Book Reviews

Alan's haunting novel of the AIDS epidemic, As If Death Summoned, was released on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2020, and has won the Foreword INDIES LGBT Book of the Year Award. Watch the book trailer here. Read the reviews here.

David Grann


“Nothing was more frequent than to bury eight or ten men from each ship every morning,” Millecamp wrote in his journal. Altogether, nearly 300 of the Centurion’s some 500 men were eventually listed as “DD”—Discharged Dead. Of the roughly 400 people on the Gloucester who had departed from England, three quarters were reported to have been buried at sea…Byron tried to offer his deceased companions a proper sea burial, but there were so many corpses, and so few hands to assist, that the bodies often had to be heaved overboard unceremoniously.

         from The Wager



Hal Calbom

Columbia River Reader Press

Signs of trouble appeared well before the stock market crash in October, 1929. Two years earlier a sharp drop in construction nationwide had rocked the lumber industry. Unsold inventory crowded the docks […] Most people clung to the single-minded belief that—despite resolutely insisting it was no mere Company Town—in the end the Company could and would support them. It was a dangerous co-dependence. Besides acting as employer and financier, the company was expected to be chief educator, city manager, church and community organizer, all-purpose supplier and savior. Until it wasn’t.

         from Empire of Trees


Barbara Kingsolver

Harper Collins Books

“Poor Demon,” she said quietly. “Can’t they find anybody to adopt you?”

She’d only ever called me Damon before, like Mrs. Peggott and Aunt June, to show she was taking their side. I didn’t want to be poor anybody. But I felt like kissing Emily. Or throwing up, from how mixed up I was. Possibly both. You’d want to do it in the right order, though.

         from Demon Copperhead


T. J. Klune

Tor Books/Tom Doherty Associates

“Why are (the townspeople) like this?”

“I don’t pretend to know the minds of men,” she said, hands tightening on the steering wheel as a woman on the sidewalk appeared to shield her chubby, squawking children away from the car. “They fear what they don’t understand. And that fear turns to hate for reasons I’m sure even they can’t begin to comprehend. And since they don’t understand the children, since they fear them, they hate them. This can’t be the first time you’ve heard of this.”

from The House in the Cerulean Sea


Brianna Craft

Lawrence Hill Books

The people I worked for had polluted the least, suffered the most, and lacked the resources to deal with the consequences of the crisis. The forty-eight Least Developed Countries had contributed less than 1 percent to the world’s cumulative greenhouse gas emissions. Less than 1 percent. On average, the billion people living in these countries emitted 0.3 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The average American, meanwhile, emitted 16 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. So those who polluted the most suffered the least and used their resources to keep the worst impacts at bay. Climate change was such an unjust mess.

             from Everything That Rises


Gender Queer: A Memoir
Maia Kobabe, Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
Susan Kuklin, Candlewick Press

When the doctors confirmed that I was intersex, I thought, Wow, I’m that whole other gender! It proved what I had been feeling all along. I was not only emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually both sexes; I was physically both sexes too. This is who I am. My mom was still in denial. She kept asking why I didn’t have a boyfriend.

             from Beyond Magenta


Ed Yong

Random House

Earth teems with sights and textures, sounds and vibrations, smells and tastes, electric and magnetic fields. But every animal can only tap into a small fraction of reality’s fullness. Each is enclosed within its own unique sensory bubble, perceiving but a tiny sliver of an immense world. There is a wonderful word for this sensory bubble—Umwelt…Our Umwelt is still limited; it just doesn’t feel that way. To us, it feels all-encompassing. It is all that we know, and so we easily mistake it for all there is to know. This is an illusion, and one that every animal shares.

             from An Immense World


Ian McEwan

Alfred A. Knopf

This was the beginning of the transition, of letting go, though Roland had never heard anyone speak of it, this form of parental dismay. You think of your child as your dependent. Then, as he starts to pull away, you discover that you are a dependent too. It had always cut both ways.

                        from Lessons


Louise Willder


We overuse adjectives such as luminous, dazzling, incandescent, stunning, shimmering, sparkling, glittering—always the light references! Or there are what I like to call “the natural disaster adjectives:” devastating, searing, powerful, shattering, explosive, epic, electrifying…One wag on social media recently compiled a “glossary of terms” for book blurbs, including “Enchanting: there’s a dog in it. Heartwarming: a dog and a child. Moving: child dies. Heartrending: dog dies.” We laugh because we know it’s true…that these words act as a code of sorts.

            from Blurb Your Enthusiasm


Candice Millard


Like others at the time, Burton and Speke were unapologetic in their racism, with all of its attendant arrogance and ignorance, but they were sickened by the slave trade, which, Burton wrote, “had made a howling desert of the land,” and took great pride in their country’s efforts to end it. But […] little had changed in East Africa, where the shackling and selling of human beings was still a common occurrence. “Zanzibar is a peculiar place,” Burton wrote a friend. “An admirable training ground for damnation.”

            from River of the Gods


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