Category Archives: What’cha Reading

Book review: My Policeman by Bethan Roberts

My Policeman by Bethan Roberts has been turned into a film, starring Harry Styles, Emma Coririn, and Rupert Everett. The story is about, love, betrayal, and regret and centers around Tom, a Brighton policeman in the 1950s who marries his younger sister’s friend, Marion. Around the same time he starts “dating” Marion he meets Patrick, a posh museum curator who is Comme ça (homosexual). Patrick ignites a passion in Tom and becomes his first real love.

The novel opens in 1999 with Marion, now a retired school teacher, sharing a written confession, as she reflects back on her adolescent crush on of Tom and her determination to live happily ever after together with him. About 75-pages into the novel a second voice joins the narrative in the form of Patrick’s diary with entries from the mid-1950s.

Profoundly sad. This tragic love triangle provides a glimpse into a severely repressed society, the irreversible harm of life in the closet, and the difficulty it created for those who loved gay men and woman. Living in places like Western Europe and the US, it is difficult to imagine, but there remain pockets even in these more progressive parts of the world where some of this may still be a reality – and certainly the challenges facing Tom and Patrick are still very much a reality for a majority of LGBTQ+ people in the world.

Roberts unsentimental manner of discussing these challenges is bone chilling. Reading about how lives were ruined, many gay men and women opting to end their lives by suicide when found out, and how families of of LGBTQ+ were torn apart is difficult to imagine. Simply put – life was hell for the LGBTQ+ community.

In one passage, Patrick’s diary explains just how risky it was to even consider going out to a bar, “But even walking past the Argyle [gay bar] was risky… Of course, if one does go to bars, one learns to take precautions–go after dark, go alone, don’t catch anyone’s eye while walking down the street, don’t go into any establishment too near your own house.” The perverse glee the police took in cracking down on these ‘perverts’ and the lack of any advocates or allies – let alone laws to protect them – ensured their doom.

While this book lacks the happily ever after ending Marion so sorely wanted, her pragmatic conclusion and the gut-wrenching tragic ending was difficult to put down. If the movie can capture a fraction of the emotion, it will certainly be worth watching.

If you’re interested in purchasing this book and open to supporting local bookstores, try one of the links I’ve shared. You’ll be able to order it online in just a couple of clicks. Alternatively, you can check your local library for a copy of this book. Here is a link to the BPL copy for My Policeman.

Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square
Porter Square Bookstore in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe in Back Bay

Book review: The Woman in the Library

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Australian author, Sulari Gentill, has written a murder mystery that was published earlier this year called The Woman in the Library. Sulari has an easy writing style that I enjoyed, and if you like murder mysteries, I’d suggest putting this on your reading list. It is well written and has a creative twist.

The novel begins with an email from Leo, a fan, to an author named Hannah – an Australian author who is writing a new novel – but more on Leo and Hannah later. In the opening chapter, we are introduced to our main character and narrator, Winifred “Freddie” Kincaid, a writer who has recently relocated from Australia to Boston thanks to a fellowship. We find her procrastinating in the Boston Public Library’s (BPL) Reading Room (shown above). She is suffering from an acute case of writer’s block, and rather than focusing on her novel, she is mostly looking at the ceiling and wondering about the three people sitting at the communal desk where she is seated: Freud Girl, Heroic Chin, and Handsome Man. When suddenly there is a blood curdling scream from somewhere in the library.

When security asks everyone to remain in the library, while a search is conducted, the four pass time chatting and learning more about each other. When they are allowed to leave they decide to grab a coffee in the library’s Map room and the opening chapter concludes, “And so we go to the Map Room to found a friendship, and I have my first coffee with a killer.” From this point forward, we know what Freddie’s new novel will be about.

In the days that follow, the four form an unlikely bond, and friendships develop. As the story unfolds, we come to learn more about each person – their history, personality, motivation – and realize not is all as it seems. As the mystery unfolds Sulari weaves a story within the story, with the correspondence Leo shares with Hannah. Initially his emails provide helpful comments about places in Boston that Hannah is describing and American vernacular, but as the novel proceeds Leo’s interest in the book escalate. I won’t go into anymore detail, other than to share this was a really fun read and one that I would recommend.

If you’re interested in purchasing this book and open to supporting local bookstores, try one of the links I’ve shared. You’ll be able to order it online in just a couple of clicks. Alternatively, you can check your local library for a copy of this book. Here is a link to the BPL copy for The Woman in the Library.

Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square
Porter Square Bookstore in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe in Back Bay

Book review: The Guncle by Steven Rowley

This is the second novel by Rowley that I’ve read. The first, The Editor, I thoroughly enjoyed and wrote about back in 2020, here. So when I was racing through a bookstore at Boston’s Logan Airport, I was pleasantly surprised to see Rowley’s 2021 novel, The Guncle, and picked it up before heading out for a holiday weekend of fun at the beach.

The novel introduces us to Patrick O’Hara a once upon a time famous actor who starred on a popular TV sitcom – now on reruns. The actor turned recluse left Hollywood and retreated to Palm Springs after the show ended and he lost the love of his life. However, he is forced to leave Palm Springs after a death of his former best friend and sister-in-law. Returing to Connecticut for the funeral is anything but smooth sailing as family rifts and distrust surfaces but his bond with his brother is unshakeable and when he confides that he is addicted to opiods and will be checking into rehab to get his life in order to be the father his two children now need, he begs Patrick to take the kids back to Palm Springs with him for the summer – until he can get his life back in order. Initially horrified by the request, Patrick relents when his older sister asserts herself and tries to take the children.

What ensues is absolute hilarity. The interactions and bond that develops between Guncle, Maise (age 9) and Grant (age 6) is heartwarming. Rowley’s funny sense of humor which was pervasive in The Editor is on display here as well. Soon after Patrick brings the children back to his home Palm Springs this exchange takes place while out at breakfast.

“You’re forty-three!” Maise bellowed.
“Who are you the DMV? Lower your voice.”
“That’s almost fifty!” Grant’s eyes grew big.
Patrick took the jab then closed his eyse and bit his lower lip;
the observation was just shy of a hate crime.

Patrick’s nickname “Guncle” takes some getting use to but eventually he embraces the title and takes to it by sharing what he calls “Guncle’s Rules” to teach what he believes are important life lessons for the kids. A personal favorite is Guncle Rule #5, “If a gay man hands you his phone, look only at what he’s showing you. If it’s a photo, don’t swipe. And for god’s sake, don’t hopen any unfamiliar apps.”

I won’t go into anymore detail other than to share this was a really fun read and one that I would definitely recommend for anyone looking for a lighthearted novel to read.

If you’re interested in purchasing this book and open to supporting local bookstores, try one of the links I’ve shared. You’ll be able to order it online in just a couple of clicks. Alternatively, you can check your local library for a copy of this book. Here is a link to the BPL copy for The Guncle.

Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square
Porter Square Bookstore in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe in Back Bay

2022 Summer reading suggestions

Memorial Day Weekend represents the start of the 2022 summer season. In honor of the start of my favorite season, I’ve included a few books for you to consider adding to your summer reading list.

Two Nails, One Love by Alden Hayashi

Two Nails, One Love by Alden Hayashi is a quick and thoroughly enjoyable read about a gay Japanese-American man, Ethan, and the conflicted relationship he has with his mother While the mother-son relationship is complicated the novel is most definitely not, and I highly recommend getting yourself a copy of Hayashi’s debut novel to read this summer.

School Days by Jonathan Galassi

School Days by Jonathan Galassi is a new gay fiction novel told from the perspective of Sam Brandt, a former student of Leverett, an elite boarding school in New England, and current English teacher at the prep school. Galassi paints a picture of love and longing (both platonic and erotic) as Sam reminisces about his high school years, his group of friends, and Theo Gibson, a teacher who went on to have a profound impact on him.

The Sun and Her Stars by Donna Rifkind

The Sun and Her Stars by Donna Rifkind is a biography about the extraordinary but little known life of the Jewish, Austrian actress turned Hollywood screenwriter, Salka Viertel, who moved from Europe to southern California in the late 1920s. If you are fascinated by the Golden Age of Hollywood, you’ll find Rifkind’s detailed account of Viertel’s life and those around her fascinating.

If you’re interested in purchasing any of these books, consider buying them from an independent bookstore. Alternatively, save yourself a few bucks and check your local library for a copy.

Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square
Porter Square Bookstore in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe in Back Bay

Book review: On The Road by Jack Kerouac

I first read On The Road by Jack Kerouac about 25 years ago and earlier this spring, on a whim I picked up a copy of the book at a local bookstore to read it again.

Kerouac was an American novelist and poet part of the Beat Generation. The popular literary movement explored and influenced American culture and politics following WWII with most of their work published in the 1950s. Kerouac’s novel, originally published in 1957, is a narrative of his travels criss-crossing the United States.

What attracts me to the book is the firsthand account of a time many refer to as America’s Golden Age. The eternally popular musical, Grease, pays tribute to this period and pop icons like Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, and Frank Sinatra still have an aura of romance and glamour about them. Baby Boomers have romanticized this time in America, but Kerouac’s story is decidedly unglamourous and filled with some fairly unsavory characters. His gritty narrations are full of sex, alcohol, and drugs and stand in stark contrast to life at Rydell High.

Reading this novel for a second time I’m reminded of a profound sense of freedom that I don’t think is part of the American spirit anymore. Kerouac and his friends are filled with a desire to live life on their own terms – free of responsibility, with little regard for social mores of the time, or concern about the future. It is heady stuff to imagine a life so untethered from obligations and antithetical to the Protestant work ethic.

If you’re interested in purchasing this book and open to supporting local bookstores, try one of the links I’ve shared. You’ll be able to order it online in just a couple of clicks. Alternatively, you can check your local library for a copy of this book. Here is a link to the BPL copy for On The Road.

Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square
Porter Square Bookstore in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe in Back Bay

Book review: School Days

School Days by Jonathan Galassi is a rivetting gay fiction novel told from the perspective of Sam Brandt, a former student of Leverett, an elite boarding school in New England, and current English teacher at the prep school.

The story opens in the fall of 2007 when Sam is asked by the school’s head about a disgruntled former student who attended Leverett when he was a student there. The conversation transports Sam back to his days as a student in the mid-1960s and life at the (then) all boys boarding school. Galassi paints a picture of love and longing (both platonic and erotic) as Sam reminisces about his high school years, his group of friends, and Theo Gibson, a teacher who went on to have a profound impact on him, his friends and many associated with the school. As a teenager, Sam is unable to come to terms with his sexuality and a love that could not be returned, by his schoolmate Eddie. Reminiscing about those years, he recalls an “irresistible tropism toward Eddie’s knotted masculine integrity, his warmth… which he could only experience in those tight embraces”.

As the book switches back to the early 2000s, Sam is forced to look at those formative years through a more adult and critical lens when accusations of impropriety and possible abuse are raised by a former student. These two storylines are profound and strike a nerve with me. Sam’s teenage years — filled with a sense of confusion, longing and feeling of “otherness” — are too easy for me to relate to. As an adult, Sam’s, unrequited emotions, repressed for so long come to a head as he reconnects with former friends and classmates. Through these conversations and rehashed memories, he is forced to accept responsibility for the choices he made, make peace with them, and move forward.

The setting and Sam’s memory provide a romanticized backdrop of his formative teenage years. Yhe range of emotions and struggles he faces are relatable even for those who never attended boarding school. While the story initially appears to be about Sam trying to learn the truth about what happened on campus all those years ago, the real take away is the need we all have for acceptance and love. The book is entertaining and satisfying on several levels thanks to Galassi’s easy writing style and the beautiful way he uses language to depict touching and important moments in Sam’s life. The two storylines from life in 1967 and 2007 entwine, separate, and come back together again seamlessly and provide Sam with some fairly profound insights about himself and the school he loves so much.

If you’re interested in purchasing this book and open to supporting local bookstores, try one of the links I’ve shared. You’ll be able to order it online in just a couple of clicks. Alternatively, you can check your local library for a copy of this book. Here is a link to the BPL copy for School Days.

Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square
Porter Square Bookstore in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe in Back Bay

Book review: The Sentence is Death

When I purchased this book, I didn’t realize it was the second in a series, but reading this out of order didn’t impact my ability to follow the story or diminish my appreciation. Detective lit fans are going to enjoy The Sentence is Death, which was first published in 2018. The 350+ page novel makes for a great book to have by your bedside (I’m a night reader) or to bring with you on vacation.

The story revolves around the death of a successful, gay solicitor murdered in his home shortly after concluding a celebrity-divorce, and is narrated by the author (Anthony Horowitz). The main characters, ex-detective inspector Daniel Hawthorne and Anthony Horowitz, make for an unlikely pair. This is their second time working on a murder investigation, and they’re still getting to know each other. Hawthorne’s brusque, offensive nature still frustrates and embarasses Horowitz and my only criticism of the novel is I find it hard to believe such a loner (Hawthorne) would care to have someone like Horowitz tagging along. Perhaps in the next novel, we will learn more about the antisocial former inspector from Scotland Yard that will better explain this vanity (but I’m getting ahead of myself).

Despite Hawthorne’s contempt for people (especially Scotland Yard), he wants Horowitz to shadow him to observe firsthand how he solves murder mysteries that have stumped the police. Horowitz is meant to use the murder investigation as material for a future novel that will showcase Hawthorne’s brilliance. Sound like a familiar theme from another famous detective series set in England? While Horowitz continues to borrow themes and traits from Doyle’s novels, Hawthorne reminds me more of Sam Spade than Sherlock Holmes.

The novel mostly takes place in London. It offers a peak into the life of Richard Pryce, a successful, gay lawyer who is found bludgeoned to death at his home. We also learn more about his relationships with his husband, clients, and friends. There are plenty of “red herrings” and figuring out what is relevant and what is a distraction frustrates Horowitz to no end as he tries to discern who is lying, who is telling the truth, and most importantly, who is the killer? I didn’t figure out the ending, but I did come close. Let me know if you’re more successful if you read the book.

If you’re interested in purchasing this book and open to supporting local bookstores, try one of the links I’ve shared. They will take you right to the book so you can order it online in just a couple of clicks. Alternatively, you can check your local library for a copy of this book. Here is a link to the BPL copy for The Sentence is Death.

Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square
Porter Square Bookstore in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe in Back Bay

Book review: Justify My Sins

Justify My Sins by Felice Picano would be a great beach read or book to bring with you on vacation. I’m unfamiliar with the accomplished author who has published two dozen novels, short stories, and memoires but his easy writing style and humorous storytelling made this an enjoyable and easy read.

The story is “A Hollywood novel in three acts”, taking place in New York City and Los Angeles or “El Lay” as he writes on the first page. That witty and slightly saracastic style is prevelent throughout the 300+ page book which was published in 2019.

The shallow storyline and characters who are as deep as the kiddy pool (as I’m prone to say), make this an easy and uncomplicated read. The novel focuses almost exclusively on the sexscapades of the main character and his friends, the author’s ongoing wrangling with Hollywood studio executives and agents, and the excessive lifestyles of those people Victor meets along the way.

The “three acts” take place in 1977 when the main character, Victor Regina, is a young best selling author and the sex is easy and uncomplicated before picking up again in 1986 at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and closes with a more sanguine and worldly writer in the final act in 1999. Picano does a good job of making the main character (whom I assume is loosely based on himself) likeable and interesting. And for gay men who have lived in Los Angeles, I’m sure the author’s references to places in and around Los Angelese must be fun to read. If you’re looking for a light, gay-themed novel this is a good option. You’ll definitely find yourself chuckling throughout the novel.

If you’re interested in purchasing this book and open to supporting local bookstores, try one of the links I’ve shared. You’ll be able to order it online in just a couple of clicks. Alternatively, you can check your local library for a copy of this book. Here is a link to the BPL copy for Justify My Sins.

Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square
Porter Square Bookstore in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe in Back Bay

Book review: Beneath A Scarlet Sky

Beneath A Scarlet Sky is an historical fiction novel about a young man named Pino Lella from Milan who is the Italian WWII hero nobody has ever heard about, until now. The 400+ page novel opens on June 9, 1943 and concludes two years later in the Spring of 1945 when the Germans are forced out of Italy by the Allied Forces.

At the outbreak of WWII, Pino Lella is a teenager from a well to do family who is far more interested in girls and American jazz than war. However, that would all change as the frontline of the war came to Italy and Nazi Germany made a last ditch effort to stave off the Allies on Italian soil.

Before the war would conclude, Pino would end up sneaking groups of Italian Jews out of the country through the Alps and into neutral Switzerland, fall madly in love with the maid of Third Reich mistress and suffer unspeakable heartbreak, meet powerful Italians including Benito Mussolini and Archbishop Schuster of Milan as well as become the chauffer for General Leyer (Adolf Hitler’s right hand in Italy). Pino would go on to risk his life by spying on General Leyer for the Italian Resistance and Allied Forces (unbenknowst to all but his aunt and uncle), which earned him the scorn of his younger brother and friends and nearly cost him his life in the days that followed the Nazi’s hasty retreat from Milan.

It is amazing to think that until this novel was written, Pino Lella’s extraordinary life as a war hero was unknown. In the final pages of the book the author, Mark Sullivan shares with us Pino’s life after the war and we learn that although he survived the war and became a successful businessman, he never truly recovered from all he had seen and the loss of his true love.

If you’re interested in purchasing this book and open to supporting local bookstores, try one of the links I’ve shared. The links below will take you right to the book so you can order it online in just a couple of clicks. Alternatively, you can check your local library for a copy of this book. Here is a link to the BPL copy for Beneath A Scarlet Sky.

Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square
Porter Square Bookstore in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe in Back Bay

Book review: Berlin Noir

Berlin Noir is a compilation of three novels (March Violets, The Pale Criminal, and A German Requiem) by Philip Kerr’s. This bestselling historical mystery series of detective Bernie Gunther is 800+ pages that twist and turn through pre-war Berlin and conclude with his final mystery two years after the war has ended when Europe is in shambles and America and The Soviet Union are busy carving up Germany. Kerr’s main character, Gunther, is a complex guy who is rough around the edges and by today’s standards misogynistic but a man with a good heart who is doing his best during an incredibly difficult time.

The first story (approximately 250 pages) – March Violets – is about a diamond heist in Nazi Germany that takes place just before the start of the 1936 Berlin Olympics and a mysterious woman who steals Gunthers heart. With the eyes of the world on Berlin, the Nazis have to carefully work behind the scenes, committing attrocities including the creation of their “work camps”. The tense ending of the novel might have been my favorite of the three and was an excellent introduction to this hardnosed German detective.

The Pale Criminal (approximately 275 pages) picks up one year prior to WWII, in 1938, and Gunther now shares his office with a partner named Bruno Stahlecker until the Gestapo strongarms him into rejoining the Berlin police force to help catch a serial killer who is targeting teenage Aryan girls. The antisemetic bias of the police force is on full display and causes Gunther to repeatedly clash with colleagues intent on pinning these crimes on a Jew.

The final book, A German Requiem, (approximately 250 pages) picks up nearly a year later in 1947. Berlin is in ashes and the black market is thriving as shellshocked Germans try to make sense of what has happened and rebuild their lives. Desperate for money, Gunther takes on a case that will take him from the ruins of Berlin to Austria where he will infiltrate a secret group of ex-Nazis. Working as a double-agent of sorts, Gunther finds himself answering to both a high ranking Russian Colonel and U.S. Counterintelligence Corps Captain.

If you’re interested in purchasing this book and open to supporting local bookstores, try one of the links I’ve shared. The links below will take you right to the book so you can order it online in just a couple of clicks. Alternatively, you can check your local library for a copy of this book. Here is a link to the BPL copy for Berlin Noir.

Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square
Porter Square Bookstore in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe in Back Bay

Summer reading suggestions from BosGuy

Memorial Day Weekend starts this Friday and is commonly considered the first weekend of summer in New England, so I wanted to share a brief list of gay literature / books to add to your summer reading list. These novels are intentionally lighthearted and ideal for enjoying while out in the sun and on vacation. For more reading suggestions, check out my book reviews on Goodreads.

Hard by Wayne Hoffman, published in 2006 and 2015

The Editor by Steven Rowley, published in 2019

The Girl in the Boston Box by Chuck Latovich, published in 2020

Hard by Wayne Hoffman is a gay fiction novel set in New York City during the mid- to late-1990s. The story centers on two men, Frank DeSoto and Moe Pearlman, their respective circle of friends and their mutual animosity / contempt for each other. I’m recommending this because it is an easy read that lends itself nicely to the summer. The majority of the story takes place in New York City, but there is a quick summer trip out to Fire Island which could make this an ideal option for anyone planning a summer trip to the gay enclave.

While Hoffman writes in detail about cruising and sex in New York City in the 1990s, the novel is really about gay relationships both platonic and romantic and the fractions within the gay community at that time. Read my review, here.

The Editor is a more lighthearted and humorous gay novel that takes place in New York City in the early 1990s. At its core, this is a highly imaginative story about James Smale, an aspiring author who learns his debut novel about his dysfunctional relationship with his mother will be published by Doubleday. Just as he is digesting the good news, he also learns his editor will be none other than Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis. Jacqueline loves his novel but feels the ending is unresolved. Together they forge a professional relationship, as he works furiously to finish the manuscript. There is a scene where Smale joins Jackie at her home on Martha’s Vineyard during the summer to get away from the city and write that I loved.

The story is both humorous and deeply touching. Read my review, here.

The Girl in the Boston Box is a murder mystery with a flawed, gay protagonist. The novel uses Boston as a backdrop with many scenes playing out in Boston’s South End and Fenway neighborhoods. The other main character, a woman, studying architectural history at Harvard initially doesn’t have much in common but the author weaves their stories together with ease, and I found this to be a page-turner that had me up late at night reading to find out what was going to happen next.

Fans of detective literatuare and mystery novels in general will enjoy the storyline as will those who know and love Boston for this whodunit. Read my review, here.

Do you have any recommendations? Share your suggestions in the comment section as well as why you’re recommedning the book.

Book review: Two Million by Alex Fear

Two Million by author, Alex Fear, is a quick read filled with ridiculous drama fueled by a concoction of alcohol, anxiety and depression. The story, told from Theo’s perspective, details a torrid two weeks of binge drinking as he follows Max from England to Thailand to Singapore to Taiwan. The story opens with Theo waking up hungover in Max’s hotel room, trying to piece together what happened the night before. It turns out, Theo was trying to get over a recent break up, and went out to try to forget about his ex and somehow ended up meeting Max. Theo strikes me as hurt, angry and a bit lost, which is probably why he follows Max despite his antics and appalling behavior.

Each cocktail titled chapter is filled with Max hell-bent on some outrageous behavior and Theo reluctantly tagging along. Theo has convinced himself that he stays with Max out of concern for his well-being, but I don’t buy that he would remain with such an offensively rude, self-destructive stranger. I assume he sticks around out of fear of being alone. Max is a temporary albeit terrifying anchor for Theo. Max’s attrocious behavior is mostly (there are a few exceptions) overlooked because he has an unending supply of money and loves throwing it around. At one point, I believe he refers to himself as nouveau riche, and the author, Alex Fear, takes the stereotype to some fairly outrageous limits.

The book makes for a good beach or vacation read because it has short easy to read chapters. The plot doesn’t deviate and the characters exhibit the same behavior throughout, until a surprisingly touching phone call at the end. The heavy drinking and disgraceful behavior is a bit much for me, but might make for a good read while on an Atlantis Cruise or summer vacation in Provincetown or Fire Island.

Normally, I like to give a shout out to the library and independent book stores but the book is only available on Amazon. You can order Two Million for the Kindle or paperback, here.

Book review: Sweet & Low by Nick White

Sweet & Low by Nick White is a collection ten short stories set in the South; with most in the Mississippi Delta. Each story focuses on an important and defining moment or series of moments in the main character’s life. Often poor and with little opportunity, the characters bear little resemblance to who I usually read in books but White does an excellent job bringing them to life.

Most of the short stories include an LGBT character, which is a good reminder that all gay men don’t live in cities or suburbs, nor are they all wealthy, despite what you see portrayed on television. The opening story, The Lovers, provides insight into several of the themes that run through all the stories, touching upon struggle and loneliness. My favorite story was perhaps one of the saddest. The Exaggerations is told by a nephew abandoned by his mother and raised by his aunt and uncle. The final paragraph of this short story is perhaps White’s best in the entire book.

Fans of romantic comedies or happily ever after endings will find this book tough to get through. Many of the characters aren’t all that likeable. A good example is, Pete, in Cottonmouth, Trapjaw, Water Moccasin, but most are misguided, lonely, and self-involved. The best example of that might be Forney’s mom in the short story the book is named after, Sweet and Low. Told through the eyes of Forney, she appears to want nothing more than to pick up her once aspiring country music singing career after the unexepected death of her husband, and she can’t be bothered with her only child who she has little connection or love.

If you enjoy reading before going to bed, the short story format is ideally suited to you. In 20-30 pages, White weaves a story full of depth meaning at defining moments of each main character. While I couldn’t relate to any of the characters, their stories still resonated and is why I would recommend reading this book.

If you’re interested in purchasing this book and open to supporting local bookstores, try one of the links I’ve shared. The links below will take you right to the book so you can order it online in just a couple of clicks. Alternatively, you can check your local library for a copy of this book. Here is a link to the BPL copy for Sweet & Low.

Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square
Porter Square Bookstore in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe in Back Bay

Book review: The Sun and Her Stars by Donna Rifkind

The Sun and Her Stars by Donna Rifkind is a biography about the extraordinary but little known life of the Jewish, Austrian actress turned Hollywood screenwriter, Salka Viertel, who moved from Europe to southern California in the late 1920s. If you are fascinated by the Golden Age of Hollywood, you’ll find Rifkind’s detailed account of Viertel’s life and those around her fascinating to read.

It was fascinating to compare how several characters in this year’s celebrated film, Mank, were perceived by Salka. The black and white film about screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz writing of the acclaimed movie, “Citizen Kane” takes place at the same time and is nominated for 10 Oscars. Some of the Hollywood heavyweights referenced in both the book and movie include Orson Welles (actor), Ben Hecht (screenwriter / novelist), David Selznick (studio executive), and Charlie Chaplin (actor).

Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s led to a braindrain of the creative class from Europe. These shellshocked ex-pats fleeing from the horrors of Nazi Germany, were not welcomed by most in America. Rampant, in-your-face antisemitism was pervasive and put many on edge; feeling fortunate to escpe but unsure of their future or ability to rebuild in an alien country and culture. Salka’s home in Santa Monica became a refuge for these people. Her close friend, Greta Garbo, was a frequent visitor as were the many refugees who would flock to her Sunday parties.

The biography also details the personal trials and triumphs of Salka who earned a commanding salary and the respect of studio executives, producers and directors at a time when few women were respected in the male-dominated industry. Rifkind also touches upon the blacklisting that impacted Salka and many other Europeans in the decade that followed WWII because of their political sympathies and foreign accents which made them tagets of McCarthy and those on the HUAAC.

The book was a fascinating read from a pop culture, political and historical perspective, and I’m glad I read about this rather extraordinary woman. Through her efforts she saved the lives of many fleeing from Europe to escape fascism and rubbed elbows with some of the biggest stars and deal-makers in Hollywood’s Golden Age. If you are fascinated by or liked the Oscar-nominated film, Mank, add this to your reading list.

If you’re interested in purchasing this book and open to supporting local bookstores, try one of the links I’ve shared. The links below will take you right to the book so you can order it online in just a couple of clicks.

Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square
Porter Square Bookstore in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe in Back Bay

Boston Gay Men’s book club

The Boston Gay Men’s book club will be meeting later tonight to discuss the 2018 collection of short stories, Sweet & Low, by gay author, Nick White. I will be publishing my review of this book later this month, but I wanted to encourage anyone interested in gay literature to RSVP.

I joined this group for the first time earlier this year when they discussed Eric Cervini’s book, The Deviant’s War and enjoyed listening to people sharing their perspectives. I noticed that a few of the people hadn’t read the book so you needn’t feel uncomfortable about joining if you’ve yet to read the book. You can use the opportunity to hear people’s comments to determine if you think you’ll enjoy it. If you haven’t any plans for this evening, RSVP and join the conversation. All are welcome.

Sweet and Low: Short Stories by Nick White
Monday, April 19th 6:30 – 8:00pm ET