Tuesday, May 31, 2016

SIMPLE SIMON by William Poe




Reviewer: IndieReader
Publisher: CreateSpace
Pages: 462


IR Verdict: SIMPLE SIMON is an engaging tale of a gay man's quest for enlightenment and self-acceptance.

A young gay man struggles with his identity as he recovers from drug abuse.

Simon Powell is in rehab, trying to break free of cocaine addiction with the help of his lover Thad and his mother Vivian. As part of his therapy, he is told to write out his life story, and his feelings about his past. His reminiscences begin with his troubled childhood in rural Arkansas, where his discovery of his own homosexuality leaves him feeling rejected and irreparably separate from his family and friends. Finding solace and family in Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, he becomes a leading fundraiser and provider of spiritual guidance – but he must deny his own sexuality in order to hold on to his secure place in the church, and the resulting conflict, along with internal church conflict, leads him to lose faith. Embroiled in drug addiction and despair, can Simon ever learn to love himself as he is, and accept the love others have for him?

SIMPLE SIMON is a touching, thoughtful look at one man’s search for family, self-acceptance, and the ability to love and be loved. The author does not preach or spend too much time on explication, but simply draws Simon’s life as it goes on, deftly showing his emotional conflicts and self-doubt along with his triumphs and successes. The Unification Church is shown with both honesty and sympathy, as a collection of human beings with both virtues and flaws, rather than either an evil cult or a group of holy saints. It is not difficult to see either the comfort and certainty Simon finds there or the reason that that comfort and security cannot last. The book does leave out a substantial and rather crucial part of Simon’s life after he leaves the church, including the beginning of his relationship with Thad. For such a vital part of Simon’s life – his salvation, perhaps – Thad is left rather mysteriously offstage for the most part.


SIMPLE SIMON is an engaging tale of a gay man’s quest for enlightenment and self-acceptance.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Match Maker by Alan Chin


Title: Match Maker
Author: Alan Chin
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: novel (337 pages)
Buy Link: Amazon.com
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5


A guest review by Victor J. Banis
Summary: the author pulls all the stops out in this gripping story of love, tragedy and redemption, set against a backdrop of professional tennis. An emotional roller coaster that will hold the reader enthralled until the last, fully satisfying page.
THE BLURB
In the four years since being forced off the professional tour for being gay, Daniel Bottega has taught tennis at a second-rate country club. He found a sanctuary to hide from an unkind world, while his lover, Jared Stoderling, fought a losing battle with alcohol addiction to cope with his  disappointment of not playing on the pro circuit.
Now Daniel has another chance at the tour by coaching tennis prodigy Connor Lin to a Grand Slam championship win. He shares his chance with Jared by convincing him to return to the pro circuit as Connor’s doubles partner.
Competing on the world tour is challenging enough, but Daniel and Jared also face major media attention, political fallout from the pro association, and a shocking amount of hate that threatens Connor’s career in tennis, Jared’s love for Daniel, and Daniel’s very life.
THE REVIEW
When I first looked at this novel, I thought, “Oh, no, a jock book.” I mention this right up front because I suspect one or two of you might have the same reaction. Let me put your minds to rest. This novel is about tennis in the same sense that Shakespeare’s Macbeth is about the Scottish moors.
Yes, the author uses the world of professional men’s tennis as a setting for his story, and yes, there is plenty of tennis action in it. But even if you are not a tennis fan, the author’s knowledge of tennis and his love for the sport are infectious. You will find yourself pulled into the story regardless—because, again, the story isn’t about tennis, it’s about homophobia, and love, and courage and grace under pressure and, finally, redemption—in short, the very elements that make all great stories gripping. And make no mistake, this is a great story—surely the one Alan Chin was fated to write—and you will find it gripping.
After being driven from professional tennis for their homosexuality, Daniel Bottega and his partner Jared Stoderling have found  sanctuary of sorts—Daniel as a country club tennis instructor, and Jared in a bottle. Now, Daniel is asked to coach a talented young, and straight, tennis player, Conner Lin. Daniel sees in this the chance of a new beginning for him and Jared, and he convinces Jared to come on board as Conner’s doubles partner. And from the beginning, the author’s love for his protagonists is as real as his love for tennis.
“He kissed me again, and in the quiet wake of his kiss, the surrounding sounds became loud: rustling leaves overheard, the pop of the ball, the chirp of tennis shoes on pavement, the boys’ insistent grunts.”
Of course, once again they find themselves paying the price for being openly gay; but this time, Jared determines that they will not shrink into a closet, they will let the watching world know who and what they are.
“Well, hell, what’s next,” Sikes said, “players kissing?”
“Let’s give it a try and see,” Jared said. He seized the back of my neck and drew me to him, kissing me on the mouth. The move surprised me so much it took me a moment to pull away.
The crowd fell silent.
# # #
“The first time,” Jared said, “everything happened behind closed doors. That’s how they beat us, by keeping us afraid and in hiding. This time we’ll flaunt it. They’ll probably still beat us, but at least everyone will know why.”
There’s no shortage of action and the theme of homophobia adds plenty of suspense along the way, and it looks early on as if the three players will make it to the top of their sport just fine, and you begin to breathe a little sigh of relieve and pleasure. So far, it’s been a fine read, and the good guys are winning.
Then, in an astonishing display of authorial authority, the writer just plain pulls the rug from under the reader. You find yourself both horrified and mesmerized, on a non-stop roller coaster ride that carries you right to the last page. I don’t want to spoil the read for anyone by giving too much of the plot away, but I can safely tell you that the love Daniel and Jared share is sorely tested in ways that will break your heart and ultimately nourish it. I had to stop reading more than once because I couldn’t see the pages through the tears. Yes, it’s that moving. And that was reading the book for the second time.
If you’ve ever been in love, you will agonize with both these young men, both of them wrong and both of them right, as they try to grope their way back to one another in the wake of the tragedy that has driven them apart.
“If I die today, wouldn’t it be better if we had made love last night?”
“Better is putting your skinny butt on a plane and getting you somewhere safe.”
“It’s okay to hate me a little. Sometimes I hate you too. I hate your good legs, your strength, your ability to ignore me.”
His face froze with pensive rejection.
I said, “We need to fight them, not each other.”
And as with all his writing, the author has more for the reader than just details of plot. There is beauty and wisdom here, but he writes as well of Life’s ugly side, of the horrors of war, and of many different kinds of suffering. When Jared is cheated of a win by a gay-hating umpire, he tries to crawl back into the bottle, but Conners’ Grandfather Lin, who survived WWII in occupied China, will have none of that.
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself and become a man. You think you have it hard? You think life is unfair? You are worse than a baby, crying, crying, crying.”
“Leave my house, old man,” Jared growled.
“I will tell you what a hard life is: being a fourteen-year-old boy chased from your home at gunpoint, watching aunts, uncles, cousins slaughtered like hogs, hiding in a cave, never seeing daylight, searching for food at night where there is no food, so you cut meat from bodies that the Japanese soldiers leave along the roadside. When the bodies go rank, there is nothing but grass, but that is never enough, so you watch your family grow weak and sick. Then you marshal the courage to sneak up behind a Japanese soldier and slit his throat in order to steal his food, so that your mother and father might live a few more days…”
There is beauty here as well, and wisdom. You come away from this book understanding yourself and humankind just a little better than when you started it, and a writer can’t do any better than that.
In the end, the author scores a grand slam win with the best gay sports novel I have yet read, bar none. And ultimately, you realize that it is the Alan Chin who is the Match Maker of the title, and the game he’s sharing with you is not the game of  tennis, but the Game of Life.
If you love a beautifully written and heart rending love story with a true but very special Happy Ever After ending, I urge you not to miss this one.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Book Review: Master Wu’s Bride by Edward Patterson




Reviewer: Alan Chin
Author: Edward Patterson
Pages: 292



The story begins on Chi Lin’s wedding day – an exciting time for any bride, unless the groom has died and the ceremony, as per contract, must proceed. Chi Lin becomes a ghost bride—the Fourth Wife in the House of Wu, a respectable Ming Dynasty household. Chi Lin assumes her role under the stern command of her mother-in-law and the disdainful eye of the First Wife. Still, as Mistress Purple Sage, Chi Lin fights to uphold her honor and maintain her many secrets while breathing fresh life into this ancient household.

As with all the novels I’ve read by Edward Patterson, this story blends an imaginative touch with the author’s life long devotion to China and its history.

A unique voice and a fresh and vibrant set of characters gave this novel the ability to transport me into another world for an adventure far beyond my limited imagination. The book delighted me with a rather touching love story. Yet this is a love yarn of a different nature, the tale of a woman who falls in love with her dead husband’s household. It is a story of intrigue, loyalty, and honor.

The author takes the reader back into China during the Ming dynasty, when women played a subservient role, supporting their husbands, revering their fathers and elders, and assuring their children followed the same dauntless path. Still, within the narrow confines of a subservient life, there was always a place to leave a mark and alter the future.

As with the author’s Southern Swallow series, this story is a vivid, imaginative, and often humorous romp through a pivotal point in Chinese history. It blossoms into a tale of intrigue, household politics, love, and overcoming hardships in a repressive environment. The plot is a bit predictable, yet stays interesting. The author’s consummate skill at crafting prose and his well-researched details kept me fully engaged until the last page. I would recommend this read to anyone who enjoys multifaceted characters, humor, and a well-crafted story.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Match Maker by Alan Chin




Reviewer: Paddylast Inc
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press 
Pages: 388


★★★★★

I got Alan Chin’s Match Maker after reading a couple of sports-themed stories and I think I got more than what I’ve paid for it. Upon reading it June of this year, I immediately exclaimed over Goodreads that
Alan Chin’s Match Maker just became one of my favorite books ever! And I don’t even understand Tennis! What a profound, special, highly technical and just all kinds of brilliant!!!”
My exact words and they’re still true until now! Everything about it just clicked on my five-stars-o-meter.
This being under the mm / gay romance category, I’ve already made some preconceived ideas about it and really thought that Daniel and Connor would end up together so I was pleasantly surprised to discover from the first few chapters that Connor is actually straight with a guy best friend who’s actually in love with him.
Now, Daniel’s relationship with his best friend turned lover Jared was just the sweetest I’ve ever read. Even after everything they’ve been through, the hardship from the sports where they opted to come out as a couple and vying for acceptance from people around them – they remained together and I think that’s what I absolutely adore in this story regardless of the heavier issues discussed in it.
The side characters are just as vibrant as Daniel’s plight. The story of Connor’s grandpa and his resilience was very admirable and of course, the barrage of story arcs circling in and out of Tennis. (Shar, Spencer, Connor’s family…etc)
The story in general was heartfelt with genius dialogues, realistic scenarios and very human characters. What a well-rounded book this one is and I couldn’t ask for a better book to read as my first from Alan Chin.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Friday, December 25, 2015

My Razzle Dazzle: An outsider's true story by Todd Peterson




Reviewer: Merrick Hansen
Publisher: iUniverse (April 8, 2015)
Pages: 344


Peterson has written something that could be an honest relief to many. He recounts a difficult childhood – from being teased for playing with girls to far worse experiences as he grew older. On top of that, his story takes place in the Midwest where I grew up.

This is something that isn’t in the popular narrative of queer literature. Nobody really talks about the places where the same kind of harassment Peterson talks about still happens. Because where I am in Iowa, it might as well still be the 1970′s. Sleepy little towns still see plenty of us “different” folk being teased or at the very least stared at. For instance, I’ve been kicked out of a barber shop at least once within the last 7 years just for asking for a hair cut.

Obviously reviewing an autobiography is a little different, but what I can tell you is this: there is comfort in reading the story of someone who has been through similar harassment and experience. It is a comfort to see that things do improve, that they do eventually change and the people around us are generally only temporary – particularly if they’re negative or hateful.

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.