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‘Horse Girls’ will love this book

Finding freedom in the saddle after marginalization

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(Image courtesy of Harper Perennial)

‘Horse Girls’
Edited by Halimah Marcus
c.2021, Harper Perennial
$17/304 pages

You were determined not to get bit.

But in a totally different meaning of the word, you were equally determined that your horse would accept one. Without a bit in his mouth, he wouldn’t turn, slow down, or stop when you wanted to ride – and of course, as in “Horse Girls,” edited by Halimah Marcus, the ride’s the thing.

Or is a sense of freedom the best part of owning a horse? Many girls think so, while others just want their very own Flicka or Ginger or Pie. Whatever it is, Marcus says that there’s a difference between “horse girls” and “a horsewoman.” The latter, she writes, is “tough, no-nonsense… riding every day… unsentimental about horses but devoted to them for life” – unlike many of the women in this book who gave up riding as young women and re-established their love for it later in life.

But what makes a horse girl?

Marginalization, in the stories here. These horse girls often felt shame for not fitting the norm, for being queer, Black, “chubby” or poor – but they still loved horses. Some of the writers are lesbians, but they didn’t understand it until their girlhoods were over. Alex Marzano-Lesnevich writes of cross-dressing cowboys in history; Sarah Enelow-Snyder writes about Black cowboys and of “curly Afros shoved into unaccommodating cowboy hats.” C. Morgan Babst writes of cruelty and anorexia, a two-pronged part of her childhood.

Horse girls worry. A lot. They worry about where their horses went after they were sold or given away. On the day she got it, Adrienne Celt worried about how she was going to bury her horse if it died. They worry about disappointing horse-loving parents, and they fret about the best way to introduce their daughters to riding.

They ride with joy. They met spouses through horses. They remember the smell of a box that once contained a plastic horse – because, says T Kira Madden, “the thing about a horse is, it’s never about the horse.”

Nope, it’s also about stories. Fifteen of them, to be exact, all inside “Horse Girls,” but unless you’re the horsey-type, you grew up in a saddle, or your shelves once held plastic 1:9-scale horses, you can just mosey along. In that case, you’ll haaaaate this book and that’s OK. It’s not for you anyhow.

If you fit the former, though, pommel, stirrup, and all, then editor Halimah Marcus offers stories you’ll devour, stories of loving horses, even when (especially when!) doing so made you an anomaly. There’s strength in that but loss also looms large here, particularly loss of childhood, innocence, or imagination. Fortunately for many of these storytellers and for the readers invited along on this ride, though, recollections are resolved, reasons for them are reconciled, and the endings are mostly satisfying.

If you ever trotted around the yard, pretending to be a horse, or if you actually spent your girlhood in a saddle, this book will bring back memories. “Horse Girls” is a book you won’t want to miss, not even a little bit.

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A bisexual coming-of-age tale with heart

‘Things We Couldn’t Say’ offers pleasant surprises

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(Book cover image courtesy of Scholastic)

‘Things We Couldn’t Say’
By Jay Coles
c.2021, Scholastic $18.99/320 pages

You’d like an explanation, please.

Why something is done or not, why permission is denied, you’d like to hear a simple reason. You’ve been asking “Why?” since you were two years old but now the older you get, the more urgent is the need to know – although, in the new book “Things We Couldn’t Say” by Jay Coles, there could be a dozen becauses.

Sometimes, mostly when he didn’t need it to happen, Giovanni Zucker’s birth mother took over his thoughts.

It wasn’t as though she was the only thing he had to think about. Gio was an important part of the basketball team at Ben Davis High School; in fact, when he thought about college, he hoped for a basketball scholarship. He had classes to study for, two best friends he wanted to hang out with, a little brother who was his reason to get up in the morning, and a father who was always pushing for help at the church he ran. As for his romantic life, there wasn’t much to report: Gio dated girls and he’d dated guys and he was kinda feeling like he liked guys more.

So no, he didn’t want to think about his birth mother. The woman who walked out on the family when Gio was a little kid didn’t deserve his consideration at all. There was just no time for the first woman who broke his heart.

It was nice to have distractions from his thoughts. Gio’s best friends had his back. He knew pretty much everybody in his Indianapolis neighborhood. And the guy who moved across the street, a fellow b-baller named David, was becoming a good friend.

A very good friend. David was bisexual, too.

But just as their relationship was beginning, the unthinkable happened: Gio’s birth mother reached out, emailed him, wanted to meet with him, and he was torn. She said she had “reasons” for abandoning him all those years ago, and her truth was not what he’d imagined.

There are a lot of pleasant surprises inside “Things We Couldn’t Say.”

From the start, author Jay Coles gives his main character a great support system, and that’s a uniquely good thing. Gio enjoys the company of people who want the best for him, and it’s refreshing that even the ones who are villains do heroic things.

Everyone in this book, in fact, has heart, and that softens the drama that Coles adds – which leads to another nice surprise: there’s no overload of screeching drama here. Overwrought teen conflict is all but absent; even potential angsts that Gio might notice in his urban neighborhood are mentioned but not belabored. This helps keep readers focused on a fine, relatable, and very realistic coming-of-age story line.

This book is aimed at readers ages 12-and-up, but beware that there are a few gently explicit, but responsibly written, pages that might not be appropriate for kids in the lower target range. For older kids and adults, though, “Things We Couldn’t Say” offers plenty of reasons to love it.

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Books

KTLA Morning: ‘Made in California,’ new book details iconic food brands

Author George Geary joined KTLA’s morning crew live to discuss his new book “Made in California” which details California-born food brands

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Screenshot via KTLA

LOS ANGELES – Author George Geary joined KTLA’s morning crew live to discuss his new book “Made in California,” which details California-born food and drink brands.

Visit George’s website for more information.

This segment aired on the KTLA 5 Morning News on Sept. 24, 2021:

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Books

Six books not to miss this fall

Memoirs, love stories, and ballroom await

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‘Unprotected: A Memoir’ by Billy Porter is out next month. (Book cover image courtesy Abrams Press)

Staying inside and curling up always seems like a great idea but in the fall, it almost feels urgent, doesn’t it? The great news is that there are a lot of good reads slated this fall for the LGBTQ reader.

Not your normal coming-of-age tale, “A Tale of Two Omars” by Omar Sharif, Jr. is the story of the author’s youth during the Arab Spring in 2010. But that’s only the launching point for the rest of the story: Sharif, the grandson of the great actor Omar Sharif, writes of his grandfather and the rest of his scattered family, and visiting them on various continents. He also writes of danger: a job he took that wasn’t the kind of work he thought it was, and the threats he received for speaking out about his homosexuality in homophobic Egypt. It’s a thrilling book, salted with memoir and you’ll love it. (October)

If you’re obsessed with the most recent incarnation of “Cinderella,” then you’ll likewise want to have “Unprotected: A Memoir” by Billy Porter on your shelf. This is a story in the author’s own words, about growing up Black and gay, raised by parents who hope to change the latter, and seizing the strength to stay use your talents and stay the course. (October)

Who doesn’t want it all?  In the memoir “Greedy: Notes from a Bi-Sexual Who Wants Too Much” by Jen Winston, the author humorously examines what it means to be bisexual, why coming out as bi is fraught with landmines; dating, pronouns, sex, and more. Yes, you can have it (almost) all. (October)

Nightlife in Seoul is the backdrop for “Love in the Big City” by Sang Young Park, translated by Anton Hur. It’s the story of a young gay man and his best female friend, and the fun they have exploring the clubs and bars in Seoul. As with many friendships, they both change and he is left to look for the love of his life alone. Fun, sassy, and poignant, this was a big best-selling debut novel in Korea. (November)

If something on the light side appeals to you, look for “The Coldest Touch” by Isabel Sterling. It’s a novel about a young woman who knows how someone will die, just by touching them. Understandably, she’d love to lose that power, until a young vampire is sent to help her, and they fall in love. Can the two thwart the danger in their town that’s coming from another, more sinister, paranormal figure? This is a book for young adults, but grown-up readers who love vampire stories will love biting into it.  (December)

And finally, for the reader with creativity and movement in their bones, “And the Category Is…: Inside New York’s Vogue, House, and Ballroom Community” by Ricky Tucker is what you’ll want this fall. Go into an “underground subculture” for Black and Latinx trans and queer people, where marginalized LGBTQ individuals find acceptance, family, and help. With its roots in Harlem more than a century ago, you might not think you know much about ballroom, but you’ll be surprised… (December). Season’s readings!

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