Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Rainbow Reader Very Best of 2013 Awards

Today is December 24, 2013—Christmas Eve. 

One of the most sacred days in Christendom, this inheritance of Jewish tradition is rooted firmly in the biblical story of Creation:

"And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.”
         - Genesis 1:5 (King James Version)

Nations, cultures, and religions around the globe celebrate Christmas Eve in vastly different ways. For instance, in Iceland, the six week long Christmas celebration is called Jól, and its formally announced by the tolling of bells across the countryside on December 24th. 

The traditional Icelandic Christmas is framed around 13 Santa-type figures. Known as Yule Lads—a different one comes every night for 13 days to knock on the windows of children, and bring them presents. They are joined by their mother, Grýla, part troll and part animal. She is responsible for teaching all the naughty children good lessons. This non-traditional family is then completed by a fashion-conscious Yule Cat who eats any person who has not received an article of clothing as a gift.

Rumor has it that the legendary character of Miranda Priestly, from The Devil Wears Prada, was based on the Icelandic Yule Cat.

Here in good, old Winston-Salem, North Carolina, we listen to Christmas Carols, eat stollen for breakfast, and debate how early is too early to start pouring the good wine.

We like to think this tradition is based loosely on the Moravian Lovefeast.

So, once again, in an effort to clear my calendar such that I may properly get “in the holiday spirit” (i.e., ebrius funditus,) I hereby declare:

Yea verily, another year is officially gearing down, flipping on it’s bright yellow turn signal, and aiming its scrunched up little nose towards the exit ramp for Auld Lang Syne.

And as the year careens around the late December cloverleaf of festivities, I want to take you back through The Rainbow Reader reviews, and bestow the Very Best of 2013 Awards.

However, before we jump into the good stuff, I want to mention that in the last twelve months, TRR had the honor and privilege of reviewing 17 books; and was fortunate enough to post Guest Reviews by the ruby-red, sparkly peep toe slingback Louboutin wearing Michelle Brooks, and the fabulous and feisty Jeanne Barrett Magill.  In April, TRR welcomed it’s 100,000th visitor, and in May I authored the epic diatribe, The Lesfic Boomtown Foretold: A Cautionary Tale by Salem West. In June, I was honored to moderate two panels and participate in another at the annual Golden Crown Literary Conference in Dallas. And, in November, I had the distinct honor of publishing the novel, Hoosier Daddy: A Heartland Romance, with my wife and co-author, Ann McMan.

Not a bad run for a twitchy little dyke in transition lenses, eh?

But seriously, as a reviewer, my most solemn goal is to cover the full spectrum of lesbian literature, such that authors have an expanding platform to showcase their work, and readers can consistently find books and stories that they love.  To that end, in 2013 TRR took on a few mainstream books, an interactive app, fantastika, a Halloween romance collection, an audio book, and a handful of humor, romance, social commentary, and period works of fiction.

Heck, I even reviewed books about space pirates, and a chess savant in a box just to cover as many Lesfic bases as possible.

But, I will admit that 2013 was a very hectic year for me, and I didn't get to read and review as many books as I had hoped. However, with 2014, I'm committing to the authors, publishers, and readers to blog on a more regular schedule and kick things up a notch or two in the process.

Much as I do every year, I want to extend special and sincere thanks to each and every one of my Victims (i.e., the brave and valiant authors and their publishers) for having the guts, grit, and determination to make your work available.  It takes an amazing amount of talent to write a book, and it takes a constitution of steel to voluntarily become vulnerable to a world of readers and reviewers, and our myriad, sketchy opinions.  

I also want to thank you, The Readers, for stopping by to read my reviews.  Many of you have left comments on this blog, which I appreciate.  Many others have sent me emails or contacted me on Facebook, and I want to thank each of you for letting me know what you think and what you’d like me to talk about next.

So, with no further ado, I present The Rainbow Reader’s Very Best of 2013 Awards

Book Title
All That Lies Within
Lynn Ames
Phoenix Rising Press
The Gloria Swanson I'm Ready For My Close-up Award
Beyond the Pale
Elana Dykewomon
Open Road Media
The ILGWU Uprising of 20,000 Award for Taking It To The Man
Family Jewels
Kate Christie
Bella Books'
The Alexandre Dumas La Tulipe Noire Award for Twenty-Something Dyke Drama on the Streets of Antwerp
Carla Tomaso
Carma Publishing
The Joan Crawford Reanimated Mother of the Year Award
In Between
Jane Hoppen
Bold Strokes Books
The Inaugural Julia Child Freshness Is Essential Award for Making All The Difference
Letters Never Sent
Sandra Moran
Bedazzled Ink Publishing
The F. Lee Bailey Award for Most Lawsuits Generated by a Debut Novel Set in Kansas
Spoon & the Moon
Marie Davis/Margaret Hult
Wickedly Sisters/Davis Studio, LLC
The California Milk Processor Board's Got Milk Award for Best Bovine She-Bop
Starting From Scratch
Georgia Beers
Brisk Press/Dogear Audio
The Nina Totenberg Award for Clearest Enunciation During a Foyer Sex Sceene
Step Into the Wind
Bev Prescott
Blue Feather Publishing
The Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom Award for Angst Wrestling in an Eco-Friendly Environment
Tactical Pursuit
Lynette Mae
Regal Crest Enterprises
The Cagney and Lacey Award for Romantic Excellence in a Heart-Pounding Cop Story
The Daughter Star
Jane Bigelow
Candlemark & Gleam
The Iain M. Banks Consider Phleabus Award for Deft Handling of Culture Wars in a Lesbian Novel
The Edge of Rebellion
Andi Marquette
Bedazzled Ink Publishing
The Vernor Vinge Award for Best Use of Zooming Space Ships With That Go “Pew! Pew! Pew!”
The Ghost and the Machine
Bennie Lawrence
Bedazzled Ink Publishing
The Boris Spassky Leningrad Variation for White in the Nimzo-Indian Award for Best Opening Move From a Box
The Passion of Alice
Stephanie Grant
Bantam Books
The Mel Gibson Award for Innovative Use of Biblical Metaphors
The Pyramid Waltz
Barbara Ann Wright
Bold Strokes Books
The  Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve Award for Sexiest Beast in a Land Far, Far Away
When The Clock Strikes Thirteen
Ylva Publishing
The Things That Go Bump & Grind In The Night Award
Women Float
Maureen Foley
CCCLaP Publishing
The Neptune's Daughter Award for Esther Williams Envy

Well, that's it for TRR in 2013—here’s wishing each and every one of you a safe, happy, healthy, and festive holiday season, and a 2014 full of joy, love, peace, laughter, and wonder!

And, as always, thanks for stopping by The Rainbow Reader.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In Between by Jane Hoppen

Book:  In Between
Author:  Jane Hoppen
Publisher:  Bold Strokes Books

Yin and Yang—Fire and Ice—Wet and Dry—Right and Wrong—Us and Them—God and Man—Male and Female. 


Coincidentia oppositorum . . . the simultaneous occurrence of opposites.

Things aren’t always black and white, and it isn’t a new concept.

“Being and non-being produce one another.
Hard depends on easy,
Long is tested by short,
High is determined by low.”
Tào Té Chīng, Laozi,

“The way up and the way down are one and the same.”
- Heraclitus

“For I am knowledge and ignorance.

I am shame and boldness.

I am shameless; I am ashamed.

I am strength and I am fear.

I am war and peace.”
- The Thunder, Perfect Mind

Reaching back to Ancient Greece, we are introduced to Hermaphroditus, a mythological figure who was the son of the gods Hermes and Aphrodite. While he bathed in a fountain, the nymph Salmacis fell in love with him and wished to be united with him. The gods heard her desire and fulfilled it by joining the two together forever.

Plato saw the hermaphroditic nature as the one and true origin of our race. In The Symposium he states that “First of all, the races of human beings were three, not as now, male and female; for there was also a third race that shared in both, a race whose name still remains, though it itself has vanished. For at that time one race was androgynous, and in looks and name it combined both, the male as well as the female; but now it does not exist except for the name that is reserved for reproach.”

Questions about the nature of humanity began to drift in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. In particular, during the late 15th century, scholastic natural philosophers began to construct theories in which sexual difference played a key role in religious and cultural norms. These scholars identified the absence of distinct sex as a key characteristic of nonhumans—plants, animals, and demons. It was argued that humans who displayed multiple sexes, or the attributes of multiple sexes, bordered on “beasts,” and therefore lost the subjectivity and dignity relegated to humanity.

Still, prior to the 19th century, most intersexed individuals led largely unremarkable lives. Their genital and reproductive peculiarities were, for the most part, accepted as a variation which occured throughout nature—including other mammals, reptiles, birds, plants, and insects.

But, as medicine and psychology became more “scientific,” intersex morphed into a medical issue, and intersexed individuals were suddenly classified as “abnormal” and “diseased.” The thrust of medicine in the last century has been on “curing” intersexed individuals by using surgical, hormonal, and psychological therapies to make them unequivocally male or female.  Usually at or near birth, and almost always before the individual has a chance to figure out who and what they inherently are.

As a result, many intersexed individuals have suffered severe psychological and physical damage from modern medicine’s attempts to make them distinctly male or female, instead of heeding strong empirical evidence that, through history, intersexed individuals have lived normal, happy lives without intervening medical treatment.

In Between, the debut novel by author, Jane Hoppen, tells the sordid coming of age story of a child born into a world that has lost it’s capability to understand just how normal different can really be. The year was 1963, and Mary and Max Schmidt had just welcomed their second child into the world when Dr. Willit said “Your baby is healthy, but . . .” The “but” came in the form of male and female parts, neither of which were well developed. Against instinct, the young parents followed the advice of the doctors, and allowed their new baby to go through a series of medical procedures to be rendered more female.

A smart and precocious tomboy, Sophie, at the age of fourteen, discovers the truth of how she was really born. Hurt, angry, and confused, she begins a journey to discover more about who she is, and find others born like her. From high school to college and the working world, Sophie begins to understand the science. But when she finally meets a woman she can love, she has to find a way to move beyond her issue of self-acceptance.  

With all deference to The Birdcage, Jane Hoppen’s In Between is “an epic piece full of mythic themes.” And, make no mistake, In Between is Sophie Schmidt’s story—only she would have likely preferred it be titled Sophie’s Choice. But, Sophie wasn’t given a choice to figure out who she really was, because that decision was made for her shortly after birth. Her anger, hurt, and self-pity come directly as a result of her confusion. What, if any, parts of me are male? What, if any, parts of me are female? Am I both? Am I neither?

She understands that she is normal in so many ways, but being normal doesn’t change the fact that she is different. Sophie is smart and rational, and she knows there have to be other people out there like her. But where are they and how do you find them?

And as she grows from angry teen into self-sheltered adult, she begins to learn that there really is a world full of other people who are normal but different, too. And not just because they are intersexed like her, but because they are gay, lesbian, transgender, and transsexual. She wakes up to her own depth of involuntary prejudice, and begins to understand how hard her path to self-acceptance really is.

Sophie has a built-in support network in the Schmidts, the classic corn-fed, god-fearing, hard-working All-American family. Mary and Max are steadfast in their love and support of their two children. Grandma Evelyn is a bitter divorcée who clings to her religion, but who finally comes to peace with her youngest granddaughter when she admits she wants her to have a happy life and sexual satisfaction. Older sister Holly is both friend and foe to the enigmatic young Sophie, but becomes one of her fiercest and most loyal supporters as Sophie begins her uncertain journey to enlightenment. Farmhand, Cal, is an unlikely beacon of light to Sophie as he lives his life as a cautious gay man who takes a chance on love, and finds a place he belongs.

The family dynamic pitches and rolls with each tempest in Sophie’s journey, and each character shows strength and weakness, and eventually a peace that passes all understanding.

Author Jane Hoppen
Jane Hoppen’s In Between is more than the tale of one person’s search for personal truth—it is a story about what it means to occupy the complex middle ground between male and female, living with the choices made by others, and trusting yourself enough to trust others. For Sophie, the journey to adulthood is fraught with anger, confusion, and self-pity, but tempered and strengthened by love.

Jane Hoppen's heroic portrayal of Sophie's struggle is classic in its structure, and contemporary in its content—it is a tender and honest examination of a battle that is increasingly relevant to each and every one of us.