Book review

Joseph Caldwell: In the Shadow of the Bridge

Joseph Caldwell: In the Shadow of the Bridge
By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

When offered an interview with author and playwright Joseph Caldwell, it was not In Such Dark Places, his first novel with its gay protagonist, that launched me from my desk to dance a delighted jig. Neither was it Caldwell’s more recent and charmingly absurd Irish mystery series, The Pig Trilogy—nor anything in between. No, it was Caldwell’s notoriety as a writer for the cult classic soap opera Dark Shadows that transported me to the late 1960s when we—every kid in the neighborhood—happily raced home from school to grab a slice of baloney and settle in for a new episode.

All the more satisfying then, was reading in Caldwell’s new memoir, In the Shadow of the Bridge (Delphinium Books, November...

Book Review: 'One of These Things First' by Steven Gaines

Book Review: 'One of These Things First' by Steven Gaines
Reviewed by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Previously published by Gay San Diego

 

Bestselling author and journalist Steven Gaines is prolific. With 13 published books, nine of them in the realm of biography, Gaines has made an art of getting into other people’s heads — and letting them into his. He has written or co-written insightful portrayals of such luminaries as The Beatles, Alice Cooper, The Beach Boys, and fashion designers Halston and Calvin Klein. But a year ago, Gaines took a literary leap into a new realm, memoir, and he landed well.

One of These Things First was re-released this month in paperback by Delphinium. In the book, Gaines turned his literary talents to himself, revealing his youthful suicide attempt, obsessive compensations for sexual urges he didn’t...

Book review: Notes on a Banana, a memoir by David Leite

Book review: Notes on a Banana, a memoir by David Leite
By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Previously published by Gay San Diego

 

Prepare one large stack of index cards, each containing the memory of a significant life event, its date and the author’s age at the time in one corner. Arrange the cards in chronological order. Mix in three themes—food, love and bipolar disorder—and stir gently. Skim off those cards that don’t blend well, and serve with humor, courage and poignant epiphany.

This is the recipe for Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love and Manic Depression (Dey Street Books, 2017), by cookbook author David Leite, creator of the website Leite’s Culinaria, and a three-time James Beard Award winner.

“They do not want to read it,” Leite said. “My parents are very, very old fashioned....

Book Review: 'The Room of White Fire' by T. Jefferson Parker

Book Review: 'The Room of White Fire' by T. Jefferson Parker
Reviewed by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

Best-selling novelist and Fallbrook, California resident T. Jefferson Parker had a great run with his six Charlie Hood Border Series thrillers. Now, with the release of The Room of White Fire (Putnam, August 22, 2017), Parker launches a new series with a new protagonist: San Diego private investigator Roland Ford.

Ford is a complex hero—a U.S. Marine war veteran, former sheriff’s deputy, and host to a gaggle of eccentrics in the North County compound they share. He is capable of precision violence when it’s called for, and he’s a bit of a brooder, but with a soft spot for underdogs and the smarts to pick them from a...

Book review: Goosestep by Harold Jaffe

Book review: Goosestep by Harold Jaffe
By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

While a tide of new political activists is frothing across the nation, one seasoned revolutionary is quietly practicing his decades-long resistance in Mission Hills. Harold Jaffe, author and SDSU professor, continues his quest to challenge popular perception in his 24th book, Goosestep: Fictions and Docufictions (Journal of Experimental Fiction Books, November 2016).

Jaffe has taught at SDSU for about 30 years, and traveled the world longer. He lives and writes in “what remains of nature” along a Mission Hills canyon.

“There are fewer birds now,” he said. “I think global warming is the prime suspect there. Wilderness being real-estated; land being contaminated; the weather being completely out of sorts; birds, when they migrate here in the winter, find the weather...

Interview with Re Jane author Patricia Park

Interview with Re Jane author Patricia Park
By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

See Patricia Park at Warwick’s BooksThursday 28 April 2016, 6:30 pm7812 Girard Avenue, La Jolla, CA 92037

When novelist Patricia Park set out to write Re Jane, she wanted to re-write Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë’s classic. The latter’s Jane was published in Victorian 1847 and set in the Georgian era. Neither time period offered women many options other than marriage. Park’s Jane was first published in 2015, when women had a multitude of options, if not equality.

“I wanted to show what would happen if Jane was in the present day,” Park said as she was preparing for the just-released paperback edition book tour, “if my novel would end with that iconic line, ‘Reader, I married him.’”

It took Park...

Review: The Turnip Princess by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth

Review: The Turnip Princess by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth
Reviewed by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

In 2009, folklorists were delighted to learn of the discovery of a cache of 500 unknown Bavarian fairy tales. Unearthed from a municipal archive by German storyteller and fairy tale expert Erika Eichenseer, the tales had been collected in the 1800s by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth, transcribed from his interviews with local Bavarians. By 2010, a portion of the collection, edited by Eichenseer, was published in Germany. This month, Penguin Classics releases The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales in English, the translation by Maria Tatar, Harvard University’s chair of the Program in Folklore and Mythology.

Unlike the more familiar Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen collections, Schönwerth’s renditions of oral Bavarian lore are said to be...

Interview: Patricia Bracewell, Emma of Normandy Trilogy

Interview: Patricia Bracewell, Emma of Normandy Trilogy
Interviewed by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Patricia Bracewell will read at Mysterious Galaxy Books, in San Diego, on Wednesday, February 11 at 7:30 p.m. Mysterious Galaxy is located at 5943 Balboa Ave, San Diego

Patricia Bracewell’s Emma of Normandy Trilogy serves as a graphic reminder of two truths: women make history and women’s history has been woefully under-recorded. Were it not for one of Bracewell’s primary sources, the Encomium Emmae Reginae (In Praise of Queen Emma), fans of historical fiction might not have the joy of reading her trilogy or of learning about Emma, the medieval queen of, at various times, England, Denmark and Norway.

The first book in the trilogy, Shadow on the Crown, introduced Emma as she made a perilous journey...

BOOK REVIEW: Full Measure by T. Jefferson Parker

BOOK REVIEW: Full Measure by T. Jefferson Parker
Reviewed by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Join Parker at Writers Read at Fallbrook Library, 124 S. Mission Road, on Tues, Sep 23, at 6 p.m., for an early launch of Full Measure.

T. Jefferson Parker, a New York Times bestselling author lauded for his vivid crime thrillers, has written what he calls his first literary novel, Full Measure (St. Martin’s Press, October 7, 2014). The novel is ostensibly the story of Patrick Norris, a young Marine returned from war in Afghanistan to face the struggle of transitioning to civilian life in his hometown, bucolic Fallbrook, Calif. Norris’ ranching parents and much of the community have just suffered devastating losses to a wildfire. Norris’ older bother Ted, a troubled ne’er-do-well, is entangled in...

BOOK REVIEW: "In Doubt" by Drusilla Campbell

BOOK REVIEW: "In Doubt" by Drusilla Campbell
Review by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Update: Dru died Friday 24 October 2014. Read her final blog post here. In my experience, writing doesn’t get easier the more you do it. But there is a growth of confidence, not much, but a nugget, like a pearl, like a tumour. … So I’ve got cancer. I’m writing.  – author Jenny Diski, London Review of Books

This was supposed to be a book review. A simple critique of a new novel—In Doubt (Grand Central Publishing, August 26, 2014)—by a nice local author—Drusilla Campbell of San Diego—who writes about painful things with insight and a tender heart—In Doubt, child abuse; When She Came Home, combat-related PTSD; The Good Sister, mental illness.

But how do you stick to a book review...

Book Review: No Safe House by Linwood Barclay

Book Review: No Safe House by Linwood Barclay
Reviewed by Dan McClenaghan

In No Safe House (NAL Hardcover, August 5, 2014), from the internationally bestselling author Linwood Barclay, teenaged Grace Archer has hooked up with the wrong boy. She follows him into an uncertain situation, and things go from bad to horrible, pulling her family into a world of big money crime and vicious, coldhearted murder. Barclay, an American raised in Canada, is one of today's finest thriller writers. In his latest, he has created a layered story with two sets of antagonists, one group only half bad, working the wrong side of the law with a bit of a soft side, a bit of haplessness, like a gang Donald Westlake might have conjured. And another pair, who are deep-down malevolent, vile, like...

Interview: Author Deborah Harkness, All Souls Trilogy

Interview: Author Deborah Harkness, All Souls Trilogy
Interviewed by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

Deborah Harness will be reading from and discussing her final book in the All Souls Trilogy, The Book of Life, at Warwick’s in La Jolla on Friday, July 25, at 7:30 p.m. Reserved seating requires advance purchase of the book from Warwick’s, which can be reached at 858-454-0347.

On July 15, the New York Times bestselling All Souls Trilogy concludes with the release of the final novel in the fantasy series by historian and scholar Deborah Harkness: The Book of Life (Viking, July 15, 2014). The Book of Life offers a conclusion likely to be as auspicious as the series’ 2011 birth with A Discovery of Witches, which received such early and eager praise, it...

Book Review: Scouting for the Reaper by Jacob M. Appel

Book Review: Scouting for the Reaper by Jacob M. Appel
Reviewed by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

The title Scouting for the Reaper (a Black Lawrence Press Hudson Prize winner, published February 2014) might serve as a reader advisory for Jacob M. Appel’s short story collection: Beware the grim, the self-absorbed and self-destructive, the ugly underbelly of the unlovable. Warning delivered, all remaining readers of the stalwart variety may follow the ominous finger pointing into the dark world in which Appel’s characters dwell, most, in the vicinity of the fictional Rhode Island town of Creve Coeur.

That’s French for “broken heart,” and this might suggest the book’s dominant theme, particularly given the incidence of unrequited and unfulfilling loves in the collection, but it is not so. The stories are more about hate, hate of self,...

Book review: Flyover Lives by Diane Johnson

Book review: Flyover Lives by Diane Johnson
Reviewed by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

Have an awful life and live to write about, and you’re on the path to a contemporary memoir. Such memoirs abound on bookstore shelves, with tales of traumatic abuse, shame and suicide, rape, devastating depression, addiction—life’s real horror stories. The best, however, are not only harrowing but beautifully written, Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. But a life’s story need not be heartrending to be interesting, to be memoir-worthy, and bestselling novelist Diane Johnson’s new Flyover Lives is one of those memoirs that proves it.

Flyover Lives is named for the “flyover states,” the seemingly undramatic U.S. Midwest that Johnson’s ancestors helped settle, states...

Book Review: The Girl You Left Behind By Jojo Moyes

Book Review: The Girl You Left Behind By Jojo Moyes
Reviewed by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

Jojo Moyes is the bestselling, English author of Me Before You, considered her “breakout novel” in 2012, after having had eight books published before that.

Her newest novel, The Girl You Left Behind, won kudos last year in Britain, and it was just released in the United States in August (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking). The author will be discussing and signing The Girl You Left Behind Tuesday, September 17, at Warwick’s Books in La Jolla, at 7:30 p.m.

Moyes’ prose in The Girl You Left Behind is often captivating. She gracefully weaves contemporary polemics into a storyline that compels the reader to travel through ambiguity—and time—with her imperfect and fascinating characters.

Part One of The Girl You Left Behind begins in 1916,...

BOOK REVIEW: Circle of Shadows by Imogen Robertson

BOOK REVIEW: Circle of Shadows by Imogen Robertson
Reviewed by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

British novelist Imogen Robertson rose swiftly in the ranks of historical mystery authors with the launch of Instrument of Darkness, her first book in the Westerman/Crowther series. Her latest and fourth book in the series, Circle of Shadows (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, June 2013), secures her position as a writer of lovely prose that transforms a murder and mayhem-laden subgenre into a literary treat.

Circle of Shadows transports Robertson’s oddly compatible 18th-century forensic team—landed widow Harriet Westerman and titled recluse Gabriel Crowther—to the fictional German Duchy of Maulberg. There, they are greeted by a perplexing murder that has cast suspicion on Harriet’s hapless brother-in-law, and a sequence of additional deaths, all embroiled in court intrigue and indiscretions.

Robertson’s complex plot,...

BOOK REVIEW: The Mango Bride by Marivi Soliven

BOOK REVIEW: The Mango Bride by Marivi Soliven
Reviewed by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

Marivi Soliven, a San Diego-based author of short stories and essays, launched her debut novel this May. The Mango Bride (Penguin NAL, May 2013) is a brilliant depiction of gender and immigration issues, bound in the restrictions of family and class.

Writing from the informed position of a Filipina immigrant to the United States, Soliven tells the entwined stories of two Filipino families and their contemporary daughters, Amparo Guerrero, a child of privilege, and Beverly Obejas, of the servant class. Soliven deftly describes the figurative and literal landscapes of Manila as the two girls come of age in their distinct social strata and geographies.

Soliven’s descriptions of Manila scenes are vivid. She pulls us through the throngs who take over...

How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir

How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir
by Amber Dawn  

Review by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Compared to the dearth of little girls who say they want to grow up to be prostitutes, the existence of hundreds of thousands of sex workers in North America suggests there are forces propelling women into the sex trades beyond their free choice, external to their personal “agency.” And, powerful enough to challenge any Gender Studies “sex-positive” stand, is the argument against the purported joys and self-empowerment of sex work inherent in How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir. The new book, to be released by Arsenal Pulp Press May 1, makes this argument eloquently and forcefully while revealing the gifts of author Amber Dawn, those of poet and memoirist.

Dawn, from Vancouver, Canada, made cross-border literary...

Interview: T. Jefferson Parker

Interview: T. Jefferson Parker
Author of the bestselling Charlie Hood series By Kit-Bacon Gressitt



It is spring in Fallbrook, California, the sweet breeze season. Fruit tree blossoms fill the air with the anticipation of nectarous things to come. Songbirds do violent battle over choice aeries. Scarlet camellias bloom, then drop blood petals to the ground. And into this convergence of life and death and nature’s magic, Fallbrook author T. Jefferson Parker launches his new crime thriller, The Famous and the Dead, the sixth and final novel in his bestselling Charlie Hood series.

Parker will be discussing and signing The Famous and the Dead at Fallbrook’s Writers Read, 6 p.m. on Friday, April 19, at the Café des Artistes, and his books will be available for purchase.

Like Fallbrook's...

BOOK REVIEW: Harold Jaffe’s ‘Revolutionary Brain’

BOOK REVIEW: Harold Jaffe’s ‘Revolutionary Brain’
By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Author and SDSU professor Hal Jaffe has released another collection. Revolutionary Brain is the title, and it’s a compilation of things he calls essays and quasi-essays.

That’s one way to describe it. Another might be a bunch of whops upside the head. This is fitting because, if you really read the book—as opposed to skimming it and then googling the online porn he mentions—it’ll certainly grab you and shake you to attention. And it is what Jaffe does with others’ words that makes his writing so riveting. Along with poignant, startling, disturbing. ...

He starts with a snippet of news, a commercial, an online blurb, an interesting person, and “treats” the source material in a way that suggests new meaning.

Now,...