Book Reviews: Last Call by Elon Green and Thirteen Chairs by Dave Shelton @elongreen @CeladonBooks @DaveShelton @DFB_storyhouse

Last Call
A True Story of Love, Lust and Murder in Queer New York
Elon Green
Celadon Books, March 2021
ISBN 978-1-250-22435-4
Hardcover

The world was not warm or welcoming for gay men in the 1980s. Discrimination, bias and inexplicable hate made for an uncomfortable existence, at best. Not only was homosexuality grossly misunderstood; but AIDS was becoming a familiar fear for everyone.

Repercussions could be very real for any openly-gay man. Life turned from unpleasant to terrifying with the discovery of a dismembered male body. And later, another grisly, heart-wrenching find. More would follow.

Law enforcement was not convinced that the scarily-similar manner of disposal connected the crimes. Faint lines leading to New York City piano bars— where gay men felt somewhat safe—seemed more than a stretch.  Prejudices towards the victims’ “life-styles” and the lack of a crime scene, coupled with “dump sites” in different jurisdictions, meant that these crimes were not priorities.

Family members, friends, Lesbian and Gay Advocate Groups would not allow these deaths to be ignored, though. Patrons, pianists, and bartenders all mentioned one man, in particular. The suspect was a nurse at a NYC hospital, but no one knew more than that.

In the same way that stellar wait-staff are inconspicuous when their service is spot-on, Mr. Green simply sets everything up, almost allowing each man to tell his own story.

This review was written by jv poore for Buried Under Books, with a huge “Thank You!” to Celadon Books for the Advance Review Copy, which I will donate to my favorite high-school classroom library.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2021.

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Thirteen Chairs
Dave Shelton
David Fickling Books, September 2015
ISBN 978-1-910-20044-5
Trade Paperback

Inside of a dilapidated, abandoned home— that is most assuredly haunted, per the neighborhood children—one room appears to be in use. A long table is set with flickering candles, casting strange rays on the oddly assembled group gathered around.

Jack had heard the wicked rumors; but standing outside and seeing a soft light within, his curiosity has passed piqued. Compelled, he enters the house and follows the glow. He is welcomed to the table, where there is, uncannily, one empty chair.

Each person has a story to share and every one of the scary shorts could stand alone. Some of the narrators appear to know one another quite well, while others seem less comfortable with the eclectic individuals sharing their space. Jack is clearly the freshest face to the table, and perhaps, he has the most to fear.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2019.

Book Review: Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs @JennyBoylan @CeladonBooks

Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs
Jennifer Finney Boylan
Celadon Books, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-26187-8
Hardcover

Throughout Jimmy’s childhood, he felt torn between loving alone time and aching from emptiness. It’s easy to understand the left-out feeling of one sibling when the rest of the family is off, rallying around the other child. He was genuinely proud of his sister and her mad equestrian skills and obviously his parents had to get her, and her horse, to the shows. He could have joined them; he chose not to. Inevitably, the weekends alone could feel downright lonely. Even with canine company.

But there was another reason. Jimmy didn’t exactly understand it himself, nor did he crave the contemplation needed to attempt to articulate the strong, something-is-not-right gnawing. He more than made up for it by being immensely entertaining, even allowing for a bit of eccentricity. 

Based solely on a shared, whole-hearted adoration for all of the dogs, I expected to enjoy this memoir. I did not anticipate being so enamored with the author. I felt a kinship, in an I-want-to-be-that-true kind of way. I can easily imagine an encounter with Ms. Boylan wherein I would enthusiastically profess my fondness for her latest book and then immediately ask if I could pet her dog. I’m sure she’ll have one with her.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2020.

Book Review: Here We Are by Aarti Namdev Shahani @aarti411 @CeladonBooks

Here We Are
American Dreams, American Nightmares
Aarti Namdev Shahani
Celadon Books, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-250-20475-2
Hardcover

I want to be Aarti Shahani when I grow up. Not just adult Aarti, author of this exquisite memoir, but the young girl that, after exhausting all other avenues, wrote directly to the judge presiding over her father’s case. So often, in fact, that the judge called her his “pen-pal”. In a way, that sums up her essence. In no way does it encapsulate her whole-hearted determination or accomplishments.

Ms. Shahani shares her story, alongside her father’s, generously and honestly. Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares is a courageous and remarkably thoughtful way to illustrate stunning errors, inconsistencies and absolute apathy within the immigration system of the United States.

Her self-education started in adolescence when her family’s American-Dream-Life was demolished. The successful electronics store that her father and uncle were so proud of, was ensnared in the criminal investigation of so many cash-based-businesses on Broadway. A Columbian cartel was laundering money. No one within the judicial or legislative system mentioned that it would be highly unusual and unlikely for Indians to be Cali foot-soldiers.

At that time, Ms. Shahani did not imagine the volume of mistakes that had been made and ignored throughout her father’s processing. She did know that things were not right. For her family and, to her initial surprise, many of her immigrant neighbors. As she learned, she passed on her knowledge. Her assistance and action created ripples all across the continental U.S.

Ms. Shahani’s tone elevates this already compelling narrative. She does not attempt to hide her feelings or opinions, but they are clearly separated from explanations of policies and procedures. The objective, but not unfeeling, telling also shows that other countries have issues as well. It was not the U.S. that errantly issued a new passport to someone…immediately after London’s highest court had revoked all travel papers.

I finished this book with a new awareness of the intricacies and gaping holes in the immigration and deportation system. Ms. Shahani’s conversational tone, warmed by her obvious affections and admirations, make reading her memoir like catching up with a cherished friend in the comfiest of coffee shops. I am so glad that I get to take this gem to ‘my’ students next week; I don’t think I could wait any longer.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2019.