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Review of Tell Me a Secret

TEll-Me-a-Secret-by-Ann-Everett>Review of Tell Me a Secret by Ann Everett. Narrated by Sarah Pavelec.

He spun the chair around and straddled it like he was doing it a favor.”

That is the effect Jace Sloan has on women at college, and is one of the many wonderful metaphors used throughout this love story. His charm works on everyone accept Maggie, who is in graduate school and works as a nurse and tutor. Jace and Maggie’s personalities are like oil and water, but they must find a way to work together when she is assigned by her professor to be his tutor for anatomy.

Just when you think this story is following the usual boy meets girl, girl losses boy, and then they get together again, plot line, there is a twist. Actually, there are a number of twists that will keep reader’s wondering about the character’s futures. The dialogue shifts from chapter to chapter, between Maggie’s perspective and Jace’s, providing an intimate microscope into their internal thoughts, emotions and perceptions. Author Ann Everett did a good job keeping the dialogue and situations real, as well as the couple’s reactions.

As an avid reader, and past reviewer for The New York Journal of Books, I must confess that this is the first audio book I’ve listened to and reviewed. Though it was quite long, the narrator’s voice, Sarah Pavelec, was pleasant and engaging. Her tone for both the male and female characters was spot on, as well as the intonations for specific dialogue and action.

Tell Me a Secret is a good book to take on a long trip, or listen to for a period of time each day. It is a sweet romance that shows opposites can not only be attracted to one another when the pheromones are intense, but may also stay together through misunderstandings, tragedy and jealousy.

“Must Read” Indeed!

amazon-cover-with-mca-gold-seal-rsElizabeth’s Landing
By Katy Pye
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

Let’s get straight to the point. This is one hell of a good story for adults of all ages (young and old). It deserves all the awards it has received and then some. Superior to many traditionally published works, Elizabeth’s Landing combines complex characters, believable families and community and global environmental issues, with a seamless and engaging flare.

Uprooted mid-school year to the Texas coast town of Port Winston, Elizabeth escapes from her cantankerous grandfather, missing her absent reporter mother, and her seemingly submissive father, to explore the county’s last wild haven, called Wayward Landing Beach. It is there that she discovers nesting sea turtles and is faced with some local teens bent on harming her and the turtles. While trying to save the turtles, she meets Maria and Tom from the Science Center and is drawn to their work and mission.

It is obvious from the get go that Ms. Pye has extensively researched her subjects: turtles, shrimping, habitat, The Gulf Coast, The Horizon Oil Spill, and local politics; and integrated them into the story without any trace of regurgitating news or sounding like a lecturer at a science museum. Elizabeth, her family, friends, and those she meets at the Marine Science Center, are imbued with realistic doses of sadness, anger, frustration, determination, secrets, fear and hope.

What’s not to like about Elizabeth? She’s shy, concerned about how she is perceived by others, lonely, and out of step with other kids at school. She doesn’t think her father understands her or stands up to her grandfather, who is always putting them down. She’d rather die, than tell anyone how she feels and when she does, she’s afraid she’s revealed too much. If she doesn’t sound like other people her age, or yourself when you were a teen, then you must be perfect. Reader’s will identify with and root for, Elizabeth, as if she is your friend, daughter or sister.

If it’s not been stated clearly or often enough, Elizabeth’s Landing is a fantastic novel. “Must Read” is often used to advertise stories and get people’s attention, but in this case Ms. Pye has written a story that is truly a must read.

Gabriel Constans is a reviewer for The New York Journal of Books, a novelist, screenwriter, journalist and non-fiction writer. His latest work of fiction is The Last Conception.

Peace Through Pleasure

The Bonobo Way: The Evolution of Peace Through Pleasure
An Alternative Great Ape Paradigm for Human Sexuality

By Susan M. Block, Ph.D.
Gardner & Daugthers, Publishers, 2014
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

TheBonoboWay3If pleasure is heaven then The Bonobo Way is heaven sent. The experience and insight of Dr. Susan Block and her understanding of human sexuality and the pleasure seeking and sharing Bonobo apes (who live south of the Congo River in East Africa and have 99% of the same DNA as humans), may surprise you and turn any preconceived expectations and judgments about bonobo’s and human’s upside down and inside out.

Ms. Block begins by telling the tale of her first encounter with the Bonobo at a zoo, its effects on her marriage and the rest of her life. She discovered what she calls The Bonobo Sutra, and says, “The list of bonobo sex activities is more impressive than the original Kama Sutra.” She also learned about the revolutionary way Bonobos use sex for conflict resolution and that there are no known instances of them ever murdering, raping or attacking fellow Bonobos or other species. This may be true, in large part, because of the matriarchal structure of Bonobo communities and families. “I call them the most feminist apes on Earth,” says Dr. Block.

Sex and food are shared by all, but it is the female Bonobo who decides when, how and if she chooses to indulge in either. Food and sex also seem to go “hand in hand”. Opposite from most ape cultures, Bonobo boys stay with their mothers until late in life and it is the girls who migrate to another group at childbearing age. New females are accepted into their new group and clan, with food, sex and emotional bonding. The author says, “If you’re a bonobo female, your gal pals have your back.”

After Dr. Block has explained some of the research and her experiences, with the Bonobo, she then shows how their way of life and behavior has, is and could be, incorporated into human well-being and sexual relations. She says, “In essence, The Bonobo Way offers an alternative great ape paradigm for human behavior, especially (but not exclusively) sexual behavior.” And, “Our emotional wiring is closer to the peaceful, sexual bonobo than to the brutal, militaristic chimpanzee.” The basic Bonobo steps for human’s to incorporate into our lives are that 1) Pleasure heals pain. 2) Doing good feels good. 3) You can’t fight a war very well if you’re having an orgasm.

As a sex therapist and facilitator of Bonoboville (a speakeasy, pleasure den for invited consenting adults, which is on the radio and sometimes filmed), Dr. Block has developed a 12-Step Program, which she encourages humans to follow. Some of the steps include – Go Bonobos in Bed, Outercourse Is In, Mix Food and Sex, Create Your Own Bonoboville, and Swing Through Life.

The Bonobo Way takes care to develop this way of life ethically and looks closely at the questions it raises, and says it is not a one size fits all program. Dr. Block doesn’t minimize others concerns or questions about living The Bonobo Way, but deftly addresses them with research, examples, and most importantly, her history with her marriage, studies, counseling practice and Bonoboville. One may deny or differ with her ideas, concepts or philosophy, but not with her personal perception and story, as it is her experience alone (or in this case with many others), which is being shared.

If you get a copy of The Bonobo Way, there is a strong possibility that you will find yourself drawn too and/or resonating with living a Bonobo way of life, as well as wanting to help protect them from extinction. The last step of the The Bonobo 12-Step Program is, “Save the Bonobos, Save the World”.

Unschakles the Mind

Review: The Last Conception by Gabriel Constans
Reviewed by Monica Arora. 23 September 2014
KITAAB (“Book” in Hindi) Singapore

LastConception-CoverThe oft-debated dichotomy between modern scientific research and wisdom of traditional values, religious beliefs and spiritual propensities have formed the basis of several discussions, debates, deliberations and continues to dog the human sensibility, constantly torn between the two. This conflict between science and spiritualism forms the basis of the engaging novel by Gabriel Constans, entitled ‘The Last Conception’.

The plot revolves around the young female protagonist Savarna Sikand, who is an embryologist engaged in working with fertility treatments in a high-tech laboratory in San Francisco, US. Meanwhile, her parents, hailing from the south-eastern part of India, but settled in the United States, and deeply rooted in some ancient religious cult, express their desire for their daughter to conceive and thereby continue their rare lineage. What follows is a gripping saga of the dilemma faced by the young scientist Savarna who fights very hard to tread the fine line between her parents’ spiritual beliefs and her own scientific wisdom.

Gabriel has come up with a taut narrative that is extremely simple and yet keeps the reader engaged with its fast pace and myriad topics conjuring doubts, dogmas and apprehensions in minds of young people all over the globe. Right from exploring alternate sexuality and its ramifications on the immediate family to the delicate issue of childlessness, all are dwelt upon with much thought and deliberation and ‘The Last Conception’ offers a rare insight into lives of seemingly ordinary men and women dealing with such quandaries on a day-to-day basis.

Moreover, there is this keen sense of urgency and uncertainty running throughout the narrative pertaining to Savarna’s attempts at conception and the traumas, both mental and physical, which have to be endured for accomplishing the same. The high point of the novel comes in the form of adoption of an Indian-origin baby by Savarna’s sister Chitra owing to her infertility and the feelings of joy, pleasure and pride experienced by the entire family thereafter. Such sensitive subjects are dealt with much bravado and wisdom by the author and offer a lot of information to readers regarding these subjects, thereby clearing several dogmas and misconceptions plaguing childless couples and misled elders, who succumb to mindless religious dictates and notions without studying their cause and effect in detail.

What really touched me was how the parents of the two girls, Mira and Mr Sikand, handle their daughters’ dilemmas as well as their old mother’s beliefs continuing from unwavering faith in a dwindling sect of ancient India. The maturity of their feelings and their ability to keep their family together under all circumstances stands as a pinnacle of hope in contemporary times mired under the garb of modern values or lack of them and hence, offering no emotional solace to lonely, weary souls in a confused society.

‘The Last Conception’ is indeed a very noble attempt by the author to choose such unusual and uncommon themes and write a piece of prose that unshackles the mind and offers rare insight into the much spoken and widely discussed matter of science vs spirituality. With immense care and caution, Gabriel has gently treaded around prickly territory and offered a well-researched and well-structured story which deserves to be read and preserved not just as a treasure-trove of information but also juxtaposing human emotions.

Read entire review and more at KITAAB.

Recommended Reading

LastConception-CoverReview of The Last Conception
Onely: Single and Happy
13 September 2014

“To my mother. To my wife. To my husband.” Authors commonly dedicate their books this way. Nice, but boooring. (To everyone, that is, except the mother, wife, or husband.) Gabriel Constans dedicates his book The Last Conception “To Love, in all its manifestations.”

We here at Onely are interested in all aspects of the single experience and particularly like to learn about single people from different backgrounds than ourselves (Lisa and I self-identify as white, upper-middle-class, agnostic, heterosexual women). The beginning of Constans’ novel allows us into the world of single scientist and first-generation Indian-American lesbian Savarna, whose parents–still unaware of her sexuality–have been pressuring her for years to marry and give them a grandchild. Any unmarried, child-free reader whose parents have pressured them in this way will wince along with Savarna as her parents become increasingly fervent in their matchmaking–all while Savarna is trying to figure out her relationships with two different women. (I refer to her as “single” because initially she is not part of an “official” couple.)

Appropriately, as an embryologist, Savarna spends her working hours manipulating eggs and sperm to help women conceive. She herself, however, doesn’t feel the tick-tock of her biological clock. If she did, this book wouldn’t exist. (Or it would be very boring.) We have several layers of tension going on throughout the story. Savarna the happily child-free woman vs. her grandchild-wanting parents. Savarna the American vs. her Indian parents. Savarna is not religious, but her parents who travel to India once a year for some ceremonious gathering that Savarna has never attended and vaguely considers cultish.

Through the course of the book these subtle battles wage, peak, resolve and eventually weave together into an ending so satisfying I really wish I could share it here. I’m afraid to say much more because I don’t want to put out any spoilers. Let’s just say that ultra right-wing conservatives would hate this book, especially the conclusion. (All the more reason to read it!) One of our favorite words here at Onely is amatonormative, which means the normalizing of a few specific kinds of love relationships while marginalizing all others. The Last Conception kicks amatonormativity in the ass.

Which is why it gets one thumb up from our blog. The other thumb is busy turning the pages for a second read-through.

–Christina

Read entire review and more at Onely: Single and Happy.

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Review of Teaching the Cat to Sit

9781451697292‘Teaching the Cat to Sit’ by Michelle Theall
Reviewed by Sara Rauch
21 May, 2014 Lambda Literary

Michelle Theall’s new memoir, Teaching the Cat to Sit, brings some big topics—God, sexuality, abuse, loneliness, love, family—to the page. It’s a rocky ride, full of contentious conversations, frank disclosures, and plenty of struggle.

Teaching the Cat to Sit presents two interwoven narratives: first, adult Michelle’s struggle to get her adopted son baptized in the Catholic Church, her decision to pull him from the Catholic school he attends, and the ongoing battle to win her mother and father’s acceptance. The second narrative begins with Michelle’s youth—a journey that leads her through abuse, her grasping to understand her sexuality, a brush with a pedophile priest, her first relationship with another woman in college, her attempts to “turn straight,” her coming out, her leaving her home state, and the healing process that eventually leads her to her life partner. A lot happens in this book—and Theall moves through the circumstances of her life with remarkable dexterity.

Theall writes with compelling honesty about loneliness—in fact, the title of the book comes from a line she overhears her father say to her mother on that topic—and the feeling she so plainly articulates has real resonance. And while her loneliness hobbles and confuses her as a young adult, her ability to be alone is ultimately what heals her.

God plays a big role in Teaching the Cat to Sit. And this isn’t just any God; this is the Catholic God—not exactly touchy-feely, not exactly a paragon of acceptance. And those with major chips on their shoulder in regards to the Catholic Church and its treatment of gays may balk at some of what Theall says. But ultimately, Theall’s grappling with the God of her youth deconstructs a very real barrier between public and private. God is, on one hand, such a personal choice, and worship, while often done in public, is arguably one of the most private acts we humans do. For Theall, having been forced to keep secrets for most of her life—to protect herself, to gain her family’s love—privacy has too long meant silence. And the breaking of a silence she is no longer willing to bear becomes the ultimate act of bravery, one that threatens to crack the delicate acceptance she’s gained from her family.

There are moments when I wanted Theall to slow down, to let me in and show me a little more of her internal struggle—but a book of this scope, covering as much ground as it does, can make that sustained interiority difficult. Some of the moments Theall presents, especially her encounters with wildlife, allow us a telling window into her state of mind—those moments of understanding, of transformation and acceptance, are very powerful.

Read entire review and more at: LAMBDA LITERARY

Fishing Was Never So Good

BaitShopBlues_Final-PinkSatinpdfBait Shop Blues
By Nancy Pirri
May, 2014, Melange Books
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

Leif Flying Eagle and Cassandra (Cassie) Thompson go together like water and oil or fire and ice. Though they are instantly attracted to one another, when she lands at International Falls, Minnesota, to find out more about the bait shop and land her grandfather left her and Leif, they have about as much in common as a bear and a hummingbird.

Bait Shop Blues portrays a man and a woman who are both reluctant and afraid of commitment (for different reasons) to discover what it is they want most in life and questions whether they can break free of the past, move beyond their fear and be honest about their deepest intentions.

The story moves along briskly, as readers’ are taken into life on the lake, fishing, camping and the nearby reservation, where most of Leif’s family still lives. The supporting cast, most notably Maxie (Leif’s bait shop assistant) and Shep (Leif’s dog), are perfect contrasts of stability, commitment and devotion, to that of Leif and Cassie’s confusion and mixed message.

As expected, but still enjoyable, the sweetness, love and attraction overpower the character’s rough edges and initial testing of the waters. Bait Shop Blues is a good story to pack for lunch, a picnic or the next time you go out fishing and dream of the man (or woman) of your dreams.

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