said to be asleep and ready to return to the world if he is needed.

The Horn of Valere and its ability to summon warriors of the past reminded me of Tolkien’s Paths of the Dead. It felt to me like this was being used up awfully early in the course of the WoT—after all, this is only volume 2 of 14!

There are obviously many unanswered questions and I shall look forward to reading The Dragon Reborn as soon as possible. (One of the advantages of getting a late start on this series is that they are all available now.)

Book 270 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

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review 2018-01-05 18:49
The House on Mango Street / Sandra Cisneros
The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros

I started reading The House on Mango Street without really researching anything about it. I could really tell that the author is also a poet—the beauty of the language and the descriptions was stunning. If you are looking for something plot-driven, this is not your book. But if you are willing to savour each chapter/vignette for what it is, you will enjoy this artistic little volume.

Each chapter is like a perfectly cut and polished gemstone, offering the reader a peek into the Chicago of the 1950s and 1960s. What I really related to was the naiveté of Esperanza—at her age, I was similarly clueless about the allure of boys (or what one would actually do with a boy that parents were always worrying about). Despite that lack of knowledge, I struggled against societal expectations, just as Esperanza did. I too watched my mother struggle to express her artistic self, while trying to juggle life as a mother and a wife and I learned the same lesson: support yourself so that you can do the things you need to do in life.

We are also allowed a look into the world of immigrant Mexican families of that time—the strictness of the fathers, the dilapidated housing, the restraint on expectations. The importance of family. The reliance on community.

Esperanza gets her name for a reason—there is Hope that a true artistic life can be achieved. And if this book is any indication, Sandra Cisneros has certainly met those expectations.

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