Author Archives: Amos

“Love All” by Rachel Spangler— Playing Tennis

Spangler, Rachel. “Love All”, Bywater Books, 2018.

Playing Tennis

Amos Lassen

I always look forward to a new book by Rachel Spangler mainly because of her skill of character development. I was a bit concerned, however, with “Love All” because I saw that it is about tennis, a sport I know nothing about but that was allayed once I began reading.

Jay Pierce has had a long professional tennis career but she has been constantly burned by the press and other players. She did not have an easy time coming up and reaching where she was and she has learned to trust no one including herself. Throughout her long career, professional tennis player Jay Pierce has been burned by both players and the press. When she decides to have one last career comeback, she knows the only hope she has to redeem her legacy is to do so by herself.

Sadie Larsen’s daughter, 17-year-old Destiny gets a place on the women’s tennis tour and Sadie admits that she knows almost nothing about professional tennis. She is a single mom who learned to be a parent by trial and error so she figures she can also learn about tennis. Both Jay and Sadie were facing a difficult time and each woman thinks she is ready to face whatever comes but that was before they met. Here competition meets attraction.

Rachel writes great drama and emotions as she takes us behind-the-scenes and introduces us to three women, each of which is dealing with her own life. We read of the off- and on-court relationships amongst players and their peers and their families on the tennis circuit. Sadie and Jay come from different backgrounds and circumstances yet they are alike regarding independence and self-sufficiency. Sadie is also a mother who was immediately taken to by Jay just by hearing her voice. When the two met face to face, chemistry took over. It was not going to be an easy journey toward romance, however. After all, Destiny was Jay’s competitor and peer on the courts. Because they were on tour, it was not just difficult for them to show affection for each other, it would have been scandalous.

The more they tried to ignore how they felt, the stronger the desire they felt became. The relationship between Jay and Destiny was professional as well as personal, and I can imagine how Spangler felt as she tried to put this down on paper. On-the-court we see Jay and Des portrayed with intensity and realistically as they battled to win. I find it impossible to relay the feelings of the characters in a review because of the way the writer had them reach the places where they are. They come to a point where decisions must be made. We actually have three sets of relationships— Jay and Sadie; Jay and Des; Sadie and Des as well as the relationship of the three together.

Everything in the book is realistic and Spangler writes powerful prose. I have been reviewing her work for several years now and I have seen a new maturity with each book. What I find particularly interesting is that I am a gay man reviewing a lesbian love story and I have fallen in love with Jay, Sadie and Des and I am quite sure that if the genders were switched the story would have the same power. If you need proof that the road to romance can be rocky, this is the book to read.

After having to deal with injury, Jay knows that this is the last chance she will have to make a name since the sport now has new young players vying for top spots. Destiny Larsen is one such player and she wants no part of the politics of the sport—she just wants to play. Destiny is aware of the old circuit rumors about Jay who is also a great player. When Destiny’s coach suggests that the young team up with Jay in the doubles tournaments as a way to bolster struggling funds for both athletes, they come to an uneasy agreement. They work out an understanding that Sadie is off limits to Jay’s rumored “player” ways and they become one of the teams to beat on the doubles circuit. Unfortunately pressures heat up on them about the same time feelings deepen between Jay and Sadie.

I read the book in one sitting and then mulled over it for a couple of hours before I sat down to write this which is actually just a first impression. It is a good impression, a very, very good impression.

“That Was Something” by Dan Callahan— Before the Party’s Over

Callahan, Dan. “That Was Something”, Squares and Rebels, 2018.

Before the Party is Over

Amos Lassen

There are two people in Bobby Quinn’s life that he cannot get out of his mind.. Ben Morrissey is a Casanova/Don Juan who is a famous photographer in Manhattan in the 1990s and Monika Lilac a femme fatale in love with silent film. Bobby wants Ben but Ben wants Monika. The story is set in Manhattan two decades ago at a time of great parties and an exciting art scene. At times comedic and at times in your face, this is a story about obsession and reminds us of what gay life was like not so far in the past.

“Callahan documents the chemical reaction that occurs when gayness and bi-curiosity greet each other in the dark room.” The story is propelled by wonderfully drawn characters and there is no way you can guess what will happen next.

“The Wounded Muse” by Robert F. Delaney

Delaney, Robert F. “The Wounded Muse”, Mosaic Press, 2018.

Transformations

Amos Lassen

 When Qiang returns to his homeland of China from Silicon Valley, he finds Beijing amidst a chaotic transformation as the city prepares to host the 2008 Olympic Games. Entire neighborhoods are being knocked down to make way for new structures that are more in line with the government’s vision of a modern China. What is going on inspires Qiang to film a documentary about the loss of affordable housing and quite naturally security officials become quite interested in what he is doing draws the attention of public security officials. He is suddenly arrested by local police and his friend Jake, an American journalist tries to figure out how to end the detention.

There are two other men who are caught up with what is going on. Teen Dawei meets middle aged Zhihong in Macau, where both men pursue their dreams of being in the movie industry. The four come together when police hold Qiang for the threat they suspect that his documentary presents. Jake is also pulled into an argument between Dawei and Zhihong, who are also now in Beijing, over a movie script. All four men must decide what battle is ultimately worth the fight.

We move back and forth in time. Beginning in 2006, the plot looks at the near and distant past and gives us the back stories of Jake, Qiang, Dawei and Zhihong. The action really picks up at the end, between April 19-24, 2007, before Qiang’s potential release. The plot is quite complicated and we see how each character has planned his life. The story is filled with wonderful descriptions of Beijing as well as what goes on in the heart of our four characters, all of whom are gay men. However, this is not a gay novel—it just so happens that the characters are gay. The various threads are not always easy to follow but that makes this a challenging and exciting read. This is a political thriller as well as something of a love story and is the author’s first novel. The story is based on real events.

“GuRu” by RuPaul— RuPaul Philosophizes

RuPaul. “GuRu”, Dey Street, 2019.

RuPaul Philosophizes

Amos Lassen

I think that we can all agree that RuPaul is an amazing person. Here he shares his ideas bout building the kind of life that each of us wants to have and doing so from the inside. “GuRu” is also a beautiful collection of some 80 photographs. “You’re born naked and the rest is drag” is Ru’s motto and we see how he has used it to his own best advantage. He shares what he knows about the concepts of mind, body, and spirit and because of his own unique perspective, RuPaul has broken “the shackles of self-imposed limitations”. He brings us a “daily practice that requires diligence and touchstones to keep you walking in the sunshine of the spirit.” It is necessary to look beyond the identity that was given to each of us if we want to enter a hidden world of possibilities.

We know that throughout the history of humans on this planet, there’ve always been shamans, seers, and mediums who have the ability to interpret both high and low frequencies and remind us to look beyond the surface for the truth of who we really are. Ru tells us that “who we really are is an extension of the power that created the universe (aka: God in drag) and that most people are not willing to hear or accept that.

That is what has made RuPaul a success and not just in the worlds of entertainment and show business. He has succeeded in all aspects of life but especially in navigating the emotional traps that exist in our souls.

“Lives in Transition: LGBTQ Serbia” by Slobodan Randjelovic— Battling Homophobia in Serbia

Randjelovic, Slobodan. “Lives in Transition: LGBTQ Serbia”, The New Press, 2018.

Battling Homophobia in Serbia

Amos Lassen

“Lives in Transition: LGBTQ Serbia” is part of the ongoing series of photo books published with the Arcus Foundation and The New Press about queer communities around the world and like the others, this is a stunning portrait of a community battling homophobia.

In June 2001, Serbia had its first gay pride parade in history in Belgrade’s central square. It was, however, short-lived because an ultranationalist mob quickly descended on the participants, chanting homophobic slurs and injuring many. For years afterward, there was a fear of violence that prevented further pride events. Then in October 2010, the next pride march finally went ahead and again it became violent as anti-gay rioters, firing shots and throwing gas bombs, fought the police. It was only in 2014 that a pride march was held uninterrupted but it was under heavy police protection.

Photographer Slobodan Randjelović captures the struggles and successes of twenty LGBTQ people who live throughout Serbia; a conservative, religious country where, despite semi-progressive LGBTQ protection laws, homophobia is fueled by religious authorities and right-wing political parties. Serbia is a country where lack of employment opportunity and hostile families frequently drive queer people into poverty and isolation. LGBTQ Serbs have struggled to build a community that provides solace, protection, and even joy. We see their remarkable and inspiring resilience in the human struggle against a repressive social structure and demonstrates how friendship and community can help people shape their own futures.

The photos and text here take us into the lives of Serbs who are struggling for human rights and who just want to live freely. The images are powerful and moving. Those who have been silenced by society show us courage, strength, and resilience as they face violence and hatred. I found myself inspired and empowered even though I was thousands of miles away and it struck me very hard since I had lived in Israel when the same type of homophobia once existed. It is our responsibility to listen to subjects speaking back to us, share their truths, their resilience, and their collective power.

“Andy Warhol, Publisher” by Lucy Mulroney— An Artist, An Icon and A Publisher

Mulroney, Lucy. “Andy Warhol, Publisher”, University of Chicago Press, 2018.

An Artist, An Icon and a Publisher

Amos Lassen

Most of us know Andy Warhol as a visual artist and filmmaker and Andy Warhol was also a publisher. He distributed his own books and magazines and contributed to those of others, Warhol found publishing to be one of his greatest pleasures, mainly because of its cooperative and social nature.

In the 1950s, Warhol began making his way through the New York advertising world,. His career reached a height in the 1960s. Lucy Mulroney has found new archival material that reveals Warhol’s publications as complex projects that involved not only an exciting group of collaborators but also shifting technologies, and a wide and fervent readership.

Whether Warhol was creating children’s books, his infamous “boy book” for gay readers, writing works for established publishing houses such as Grove Press and Random House, helping found Interview magazine, or compiling a compendium of photography that he worked on to his death, he used publishing to further and get his art out to the world. Warhol both highlighted the variety of our printed culture but he also showed how publishing can “cement an artistic legacy.”

Warhol had the ability to imagine everything about a book including the copyedited pages, the anecdotes, and the book tour itself as art.

Warhol’s publication projects redefined the rituals of publishing, publicity, and print in America. Here we see his “range, intricacy, and above all the radically collaborative nature of these projects.”

TABLE CONTENTS:

  • Introduction
  • 1          One Blue Pussy
  • 2          Fuck You
  • 3          Three Bad Books
  • 4          Young, Rich, Intelligent, and Willing to Spend!
  • 5          I’d Recognize Your Voice Anywhere
  • 6          America
  • Acknowledgments 
  • Notes
  • Index

“A Disappearance in Damascus: A Story of Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War” by Deborah Campbell— Friendship, Courage and Terrorism

Campbell, Deborah. “A Disappearance in Damascus: A Story of Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War”, Picador, 2017.

Friendship, Courage and Terrorism

Amos Lassen

 As an international crisis begins, journalist Deborah Campbell is swept up in the mysterious disappearance of Ahlam, her guide, “fixer,” and friend. This is her personal account of her journey to rescue her, and the triumph of friendship and courage over terrorism.

Our story begins in 2007 when Campbell traveled undercover to Damascus to report on the exodus of Iraqis into Syria that followed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. It was then that she met and hired Ahlam, a refugee working as a “fixer” (providing Western media with trustworthy information and contacts to help get the news out). Ahlam had fled her home in Iraq after being kidnapped while running a humanitarian centre. She supported her husband and two children through her work with foreign journalists and was setting up a makeshift school for displaced girls. She became an unofficial leader of the refugee community in Damascus and inspired Campbell by her determination to create something good while dealing with so much suffering. Ahlam soon became her friend as well as her guide. One morning Ahlam was seized from her home in front of Campbell’s eyes. Campbell was haunted by the prospect that their work together led to her friend’s arrest so she spent the months that followed trying to find her while fearing what could come next.

This is the compelling story of two women caught up in the politics behind today’s Syrian conflict. We become privy to the horror and destruction of a family and their exile to this country because of ignorant American foreign policy.

This is one story of millions of civilians whose lives are forever destroyed or deeply scarred by warfare. We read of the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion and its effect on the civilian population.

“The Hundred Wells of Salaga” by Ayesha Harruna Attah— Two Young Women

Attah, Ayesha Harruna. “The Hundred Wells of Salaga”, Other Press, 2019.

Two Young Women

Amos Lassen

Ghanaian author Ayesha Harruna Salaga brings us a story about two women in pre-colonial Ghana. We meet Aminah who lives a peaceful life until she is torn from her home and forced on a journey that turns her into a resilient woman and not by choice. Wurche, our other woman, is the daughter of a chief, is determined and desperate to play an important role in her father’s court. The two women come together amid the infighting of Wurche’s people that threatens the region, at the end of the 19th century during the height of the slave trade.

This is a story of courage, forgiveness, love and freedom. We see everything through the eyes and experiences of the two woman and we gain a look at slavery and how colonizing Africa affected each person who lived there at the time.

Aminah and Wurche grew up in vastly different circumstances in West Africa in the late 19th century nonetheless their paths cross. Aminah was kidnapped from Botu and forced into internal slavery and this brought her to Wurche and rebellious princes with royal troubles. At the same time, the quest for power was everywhere—internally from the chiefs and externally from the colonizers. Towns were destroyed as the friendship between Aminah and Wurche deepened.

This novel shows how complicit Ghanaians were the in greed for power which also included the fragmenting of families.  Aminah and Wurche’s characters were studies in contrasts. Aminah is calm, kind and obedient while Wurche is arrogant, confident and ambitious. Slavery is personalized through the character of Aminah and it becomes clear how it affected the vulnerability of the common folk.

Wurche shows us how women attempted to push agendas of domination, through arranged marriages and other acts of coercion as well as acts of rebellion the brave women took. We understand the legacies of slavery in Ghana through Aminah and Wurche and it is through them that we meet a German colonizer, an Ashanti slave owner and others. Islam also plays an interesting role in this novel by both teaching values and regulating the lives of women.

Multiple themes including internal slavery, royalty, friendship, rebellion, sexual assault, religion, the quest for power, colonialism, interracial coupling sexuality and domestic violence come together to form an exquisite story that focuses on strong women in a patriarchal society and the complex politics of the slave trade.

“Someday” by David Levithan— A Sequel

Levithan, David. “Someday”, Knopf for Young Readers, 2018.

A Sequel

Amos Lassen

I have been a fan of David Levithan for as long as I can remember and in fact, two of his books were the first that I ever reviewed some 12 years ago. I am often asked if I think that it is possible to enjoy a sequel without reading the book that comes before it (“Every Day”). Sometimes it is possible and sometimes not. With Levithan it is possible but we are also enticed into the reading the books we did not read. I usually read everything that Levithan writes but somehow I missed “Every Day” but will read it soon.

For as long as A can remember, life has meant waking up in a different person’s body every day, forced to live as that person until the day ended. A always thought there wasn’t anyone else who had a life like this. He was wrong and there are others who do the same. A has already been wrestling with powerful feelings of love and loneliness. Along comes an understanding of the extremes that love and loneliness can lead to and what it’s like to discover that you are not alone in the world. These are certainly not unique feelings and we have all felt them at some time in our lives.

“Someday” takes us deeper into the lives of A, Rhiannon, Nathan, and Reverend Poole. We further explore the questions of what is a soul and what makes us human? Writer David Levithan looks at identity and equality and question what makes a person amazing. The premise of a new body every day is amazing and the fact that the body is borrowed is even more amazing.

This book moves very slowly and jumps between Nathan, ‘A’, ‘X’, ‘M’, and Rhiannon because of the many points of view. The payoff, however, is an excellent read that makes you think. To me that is the sign of good literature.

“She Wants It: Desire, Power and Toppling the Patriarchy” by Jill Soloway— A Memoir of Personal Transformation

Soloway, Jill. “She Wants It: Desire, Power and Toppling the Patriarchy”,  Crowne Archetype, 2018.

A Memoir of Personal Transformation

Amos Lassen

Jill Soloway’s memoir takes us on an emotional journey of patriarchy that began when Jill’s parent came out as transgender and pushed Jill to break through male-dominated Hollywood to create the groundbreaking and award-winning Amazon TV series “Transparent”The series explores identity, love, sexuality, and the blurring of boundaries through “the dynamics of a complicated and profoundly resonant American family” and it has brought about a new cultural consciousness. As she worked on the show and defied mainstream ideas about gender, Soloway began to erase the lines on their own map and found a new voice as a director, show creator, and activist. 

This is a candid look at Soloway’s evolution from straight, married mother of two to identifying as queer and nonbinary. It is a change and metamorphosis that reflects shifting power dynamics that continue to shape the worldview. We gain a look at the inside workings of the #metoo movement and what followed and it is a look at the generation that has new ideas about gender, inclusion, desire, and consent. Not only do we get a look at Soloway’s life but we also get a portrait of the larger human struggle in which the creation of a revolutionary TV show influenced a revolution in our culture. We learn what it means to be a woman and what it takes to be a creator. We are very aware of the passion, the vulnerability and the fierceness that is Soloway as we read the story of changing worlds. Soloway’s life has become something of a revolution that is both cultural and personal. What began as a memoir becomes something of a manifesto. If you did not realize how much “Transparent” has brought this country toward acceptance, you will see that here. Indeed entertainment can change us and the culture we live in and as we are entertained, we learn.

Soloway writes with brutal honesty. Compassion and courage. We read true stories here and they share the difficult painful revelations, triumphs, and failures of life. We also get wonderful gossip, revelation and we are called upon to act.

Of course, we also read of Soloway’s self-doubt, self-discovery, and self-actualization. As we read we get a better understanding of what it means to be Other and what it means to discover who we are and understand that each of us deserves happiness. “Soloway’s perspective on sexuality and family is both candid and timely “and urges us to question society’s view of gender and define it for themselves.”

Now Soloway has embarked on a grand mission and is determined to see it through.Today, we live in a world where gender doesn’t mean what it used to and if you really want to understand that, this is a book for you.