THE HUNGRY GHOSTS

SHYAM SELVADURAI

“In Sri Lankan myth, a person is reborn a peréthaya [hungry ghost] because, during his human life, he desired too much” When his father died,six-year-old Shivan’s mother and sister moved with him into his maternal grandmother’s house. Daya was an angry and demanding woman who refused to talk to her daughter. Shivan, the grandson, became the golden boy, the reason she would take the family in. While he soaked up his grandmother’s recounting of ancient Buddhist tales about ghosts who haunt their future selves until past wrongs are redeemed, Shivan also chafed against her hold on him as he aged. He persuaded his mother to move the family to Canada, as much to get away from Daya as to flee the escalating conflict in Sri Lanka. Not that he could really escape—neither his grandmother nor his troubled country were anywhere near finished wreaking havoc in Shivan’s life. On an extended visit back to Sri Lanka, Shivan was taking over his grandmother real estate business until his grandmother had his lover killed.

Ghosts is a well written book. But when Shiven’s affair with Michael goes south I wanted to tell the young men to grow up. It could have used some paring down.

THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS

LAURIE FRANKEL

Penn and Rosie have four rowdy, rambunctious boys who they teach they can be anything they want to be. They want to have a girl but of course, they end up with another boy. But Claude is different. Claude is quieter and calmer than the other boys ever were. At three Claude starts wearing a dress and saying he wants to be a girl when he grows up. The family motto is you can be anything you want to be, so the parents take this in stride. For pre-school Claude wore pants to school then changed into his dress when he returned home. When Claude starts kindergarten he starts wearing dresses and skirts to school and adopts the name Poppy. After a playdate gone horribly wrong with a gun-toting homophobe father the family flees to Seattle for greater acceptance. There they tell no one that Poppy is both a girl and a boy. But secrets have a way of getting out.

Terribly well written, THIS IS a page-turner. It’s the best book I’ve read for some time.

TOMBOY SURVIVAL GUIDE

IVAN COYOTE imgres

Tomboy Survival Guide, by the Canadian writer, performer and musician Ivan Coyote, is of well-told tales about the author’s experiences growing up as a transgender person in the Yukon. Adapted from Coyote’s successful stage show of the same name, these stories are entertaining but also impart serious messages and offer the reader a window into the experiences of a transgender person who became a successful writer and performer. Like many transgendered people, Coyote prefers the pronouns they and them. Coyote describes grandmother Flo, a devout Catholic, as “not a cuddly woman” and as someone who was “far more likely to cuff the back of your head than she was to pat the top of it.” Yet Flo was perhaps the first person to reassure Coyote that, while they might not be just like everyone else, they was just fine the way they was. As Coyote remembers it, Flo said that “Some of us have hard roads, but the Lord never gives anyone a burden without also giving them a gift. Your job is to find out what that gift is and use it, y’hear me? God doesn’t make mistakes. Never forget that. You are exactly who God meant you to be.”Public bathrooms and change rooms for me have always been a choice between very uncomfortable and potentially unsafe, so I try to be polite about it because if I get angry it become so much easier for them to

Public bathrooms and change rooms for me have always been a choice between very uncomfortable and potentially unsafe, so I try to be polite about it because if I get angry it become so much easier for them to dismiss me, plus an angry someone who looks like a man in the ladies’ change room? Then I am seen as even more of a threat. Then it is even more all my fault.

coyote-tomboy-survival-guide-s650But my day-to-day struggles are not so much between me and my body. A am not trapped in the wrong body. I am trapped in sa world that  makes very little space for bodies like mine. I live in a world where public washrooms are a battleground where politicians can stand up and be applauded for putting forth an amendment barring me from choosing which gendered bathroom I belong in. I live in a world where my trans sisters are routinely murdered without consequence or justice. I live in a world where trans youth get kicked out onto the street by their parents who think their God is standing behind them as they close their front doors on their own children. Going  to the beach is an act of bravery for me. None of this is a battle between me and my own flesh. For me to be free, it is the world that has to change, not trans people.

YOU GOTTA GET BIGGER DREAMS: My Life in Stories and Pictures

29093006ALLEN CUMMING

CUMMING has given us another delightful memoir. DREAMS is a series of vignettes from his wild, fascinating and star filled life. Most of them delightful and hilarious. Many of them illustrated with photos. He is the king, or should that be queen of selfies. As well as day to day fun, he loves to write about meeting the big names like Elizabeth Taylor. He was nervous meeting Liz at Carrie Fisher’s birthday party and couldn’t think of anything to say. Carrie told him, “Do you know how many gay men wish they had your problem right now!” as she sent him back to converse with the star. So Cumming sits beside Liz on the bench in Carrie Fisher’s hallway. She tells him how she injured herself by falling in her dining room and hitting the floor, hard.  “‘Alan,’ she growled like the Cat on the Hot Tin Roof she still was. ‘You have never seen such a black ass.’ “My mouth gaped open in an involuntary gasp. I waited just a beat longer, then with the most saucy twinkle in my eye I had ever mustered, threw down my slam dunk. ‘Oh, Elizabeth,’ I said. ‘I bet I have!’  “Suddenly her hand unlocked from mine and slapped me across the chest. She cackled like a trucker who’d just heard a good fart joke.”

Cumming’s friend Eddie’s dream was to meet Oprah so when Allen got tickets to a dinner where she would be he took Eddie as his plus one. Only their table was far from centre near the bathrooms. But save the day Oprah is human after all and needed to pee. “Seizing the screen_shot_2016-09-13_at_4-42-30_pmmoment, Eddie says, “in a very endearing and choirboy-like voice, ‘Oprah! May I have a picture with you? It would be my dream.” “You gotta get bigger dreams,” Oprah opines as Cummin snaps the photo saving the words for the title of his book.

Dreams is a quick fun read.

DARLING DAYS

imgres-1iO TILLETT WRIGHT

At age 6, Wright declared: “My name is Ricky. And I’m not your daughter anymore. I’m your son.” Days is iO’s exploration of his tumultuous upbringing and struggles with identity and sexuality. Wright grew up in a chaotic downtown Manhattan apartment, a place that “stood out for the refinement of its violence, for its kaleidoscopic intensity.” What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. “Sleep doesn’t happen much in the house, what with the plays and things late at night, plus Ma is in a real bad way. It’s like she has a night personality and a day personality.” As time passes her Mother’s mental illness worsens. The building they live in is crazy too. “Our building repels ‘normal’ people. They’d have to love cockroaches, scalding radiators and thin walls . . . they would have to establish their own niche in the zoo and defend it.”

Darling Days is one wild ride. “I don’t want to wear my tragedies on my skin, in my teeth, in my walk. I want something different than what I’m inheriting, but I’m going to have to make that happen for myself.”

TRUE LIES

MARIKO TAMAKImariko-tamaki_14

This slim volume of vignettes, stories and essays are both hilarious and outrageous. In the introduction, Tamaki confesses, “I have no problem admitting that I am a liar at heart. It’s true. I am.”  She compares “lies to pearls: they look better strung together in a set.”  Of course, the reader knows not which is fiction and which is truth. Some stories are written from the time before she came out as a lesbian, such as, “Reasons to Give a Blow Job,” and after, “The Epil-Lady vs. The Hairy Asian.” An epil pen is used to pull body hair out by its roots.

If you appreciate the ludicrous and aren’t squeamish about sex, you will enjoy this book.

GUAPA

SALEEM HADDADguapa

“Guapa” encompasses a day in the life of Rasa, a young gay man in an unnamed Middle Eastern country during the turbulence of the Arab Spring. His path winds from his family’s upper-middle-class home, where his family is on the verge of discovering his secret relationship with another young man, to the city’s poverty-stricken suburbs, where the embers of revolution are catching fire, to the police stations where regime thugs brutalize and intimidate dissidents, to a lavish wedding in the city’s most exclusive hotel. Along the way, he is forced to reckon with the hidden forces that have driven both him and his country to a fever pitch of despair and frustration.

Told with simple elegance and wry humour, “Guapa” is both a universal story of the perils of adulthood and a deeply personal examination of culture and identity. Haddad writes like an Arab Tennessee Williams, fueled equally by rage and compassion as he explores the social, sexual and economic chasms that divide his characters from each other, and themselves.

WE ARE ALL MADE OF MOLECULES

moleculesSUSAN NIELSEN

Molecules is a light, young adult book that is laugh aloud funny yet still able to deal with some challenging issues. The story is told from two points of view: Ashley and Stewart. Stewart is a genius, gifted academically but stunted and awkward socially. Ashley is the complete opposite: she is the queen bee of her grade, doling out social blessings on those she deems acceptable. But her grades are all D’s and C’s. Their families meld because Steward’s Mom died a year earlier and Ashley’s Dad moved into the garage because he’s gay. Ashley is horrified of the thought that people at school might find out her dad is gay. In many ways the story is unrealistic but it is still fun. So when you are in the mood for something light….

12 ROSE STREET: A Joanne Kilbourn Mystery

GAIL BOWENGail_Bowen_12_Rose_Street

Joanne’s paraplegic husband, Zach, is running for mayor of Regina. Joanna is running his campaign. She has been involved in politics her entire life, trying to make the world a better place. The current mayor  who is backed by shady, wealthy developers, seems to be a the city favorite. Joanne stumbles when faced with blackmail about the betrayal of a trusted friend.  Zack hoped to expose some of the corrupt dealings on the civic scene. Before he knows it, however, the race is marred by threats, violence, attack ads, and of course murder. Then there is this mysterious property in North Central, 12 Rose Street.

This is Bowen’s 15th novel in the series and likely her best.

CBC interview with Bowen.  I had the pleasure of hearing Gail do a reading and talk about her work. She is a wonderful speaker. Go see her if you get a chance.

THE SILENT SISTER

sisterDIANE CHAMBERLAIN

The death of her father has brought Riley MacPherson back to her childhood home which does not hold many happy memories. Riley’s family have never recovered from the suicide of her older sister Lisa. Riley was only a toddler when tragedy struck and has had to live with two parents who rarely mention their eldest child and a brother who has a lot of built up anger.As she hears stories from old family friends, sorts her father’s collectables and old paperwork she realizes that the reason for Lisa’s suicide was not depression. Riley’s whole life has been based on a lie; she even became a counsellor to help other teens. No wonder Danny is unable to forgive their sister for ruining their family’s life – she was a murderer who took the coward’s way out. The family secrets don’t end there. The revelations are parceled out so skillfully that disbelief remains suspended until the satisfying if not entirely plausible close.

ALL INCLUSIVE

allFARZARA DOCTOR

All Inclusive follows two main characters in their intertwining stories. Ameer works and lives in a Mexican all inclusive resort. It is a heavenly environment but on occasion disgruntled tourist are difficult to placate. The resort offers Ameer opportunities to satisfy her sexual needs with couples. Then in a week the couple leaves so no awkwardness. That is until someone lodges an anonymous complaint that puts Ameera’s job on the line. Even though she is on probation she continues her exploration with three-somes.

We also follow Azeez, a newly graduated PhD who surprises himself by successfully hitting on a girl. A one night stand. The next day he flies to India to rejoin his family. How the stories come together is unusual and surprising, a simple twist of fate.

A good read.

Article: conversation with Farzara Doctor

A MAN CALLED OVE

oveFREDRIK BACKMAN

Ove was born a curmudgeon. x. “Ove is fifty-nine. He drives a Saab. He’s the kind of man who points at people he doesn’t like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policeman’s torch.” Sweet and lively Sonja became his wife and balanced his pessimism with optimism and warmth. But when she dies he is thrown into a major depression and considers suicide. But every time he tries to kill himself, a neighbour interrupts him, forcing Ove to interact with the world and think about life. Gradually we become aware that under the grumpy persona lies a heart of gold. Funny and smart Ove is a heart warming story.

Backman’s second book, My Grandmother Ask Me to Say She’s Sorry, is actually better but both are worth reading.

SIX METRES OF PAVEMENT

sixFARZANA DOCTOR

Six starts as a tragedy and ends in a heartwarming silver romance. Two decades after his daughter’s tragic death, Ismail is on the brink of alcoholism with no direction in his otherwise neat life. He is unable to reconcile and move on from his loss. A friend from the local bar convinces Ismail to first, join AA with her and second, to take a university writing class. It is at the writing class he meets a young, queer (her term) woman Fatima, who encourages him to rejoin life.”The only way to survive misfortune is to stay in motion.” Fatima was kicked out of her conservative parents’ home her when she published an article titled “Beyond Bisexual: A Queer Girl’s Take on LGBT.” Across the street, six metres of pavement, lives Celia, recently widowed and orphaned, deep in depression and living unhappily in her daughter’s home. Coming from a Portuguese background, months after her husband’s death she is still wearing only black.   Celia and Ismail can look into each other’s front windows. The combination and interaction of these three engaging characters is the foundation of the novel.

Doctor is an excellent writer. Her characters are real and alive. Well worth reading.

HOW I SHED MY SKIN: Unlearning the Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood

JIM GRIMSLEYhow

“I was raised,” Grimsley writes, “to keep black people in their place and to see to it that they stayed there.” Grimsley describes how deeply ingrained racism and segregation was in the south. His mother would not let him use the N word but men certainly did and there were many expressions that did, from nursery rhymes to similes, dancing like, smelling like, and more. “I was a racist by training.”

“I would learn about all the cruelties and inhumanities of slavery and Jim Crow, including  lynchings, rape, beatings, torture, forced labor, and much more …. [committed] by by people much like those I knew. By men like my father and his drinking buddies, by good folk like those with whom I went to church. By people like me.”

When integration became law in ’68 many white families were sending their children to a private institution, and the author was outnumbered by black classmates. Being part of a minority, though, was not new for him; throughout childhood, he felt different from others because he was a hemophiliac who could not participate in sports or roughhouse with other boys; he also began to realize that he was gay.

A great read! Well written.

“White people declared that the South would rise again. Black people raised one fist and chanted for black power. Somehow we negotiated a space between those poles and learned to sit in classrooms together . . . Lawyers, judges, adults declared that the days of separate schools were over, but we were the ones who took the next step. History gave us a piece of itself. We made of it what we could.”

FISH: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man’s Prison

parselltj-fishT J PARSELL

Within days of entering the prison system Tim was drugged and gang raped. He could not report the rape to authorities because prison code states that snitches will be killed. So at that time he accepted the protection of a man, a husband who would protect him from the advances of other prisoners in exchange for sexual services. If he had not been protected he would have been  fair game for any other prisoner or group of prisoners. He was lucky his man treated him gently and had money to buy him clothes and other things from the commissary. All of this at the tender age of seventeen and he was still trying to decipher his own sexual orientation. Relationships don’t last forever in prison; inmates get transferred from one institution to another for whatever reason. But a person’s story follows with him. When Tim realized that his first husband had orchestrated his gang raped to force him into seeking his protection, he was devastated.

When finally released Parsell has been working with Stop Prison Rape. This book should be read by all at risk teens.

My understanding is that Canadian prisons are not as severe as American prisons.

TELL THE WOLVES I’M HOME

wolvesCAROL RIFKA BRUNT

1987, AIDS is misunderstood and prejudice is running wild. At first I asked why would anyone want to document this sad and depressing time but of course we need to know where we came from to appreciate where we are now. June had a special relationship with her uncle and god-father, respected painter Finn Weiss. When he died of an AIDS related condition her mother pointed out the man who killed him, who gave him AIDS, Finn’s partner Toby. Gradually June and Finn begin to develop a relationship. June learns that the reason she never knew about Toby, essentially her uncle’s husband, was because it was the only way her mother would let her brother Finn have a relationship with June and her older sister Greta. It is interesting to see June assess the situation and come to her own conclusions.

“Toby was right. Finn was my first love. But Toby, he was my second. And the sadness in that stretched like a thin cold river down the length of my whole life.”

Wolves is a YA novel but has much to offer adults.

NOT MY FATHER’S SON

ALAN CUMMINGalan

Cumming’s memoir begins on the Panmure estate in Carnoustie, Scotland – not a council estate but the leftovers of a country house where his dad runs a saw mill: “It was all very feudal and a bit Downton Abbey, minus the abbey… Looking back on it, it was a beautiful place to grow up, but at the time all I wanted was to get away as far as possible.” His father was brutal, taking all his pain and anger out on his youngest son Alan. “Soon, my head was propelled forward by his hand, the other one wielding a rusty pair of clippers that he used on the sheep…They were blunt and dirty and they cut my skin, but my father shaved my head with them, holding me down like an animal.” He made up a story about cutting his own hair for the teachers and students at school the next morning. Scariest of all are the calms between the storms: “That was the worst bit, the waiting… I never knew exactly when it would come, and that, I know, was his favourite part.”

“Our family had always been one of secrets, of silences, of holding things in.”  And Alan keeps secret his father’s many affairs. “Memory is so subjective. We all remember, in a visceral, emotional way, and so even if we agree on the facts – what was said, what happened where and when – what we take away and store from a moment, what we feel about it, can vary radically.” It is through a British reality TV show that Cumming learns the truth of his maternal grandfather who avoided the family when WWII ended and eventually died in Malaysia. Also Alan’s father told Alan’s brother that Alan is not his son. He claims Alan’s mother had an affair before he was born.

It is memoir of mysteries. Well written. Well worth the read.

FUN HOME: A Family tragicomic

ALISON BECHDELfun home

Bechdel writes some of the most thoughtful graphic novels and graphic memoirs of our time. Fun Home is her dealing with her father’s closeted  homosexuality and her less than great childhood. The hopelessness of this desire is deepened by the fact that Bruce Bechdel was hit by a truck and killed shortly after his daughter wrote her parents a letter that announced, “I am a lesbian.” Robert Bechdel was a funeral director (hence fun house) and high school english teacher. Alison believes his death was a suicide, brought on in part by her own confession. She draws herself beside his coffin thinking: “I’d kill myself too if I had to live here,” in small town Pennsylvania. Her father was obsessive about the house so the family lived in a virtual museum created around them and by them but with out their permission. When Alison’s room was wall papered in flowers she thought to herself how she hated flowers.

Bechel’s writing is unusual for a graphic novel. “But how could he admire Joyce’s lengthy, libidinal ‘yes’ so fervently and end up saying ‘no’ to his own life? I suppose that a lifetime spent hiding one’s erotic truth could have a cumulative renunciatory effect. Sexual shame is in itself a kind of death.”

“The sudden approximation of my dull, provincial life to a New Yorker cartoon was exhilarating.”

“Then there were those famous wings. Was Daedalus really stricken with grief when Icarus fell into the sea? Or just disappointed by the design failure?”

It is a great quick read.

LOVERS AT THE CHAMELEON CLUB

les-coupleFRANCINE PROSE

Lovers captures the bohemian art scene in the ’20s and ’30s, as well as the dark days that followed. Louisianne “Lou” Villars, a talented athlete, travels to Paris as a teenager, hoping to someday compete in the Olympics, but after her coach sexually assaults she ends up checking coats at the Chameleon Club, famed around the city for its gender-defying patrons and cabaret. She is thrilled to find out  that at the club and beyond she can dress like a man. Lou is based on Violette Morris who was photographed with her lover, became a race car driver and eventually worked for the nazis. There is a cast of characters to tell the story: the visionary and egotistical photographer Gabor Tsenyi; Lily de Rossignol rich from the auto manufacturing of her gay husband and Gabor and Lou’s benefactress; and Nathalie Dunois, Lou’s biographer. But the novel goes on too long — it would have been better if it had been better edited but still worth the read.

le-monocle-via-civilly-unioned

RIPPER

ISABEL ALLENDErip

Allende is one of my favourite authors. Ripper, her first crime novel, is not one of her best but is still worth reading. One of Allende’s strengths is her capitivating characters and Ripper abounds with these. Healer and tantric therapist Indiana, is the heart of the novel. Her daughter Amanda is a geek wizard whose on-line friends tackle the task of uncovering the identity of the serial killer stalking San Francisco. At the first murder, “The Case of the Misplaced Baseball Bat”, where a school security guard is found dead by a class of fourth-graders, bent over a vaulting horse with a baseball bat stuffed into his rectum, she seizes on the occasion to rethink the strategy of Ripper, the interactive mystery game she plays online with “a select group of freaks and geeks from around the world.” The brainy players — including a paralyzed boy in New Zealand, a Canadian girl with an eating disorder and Amanda’s grandfather — will match wits with the real killer. Amanda’s father, bad news in high school when he seduced Indiana, is now deputy chief of police who is conducting an investigation into the serial killer but has trouble keeping up his daughter and her cohorts. Indiana has two main men in her life, one an ageing playboy, the other a disabled ex-navy Seal – are central players in the drama too, one ending up a murderee and the other a suspect for the series of deaths.

Lots of fun. Great writing.