“Hotel Moscow: A Novel” by Talia Carner— An American in Russia

hotel moscow

Carner, Talia. “Hotel Moscow: A Novel”, William Morrow Paperbacks (June 2, 2015)

An American in Russia

Amos Lassen

Brooke Fielding is a thirty-eight year old Jewish investment manager in New York City. Her parents survived the Holocaust and when she learns that her job is in jeopardy, she decides to join a friend on a mission to Moscow to teach entrepreneurial skills to Russian businesswomen. There is another reason that she decided to go and that she felt that the visit would also give her a chance to learn about the new, emerging Russian market. She sees the trip as a way to secure her job and it sounded wonderfully exciting one of the first Americans to visit Russia after the fall of communism. There is one other item she wants to see and that is how she will be received in the country that persecuted her mother during the second World War.

Brooke found herself inspired by the women she met and therefore commits herself to help them investigate a crime that threatens their businesses. However, when the Russian parliament rose up against President Boris Yeltsin, Moscow resembled a war zone and Brooke learns that being involved can come at a very high price. We are in Russia where nothing goes unnoticed especially in regard to capitalism. A mistake she had made in her past could not affect her future.

Through this wonderful novel we get a look at post-communist Russia as well as an understanding of family, heritage and faith. This is a thriller of a novel about the dangers of international intrigue and you will be turning pages as quickly as is humanly possible. Brooke at first does not realize how much baggage she took to Moscow with her and does not do so until she is forced to deal with the corruption of modern Russia. A word of warning—clear your day before you start to read because once you are into the story, there is no turning back.


“That’s So Gay!” by Jonathan Charlesworth— Challenging Homophobic Bullying

that's so gay

Charlesworth, Jonathan. “That’s So Gay!”, Jessica Kingsley Pub, 2015.

Challenging Homophobic Bullying

Amos Lassen

We can all agree that bullying has become a major problem in this country. Perhaps the most hurtful of all bullying is homophobic and we need to take a close look at it and how we can prevent it. “That’s So Gay!” is a guide and a handbook that tells us how to deal with homophobic bullying, how to support those who bully and those who are bullied, and how to create inclusive environments. This is a great resource for schools, teachers and others working with young people.

One of the things open homophobic bullying is that it sometimes hard to recognize and it can be difficult to find out how to deal with it. Yet, it is essential that schools be made safer place for our youth, Schools are not only places to educate our youth but they are also microcosms of society and good experience for the future. Therefore it is essential that we make our schools safe and that we create an inclusive bully-free culture.

In this book we are shown what homophobic bullying looks like, who experiences it, and it explores the reasons young people bully others. It also reveals why young people are often reluctant to report homophobic bullying, the increasing role that the internet plays and the profound effects bullying can have well into adulthood. Here is a whole-school approach and we are given practical guidance on prevention, working with those who bully, and handling disclosures, as well as advice on anti-bullying policies.

The author, Jonathan Charlesworth is by an expert in the field and he has written this is a vital guide for schools, teachers and anyone with a duty of care towards young people.

“THE BRIDGE”— Suicide and The Golden Gate Bridge

the bridge

“The Bridge”

Suicide and The Golden Gate Bridge

Amos Lassen

Eric Steel’s documentary focuses on the Golden Gate Bridge and the suicides that have been attempted or took place there. There are people who go to the bridge each year with the purpose of taking their lives by jumping from it. This film looks at one year at the bridge and those tragic stories that have come out about it. The first thing that I learned from the film is that more people have chosen to end their lives at the Golden Gate Bridge than anywhere else in the world. Through interviews with people who witnessed suicides committed on the bridge and those who were not successful in their attempts, we learn a great deal. I wondered to myself why anyone would want to make a film about a bridge that aided people to die and it was not until I watched the film that I received some kind of answer.

Director Steel and his crew shot the bridge everyday from sun up to sun down in 2004 and they were able to capture on film most of the 24 suicides that year and many of the unrealized attempts. They also helped to save several lives. Additionally they filmed hours of interviews with the families and friends of these suicides, with witnesses who were walking or driving across the bridge, and with several of the attempters themselves.

the bridge1

Suicide is one of the greatest taboos of modern society and up until this movie, we did not know much about it. Sometimes a note was left and that might help to understand what happened but in most cases suicide remains a mystery. In this film we get peeks at the human mind when we realize that the fates of the twenty-four who chose death were linked together through the bridge and by the fact that it took each of them only four seconds to end their lives.

 Steel set up two cameras near the Golden Gate during every daylight hour of 2004: one camera took a static master shot of the bridge’s entire span; the other, a mobile unit with telephoto lens tracked potential suicide jumpers. Any kind of suspicious behavior was immediately reported to the Bridge authorities, though there is some evidence within the film that ethics were smudged along the way. Granted, Steel’s methods might be regarded as amoral but what we see here is powerful and enough to make someone think several times before deciding to jump.

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge has become a Mecca of sorts for the hopeless and suicidal. Steel’s crew intervened to save a number of attempted suicides, then decided to explore the complicated, troubled histories of some of the jumpers for a study of depression and self-negation. Steel also looks at a troubled manic-depressive who survived his plunge from the bridge, and a photographer who rescued a potential suicide before she could make that fatal leap.

the bridge2

For whatever reason, people feel that jumping off of a national landmark in full view of whosoever is watching appeals to the innate sense of drama in depressed narcissists. Let’s face it– it isn’t an inconspicuous way to die. The film, it seems, tries to make those who killed themselves by jumping from the bridge appear more human but I got the opposite feeling. It is as if they almost seemed heroic in the way that they were filmed. I am sure that Steel had good intentions when he decided to make this film but the film had the opposite effect on me. Instead of being a serious look at a major problem, those who jumped to their deaths gave me a sense of disquiet and the film has a whole is emotional.

I admire the honesty and the intention of the filmmaker. But something happened that said to me that we do not need to see this. Nonetheless, the quality of the film is excellent.

“My Avant-Garde Education: A Memoir” by Bernard Cooper—Coming of Age in the Era of Conceptual Art

my avante garde education

Cooper, Bernard. “My Avant-Garde Education: A Memoir”, W.W. Norton, 2015.

Coming of Age in the Era of Conceptual Art

Amos Lassen

 Bernard Cooper grew up in the suburbs and was a confused young man. His sexuality was extremely confusing to him and was his consumer-oriented world and the death of his older brother. He found himself in love with Pop art and went to the California Institute of the Arts that was at that time the center of conceptual art. In this, his new memoir we meet the most famous, and infamous artists of the time that floated through the Institute (Allan Kaprow and John Baldessari) and we read the story of the student who phoned the Identi-Kit division of the Los Angeles Police Department and has them make a composite drawing of the “Mona Lisa”.

Cooper shares his story with us and he also shares a record of the wonders and follies of a certain era in art history, always aware that awakening to art is, for a young person, inseparable from awakening to the ever-shifting nature of the self.” He writes with great wit and humor yet there are sections of his story that are very dark. As one critic has written—this is more than a coming-of-age story, it is a coming-of-consciousness tale. It is also a art-history adventure.

This is a magical read and Cooper writes so beautifully that it is impossible to describe his prose. He ponder two important questions—- “what is art?” but Cooper is really asking, “what is life?” He does not give us the answers directly (because there are no direct answers) but we do get an idea of how to look at how to look at these questions. He writes with honesty and great style— the creativity of art that he writes about matches wonderfully his creativity in writing. He is able to capture the nature of creativity as well as his own intellectual and personal self. He also writes of the world around him. There is something gorgeous in the way he is able to give meaning to art and in the process he gives meaning to Bernard Cooper.

“MOMMY”— The Trailer from Xavier Dolan



The Trailer from Xavier Dolan

 Last May the “Mommy” won the Cannes Jury Prize, but it’s only now that queer filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s (Tom At The Farm, Laurence Anyways) movie is preparing for its international release.  It is about a  passionate widowed single mom (Anne Dorval) who finds herself burdened with the full-time custody of her unpredictable 15-year-old ADHD son (Antoine Olivier Pilon). As they struggle to make ends meet, Kyla (Suzanne Clément), the peculiar new neighbor across the street, offers her help. Together, they strive for a new sense of balance.

‘Mommy is directed, written and produced by Xavier Dolan.

“COMING HOME”— Accepting Your Child


“Coming Home”

Accepting Your Child

“Coming Home” is the story of a young man who is shunned by his parents when he comes out, but they eventually comes to acceptance of their child. It was launched to coincide with China’s Lunar New Year’s holiday this week, when families traditionally gather all over the country in much the same way as they do in the U.S. at Thanksgiving.

In 1997, homosexuality was decriminalized in China and in the early 2000’s it was removed from the list of mental illnesses. However, there is a deeply held Chinese belief that children are required to marry and bear offspring to continue the family line. This means that homosexuality is still heavily stigmatized. Because of this, the Chinese New Year family gathering can be a harrowing experience for gays and lesbians.

PFLAG China was established in Guangzhou in 2008 and now runs chapters, support groups, and counselling services across China. The short features mothers of LGBTI children in the credits, who encourage gay people to come out and for families to accept them.

“Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity” edited by Carter Sickels— Looking at the Issues


Sickels, Carter (editor). “Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity”, Ooligan Press, 2015.

Looking at the Issues

Amos Lassen

In this nonfiction anthology we get a look at how marriage equality is being dealt with in this country by examining the issues that the LBGT community faces. All of us have been very happy to see the strides we have made in this but I am not sure that all us have looked at all of the issues. In terms of our own communities are we really sure that we know what marriage equality means.

Aside from being a legal contract, marriage is also part of a long tradition and while tradition is usually a good thing, it can mean different things to different people. I have always been concerned that once all of the rights that are due to us have been attained, what will happen our own LGBT traditions?

By looking at marriage equality from various points of view, we are able to better define the term and how it affects the way we live. I have the strong feeling that the purpose of this book is to bring things out in the open in order “to create conversation amongst the diverse members of the LGBTQ community and their straight allies to prompt a larger, grander, and more realistic vision of what marriage equality really means for those living in the United States.”

Here we have the thoughts and ideas by those of us who have been underrepresented for too long and also those whose unique experiences can change the direction of the way we are presently going.

Gay marriage is an issue that has, in a sense, come to define the gay rights movement and while we have rejoiced in the winning, we have not really looked at it in its entirety. Here we have “honest and insightful” commentary about that topic from the people whose opinions on this subject really matter. The opinions reflect our diversity and some of you may be surprised at what you read here. The perspectives also include thoughts on life, culture, domestic partnership, and what it being queer means today.

“The Melon Capital of the World” by Blake Allmendinger— Back in Time

the melon capital

Allmendinger, Blake. “The Melon Capital of the World”, University of Nebraska Press, 2015.

Back in Time

Amos Lassen

It had been some forty years since Blake Allmendinger had been “home”. Home was a farming community; Rocky Ford, Colorado and it had once been known as the Melon Capital of the World. By going home, Allmendinger was forced to face himself and his own history. We see that his own life is a reflection of his hometown, both are in a state of decline.

Allmendinger’s family was ruled over by a dominating mother who was unstable emotionally and mentally. She suffered depression at an early and living in Rocky Ford no doubt contributed to that. She was abusive to the members of her family and her behavior made the entire family tense and unfortunately for the author, those tensions were not resolved until her death at the end of his visit. It was then with the suicide of a family member that a secret diary was discovered.

To write his story, author Allmendinger interviewed people who had known his mother and his family. The ultimate outcome is a look at a family that was trying to survive in the rural American West at a time when it was disappearing. The story brings together personal narrative, memoir and journalistic skills. I am sure that this helped Allmendinger deal with his past and his present and that we was able to discover a sense of hope. I have always found that reading the personal story of someone else made me look at my own life and better come to terms with it.



“BETWEEN THESE WALLS” by John Herrick— Meet Gay Christian Hunter


Herrick, John. “Between These Walls”, Segue Blue, 2015

Meet Gay Christian Hunter

Amos Lassen

Hunter is 26 years old and a gay Christian salesman with a nice and devoted girlfriend. He is totally in the closet and it torments him. When work was not going so well, Hunter decided to get a massage to relieve muscle tension and stress. He called Gabe Hellman, a handsome masseuse and what began as a simple friendship became something a good deal more and this forces the two men to think about the borders of attraction between them. As Hunter is dealing with this, his secret gets out and he has to face himself, his past, his reputation, his sexuality and his faith. “Between These Walls” is his story and it is about the crossroads of love and religion. It is beautifully written and deals with inner conflict and outer values yet it can say different things to different people. Because religion is so personal, it is difficult to write about it (especially since we know that an author put himself into a story). In reading about Hunter we also, to some degree, read about ourselves and the difficulties of life.

I have to wonder what a gay Christian is. If, as so many say, being gay is an affront to God than the term “gay Christian” really does not exist or is an oxymoron. Here with Hunter we read about his secret and the fact that he has had to hide himself and, in effect, live a lie. However, being untrue to one’s self is also an affront and perhaps even more of a transgression that being open and out. To pretend to be what we are not is the same as dishonesty and not only do we hurt ourselves but we hurt those we know and love. Hunter has struggled with his sexual conflict because of fear of loss of grace.

Herrick shows us that organized religion uses gossip and seems quick to condemn someone who does not conform to what it considers as the straight and narrow. Churches and religious leaders as well as followers can be judgmental against those who really need and want the love that a religion can offer. However, it only seems to offer that love to those who adhere to its principles. Who is to say that being gay is a sin especially since this does not appear in any of the sacred writings of all religions.

I am not going to tell you how Hunter deals with this and I am not going to disclose any of what is written here. This is because I think that this book will affect everyone differently and this is what makes it such an important read.




“THE MAFIA ONLY KILLS IN SUMMER”— A Black Comedy About Sicily and the Mafia


“The Mafia Only Kills in Summer” (“La mafia uccide solo d’estate”)

A Black Comedy about Sicily and the Mafia

Amos Lassen

Arturo is a young boy who grows up in Palermo and he is the focus of this black comedy about 20 years of history of Sicily from 1970s to 1990s. It mocks Mafia Bosses and restores the generosity of the heroes of Antimafia.

Pierfrancesco Diliberto (Pif) is an Italian television star who directed this (his debut in directing) romantic comedy that mixes politics and crime and he also stars in it. in which he also stars as Arturo who narrates the film. He grew up with the mafia and, in fact, his first spoken word was “mafia”. We see that the Sicilian Mafia, in one way or another, has always had an impact in his life. Ever since he was a young boy, Arturo has had a crush on Flora. However, because of the dangerous circumstances in Palermo, he has lost contact with her for a while. His father hearing one of his speeches on television. Arturo’s passion for politics and his curiosity about the criminal activity in Palermo is one of the reasons why he chooses a career in journalism and he will have something of a rough time before he and Flora are reunited.


Director Diliberto shines when exposing the assassinations perpetrated by the Mafiosi and how the people dealt with them and the romantic angle of the film takes a back seat to that. The film looks at the Cosa Nostra and its pernicious influence on the Sicilian population. Arturo is a kind of everyman and we are with him as he matures and deals with life, love, and the mafia. Palermo was a city back then where denial went hand-in-hand with stifled tolerance and a bloody war for Mafia supremacy was carried on with regular assassinations of rival mobsters and anti-Mafia crusaders. We see this through the eyes of Arturo and it is portrayed with humor and wit (as much as one can do with the Mafia). One critic has called the film, “Forest Gump takes on the mob”. You may not understand how someone can make the mafia and organized crime appear funny and for this alone the film is worth seeing—but there is much more to see as well. The title of the film comes from one of the many disingenuous myths that Arturo, the film’s gullible young hero comes to believe. While the film is very funny there is something very serious here.

The story is related in flashbacks and is a fictional biography of Arturo who was born on the same day as Vito Ciancimino, the mayor with links to the Mafia was elected. On that day there was also a massacre that was planned by a legendary crime boss. We see Arturo as a child and he harbors a crush on classmate Flora (Ginevra Antona).


The film is set in what was probably the most dramatic in the history of Sicily and Palermo. Arturo learned early that nothing in Sicily is what it seems to be and also that many things can get a person killed. 
What I really like here is that I learned a lot about Sicily as I laughed through the film. The cast is excellent all around and while it is a comedy, it does deal with murders and assassinations.