Category Archives: Book Review

The Polyamorous Home First Review

The Polyamorous Home is now up for preorder as an ebook. I’m working on getting the paperback up. In the meantime, Dr. Elizabeth Sheff just shared her review with me. Check it out:

Review of The Polyamorous Home by Jess Mahler

With a great discussion of individual versus group needs and lots of helpful examples, Mahler’s new book The Polyamorous Home is a thoughtful and informative look at how polys can structure their living arrangements. From negotiating boundaries, sharing a kitchen or bathroom, working out finances, managing holidays, and dealing with changes like the onset of a disability, to personal/relational space, sleeping arrangements. legal hassles, solo poly homes, sharing housework, and exit plans, The Polyamorous Home is chock full of useful tips for new and long-time polyamorists.

Elisabeth Sheff, author of The Polyamorists Next Door (2014), Stories from the Polycule (2015), and When Someone you Love is Polyamorous (2016).

 

The Polyamorous Home by Jess Mahler

Book Review: When Someone You Love Is Polyamorous by Dr. Elizabeth Sheff

book review when someone you love is polyamorousA few years ago, I said that with Dr. Sheff’s The Polyamorist’s Next Door we finaly had a book to share with friends and family trying to understand polyamory. Dr. Sheff has done herself one better.

When Someone You Love Is Polyamorous is a clearly laid out book that introduces the basic concepts of polyamory in simple, easy to understand language. Topics include advantages and challenges of polyamory, why are people polyamorous, and children in polyamory.

Dr. Sheff doesn’t sugarcoat the problems in polyamory, including the lack of diversity among people willing and able to be openly polyamorous. She does lay out clearly what polyamory is, why it works for some people, and why it isn’t cheating or religious-style polygyny. I especially appreciate Dr. Sheff’s taking the time to explain why many poly folk want to “come out” to friends and family, and how friends and family can be supportive.

There are two things I would have liked to see in this book. The first is an explicit acknowledgement of the variety in polyamory. Dr. Sheff does describe several different ways people structure polyamorous relationships. Still I would have liked to see something like “Every polyamorous relationship is different. What you see in TV or the media may not be anything like the relationships your loved ones form.”

The other I would have liked to see addressed is abuse. You’d think “non-abusive” would be covered under “ethical” “honest” and “consensual.” But I’ve known a number of people who believed a poly relationship had to be abusive or coercive. Best to grasp that bull by the horns. “People who don’t understand polyamory may fear their loved one is being abused. The vast majority of polyamorous relationships are non-abusive and abuse seems to occur in polyamory (about as often/slightly more often/slightly less often) than in monogamy. If you have specific concerns about the way your loved one is being treated in their relationships, don’t focus on polyamory. Instead talk with your lloved ones about the specific issues that concern you.”

Those two points aside, When Someone You Love Is Polyamorous is a well written and useful book. I recommend it for anyone considering coming out to their friends and family, or anyone who has come out but is having trouble getting their loved ones to understand and accept their relationships.

Book Review Ask Me About Polyamory: The Best of Kimchi Cuddles, by Tikva Wolf

For years, Kimchi Cuddles webcomic has floated in and out of my various feeds. It cropped up on Facebook, was shared on Twitter, linked to by other poly bloggers. So when I was asked to review Ask Me About Polyamory: The Best of Kimchi Cuddles, I was already familiar with the webcomic. But I’d never been a regular reader. Having only seen random comics, I got the impression that Kimchi was a series of stand-alone comics, and not an on-going storyline*.

So Ask Me About Polyamory was my first close look at the work of Tikva Wolf.

Gentlepeople, if you only buy one book about polyamory, I encourage you to buy this one. Skip the long wordy explanations writers like myself delight in. You don’t need them. Proving that a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, Tikva has captured the essence of poly life in these delightful comics.

For the first time ever I have not one single criticism to offer. I could go on raving about how much I love this book, but I think you get the point. And I’ve got several years of webcomic archives to catch up on.

Happy reading!

*Unlike many comics, Kimchi Cuddles strips work equally well as standalone and series. A quirk that Ask Me About Polyamory makes good use of.

Book Review: Designer Relationships by Mark A. Michael and Patricia Johnson

Designer Relationships is actually two books. The first half is an exploration of why we need designer relationships. It delves into the history of monogamy, how modern monogamy developed and functions, why modern monogamy is failing, reasons individuals and couples might want to create a designer relationship, and the wide range of relationship styles that people are exploring as an alternative to modern monogamy.

The second half is a how-to book for building your own designer relationship. It looks at what you want out of your relationship(s), things to consider when creating a designer relationship, issues of trust, jealousy, and insecurity, and much more.

Designer Relationships is unabashedly couple-centric. As the authors explain, their primary audience is couples who are not comfortable with modern monogamy and are ready to explore alternatives. That makes it a poor read for many poly-folk who have no interest in a couple-focused approach to relationships. However, if you are new to polyamory or non-monogamy, whether you are part of a couple or not, you will find many ideas and concepts well worth exploring.

One area where the authors impressed me was their approach to rules. I believe they have proposed a use of rules in relationships that even Franklin Veaux couldn’t object to. As long as you follow these rules with everyone you are involved with. Instead of rules for how the relationship works, Designer Relationships proposes rules for yourself. Rules focused on how you treat your partners. “I will be as honest with you as I can.” If you prefer a rules-based approach to relationships, you definitely need to read this.

As the proposed rule above suggests, the authors take it as a given that we are all human and we all screw-up. There are times we can’t be honest with each other. There are times we hurt each other. There are times we make mistakes. And these times don’t make us or our relationships failures. They are just part of being human and something we and our partner(s) need to work through. This view has often been absent from books on polyamory. I’ve heard several people say they felt if they weren’t perfect they couldn’t be polyamorous. I’d love to see the authors approach of assuming mistakes and problems will happen–and that’s normal–in more poly-focused material.

There are quite a few areas where Designer Relationships contradicts the Big Book of Poly (not necessarily a bad thing). There are also several areas where I disagree with the authors. (Pet peeve: Romeo and Juliet was not a romance, damn it! It was about teenage infatuation, NOT love. Shakespeare wrote LOTS of romances and love stories with happy endings…okay, okay, irrelevant…grumble grumble.) Ahem. Several areas where I disagree with the authors in their advice for relationships. However, I found the vast majority of their ideas and suggestions valuable. And advice books are always “use what works, ignore what doesn’t.”

Unfortunately, I found the writing style unengaging. This was made worse by long divergences into unrelated topics. (Extended discussion of prenuptial contracts and other types of relationship contracts, how they work, their purpose etc, before saying that contracts are a bad idea in designer relationships.) Actually reading through the book was a challenge. Of course, writing styles are a very personal thing and what annoyed me may just be your cup of tea.

Overall, I highly recommend Designer Relationships for folks who are considering breaking away from the constraints of modern monogamy, couples (monogamous or not) who want to make a conscious decision about what kind of relationship they want, and anyone new to non-monogamy who wants a broader idea of the options available to them. People in established non-monogamous relationships who are finding their current approach to non-monogamy isn’t working will also find a lot of valuable ideas.

If you happy in your current relationship approach, then you may or may not find some useful ideas in this book. It’s worth reading if you get a chance.

Book Review: Stories from the Polycule, edited by Dr. Eli Sheff

I once again owe Eli Sheff an apology. For whatever reason, I am not able to get reviews of her books up in a timely manner. Granted, “timely” is not something I am good at the best of times.

With that out of the way, let me actually talk about Stories from the Polyculestories from the polycule.

Stories from the Polycule is a collection of stories, essays, poems, and pictures from polyamorous people and their families. Stories of what happens when polyamory goes wrong, of what it’s like when it works. Of raising children in polyamorous families. Some entries are barely a page long, others could be chapters in themselves.

Each one gives a unique and insightful look at polyamorous life.

I could point to specific entries that touched me. Or areas that maybe didn’t work for me. But like all anthologies, what is meaningful or important will be different for each reader.

What I will say is that Stories from the Polycule is the first collection of our stories. The stories of life and love in polyamorous relationships. It is the answer to every “what is it like” question. To “what about jealousy?” to “but don’t you want kids?” It is the collective answer of dozens of poly folks to the question “What does polyamory mean?”

It isn’t a perfect picture of polyamory. It doesn’t show every nuance, every relationship, every challenge. But it is a picture of who we are. And that picture is pretty awesome.

Stories from the Polycule is published by Thorntree Press. I am a contributor to the anthology, and received a free copy in return for my review.

Book Review: The Game Changer by Franklin Veaux

the game changer by franklin veauxI had hoped to post a joint review here, as monogamous friend volunteered to read The Game Changer with me and share their thoughts and reactions. Unfortunately that didn’t work out so without further ado, here is my take on The Game Changer.

You that “watching a train wreck in slow motion” feeling? I lost count of how often I got that reading this book. As someone whose been (more or less) involved in poly for over a decade now, I’ve made most of the easy mistakes. Franklin would start a new section with something like “and we decided this, and had no idea how we were setting ourselves up for disaster.” And I would already be mentally tracing the lines of disaster, shaking my head and thinking “Yup, I remember being that (naive/foolish/culturally brainwashed/oblivious).”

This is why I wanted a monogamous (or at least inexperienced poly person’s) take on The Game Changer. it must be a completely different read for those of us who haven’t been around the block long enough to see those disasters coming a mile away.

I won’t go into the details of Franklin’s story here. I will say that the title is fitting. There is a Game Changer in the story, and after the change hits, the game is no longer recognizable as what it once was.

In spite of the almost complete lack of surprise in any of the major “plot twists,” I had trouble putting the book down. As usual, Franklin has an engaging writing style, a way of working humor, self awareness, and bulls-eye insight into his narrative that makes for an engrossing read.

It seems that we, as a culture, understand that if we leave kids to teach themselves math or history or literature, few people will end up being good at those things. So we have developed formal systems of education to teach people, to help them become productive members of society. But we don’t teach them communication, compassion, forgiveness, empathy, or many other skills we need to become fully formed human beings. We leave kids to figure that stuff out on their own. The results are about what we might expect if we left them, say, to deduce the laws of algebra by themselves. The difference is that most of us need interpersonal skills a lot more than we need algebra.

If Franklin’s writing suffers from any flaw, it is a tendency to take a US-centric view, which has occasionally been criticized in his advice on polyamory. However in a memoir, that kind of cultural focus is not just expected, it is required.

Perhaps the most important thing I took away from The Game Changer is a new perspective on the poly approach to honesty and communication:

Self awareness is a prerequisite for open and honest communication. We can’t tell others the truth of our feelings and needs if we refuse to face them and admit them to ourselves.

The Game Changer by Franklin Veaux will be available on September 23, 2015, from Thorntree Press.

Polyamory Book Review: The Husband Swap

The Husband Swap, by Louisa Leontiades

The Husband Swap, by Louisa Leontiades

This week I had the chance to read an advance reader copy of the second edition of The Husband Swap, by Louisa Leontiades. The Husband Swap is the story of Louisa’s journey into polyamory, and her first poly relationship, a quad between herself, her husband and another couple, Morten and Elena.

It was a difficult, and somewhat triggering, read for me. Louisa’s painful and love-filled journey through her first polyamorous relationship called up many memories of my own quad and our time together. Like my own family, Louisa’s quad does not survive itself, but is torn apart under the pressure of the incompatible personalities, including some who may simply have been unsuited to polyamory.

This is not a happy poly story. This is not a tale of how polyamory works, or how much more “advanced” polyamory is. Fans of HEA romance will likely be disappointed in both the ending and the brutally simple way Louisa tells her story, without the dramatics or flair of plot-driven fiction. Fans of polyamory will likely be disappointed in the ending of the relationship, the failure of the book to flag-waving paean to the wonders of poly life.

Perhaps that is why, like More Than Two, this is a book that polyamory needs.

The Husband Swap is the tale of Gilles and Louisa, Elena and Morten. It is the story of Louisa’s discovery of herself. It is a memoir of polyamory—the good, the bad, and the ugly. The unvarnished truth of what happens when polyamory doesn’t work.

And of starting again.

 

I would recommend this book to anyone look for a good story involving polyamory, and to poly newcomers for an open-eyed look at some of what can go wrong in a poly relationship.

 

The Husband Swap by Louisa Leontiades will be available May 1.

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Book Review: Raf and the Robots

Raf and the Robots children's book for poly familiesRaf is a young boy who loves to write. He even writes at the dinner table where he sits with his family. A family which includes three adults and two other children. Raf’s latest story is about robots, but when he tries to find someone to read it, no one has time! Thinking no one cares about his story, Raf crumples it up and throws it away, but when they finish they’re chores, everyone wants to hear Raf’s story.

Raf and the Robots is an illustrated children’s book featuring an unconventional nuclear family. What kind of unconventional family? Who knows? The three adults in Raf’s life aren’t labelled, allowing chidren to decide for themselves if Raf’s family is a blended family, poly triad, couple with surrogate, couple with friend/relative living with them, of anything else they can imagine.

When I first heard about Raf and the Robots I was hopeful but not excited. Writing children’s books isn’t easy (says the author who can’t manage it), and to do it without introducing the adults as fitting some pre-defined category is even more challenging. I was delightfully surprised when I read the review copy I received. Raf and the Robots is a well written and engaging story. Unlike many children’s stories about non-normative families, it doesn’t focus on Raf’s family. The story is about Raf’s need for someone to pay attention to his story, and how he learns that just because someone says “not now,” it doesn’t mean “not ever.” In this, Raf’s experience reflects what Dr. Eli Sheff found when interviewing children of poly families–family is just a part of Raf’s reality, not what his life is about.

I highly recommend Raf and the Robots for children and families. For children whose families include more than two adults, it will be a welcome chance to see their family reflected in the stories they read, for conventional families, it will show children that other family styles exist, and for all children it’s just a good story.

Raf and the Robots is the first book in the Stories for Unique Families series. It’s available as an ebook on Amazon, Apple, and Kobo, or as a hardcover on the Stories for Unique Families website.

 

(Originally posted Sept 28, 2014. This post contains affiliate links.)

Book Review: More Than Two

More Than Two book review

A few months ago I was sent a review copy of More Than Two, the long-expected guide to polyamory by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert.

Folks, the wait was well worth it.

There are things I could quibble with, minor points I disagree with, but overall this is the best book about poly relationships I have ever read.

Franklin and Eve use straight talk, gentle humor, common sense, and years of experience to create a solid guide to along the journey that is polyamory. More Than Two has a great deal to offer both folks exploring polyamory for the first time and experienced poly-folk who may have hit a few bumps in the road.

In particular, I think the sections on rule, agreements, and boundaries is a powerful tool, and I wish something like it were part of the standard cultural narrative for all relationship types.

There are a few (very few) things I would have handled differently, and a few (very few) things I would have liked to see covered in more depth. Overall, this is an amazing book and I highly recommend it.

(Originally Posted Sept 8, 2014. This post contains affiliate links.)

Review of: The Polyamorists Next Door, by Dr. Eli Sheff

Before I get into the actual review, I owe Dr. Sheff a major apology. She sent me an early copy of her manuscript before it was published and asked for my input, and I promised to get back to her as quickly as possible. I never did. Part of that was just life exploding on me, but mostly I forgot how god damn long it takes me to read this kind of book. I’m used to tearing through fiction and history books, but popular science books routinely take me a year or more to read. So, over a year later, I am finally getting back to Dr. Sheff, and everyone else, with my thoughts on this amazing book.

Sorry Eli.

A Polyamory Book for Monogamists

There is a lot of fascinating information in The Polyamorists Next Door, and many polyamorists will enjoy reading it to see the results of Dr. Sheff’s studies of polyamory. Poly parents will find interesting (and useful!) information in the sections on children raised in poly families.

However at the end of the day, this book isn’t written for us. Instead, it is the book polyamory has needed for decades. A book written not for people who want to be polyamorous, but for monogamists who want to understand polyamory. You know the question that pops up in every poly forum eventually “What book can I get for my (parents/friends/siblings/friends) to help them understand polyamory?”

The answer is:

This one

Brace for Science-Speak

This is not a coffee table book. This is not light reading. This is a book written by a professional researcher. And it shows. Books like this take me so long to read because academics and researchers are really good at writing for other academics and researchers. Unfortunately, the writing style used in academics and research is not what the rest of us are used to. Complex sentences are the norm in this book. Reading it, there were many times when I had to stop and re-read a seemly simple sentence. “I know every word in this sentence, it is perfectly grammatical. Why can I not understand what she is saying?!”

I did, eventually, figure it out.

Let me clear say: this is not a criticism of Dr. Sheff’s writing. This is the norm for popular sciences books (as well as philosophy, and several other fascinating subjects). Some professions just seem to lead to a very complicated writing style. (Bill Bryson has written the only popular science book I could easily read–because he isn’t a scientist, he’s a journalist writing about science. See the difference?)

If you enjoy popular science books written by actual researchers you’ll find The Polyamorists Next Door right up your alley. If this style of writing is new to you, it may take you some time to adjust. Take it slow, and you’ll get through.

Well Worth the Read

This isn’t a book review blog, so I’m not going to give The Polyamorists Next Door any kind of star rating. I will say that it is a very valuable book that the poly community has needed for a long time. I think it is well worth picking up a copy. Read it, then add The Polyamorists Next Door to your personal lending library. Share with friends, family, and anyone else who is willing to learn more about polyamory.

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