Saturday, February 3, 2018

Book Review: Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman




Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Holtzbrinck Publishers; Media Tie In edition (October 3, 2017)


★★★


I saw the movie when it first hit the theaters and love this slow-burn love story. I loved it so much I bought the book and plowed through it. This is one of the few times when I thought the movie was much better than the book.

The protagonist, Elio, a precocious seventeen year-old becomes infatuated with Oliver, a twenty-four year-old staying at their house as a summer intern for Elio’s father. Elio and Oliver, through several intellectual and esoteric conversations, become attracted to each other, and eventually fall in love. It is a simple love story. During this time, Elio constantly analyzes and second-guesses every innuendo-laden exchange with Oliver. This scrutiny was subtly done in the movie, but in the book it is relentless to the point of becoming annoying, and making Elio appear to be a self-absorbed, distressingly obsessed twit.

Yes, I get that a teenager can be self-absorbed and obsessed over love. I’m not so old I can’t remember what that was like. But that doesn’t mean I want to read page after page of it throughout an entire book. It gets overly tedious after the first fifty pages.

The prose is very well written and most often a joy to read. There were moments between the lovers that were poignant and relatable, sweeping me up into their relationship, but those moments were often swamped by page after page of Elio’s internal dialogue, worrying his feelings like a dog worries a bone. It is a beautiful story, yet it never reached the height or splendor of the movie.

Had I not loved the movie so much, I’m not sure I would have finished the book.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Book Review: Boy Erased, a Memoir by Garrard Conley





Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Riverhead Books


★★★



This was not a book I picked to read, as I’m not interested in reading about anything as grotesque as conversion therapy. It was selected by my book club.

It’s a story about a gay son of a Baptist minister who got outed to his parents. They placed him in a conversion therapy camp to “cure” him, and things didn’t go well for the young man.

Although the prose is extremely well written, I found the pacing and content numbingly boring. What I did find interesting was the total Christian brainwashing that the author had suffered as a young man. I find it both horrifying and amazing that, in this age of science, people still take the bible literally. Boy Erased, in my opinion, is a book of sadness. A story of people who rebuff nature to pursue a myth.

This book reinforced every negative stereotype I have of organized religion and modern-day Christians.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Book Reivew: What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell



Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

★★★★★

A middle aged American teaching history in Bulgaria hooks up with a young hustler, Mitko, in a public restroom, and he pays Mitko for sex. The teacher finds himself drawn again and again to Mitko over the following months, until he is ensnared in a relationship where lust leads to pain and resentment, feelings are one-sided, and each new tenderness comes with a higher price. 

What Belongs to You is an exquisite debut novel of middle-aged desire and its consequences. About reaching for something that you can never really possess. It is a story about how our needs, our scars, and our shame shape who we love, but more importantly, who we are.

At first, this novel seemed like a cliché setup I’d read many, many times. And indeed the plot is well-worn.  However, the prose has such lyric intensity and the story holds such staggering eroticism without becoming erotica, that I became enthralled. It is an intense study of two very different people, and the author skillfully takes the reader deeper and deeper into each character, until you feel you know them inside and out, because they share so many genuine human emotions as the reader. 


Greenwell has created an indelible story, a masterpiece that will stand long after other contemporary works are forgotten.

www.garthgreenwell.com 


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Little Vin at Dreamland by Edward Patterson


Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher:
Dancaster Creative (April 21, 2017)


An Enchanted Adventure

Every once in a while a book comes along that has a unique voice, a fresh and vibrant set of characters, and has the ability to transport me into another world for an adventure beyond my limited imagination. I recently experienced a writer who took me on an adventure filled with history and wonder and valor found in unexpected places. The author is Edward C. Patterson and the story is called Little Vin at Dreamland.

Little Vin at Dreamland takes the reader back into 1910 during the zenith of Coney Island’s Dreamland amusement park. Out of this rich history comes the journey of one young man, Vincent Grainger, who dreams of breaking free of the hard-toiling life in the Irish immigrant community, and expanding his acting/dancing talents in Dreamland Park’s Congress of Oddities.

Vincent (Little Vin) starts his journey mucking out livery stables while keeping an eye open for opportunities to bringing in pocket change and keep aspirations afloat. And he finds opportunities - posing for artists and waiting tables and dancing for dimes. It’s a time to sparkle for those with ambition; and little Vin has the spark to get him through the best and worst of it.

Although Little Vin is the protagonist, the main character in this novel is the dazzling world of Coney Island in its heyday, and the wide spectrum of Brooklyn society, ranging from the posh to the seedy. Little Vin takes the reader on a journey through this interesting and vivid landscape, from the thousand lights of Dreamland, Luna and Steeplechase Parks to the early days of the silent film industry at Fort Lee, NJ.

This is a story about loyalty, duty and determination. Loyalty to family, to friends, but mostly loyalty to that dream that burns within. It follows Little Vin’s efforts to balance family duty with his burning aspirations, and the stakes are raised when love blossoms in the most unexpected way.

This story is a vivid, imaginative, and often humorous romp through a pivotal point in American history. I found it a delightful read, a feel good story where love and hope and all that makes American society great eventually triumphs.

This is a character driven story (I do consider the location a character), and Patterson skillfully presents these characters with marvelous depth, using an excellent blend of tragedy and humor.

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.

http://www.dancaster.com/


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.