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“Queen Bey: A Celebration of the Power and Creativity of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter”

  • Edited by Veronica Chambers
  • c. 2019, St. Martin’s Press
  • $27.99, $36.50 Canada; 224 pages

You were ‘Crazy in Love.’ It happened the first time you heard Beyoncé Knowles, before she won a Grammy, before she added to her life with a man and motherhood. It happened the first time you saw her, a skinny child with a mispronounced name, and in “Queen Bey,” a book of essays edited by Veronica Chambers, you’ll want to say that name again.

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“What might a Black girl be in this world?” That’s a question Veronica Chambers says she’s spent her lifetime asking. The answer arrived in the songs of a performer who “has no interest in separating herself from the struggle of being a Black woman … ” That singer, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, “is the greatest performer alive,” according to Luvvie Ajayi, one essayist here.

When Beyoncé was first seen (on TV’s “Star Search” in 1993), viewers recognized her talent. Even then, she was “our generation” and that never changed: these days, she’s “named the pain of … Black women who … love Black men ... ” Through her actions and music, she’s shown that “Black men’s apologies to Black women matter.” Writer Ylonda Gault says that there were times when Beyoncé’s life eerily paralleled Gault’s. Meredith Broussard calls Beyoncé “a constant presence in my own life.”

She’s a businesswoman who reportedly has a climate-controlled archive of every print and digital bit of press with her name in it. She’s a writer, mother, feminist, actress, and award-winner; a “hard-working professional,” a champion for gay rights, an inspiration for young Black girls, and a comfort for women who’ve miscarried. And she’s a dancer: who among us hasn’t memorized the incredible moves seen in her music videos? 

Naysayers and haters might scoff, but for a fan, there’s probably nothing Beyoncé can’t do. Says writer Edward Enninful, “she’s above trends. She can’t be put in a box. Frankly, she can do whatever she wants.”

Let’s stop right here a second: if you barely know who Beyoncé is and can’t name at least five of her songs, you can put your newspaper down now. Go do something else, because this book is not for you.

Come to think, it’s not a book for mere casual fans, either. No, “Queen Bey” is a book for rabid, die-hard, sing-all-the-songs fans who know what the Hive is, and exist in it. It’s for the readers who’ve listened to Beyoncé’s albums and watched all the videos over and over again, because all the contributors to this book have done that, too. It’s for fans who’ve played the “Michael, Whitney, or Beyoncé?” game.

Just beware: this over-the-edge rhetoric here can get excessively florid, sometimes making Knowles-Carter seem like a deity, and that lack of perspective can mar the messages behind the outpouring of love. Readers with a tendency to roll their eyes might do that here, Beyoncé fan or not.

Keep that in mind when you see this book. If you’re a sometime follower, you’ll probably be happier just taking a pass. If you can’t get enough of “Queen Bey,” you’ll like it and you shoulda put a bookmark in it.

“Alice & Gerald: A Homicidal Love Story”

  • By Ron Franscell
  • c. 2019, Prometheus Books
  • $18, $19.00 Canada; 314 pages

You were head over heels. That’s how you felt the first time you saw your beloved: gobsmacked, twitterpated, over-the-moon in love. You couldn’t wait to see him. She was the star in your sky. You’d do anything to put a smile on that face – even if, as in the new book “Alice & Gerald” by Ron Franscell, it meant murder.

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No one would’ve ever thought to call Gerald Uden “lucky in love.”

Married and divorced multiple times, Gerald considered himself somewhat of a ladies’ man but, while it was true that he cut a fine figure, he was more known for being odd and rather impulsive. Impulsiveness was how he got his first three wives but his fourth, Alice, was the love of his life.

There was one little problem, though: Gerald’s third wife, Virginia, and her two young boys – children Gerald had adopted – were still around, and merely mentioning them enraged Alice. Oh, how Alice hated Virginia!

And so, because if “Alice was happy, life was easier. And bad things happened when Alice wasn’t happy,” Gerald lured his third wife and their sons to a quiet dip in the road and he put a bullet into each of their heads.

After Virginia didn’t return home that chilly Wyoming night, her mother, Claire Martin, called the police to report Virginia missing. It wasn’t like “Gin” to up and leave; she never was the impulsive sort. When Claire called Gerald to ask if he’d seen Virginia, he denied it but there was something wrong. Claire could tell.  

Following the murders, Gerald hid the three bodies in an old mining cave, believing that nobody would ever find them there, but authorities had started searching for the missing trio and he got nervous. And so, by writing and sending to Claire fake telegrams with Virginia’s signature, Alice worked to deflect the police investigation. She’d make the police forget all about Virginia. Alice knew how to cover up a murder because she’d done it before, right after she shot her third husband in the head…

Let’s hope you have a sweater handy; a nice, cozy one. You’ll need it, because “Alice & Gerald” is a very chilling book.

The reason isn’t the story’s alone. It’s also in the telling of it, which author Ron Franscell does by swinging from cowpoke to neutral bystander to droll City Guy and back again, using subtle (and not-so-subtle) sarcasm here, small observations there, and a wonderful nose for occasional absurdity. This mixture in narration, the expected police procedural parts, and Franscell’s wider timeline all give readers a respectful, comfortable insider’s feel for what happened – and yet, though you’ll know how this story turns out, he leaves plenty of room for those moments that make you jump.  

For true-crime fans, this book’s a no-brainer. It’ll also appeal to anyone who enjoys a mystery set in the West, or for fans of a plain good tale. If that’s what you need, then head for the shelves: “Alice & Gerald” will knock you off your feet.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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