Saturday, August 29, 2015

Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Europa Editions (Sept. 2014)
Pages: 370

This book is a fictional exploration of the life of one of Britain's finest novelists. It illuminates E M Forster's life in a way that makes you feel on intimate terms with Forster, knowing his thoughts and needs as keenly as your own. “Arctic Summer” is in fact the name of an incomplete novel written by E.M. Forster in 1912/13 but published only in 2003; and Galgut uses its title for his novel about the famous author. The story is well researched and much of the content, even word-for-word dialog, was taken from Forster’s diaries.

The first hundred pages or so explores Forster’s life growing up in England, showcasing his awakening homosexuality, his tormented and unconsummated relationships, and being constrain by proper English society. During this time he also meets the love of his life, an Indian student, Masood, much younger than himself. I had a tough time trudging through this section of the book. I found it well written, but it lacked action, and I found it exceedingly dull. I almost gave up on it.

Once Forester traveled to India, Egypt (where he had his first sexual affair), and again to India, my interest in the story skyrocketed. Beautifully woven into his travels are the details of his life that laid the foundation of his masterpiece A Passage to India. Galgut is a master at constructing realistic and compelling landscapes, from inhibiting England to war torn Cairo to exotically vibrant India. He gives these locations the same kind of fragile humanity that he gives Forester.

Galgut’s prose blends perfectly the spare and the lyrical, often letting gentle humor shine through. His pacing is flawless. I was swept up into his cadences, and was never overburdened with needless detail. My senses were awakened to sensory impressions that were visceral.

A lovely and interesting story, one of the most satisfying reads I’ve enjoyed in years. Anyone who enjoys a rich blend of romance, adventure, and exploring exotic locations will no doubt fine much to admire here.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

One Last Lie by Rob Kaufman

Reviewer: Jon Michaelsen
Publisher: Rob Kaufman 
Pages: 326

One Last Lie by Rob Kaufman in a word is awesome, an incredible psychological thriller that will have the reader hanging on the edge during the explosive and thrilling final pages. Which is odd, since the reader knows a very important fact very early on that drives the novel - and yet, I found myself shocked and stunned by the actual event. To say that I was affected is an understatement.

The first half of the tense and romantic novel seems tame at best, a love story between two men wanting desperately to have a child and the one driving this dream is the one who is sterile due to a previous bout with cancer, of which he is a survivor.

Kaufman is a master of romantic suspense. The novel is set in the beautiful, romantic Westport, Connecticut. The subject - gay couple wanting to father and raise a child - popular in today's gay culture. The protagonists, Jonathan Beckett and dashing Philip Stone, are successful, love their careers, very wealthy and can afford the finer things in life - and to fulfill their dream of having a child.

In comes Angela, an old college friend – err, girlfriend – of Philip’s, squirreling her way into Philip and Jonathan’s lives, ironically offering what the boys are looking for – someone to carry Jonathan’s child via artificial insemination. Angela experiences a Jekyll-Hyde complex, able to turn on a dime with both her low-life moronic boyfriend, Tommy, and her brooding – and easily manipulated -- best friend, June. Angela manipulates anyone around her that she feels able to advance her agenda, an agenda set into motion the moment Angela picked up and moved to Connecticut, without invitation, to assist the boys in having a child with her via artificial insemination.

Kaufman’s gift as a writer is detailed within the sharp dialog, vivid imagery, skillful flashbacks, and well-rounded multidimensional character portrayals, but his inherit talent lay in his remarkable ability to craft a spell-bounding story, laid out for the reader in a way to have you cheering for the good guys and demonizing the psychos.

There are critical clues dropped within the novel that are thrilling, yet disturbing yet the same as Kaufman’s hurls the readers toward a well-crafted, suspenseful climax that will leave some breathless and others – like me- angry. Yes, I said it; angry. The reason for my anger is simple: I didn’t want the ending to happen as it did yet I KNEW what the ending would be and still, the author managed to shock me.

Angela is neurotic, psychotic and delusional – all required traits in portraying the villainess she becomes. Several characters that came before her came to mind as I learned more and more about her character, such as “Alex Forrest” (portrayed stunningly by Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction”), or Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s “Misery” (portrayed in film by the astounding Kathy Bates), even the sultry Rebecca de Mornay’s portrayal of Peyton Flanders in “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle”.

The malicious plot Kaufman’s Angela devises years before putting the such an evil plan into motion upon signing the co-parenting legal contract with Jonathan’s and Philip’s attorney.

But, I digress…Kaufman has created a spectacular psychological thriller that is sure to stun – is that the right word? – Readers of the genre. [Book:One Last Lie|14624158] is chock full of tense drama, betrayal, lies, compassion and violence; all the marks of an excellent thriller.

My only complaint is likely due to the HTML uploading issues unique to Amazon’s conversion technology for uploading e-books. The reader can become confused with the sudden backward or forward in time breaks without the benefit of section dividers. However, these small inadequacies are easily overlooked.

Ultimately, Kaufman has created a “must-read” novel for anyone searching for a kick-ass psychological thriller with a strong romantic theme. [Book:One Last Lie|14624158] will suck you in and won’t release you until the shocking ending, indeed the ‘one last lie’. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Behind The Velvet Curtain by Matt Converse

Reviewer: Cindi at On Top Down Under Reviews
Publisher: Comet Press
Pages: 65

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb - Matt Jaxx is a sexy stripper who develops a fast following, but one of them turns scary stalker. Along the way he way he meets Justin and it’s lust at first sight, both doing things they’d only fantasized about. Right when he seems to have it all, his stalker reappears, revealing his twisted agenda. It’s a fast, fun, sexy, scary ride.

Review - Our main character is a male stripper who goes by the name Matt Jaxx. It doesn’t take long after his first performance for him to develop a quick following and to become very popular with the men who came to watch him strip for tips. He starts stripping part-time but it quickly turns into his full-time gig when he discovers how much money he can make. He’s having fun, the money is good, and who’d have thought he – a formally not-so-hot guy from Ohio – would be getting paid to dance for a bunch of men? The not-so-hot guy from Ohio – who once had acne and other things that took away from his appearance – is now every gay guy’s dream. And he uses that. Oh, how he uses it. He doesn’t get paid for sex, as that’s not his thing, but everything else? Yeah, he’s totally down with that as long as the men are paying.

Matt has been doing his thing for awhile when he meets Justin in the apartment building they both live in. It takes a little while for them to hook-up, but when they do it’s pretty hot. Justin is perfectly fine with what Matt does for a living and they gradually grow closer as a couple as time goes by. While performing one night, Matt notices an odd man in the audience. The man looks unkempt and not very interested in what’s going on on stage. The dude is creepy, but seems harmless, so Matt thinks nothing of it… until later. Later is when things get strange and a bit violent with Mr. Creepy. Saying more than that would be giving the story away and it’s only 60-something pages so I won’t spoil it in this review.

The story was interesting. I have a kink for male stripper and/or rent boy stories (though Matt makes it clear he’s not getting paid for sex) so that was a big plus for me. The romance between Matt and Justin was pretty sweet, and at times sexy. The creepy stalker guy was written well, though I wish more details would’ve been added in regards to a few things with him. This is billed as horror, though I didn’t feel that creeped out. Then again, I’m a huge horror reader so I may be jaded in that regard and others may see more of a creep factor than I did.

Overall, a good story. I found Matt to be more than a little full of himself, but I guess that was to be expected after the way his teenage years were described. I adored Justin and liked him more every time he was on page. Behind the Velvet Curtain isn’t very realistic, so don’t go into it expecting it to be. It is, however, a nice quickie read that entertains.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Best Gay Erotica 2015, Edited by Rob Rosen

Reviewer: Sacchi Green at Erotica Revealed
Publisher: Cleis Press
Pages: 216

It takes real balls for an editor to lead off his gay erotica anthology with a story that satirizes the genre itself. I say “balls,” but I admit that as a frequent editor of lesbian erotica anthologies I’d be tempted to do the same (or rather the equivalent) if I had as brilliant a piece to work with as “Different Strokes” by Richard Michaels (although I wouldn’t then claim to have “real balls,” just figurative ones. Maybe.) Michaels pulls off the tricky feat of being outrageously witty and still providing the nuts and bolts (and grease) to construct down-and-dirty sex scenes. Multiples sex scenes, in fact, or segments thereof, one after the other in a wild choose-your-own-adventure fuckfest. He piles cliché upon metaphor upon over-the-top image, switching imaginary partners from robust black stud to collegiate blond and still maintaining a convincing sexual tension between the writer/narrator and the reader in their shared quest for an ultimately rewarding wank-off. There are so many gems of descriptive overdrive here that it’s hard to choose just one quotation, but here’s a fairly tame taste:    
…even with the deep-throating technique that all we narrators of these hyperbolic flights of erotica learned the moment we wrote our first word, I could not ingest all of his munificence…like driving a truck through a tunnel that’s almost too small, steering this truck with its precious cargo on the glistening highway of my tongue until the front of the cab, with its retracted grillwork of flesh, struck a roadblock and could go no farther, so I put the truck into reverse and backed it up, and then metaphor breaks apart, as it always does in these stories, and we get back to basics: I sucked his dick.
 In case you can’t tell, I loved this story. The danger of a lead-off like this, though, is that the reader becomes sensitized to overblown prose and may be tempted to laugh rather than pant if other writers in the book get into a formulaic rut. I shouldn’t have worried, as it turns out, since, on the whole, all the stories are well-written, and some are memorable even aside from the sexual content. A few do get rather deeply into a morass of metaphors, but erotica readers develop the capacity to swallow plenty of that without gagging, so I’m not really complaining.
 Onward to other stories that I found memorable.  “Choice” by Rhidian Brenig Jones features a pair of likeable guys from Poland working in the UK, and their more-than-friendship with a young Catholic priest. “Feygele” by Alex Stitt mingles ornithological metaphors with the talents of a street firedancer in London. Gregory L. Norris’s “The Man In Black” is a science fictional tale wherein a shapeshifting alien gives the protagonist what he’s longed for from the various “men’s men, manly men” in his life who would never give him more than friendship. “Like Magic” by Salome Wilde involves a young man with a crush on a has-been vaudeville magician, not a very appealing object of desire, so readers seeking a vicarious erotic charge may not be satisfied, but the writing is excellent. Dale Chase’s “Nothing to Lose” is a complex and nuanced study of gay weddings, determinedly casual sex, and working through loss to healing. “From Here to There” by Xavier Axelson deals tangentially with a gay wedding, but what you’re likely to remember best is a fine use for lobster butter.
The final story, “Super Service” by Michael Roberts, is right up there with the first piece, “Different Strokes.” There’s a similar sly wit, and a knowing embrace of cliché, in this case the time-honored scenario of workmen coming to a home to fix plumbing, paint walls, whatever—three of them here—and using the tools in their tool boxes as well as those below the tool belt. The narrator stakes his tongue-in-cheek claim to upper-class erudition right away:
The vision in front of me wore an immaculately white crew-neck T-shirt that hugged his chest as if it and the torso had fallen in love and intended to cling to each other as closely as possible. I couldn’t blame the T-shirt. A fanciful image, peut-êtrè, but the sight made me absolutely giddy.
Later he stakes his claim to ordinary humanity by admitting that he can’t manage to get through the Henry James novel he keeps leaving behind in his chair and then sitting on. A sexy romp with attitude, similar enough in tone to “Different Strokes” that I wondered whether Michael Roberts and Richard Michaels were, perhaps, different sides of the same pseudonymous coin, but I’ll never know, and it doesn’t matter.  
Now that I’ve been scrolling down the table of contents, I realize that all of the stories are memorable in their way, each one worthy of being someone’s favorite. As so often happens in reviewing, I’m not the target audience for the erotic aspects of Best Gay Erotica, so there’s no reason to be swayed by my opinion on anything besides the quality of the writing. Some appealed to me more than others on that basis, but I can wholeheartedly recommend the book as a whole, with no if, ands, or peut-êtrès. (Admit it, you thought I was going make an obvious pun there. Shame on you.) 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

First Exposure by Alan Chin

Reviewer: Teddy, Gay List Book Reviews
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Pages: 264
Teddy gave this novel the highest rating, and had this to say about it:
Review:  I came across this quote recently “Beginnings hook readers, endings create fans”, I don’t remember where I read it, but it came to mind as I started to write this review. I have been a big fan of Alan’s work since reading the first chapter of ‘Butterfly’s Child’. Alan’s writing always sits so well with me, I love his creative descriptions of the mundane to that of pure beauty. His words always flow so well on the pages, and his characters are not made to be unrealistically, hot or hideous. They’re perfectly natural beings, with real emotions and flaws. Not one character is too perfect to be real or too mysterious to be anything other than human. You could pass one of Alan’s characters in the street, meet them on your journey to work, work alongside them possibly or whilst hanging out with friends. Now it’s not because these characters are boring that I’d associate them with everyday life, but because Alan has the ability to give them life in the pages of his books.
The characters in First Exposure are not just a photographer or a painter or a sailor. Alan’s descriptions are expressed so well that you can almost hear the click of a camera, the flick of a paint brush and feel the crispness of a shirt. With each character all sides of their personalities are revealed, allowing you to know them intimately. A character you may feel uncomfortable with at the start could well be the one you fall in love with at the very end. 
Petty Officer Second Class Skylar Thompson, is aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln supercarrier. Skylar is married to Rosa and they have a son, Hunter. Skylar questions his career choice as his family struggle to make ends meet on his pay from the Navy. This leads Skylar into turmoil over his actual career and that of his preferred, dreamed of vocation as an artist. Although he is popular and has friends on board his ship, he often feels uncomfortable in the company of the other men who are loud mouthed, shallow and crude. Skylar doesn’t like the sexual connotations made against some of his fellow crew members, especially one man, Dumphy. Skylar is a straight man but feels compassion and a little sorry for Dumphy, he admires Dumphy’s courage to stick it out. 
Seaman Ezra Dumphy has had life pretty tough, he is a young gay man with a love of photography. Never without his camera, Ezra is fascinated by Skylar and craftily steals shots of the man. I really liked Ezra as he is a survivor, Ezra falls into terrible situations. Life has a habit of kicking him where it hurts, but he’s a toughy and despite his appearance he does his best to take care of himself. He wants to be loved, have friends but he doesn’t suffer fools gladly and he gives as good as he gets. With a father who beat him and a mother who doesn’t appear to have protected him, he spent much of his teens living on the streets. 
When Skylar and Ezra are brought together serving aboard the same ship they unexpectedly find themselves looking out for each other. Through this story their worlds collide leading them to new friends, new lives and sanctuary, but it’s not without tribulation. Fueled by resentment and revenge Skylar and Ezra have to first sail through some very rough seas. 
If you love a gritty tale, true friendship and forgiveness you’ll not be disappointed here.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Amen’s Boy By Jacob Campbell And William Maltese

Reviewer: Edward Dutton
Publisher: Borgo Press
Pages: 208

The reviewer Amos Lassen recently introduced me--via Facebook--to a writer called Jacob Campbell, who lives in Louisiana and writes confessional “fiction” about his time as a minor seminarian, and later, as an out-gay resident of the French Quarter.
The relationship between Campbell and myself has been rewarding from an artistic perspective (we both write about similar themes) and it’s also exposed me to incredible works of queer fiction: Campbell’s own. First among these has to be his novel Amen’s Boy, which is similar in many ways to Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, only queer and just as powerful. 
Despite being labeled as a “fictionalized memoir” about sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, Amen’s Boy isn’t simply a book about abuse. If it were merely a novelization of current events, it could hardly deserve to be called “literature”; and Amen’s Boy is a highly “literary” novel, as I’ll explain.
The abuse described in the novel--mainly perpetrated by priests against boys or by teenagers against younger boys--plays a major role in the adolescent narrator’s psycho-sexual and spiritual evolution. But it never comes to define the novel as simply a “text about abuse.”
Rather than understanding Amen’s Boy through the lens of current events--which many of its readers, on Amazon and elsewhere, seem to want to do--encouraged by the publisher and, perhaps, their own experiences--I think it’s important to respect the book’s integrity and read it for what it is: a literary narrative that draws on elements of mysticism, modernism, and coming-of-age, gay literature.
One aspect of the book’s “literariness” that transcends the documentary genre is the powerful voice of the boy-narrator, Thaddeus Merton (“Tad,” or “Tadpole,” for short), who experiences everything through the lens of a kind of transcendent, Joycean aestheticism. Thaddeus’ abuse is explored, at first, from a child’s point of view–not capable of deep reflection–and in a way that focuses on rich, sensory and instinctual experiences. It’s only later in the novel that a series of epiphanies and self-revelations reveals the true nature of what has happened to him.
Whereas Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man seems conditioned in his Catholicism--and Joyce’s rejection of his church is conclusive at the end of the novel--Thaddeus seems to live his faith profoundly and Campbell never opts for black or white answers. This is reflected in the ending of the novel, which could represent a spiritual redemption for Thaddeus--the rejuvenation of his vocation–or a psychotic breakdown.
By allowing spirituality to remain a possibility for Thaddeus, and by refusing to “overcome” religiosity in favor of pure aestheticism, as Joyce does for Stephen, Campbell creates a novel that lends itself just as much to spiritual autobiography as it does to modernism.
At times, Thaddeus’ first-person narrative transforms into a highly-wrought, mystical text--akin to the writings of Teresa of Avila or John of the Cross rather than a gay novel. And perhaps this is the most post-modern thing about the novel: the difficulty one experiences trying to explain it in terms of generic conventions and its refusal to give up exactly what its ending means.
The author shows us how an adolescent can find a damaging comfort in the “secret closeness” of an abusive priest–in this case, a sad, balding character called Fr. Terry. The insidious, soothing intimacy Thaddeus shares with Fr. Terry is experienced as a grateful escape from the brutality he suffers at home–at the hands of his sadistic brother and his weak parents.
This is true not only of the abusive relationship with the priest but of Thaddeus’ entire relationship with his church, which includes his duties as an altar server, and his conversations with Fr. Terry in the Sacrament of Reconciliation–which the priest uses, shamefully, to groom the boy for both sex and the priesthood.
This paradoxical blending of heavenly and hellish themes culminates in the author’s haunting portrayal of “Mettray,” a minor seminary where Thaddeus pursues his vocation to the priesthood.
Named after the penal colony in which Jean Genet was incarcerated for 3 years in the 1920s, the Mettray of Amen’s Boy becomes Thaddeus’ home for an equivalent 3 years. Its name evokes the irony that a child can experience “home” as both a heaven and a hell.
Similar to Proust’s “Combray,” Mettray is Campbell’s greatest achievement, if only because the descriptions of the seminary ground Amen’s Boy with such a vivid sense of place one often feels transported while reading, returning with a sense of sadness about the horrors that occur there and, confusingly, with a longing for the joys.
When Amen’s Boy is over, the aura of Mettray remains. You may even wish to return there–despite the fact that horrible things occurred. For nothing is black and white at Mettray: the soul-crushing brutality one experiences there exists side by side with the possibility of redemption.

Monday, August 25, 2014

First Exposure by Alan Chin

Publisher: Bold Strokes Publishing

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Straight, married Petty Officer Second Class Skyler Thompson battles homophobia from his navy buddies, the military, and his wife when he takes a job creating flower arrangements at a gay-owned florist. But rather than yield to pressure and quit, he refuses to give up the joy of creating beautiful arrangements, battling homophobia for artistic expression. His dream is to leave the navy and open his own florist shop.

Ezra Dumphy—his shipmates call him Dumpy because of his obesity—is a gay sailor who likes to dress in drag. He is shunned by his shipmates, tragically lonely, and uses drugs to cope with his solitude. What he wants more than anything is someone to share his life with.

Can these two men, opposites in every way, help each other achieve their dreams?

My View:
“Life, friendship, love, was a crapshoot.”
After just two chapters into this book, I had bought into this story, to Ezra and Skylar, to their lives, to this author’s writing.

On the surface of things, it may appear like these are trope-worn characters with trope-worn backgrounds, but this is not the case. Chin has given these people lives through their struggles and the crutches with which they try to deal with those struggles. He’s given to them talents and the joy they feel when they get lost in them. The level of emotional honesty is unavoidable, it’s so real.

Ezra and Skylar share a connection, though through different media. The result is a door that opens practically on its own.

To him, art was somehow sacred, the way you gaze up at a night sky and wonder if you’re standing on an electron that revolves around a proton in a series of infinite universes, and suddenly your mind expands and you experience your reality in a new and more significant light.

Anyone who has ever gotten lost while looking at a photograph or watching a playing musician or reading a passage in a poem, or anything of the like, will understand that feeling. There’s no turning back from it, either.


Fleeting joy.

Deep pain.



Wispy hope.


Unexpected chances.

This writer has a healthy comfort level with language and knows how to use it. It’s such an interesting juxtaposition, his use of what I can only call celebratory prose in writing about difficult things taking place in complicated, uneasy lives. The styles aren’t all similar but I got the same feeling from his writing as I do when reading Harper Fox or Edmond Manning. The words the words the words.

There are a few cases of what feels like overindulgence in that language, but when it’s this enjoyable, I let it go like a two-day old bagel.

At some point during all of this, I realized I wouldn’t be able to ever forget these characters. Beautiful, sweet, carrying their burdens, frightened, hopeful and working to survive. Again, it’s the writing. It brings inspiration and darkness to life.

“Flowers are more delicate, more ethereal than the plants they emerge from, and they have scent, which is amorphous. They are the bridge between the physical and the formless, body and spirit. Flowers are a metamorphosis of the plant in the same way spiritual awakening is to a human.”

Hollister, one of the supporting characters and co-owner of the flower shop with his partner Miguel, says this to Skylar as they work on creating some arrangements for an event. This is one of many, many turns in this story for multiple characters. I have to say, as well, that in this kind of story, I almost don’t like to use the term “supporting”, as if they aren’t important all on their own. Believe me, every character in this book is meant to be there.

Unpredictable characters making unpredictable choices. I like that I didn’t always agree with those choices or that they didn’t always feel right for the characters. Whenever that happened, it forced me to reexamine my understanding of them. How great is that? Highly involved reading is the name of the game here. Love it.
There are all types of relationships explored in this story: friendship, co-workers, married couples, child/parent, long-time companions, lovers, and all of them feel very real. Real means emotional, relatable, they made me think, stayed with me, and I couldn’t wait to get back to reading about them each day.

“Honey, did you ever have a kite pull you right off the ground when you were a kid? If so, then you know the thrill I get when I work with flowers.”

There’s a nostalgic feel to this book. I’m not even sure how I can “prove” that, except that it does. Maybe it’s the overall style of the storytelling Chin has. I think that’s what it is. I want more.

This is not an easy read given the wide array of tangled, difficult subjects examined and experiences revealed. Despite all of that, I felt peaceful when I was finished. Looking back at everything that happened, everything these characters put themselves through, I never would have predicted peace being my final reaction. Just like the story itself, it was unpredictable.

This is a novel that, frankly, defies categorization. It left me utterly satisfied. It’s very personal. And that last scene? I still can’t find the words to adequately describe how it made me feel, all of these days later. I do know that I want more of Ezra’s story.
I could not recommend this book more even if ‘more’ meant… more. Read it.

Buy Links

I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.