When Cross-Dressing Didn’t Have a Name


I would not have read Earth As It Is had I not been friends with Jan Maher since our days on an AOL message board together. I probably never would have heard of it. But I did hear of it and I did read it, and I’m here to say you should read it, too.

Earth As It Is presented me with one of the most complicated character studies I’ve ever encountered. Charlene Bader comes to Heaven, Indiana in 1945 and sets up a hair salon to which all the women in town quickly gravitate, and for many years they continue to come there—some weekly, some monthly, some only a couple of times a year. Charlene, initially an outsider in an insulated small town, becomes a part of Heaven’s tapestry. Like a mother confessor, she listens to these women’s secrets but shares them with no one, unless, of course, everyone already knows them. But Charlene herself has a secret, and we as readers learn it in the first chapter while the townspeople remain ignorant. Charlene is a man.

I won’t detail the hows and whys of Charlie Bader’s evolution into Charlene Bader. I leave it to the book to skillfully and gently take the reader there. I will say, however, that as reader who is also a writer, I found myself wanting to know how Ms. Maher had navigated her way through the dark spaces of a character who came of age in the 1920s, had married, then slowly evolved into the woman we come to know in Heaven. In those days (as if these days are all that different), one didn’t share such a horrible revelation with anyone for fear of being run out of town or worse. It was a secret tightly wound into the psyche.

This is a brilliant tale which could have easily slipped into the grotesque, but Maher handles every character, every situation, every nuanced detail with the simplicity and grace which a setting like Heaven, Indiana deserves. I came to love and admire Charlene Bader. A short way into the book, I looked to the end to see how many pages there were to read and came across the “Book Club Guide.” I read the first question. “What does the title Earth As It Is mean to you?” I pondered this question as I read, and when I finished, I realized that although my initial take on the title—that everything that happens in the story is earth as it is, life as it is—may have been in part on point, I had missed it. But never fear. Ms. Maher supplies the answer in the end.

Wild Ride: All the Pretty Bones by Camela Thompson

All the Pretty Bones by Camela Thompson is a fun ride for the paranormal reader. Check it out. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Details: Things can’t get much worse for Olivia Kardos. Stalked for the greater part of 10 years by a psychopath, Olivia learns that she is dying of cancer. So where can a storyteller take the reader from there? Sounds closer to the end than the beginning. Au contraire!

Olivia decides that before her life is over she is going to free herself from the crazy man forever watching her; she’s going to kill him. Does she succeed? I’m not telling. But the head-spinning twists and turns this amusement park ride of a tale inflicts on the reader are significantly more than satisfying.

What I particularly enjoyed about this story was the way in which none of the characters is truly all bad or all good. Nobody gets away with phoning in their performance. Even the psychopath, though unsympathetic, occasionally comes off as sad as he is horrific.

I highly recommend All the Pretty Bones. It’s a smart book. Ms. Thompson posits a world where vampires and demons exist just below the surface of what humans are aware of, and she weaves them in and out, taking her time revealing them. I love the way she ties the knot tighter and tighter as we approach what the reader knows is going to be a complicated ending, then brings everyone on stage to play their parts exactly as she has planned.

Review – Veronica Phoenix

The opening chapter of Veronica Phoenix by Jim Proctor grabbed me and catapulted me into a great and glorious journey with Carl Wilkins, captain of a deep-space salvage vessel. Early on, it becomes clear that poor Carl has not yet learned the lesson that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. However, Carl is a believable character with whom I became invested almost immediately upon meeting him, and I enjoyed this book for its nail-biting adventure and Carl’s personal development as he works his way out of the life-threatening fix he’s ended up in.

I found the prose easy to read, and I appreciated the careful knack Proctor has of navigating the pitfalls of technical details—educating us without overwhelming us with information. His writing style is well crafted, and he moves the story along, handing us new revelations just at the moment when we need them and not before.

I did have a problem with the ending. I felt that Proctor lost focus, skipping over Carl’s redemption, while the ah-ha moment of an unlikable, minor character gained an importance it (and he) didn’t deserve. The writing remained consistent, but the story took a dip there for me.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to readers of Science Fiction and those who appreciate the character study of a well-defined anti-hero. Proctor has written his finest work yet, and although I could only give it 4 stars because of my personal quibble with the ending, this book is well worth reading.

I am Malala, a Review

“A Talib fires three shots at point-blank range at three girls in a van and doesn’t kill any of them. This seems an unlikely story, and people say I have made a miraculous recovery…. I know God stopped me from going to the grave. It feels like this life is a second life. People prayed to God to spare me, and I was spared for a reason—to use my life for helping people. When people talk about the way I was shot and what happened, I think it’s the story of Malala, ‘a girl shot by the Taliban’; I don’t feel it’s a story about me at all.”

From Chapter 24, “They Have Snatched Her Smile,” I am Malala

Malala. I write that name, and the recognition is near-universal. Like Cher and Madonna and others before her, only one name defines her—Malala, the girl who was shot by the Taliban and survived.

In October of 2012, awareness of Malala Yousafzai, though worldwide, exploded as the news of the attempt on her life lit up every cable news network, every news web site and the social media. She had been shot in the head, and we couldn’t help but believe that her sweet, strident voice in support of education, especially for girls, had been silenced forever. That she survived, mind, voice and values intact, is a miracle. She gives the credit to God and her doctors, and I agree.

I began reading I am Malala: The Girl who Stood up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban and immediately heard her voice telling the story. Christina Lamb deserves a great deal of credit as co-writer because although Malala is an intelligent, talented young woman, certainly capable of writing this autobiography on her own, when in this last busy year could she have found the time?  Instead, Ms. Lamb, a journalist familiar with Pakistan and its history, obviously completed a great deal of detailed research as well as many, many interviews in order to share not only Malala’s story but the history and culture of the region of Swat where Malala grew up.

I spoke of the voice in the book. It never falters. I was constantly aware of a young girl’s love and joy surrounding her family, her friends and her teachers. With the amount of historical information conveyed, one would assume that it could get boring to those of us who find history tedious. But, no. I felt as though Malala herself was whispering in my ear, occasionally putting her hand up to her mouth as she sometimes does during interviews. And the beauty of what she was whispering!  The valley of Swat appeared before me as a little bit of heaven dropped down to earth, and rather than enticing me to close up the book with a yawn, the chronicles of its people, the Pashtun, and of Pakistan going back hundreds of years enthralled me.

This is a marvelous book, beautifully written, and one as important as The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I highly recommend it, especially to girls in middle and high school.

At the very end of the book, Malala says, “I am Malala. My world has changed but I have not.”  I think that about says it all.