Hurricane Sandy Relief Still Needed, Books with a Bittersweet tag and the Week Ahead in Reviews

Standard

So on top of Hurricane Sandy, the nor’Easter hit the very same areas with another punch.  So I am putting out there once more the name of organizations providing assistance to those in need due to Hurricane Sandy.  Please help if you are able, even the smallest of amounts add up to someone being able to eat or have warm clothes.

American Red Cross

Ali Forney Center Housing for Homeless GLBT Youth

ASPCA

Humane Society of the United States

Now turning to books, I have some wonderful books for you this week, including the latest from Andrea Speed, Megan Derr, and Marguerite Labbe.  In particular, I wanted to talk about books labeled bittersweet.  I think most people see that tag and run as fast as possible in the opposite direction and miss out on some marvelous books.  Two in particular come to mind.  One is Rodney Ross’ The Cool Park of His Pillow.  This is absolutely one of my top books for 2012.  It does contains sadness and pain as it charts one man’s recovery from the death of his long term partner. But there is also so much joy, humor and love that it would be shameful to label it bittersweet as it is so much more than that limiting tag.  I feel the same way about Ghost in the Wind, the latest from Marguerite Labbe.  This story has a definite supernatural bent to it as it concerns the death of a man’s long term partner but in this case the man is murdered and his ghost returns to help his partner move on as well as solve a mystery.  Here the grief is palpable, the murder shocking and the suspense agonizing.  Dreamspinner Press calls it a Bittersweet Dream. Sigh.  I can almost hear the rejections on the wind.  Again, definitely not so.  Don’t miss this wonderful book either.  It’s painful, joyous, suspenseful, and full of boundless love.  I have the latest in the Infected series (darn you, Andrea Speed!!!) and a book from KA Mitchell that is not receiving the attention I think it is due.   So fasten your seatbelts and prepare for a wild ride of a week:

Monday:                       Chaos (Lost Gods #5) by Megan Derr

Tuesday:                       Ghost in the Wind by Marguerite Labbe

Wednesday:                 Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne and Marie Sexton

Thursday:                     But My Boyfriend Is by KA Mitchell

Friday:                          Splintered Lies by Diane Adams and RJ Scott

Saturday:                      Bloggers Choice

So that’s the week unless something changes.  Happy reading!

Review of The Cool Part of His Pillow by Rodney Ross

Standard

Rating:5 stars

It’s Barry Groom’s forty-fifth birthday and he’s wondering why his partner of twenty-five years isn’t answering his cell phone.  Andy should have been back home by now.  So when Barry’s cell rings, he doesn’t even look at the caller id until an unfamiliar voices asks for him and his world explodes.  Andy and their two beloved  pugs, Gertie and Noel, all dead, crushed by a falling crane downtown.  Barry doesn’t even know what they were doing there. From there on out, Barry’s world consists of pain, and loss,and grief and lack of direction.  His, no make that their friends and even his mother try to console him but he finds himself to be unconsolable, watching the tv video of the accident over and over again.

Faced with his business he can’t force himself to go to or phone calls he can’t accept, Barry heads off to his and Andy’s home in Key West hoping to find some answers and much needed space. Time spent in Key West only emphasizes his status as the one left behind as he works on chores Andy would have done at their house and runs into friends who haven’t yet heard the news.  Another change is needed, this time to New York City where Barry is hoping that old memories are overrun by the crowds, the frantic pace and noise of the City. Trying to embrace change in his life, Barry tries everything from online dating to nudercise in his efforts to recover from grief and move his life forward.  But an unexpected event brings him home to where it all started, “back to the town where he grew up for one more ironic twist that teaches him how to say good-bye with grace.”

What an amazing story and one of the hardest reviews I have had to write. For the longest time, I would come to the keyboard to write the review and come up with nothing.  Or come up with far too much.  And I find that fitting because those are the emotions this book left me with.  The first part of the story had me as inconsolable as Barry, my empathy so strongly engaged that I sobbed at his loss and raged at life’s unfairness along with him.  At other times, I felt empty, hating to move forward with the book, so indelible is the imprint that Barry, Andy, and his memories leave upon you.  Grief is a tough topic and an even tougher thing to get through.  Who of us has not lost either a person or a pet and been overwhelmed by the vacancy they left and grief stricken at the thought of not seeing or hearing them ever again?  Rodney Ross takes us back to those events in our lives through Barry Grooms and makes us relive it all over again through him.  And he does so beautifully, the stages of grief rendered so realistically that I felt I was reading an autobiography instead of a fictional account.

Ross takes one of life’s great unfairnesses “why the one I loved” and gives us Barry’s recovery from the worst horror to happen to him, the loss of his soul mate.  In doing so, Rodney Ross gives us a character so real I was convinced he bleeds when cut, gifts Barry with a voice so unforgettable, so persistent in its need to be heard that I would recognize it on the other end of the phone or isolate it in a crowd of New Yorkers. It is one of intelligence, humor, deprecation, and sadness.  Barry’s outlook is dry witted, reflective and full of loss, less so once he reaches New York.  Here is Barry in his NYC condo, responding to his online dating emails.

“During this I received my first dick pic.  I primly respond that I prefer a face pic.  I get a second dick pic with a face drawn on it.  The lips were especially upsetting.”

A perfect Barryism.  I will admit to roaring with laughter through Barry’s dating travails whether it was Hugo who Barry thought was “furry as in bear” turns out to be a Furry complete with Cousin Itt’s slippers. There’s Olaf the fire eater, Bryce the actor who thinks Madonna was the first Evita and can’t place the name Patti LuPone, and Boaz the beer bully.  And then there is Barry attempting to meet other and exercise during an hysterical session of Nudercise!  Yes, it is exactly what one thinks it is.  This includes a hard look at his body and a Nudercise participant who uses the time to masturbate instead of centering himself, directly on the mat in front of Barry. Through every humiliating episode and outrageous encounter, I felt myself nodding in sympathy and acknowledgement of the pitfalls and ego deflating scenes that dating after 40 brings with it.  Then Barry hooks up with the store Theatrilicious, a theater district shop that sells or rather stores bits of everything Broadway.  Its owner is Marjorie Lewis-Kohl, in her sixties, painfully thin with capes that vary with her moods.  Soon Barry is working there, accumulating employees that start to look like friends and his life starts to fill up.

There are so many remarkable characters in this story, none of whom ever feel anything less than real as well.  From Mr Floor 14 whose daily personal grooming habits in the elevator signal the way Barry’s day is going to turn out to Barry’s mother, Aunt Sarajane, Artie from the store, Marjorie herself and Jarod Pugh, the young limousine driver Barry starts to date. Each is so fiercely unique, so strongly authentic that I kept going back to the bio to make sure this was fiction.  And both Key West and New York City acquit themselves beautifully as main characters as well.  I love Key West and Ross gets the tone exactly right, no small wonder as he lives there.  But Rodney Ross must also spend an equal amount of time in NYC, as his love affair with the city comes across as strongly as the people inhabiting his pages.

Life is full of surprises, some bad, some not so good and some wonderful.  Ross recognizes this and brings it into Barry’s tale in full measure.  Everytime I think someone or something is solidly known, Ross upends it and gives us a different perspective on that person or that event.  We start off that way and we end there as well.  In the beginning, Barry is standing in front of a counter as the store clerk says “You change.” At the end of his story, we find ourselves with Barry standing there again, waiting patiently as “Bunwoman” taps the register again.  “You change”. And by then, Barry has and so have we by meeting him and living through his journey with him.  When I picked up this story and the tears started falling, I never thought that I would find myself missing Barry.  And now 340 pages later, I do.  I miss him terribly and wish him well in his new life.  I know I will be skipping back to The Cool Part of His Pillow for small visits, something I could never have imagined when I started.  Some might ask if this is a love story and I will say that it is but not in exactly the way you might think.  It is a love sonnet, it is an elegy, it is a love affair with new beginnings while never losing sight of the loves of the past.  Pick this book up.  Don’t let the fear of loss and the pain of grief in the beginning pass by this remarkable story of recovery and perseverance done with love and humor.  It is one of my top books of the year.  I think it will be yours too.  Bravo, Mr. Ross, bravo.

Cover:  Art by Anne Cain. Simple, elegant and haunting.

Available at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, and All Romance Ebooks.

A New Addition to the Garden, the Week Ahead in Reviews and the Sazerac, an American classic cocktail

Standard

So, here we are again.  It’s a rainy Sunday in Maryland, perfect day for reading and snoozing with the pooches.  I was out earlier in the week, gallivanting around and made a quick stop into one of our local nurseries to check out their perennial sale (50 percent off woo hoo!) and what did I behold? A zen froggy waiting for someone to take him home.  Really how could I pass him up?  Here’s are 2  pictures.   He is now perched in all his zen-like concentration behind the fish pond to Kirby’s everlasting confusion.  I watch Kirby looking at him every time he goes out and can just see the slow wheel turning in our third smartest dog’s mind.  Like “hmmmm, didn’t see that before, wonder if it is edible” “will he play with me?”.  Cracks me up everytime.  So I believe our zen froggy deserves a name.  Any suggestions?

 

Now on to the Week in Reviews.  There were just some lovely books this week. Lashings of Sauce was a standout based on just the shear number of great authors who contributed to this anthology. We run the gamut from contemporary romance to supernatural lovers this week:

Monday:                           (Un)Masked by Anyta Sunday & Andrew Q.Gordon

Tuesday:                           Shelton’s Homecoming by Dianne Hartsock

Wednesday:                    Wick by Megan Derr

Thursday:                         Lashings of Sauce-a British Anthology

Friday:                               Weekends by Edward Kendrick

Saturday:                           The Cool Part of His Pillow by Rodney Ross

Cocktail of the Week: The Sazerac

The Sazerac, created in New Orleans in the 1800’s, an American Classic Cocktail

Ingredients:

1 1/2 teaspoons (1/4 ounce) club soda
1 sugar cube (preferably rough-cut and unbleached*) or 1/2 teaspoon raw sugar, such as turbinado or Demerara
4 to 5 dashes Peychaud Bitters
5 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) VSOP Cognac
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) absinthe
1 cup ice
1 lemon
Directions:

In chilled cocktail shaker or pint glass, pour club soda over sugar cube. Using muddler or back of large spoon, gently crush sugar cube. Swirl glass until sugar dissolves, 20 to 30 seconds, then add bitters and Cognac and set aside.
Pour absinthe into chilled double old-fashioned glass or stemless wineglass. Holding glass horizontally, roll between your thumb and forefinger so absinthe completely coats the interior, then discard excess.
Add ice to cocktail and stir until well chilled, about 20 seconds. Strain cocktail into chilled glass rinsed with absinthe. Using channel knife, cut thin 4-inch strip of peel from lemon directly over glass, then place peel in glass and serve.