Mini Book Reviews: Two trans-character stories, a memoir I couldn’t put down, and my favorite birthday present.

It’s been a slower reading week, mostly because I’m on the verge of finishing two other books, both very gripping – and truth be told, I’m a little annoyed I couldn’t stay away from my Stranger Things/The Killing marathon last night so I could finish either or both of them. Not helping is the fact that most of what I did read this week was a simmering pot of meh. I hate when that happens. Let’s see what we have:

Book174Transformed (Charley & Electra #1), by Suzanne Falter (2016, New Heights Publishing, 214 pages, library eloan). Yes, my library is awesome: I got to borrow a trans superspy novel for free! I don’t know whether to brag or keep quiet because librarians got our back down here in relentlessly conservative Tejas, and I would like that to not stop, please! It was a quick, fun read made better by not being as picky as I usually am about plot and fidelity to character. A lot of happy coincidences fall from the proverbial sky. It was fun to thwart Christian fundamentalists who like to do what the Bible says instead of how Jesus acted, but overall, I can’t say I’ll be reading Charley & Electra #2. Borrow if you can, though, Fellow Readers, if only to send a message to publishers to broaden their horizons (and keep my librarians in business: clearly they’re awesome). 2 of 5 stars.

Book172Coming Clean: A Memoir, by Kimberly Rae Miller (2013, New Harvest, 272 pages, ebook). I snagged this one as a deal-of-the-day ebook because I have a thing for both memoirs and mental health subjects, including hoarding. We joke about my mom leaning towards the hoarding end of the slidey scale (or could have, had she stayed mobile), but when I’m reminded of just how intense so many peoples conditions are, I always reassess my mom back into mere “packrat” status. The woman swept everything into bins in the attic because it was easier (and because she had grown up with next to nothing, and didn’t know if she might one day need something). The conditions were never as bad as those described by Miller, who grew up in horrendous and unsanitary conditions created by her hoarder father (who someone remains a bit charming, in spite of all we learn). I realize that Miller wrote this book as a way to make peace with her family and the fallout of having grown up as she did, but my one critique was that Miller continuously lashed out against the population who would binge on TLC’s show Hoarders (and the others like it), only to feed the machine with her own memoir. I wish she had addressed the contradiction instead of leaving the disconnect to the audience to resolve; it could have made for an interesting section. 3 of 5 stars.

Book171Lily and Dunkin, by Donna Gephart (2016, Delacorte Books, 352 books, library eloan). This YA story also featured a main character who was trans, this time a high schooler coming out in his new district as a male-to-female student supported by his sister (bless), but not his father. If it sounds rote, it can be, but it’s also endearing and a sweet, smart space for teens to see themselves reflected. Lily (formerly known as Timothy) meets up with Dunkin, a boy struggling with his bi-polar diagnosis, and the two form their own support group. Overall, the story tended to be a bit too YA for me, but I would recommend the book to teens looking for themselves in a genre that features more supernatural characters than it does any outside hetero-normative bounds. But have you noticed how that slowly seems to be changing? And isn’t that wonderful? 3 of 5 stars.

Book173Home Field, by Hannah Gersen (2016, William Morrow, 432 pages, library eloan). This one reminded me of Friday Night Lights (in fact, the cover told me it would) meets The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: a feel-good story heavy with family history and drama that involves a dead parents, small towns, and a lot of good story that I just can’t emotionally connect with. The meat was all there, I just couldn’t dig in. Maybe it was the suicide that felt elbowed into the story, or the fact that I like to process my grief sideways – or even that I’m already scratching that itch binge-watching The Killing – but this was the wrong book at the wrong time for me. 2 of 5 stars.

Book170Post Secret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives, by Frank Warren (2005, Orion, 278 pages, hardcover). This was a gift from way back in the day – possibly in 2005 when it was published. I remember I was still married, and caught up in the wonder that is the Post Secret project. Jeff saw me scrolling through the online post one Sunday and asked about it, so I pulled out my coffee table book to let him indulge (small Sunday servings online sometimes just aren’t enough). It was a glorious reminder of how desperately humans want to connect with each other. I think we want to be understood even more than we want to be loved. In any case, it’s something I’ve been turning over in the back of my mind ever since. 5 of 5 stars.

Book169Hamilton: A Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter (2016, Grand Central Publishing, 288 pages, hardcover). This was a brilliant, brilliant birthday gift from Jeff and the kiddos. I maybe told him about it way back when it came out (before it came out, if I know myself), and every single notation was worth the wait. I think my favorite was when Lin admitted to going full-on Jordan Catalano at one point. GAH!!! The essays about how certain pieces of the show came to be, and about meet-cute stories of how everyone fell into their bits and parts – everything exceeded the hype. And this is Hamilton, so that’s saying quite a lot! Shell out the big bucks for this gorgeous deckle-edged hardcover: it’s worth every penny. 5 of 5 stars.

There you have it! If I didn’t have my week in reading rundown until tomorrow, I could have added In the Dark, Dark Woods and You Will Know Me. The thing I love this summer is that I’ve fallen quite accidentally down a rabbit hole filled with delicious, dark, and twisty thrillers. The thing I don’t like is that as compulsive a read as they are, you can’t read the delicious, dark, and twisty thrillers in one gulp, no matter how willing you are to get brain freeze!

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