Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Island Song by Alan Chin

Reviewed by Josh Aterovis

It's been two years since the death of Garrett Davidson's lover, but for Garrett, the pain is still just as fresh as if it had been only yesterday. His pain is so overwhelming he feels he won't be able to move on until he's exorcised his lost lover from his life. He'll do that by keeping his promise to write their story.

Garrett quits his successful job in San Francisco, packs up, and indefinitely rents a secluded beach house in a small Hawaiian town. The house comes with its own caretaker, a handsome young islander named Songoree.

Songoree's grandfather is the local shaman, a revered and feared figure in the village. He's been training Song to take over for him, teaching him to carry on his vision of a world living in peace instead of war. Grandfather is convinced that Garrett is the Chosen One he has been promised, but Song isn't so sure. Still, there's something about the man that intrigues Songoree.

Much to his surprise, Garrett is finding himself attracted to Songoree as well. As the two face their growing attraction, they must also face the disapproval of the conservative islanders, as well the expectations of Song's grandfather.

Island Song is a beautiful novel. Technically, this book would probably be categorized as a romance novel, but it's really so much more. Island Song is about loss, healing, finding love in unexpected places, leaving the world a better place when we're gone... and the sacrifices we sometimes have to make to achieve that.

First-time-author Alan Chin writes characters that are richly drawn. Garrett's pain is revealed slowly through flashbacks and dreams. He's a broken man haunted by the love of his life, but he has to let go in order to move on. Songoree is a sensitive, sweet soul. While he doesn't quite fit in with his rough-and-tumble surfer buddies, he's accepted as one of the gang as long as he sticks to the straight and narrow.

Even the secondary characters are vivid: Grandfather, Audrey, Mother Kamamalu, Hap. Each stands on their own as fully realized personalities, adding depth and dimension to an already strong story. Just as important as the human characters is the island upon which the story is set, Hawaii. While Chin does a fantastic job of recreating the lush, exotic feel of the island, he goes beyond a mere travelogue and really captures the spirit of the island.

The book is written in the present tense, an unusual approach these days. It took me a while to get into the rhythm, but once I did, the style really works. It creates a sense of urgency and immediacy that serves the story well. I was completely enchanted by this novel, and I look forward to more from Alan Chin.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

His Name is John by Dorien Grey

Reviewed by Richard Labonte, Book Marks (
Grey, author of a dozen well-plotted and comfortingly formulaic Dick Hardesty mysteries, breaks entertaining new ground with the enigmatic debut of a different series. This time around, his sleuth isn't, like Hardesty, a professional PI. Elliott Smith is the scion of a wealthy family who, rather than living off his trust funds, works for a living as an architecturally sensitive real estate speculator. The mystery is decidedly different, too: though Smith does in the course of the story figure out who the killer is, his real focus is on identifying who was killed - because he's being haunted by the unsettled ghost of a man who died beside him in a hospital's emergency room, and who has lost his identity. Grey's mysteries are relatively placid affairs, as gay whodunits (or, in this instance, who-it-was-dun-tos) go: there's very little blood and the man-on-man sex is more romantic than explicit. But Grey's writing is simultaneously sinewy and seductive, always appealingly lean and emotionally precise - the perfect formula for solid storytelling.

Angel Land by Victor Banis

Reviewed by Robert Buck
It takes a very talented author to pen over 150 diverse and very entertaining books over the course of a career spanning more than 50 years, but it takes an exceptionally talented writer to write a sci-fi adventure book that both keeps the reader on the edge of the seat and at the same time is very unsettling and dark and is a tale that one day could be closer to fact than fiction. With his latest novel, Angel Land, this is exactly what the prolific Victor Banis has done.

Angel Land is a dark and cautionary tale of what can happen when a state sponsored religion is wielded as a cudgel of power and retribution over the populace. Set in the late 21st Century, much of the United States has been cordoned off, by the state sponsored church, into the Fundamental Christian Territories such as the area called Angel Land - nothing more than a ghetto for gays, who are blamed for bringing the Sept virus into the world – the latest strain of the HIV virus. It is a land where Jews, Catholics and even Baptists are branded heretics and are kept in line through terror applied under the guise of religion. Inevitably parallels must be drawn to such travesties of a recent century as Hitler's Warsaw ghetto as Banis weaves a plausible and chilling tale of what can happen when the true Church and other good people turn their backs and allow those who wield power for evil to take charge. Banis draws the line between religion and spirituality sharply and distinctly.

The story follows one Harvey Milk Walton, who is one of the most likable and interesting protagonists I have encountered in some time, as he enters Angel Land and through his actions and interactions with the residents of an section of Angel Land called the Casa, completely and irrevocably brings changes to the Zone of Perversion. Along the way Harvey meets many well fleshed out and memorable characters and even finds love, for the first time in his life, with someone who would seem to be the last person he would ever choose. In the broadest scope, Harvey Milk Walton represents mans indomitable spirit to overcome all adversity.

The book also contains quite interesting exploration of 20th Century San Francisco and many of it's icons, including the Casto district and the Golden Gate Bridge as well as other points of interest. Though the subject matter is on one hand dark and disturbing and is a warning of what might come to be if we allow our civil liberties to slip away, on the other hand the author has always demonstrates his rare gift of being able to leaven even the darkest story with humor and with eternal hope. More than once I found myself chuckling out loud upon encountering one of Banis' witticisms, such as the reference to one of Henry David Thoreau's famous works.

It can scarcely be said of most writers that their work over an extended period of time just keeps getting better and better, but it is certainly true of Victor Banis in the opinion of this reviewer. I recommend Angel Land as highly as I have ever recommended a book. Angel Land is a crackling good, edge-of-the-seat adventure that is also an object lesson of what can happen if we as people don't vigilantly guard our civil liberties, and should not be missed.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dead End Street By Rick R. Reed

Reviewed by Janie Franz for

Rick R. Reed is a prolific horror writer whose body of work has chilled many an adult reader. Dead End Street is his first horror fiction for younger readers. In this one, Reed hangs a horror story around several eerie offerings by five middle school kids in a small Pennsylvania town on the Ohio River called Summitville. Peter, Marlene, David, Roy, and Erin have created a number of short-term clubs in the past, but this particular Halloween, they launch a brand new club: The Halloween Horror Club. They pick the spookiest, vacant house in town on a dead end street to tell their stories in, one tale a week for the five weeks leading up to Halloween. The house is the site of a gruesome murder fifteen years before, and it adds ghoulish atmosphere for their storytelling. As the tales unfold, the kids soon realize that they are not alone in the house.

Reed is able to create just the perfect amount of icy fingers up the reader's spine without the gore of some horror novels or movies. The characters are well-drawn and believable, and the plot and subplots are good and scary. Move over, R. L. Stine. It looks like Rick R. Reed may be the next new horror writer for young readers for this century. (Because I enjoyed this book so much, I'm going to track down his adult horror fiction and dip into some of those.)

Dead End Street is available as an ebook in a variety of formats [HTML, PDF, LIT, RB, and Mobi (PRC) ] from the Amber Quill Press or as a trade paperback from Amazon.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

THE JADE OWL by Edward C. Patterson

Review by Rainbow Reviews

Sinologist Professor Rowden Gray receives the opportunity of his professional lifetime, a curator position at the fabled San Francisco East Asian Museum of East Asian Arts and Culture, which houses the collection of his late mentor, "Old China Hand" John Battle. Battle's great work had been discredited due to his insistence on the Jade Owl, a mysterious missing artifact commissioned by China's only Empress. When RG arrives, he immediately discovers the position has been rescinded, he encounters a strange young man who proves to be Battle's prodigal son, and learns the Jade Owl really exists. Plunging into a drama worthy of an Errol Flynn swashbuckler, the soon-boon companions and several others are off on a life-and-death chase through San Francisco and then on to Hong Kong as the portal into China.

The Jade Owl is a nonstop, don't miss page turner and only the first in a quintology, The Jade Owl Legacy series. Readers, run, do not walk to your nearest book outlet and grab this intriguing gay mystery with its fully realized characters, gay and straight and bi, roller-coaster plotting, and paranormal fantasy elements. The Jade Owl is a true winner.

THE ANGEL SINGERS: A Dick Hardesty Mysteryby Dorien Grey

Reviewed by Bob Lind for Echo Magazine

Dick Hardesty is somewhat amused when his younger life-partner, Jonathan, tells him about the petty jealousies, gossip and backstabbing among the other members of the gay men's chorus in which Jonathan sings. But when one of those members, who made several enemies in the group, is murdered, private investigator Hardesty is hired by the chorus' board to look into the possibility of another member being responsible. Coordinating his investigation with a local gay-friendly police detective, Dick interviews the chorus members who had run-ins with the dead man, as well as his older benefactor/lover, who was also a primary financial backer of the chorus. The investigation leads to the son of the dead man's co-worker, a hustler who frequents a local bar, a former associate involved in art fraud, and a tragic incident in one member's childhood that should have been looked at more carefully at the time.

I've come late to the author's Dick Hardesty mysteries, and this is actually the first and only book I have read in that series. After clearing up some confusion as to the time setting (The series takes place about 15-20 years ago), I thoroughly enjoyed the book, especially the "everyman" quality he manages to convey with each character, making the read seem like it could be about people you know. Though I guessed the "whodunit" before Dick did, he admits later on that he sometimes misses obvious clues (which is understandable, when you are that close to the action) while his readers may not. An original approach, and one that I like. Looks like I have a series to catch up on!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mahu Fire By Neil S. Plakcy

Reviewed by Alan Chin

Kimo Kanapa’aka is a detective working a murder investigation and a series of arsons targeting GLBT owned businesses on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. He is thrust into the center of the investigation after he and his family attend a fundraiser for gay marriage proponents that is firebombed. Kimo is the perfect candidate to lead the bombing investigation because he is gay and has the support of the gay community, not to mention his personal motives: whoever bombed the fundraiser put his family at risk, and you don’t screw with a Hawaiian’s family, especially when he carries a loaded gun…
The deeper into the investigation Kimo crawls, the more the evidence seems to connect the bombings with the other murder and arson crimes. Could someone be targeting the whole GLBT community, and if so, what could they hope to gain? Or is Kimo simply grasping at straws because there is so little evidence to go by? When he teams up with a hunky fireman to investigate the fire bombings, he finds much more than he bargained for.

This topical story couldn’t have come out at a better time in. When the whole GLBT community is taking to the streets over gay marriage, this story pits equal marriage rights at the core of this plot.
As for a mystery, the plot is a bit too simplistic, readers know who done it very early in the story, but this story is much more than a mystery. It is a rather convincing romance, where both lovers bring issues and frustrations to the table and have to work through them. The story is a glimpse into a sometimes funny, sometimes sexy, sometimes sad struggle of two gay men trying to forge a relationship while caught in a deadly game with murders that show no mercy.
Watching Kimo juggle his career responsibility, his family obligations, and his sexual needs felt very real. Although I’m not a fan of detective stories, I found this read rather interesting because I could identify with Kimo’s struggle to blend his sexuality into his professional and family life. It was the main character’s love story and his relationship to his family, rather than the plot, that kept me turning pages.
If you like a well written detective story, and the idea of a dark skinned, hunky, Hawaiian surfer snapping the cuffs on you ups your heart rate, then by all means, this will be an enjoyable read.

Orientation by Rick R, Reed

Reviewed by Araminta Matthews

I have never read a romance novel. Can't stand the idea of them. I am of the theory that romance novels are for the romance-less, a commodity I have thankfully never been without. Rick Reed's Orientation is a romance novel, but it is unlike anything I ever imagined romance novels could be. It is a feminist testimony, it is an earthquake to the infrastructure of stereotyped sexuality, and it is a blessing to believers in an infinite universe.

Let me begin by explaining that, as a member of the GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queerstioning) community, I am often on the hunt for literature that I can relate to – that is, literature with a GLBTQ lifestyle theme or slant that captures my interest. For me, the mark of truly great GLBTQ fiction is that it is a story first with queer characters second. So much of this "specialized literature" expresses its characters as though being gay is the only thing that happens in a gay person's life, when in fact, being gay is just one small pebble in the riverbed of a person's entire soul. People are more than just their sexualities, and there is much more to life than with whom a person chooses to be intimate. Rick Reed's novel, Orientation, succeeds. The characters are not just homosexual stereotypes living a cliché life. They are real, believable, and whole, and they are engaged in a plot deeper than just their "coming out" or their "queeritude". And the story is as eerie as it is romantic.

The story begins in Christmas with Robert watching heart-breakingly over his lover, Keith, as he begins his journey toward death; moves through a Christmas stroll along the beach and a suicide intervention with a young lesbian, Jess; and culminates with a metaphysical reunion during the Christmas of 2007 with both Robert and Jess and the spirit of lovers past.

In spite of its fantastical plot, I never once felt like this story was contrived. I believed from moment one that everything Reed presented was not only possible, but plausible. That slippery veil that separates the reality of the reader from the fantasy of the story hung silkily over my eyes for every, single word I swallowed. The dialogue was real and engaging. The characters were whole and every one of them completely realized. The plot was poetic and emotional. The conclusion was the correct, heady mix of triumphant resolution with the characters' closure and bittersweet disappointment with the ending of a very good book. The good news is Reed has more books that I can read, and I can only imagine that his other novels are equally as deft and crafty as this.

In final words, let me express my excitement about this discovery. GLBTQ world, listen up! This author, Rick Reed, is the real deal. He tells the real stories. He challenges the myth that sexual orientation is fixed or stationary when it is more likely on an ever-changing scale. He shakes open myths about gender roles, and he reinvents the wheel of the romance novel. Thanks to Rick Reed, we are no longer stuck with tired coming out stories and floundering clichés."

Island Song by Alan Chin


Reviewed by Victor J. Banis

"They swim in a silent blue-green world thirty feet below the surface in the Sea of Cortez. Garret loves to swim facing up so he can watch their bubbles float away, mingling together as they race to the surface. It seems magical how they move…They dart around the rusted hull of a sunken freighter, like sea otters at play, until a giant manta ray glides up from beneath them, serene and graceful. The manta spans fifteen feet across, dark gray on top and virgin white on the underside. It flies right up to and around them, performing a slow motion ballet…Marc, the bold one, kicks his legs and glides to the back of the ray. He grabs hold with both hands near the eyes and begins to soar away, riding the ray like a magic carpet. Garrets struggles to catch them, and soon both divers ride the creature through the blue-green water…The giant saucer wings its way right into a school of squid, thousands of glistening clear-white bodies with long flowing tails. The vision is electrifying.
* * *
Reading Alan Chin's Island Song is as pleasurable as lolling in a hammock beneath the palm trees, sipping a Mai Tai and savoring the trade winds wafting from the ocean.
This is an impressive debut novel from an enormously talented new writer on the glbt horizon. Like the island shamans of which he writes, the author seems to cast a magic spell, transporting the reader from the printed page into the very scenes he evokes: one smells the scent of frangipani wafting from the tropical forests, feels the soft sand beneath one's feet, thrills to the graceful ballet of whales swimming—and, yes, knows the full horror as the teeth of a great white shark tear into one's flesh.
* * *
Garrett Davidson has come to a remote corner of the islands to finish a book and to recover from the death of his lover. Songoree is the grandson of the local kahuna anaana, descendant of powerful shaman warriors. The love that grows between them is developed in exquisitely subtle detail, with a growing sense of understated eroticism, so that even a first, fleeting kiss, the merest brushing of their lips together, is almost climactic in its intensity.
The author intends more here, though, than just a love story. Without resorting to preaching, he offers the reader as well a spiritually uplifting primer on enlightenment, and especially the wisdom of learning to live in the now.

It may be this underlying life-philosophy that encouraged the author to write the novel in the present tense. This was admittedly a bold decision, one with inherent challenges for both writer and reader. It is done here as well as I have seen it done, for which the author is to be commended. Only once or twice does he trip himself up and I doubt that most non-writers will notice, in large part because the prose is generally so compelling that one is simply swept along with the story. And I am a champion of the writer's freedom to do what he will with his material. Sometimes the novel dictates that you break from convention and one can see how that might have happened here.

Still, to paraphrase pianist Artur Rubenstein (he was speaking of playing Chopin) children and geniuses can get away with self indulgence; the writer serious about mastering his craft and, most importantly, being taken seriously, does better to work within the norms, though that is admittedly only my opinion and I do not pretend that mine is the only one.
The truth is, however, that few novels achieve perfect, nor does this one, and since I have touched upon its imperfections, let me get the rest of them out of the way in short order and be done with it.

While the principle characters are beautifully realized, which makes their growing love deliciously real and believable, a large cast of secondary characters remains mostly one dimensional.

Regrettably, too, the book continues for another twenty or so pages after the real story—Garrett's catharsis through his love for Songoree—is effectively over, thus somewhat blunting the ending. The writing in those twenty pages is fine, but the few details of interest there could better have been shorthanded into two or three paragraphs of an epilogue, making for a far cleaner and more satisfactory conclusion.

And, yes, a keener editorial eye would have been welcome, but that problem has become ubiquitous these days, sadly.

These are writer-ly complaints, however, and unlikely to diminish the considerable pleasure awaiting the reader who picks up this fresh and rapturous novel. Those who like their romance with a little substance will find this one a feast for the senses—as beautiful and as breathtaking as a tropical waterfall, as mystical and graceful as the world beneath the sea, and as sweet and satisfying as a juicy, ripe Hawaiian mango.
Highly recommended.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Phantom Lover By AJ Llewellyn

Reviewed on Romance Junkies By Romance Junkies Reviewer: jhayboy

Bobby Kikawa’s attraction to Hawaii’s most famous hula dancer Kimo Wilder happened long before his friend Johnny displayed a portrait of him in his gallery called Phantom Lover. About to begin training with the man himself, he visits the portrait daily to satisfy not only a yearning to see him before training begins, but to just stand and stare at the beauty of the man.

Kimo Wilder is not only straight but a “Keeper of Secrets” in Hawaiian culture. When he has to train a team of young men and women for his latest stage production, the last thing he expects is to be pleasured by one of the young male dancers. Trying to put distance between them proves futile, and when their obvious chemistry moves from the dance floor to between the sheets, a red hot affair begins.

When the young dancer satisfies a part of Kimo that he did not realize needed the attention, Kimo quickly inserts himself into Bobby’s life. And Bobby loves every minute of it! Things go from one extreme to the next, with propriety rearing its head and interference from friends and family. Are they prepared to sacrifice everything for each other?

Once in a while, after reading dozens of books, I open a book and know before finishing the first chapter it is worth the highest accolade. A.J. Llewellyn’s PHANTOM LOVER is one such book.

PHANTOM LOVER is a mix of Hawaiian history and fantasy with the hottest love scenes I’ve read in a long time. Kimo is a married man, who is not only every woman’s fantasy but every man’s wet dream. While trying to live up to his cultural expectations and maintain the propriety of marriage, he suppresses the need to find his own happiness. When the gods themselves takes the matter out of his hands, he has no choice but to run to the one person who makes him whole and cling to him for all he is worth.

Bobby starts out as any typical young man, wanting that special someone to love. But in travelling his path, he ends up with not only a broken heart but also making the wrong choices for the right reason – which, as expected, ends badly. Once he becomes involved with Kimo, and the realization of what and who Kimo is sinks in, he quickly grows up and embraces all the challenges of a dysfunctional relationship. His strength and the beauty of his personality is one of the highlights of the book.

The pain and pleasure of watching both Kimo and Bobby grow is quite an experience. The emotional highs and lows during their growth is unending and relentless, leaving you with deep regret for the time wasted getting to this stage and extreme pleasure at the fact that they have grown and use the lessons learned to recognize their soul mate.

For first time readers and old fans, PHANTOM LOVER is a character driven story. Kimo and Bobby suck you into their world of a thousand emotions and never let you go. Be prepared for a wild ride. A.J. Llewellyn - take a bow! PHANTOM LOVER stands up and roars.

Turning Idolater by Ed Patterson

Reviewed by Esmerelda Luv


I never saw the ending of this who-dunnit coming until the puzzle started falling rapidly into place at the end. Even now, I am still in shock over who did it, even though the clues were scattered throughout the story. I believe what made this story so successful was Patterson's ability to make the reader like each and every individual in the story, see who they really are and think "I know him, he couldn't do this!" But then, realize, after the fact, 'Yeah, he could.'.

Philip, forced out of his family home, gets a job at a porn site on the internet Where he meets his future flame, TDye. The story then flows with romance, broken hearts, multiple killings, restoring books, and excerpts from 'Moby Dick' until it climaxes with an explosive ending and fades into a warm glow. The author did an excellent job of tying up the loose ends and leaving the reader thinking, "Wow."

This book was full of emotional surprises throughout it's pages. There were times I laughed out loud and times when I needed to have the kleenex handy. When the characters had a serious moment, it was time to close the door, mute the stereo and focus intently on the words displayed on my Kindle.

Patterson has become an author I look for. Whenever I see he has a new book out, I'm in line to buy it. I'm not gay, but I like people, and his characters are likeable, full of spirit, going places and when they decide to go do something. . .I won't be left behind!"

Longhorns by Victor Banis

Reviewed by Bryl Tyne
Up until reading Longhorns, I'd never pictured hard-working, cattle-driving cowboys as lovers. Yet, Banis paints the story so that it feels as realistic as taking a drink and expecting it to moisten your throat. It never once occurred to me that this couldn't have possibly happened. In fact, it was quite the opposite. In a strange sense, I found myself thinking, "Makes perfect sense to me."

His characters pulled me in. They were manly men, rough, tough, and proud, and although he showed quite a few times that his men possessed consciences, brains, and hearts, they were always just men. I fell in love with Buck and Les, and Red from the beginning, and found myself cheering for them at the end.

Not an extreme amount of external conflict, yet enough to keep the tension at a level where one can't wait to see what happens next. And, the internal conflicts were amazingly written without being the least bit sappy.

Longhorns is a beautiful and well-crafted romance. I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to any romance enthusiast.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Angel Land By Victor Banis

Reviewed by Alan Chin

Victor Banis takes the reader into the future, late in the 21st Century, when the United States has disintegrated into territories ruled by Fundamental Christians. Catholics, Baptists and Jews are registered as heretics, and gays are herded into walled ghettos that are reminiscent of the Jewish slums of Nazi Germany. In this setting, Harvey Milk Walton, a young gay man on the run from the religious authorities, finds that his only option to escape execution is to hide in the gay ghetto, but he soon finds himself jumping from the frying pan into the fire, because the ghetto holds its own lethal threat: the Sept virus. Sept is the seventh and deadliest mutation of the AIDS virus of the Twentieth Century, but unlike AIDS, no one is exactly sure how Sept is transmitted, which makes it all the more frightening.
In a crumbling totalitarian society, where evil masquerades as piety, gay people are cut off from the rest of humanity and dying of the Sept virus, Harvey Milk Walton faces great danger and agonizing choices which could affect the future of mankind. Can he muster enough strength to live up to his martyred namesake of long ago and rise to lead a rebellion?

Victor Banis stretches his considerable talents in this daring novel. This story is a vivid, imaginative, and often humorous romp through a society turned into hell. It has extraordinary power, with images that grab hold of you and don’t let go. In the midst of this nightmare, Victor creates a heartwarming love story that is a testament to the human spirit.

The author uses a technique that I have not seen before. The story starts off being told from Harvey Milk Walton’s 1st person point of view, but then switches to 3rd person POV, and thereafter toggles back and forth from 1st to 3rd at regular intervals. I found these POV switches to be seamless, and greatly added to developing the depths of several characters. This is a character driven story, and Victor skillfully opens up his characters and allows us see to their core.

The plot is more complex than Victor’s previous works, which combines with his consummate skill at crafting prose and his well-researched details to keep the reader fully engaged until the last page. Victor Banis’s writing, like fine wine, keeps getting better with age. I would recommend this read to anyone who enjoys multifaceted characters, humor, and a well-crafted story.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Island Song by Alan Chin

Story discription by Alan Chin
Reviewed by Bryl Tyne

Two years after the death of his lover, Garrett Davidson sits in a Hawaiian beach shack, staring out over the vast empty Pacific. He has nothing left. Despair has robbed him of his elegant home, his lucrative job and his sanity. The single thread holding him to reality is the story he has come here to write—Marc’s story, the story of his lost love.
Then Songoree, a local surfer, breezes into his life, and as he attempts to heal Garrett's spirit, they become entwined in a touching, yet dangerous relationship. But Songoree’s kahuna grandfather has plans for Garrett, and when a clash of wills erupts between grandfather, grandson, and hostile islanders bent on destroying the connection between Garrett and Song, Garrett is caught in the middle, fighting for his life and plunging headlong to a moment that will brutally test the boundaries of the human spirit.

Bryl's review:
I recommend this novel to anyone searching for a deeper meaning to life and love

Although marketed as paranormal gay romance, this book is SO MUCH MORE! Island Song is full of page turning, artfully depicted adventures and involves many touching issues that could make the toughest of hearts weep.

However, erotic - Island Song is not. I found the love scenes tastefully written. Without adding the "gag" of purple prose, the scenes were descriptive enough to visualize while bearing just the right amount of enticing sensuality.

Don't get me wrong, the romance between Garrett and Songoree is one of the most beautifully mastered tales of male love that I have ever read. Let me share with you one example...While reading through a scene where something as innocent as a shoulder massage that Songoree, out of concern, administers to Garrett, I found myself blinking back the tears.

Alan Chin's writing is breathtakingly descriptive, and yet his vivid scenes and accurate scenarios, his multifaceted character depictions, and the overall movement throughout the book was never tedious. I picked Island Song up, and four and a half hours later, closed it feeling as if I had taken the deepest breath of fresh air imaginable.

This book was expertly crafted, and I can't wait to see more from this new author.

Spine Intact, Some Creases by Victor Banis

Reviewed by Ruth Sims

As important as this book is (not to mention just plain fun to read) I'm surprised there isn't a raft of reviews. Yes, it's a little pricey and I'm as cheap as the next person. But this one, trust me, is worth the money. Victor Banis was a hero who didn't set out to be, and doesn't even claim the title. But he is.

I love good fiction, but I've always been partial to nonfiction, especially biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs. I've read good, bad, and ick. There are many reasons to praise this book, not least of them is that Banis was a pioneer in gay writing at a time when that was a hazardous thing to be, an openly gay man before Stonewall, a time when there were no gay pride parades and gay pride itself was almost unthinkable. Homosexual characters in fiction were required to be miserable, self-hating, and preferably suicidal.

Well, somebody forgot to tell Victor Banis that he couldn't create cheerful, brave, happy gay characters. So he did. If you've never read any of The Man From C.A.M.P. books you should. Banis was young when he wrote them and they are a trip. They're fall-down funny, and the indomitable hero, Jackie, makes Batman look like a wuss (although in appearance he may be closer to Robin). Banis is a writer who clearly delights in what he does and who he is. A master of the written word, he has written 150 books that he can remember and others he has forgotten, under various names, in a career that stretches across nearly fifty years. He knew everybody. He even talked to Hef inside the Playboy mansion, of all places for a gay boy to find himself. Jackie, of C.A.M.P., would have made the most of it.

Spine Intact is a difficult book to write about simply because of its scope. It encompasses a tremendous amount of political history regarding publishing, censorship, gay people, homophobia, and more. Banis was subjected to spying by the government, and during his writing and publishing years he had the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head in the form of possible arrest, prosecution, and jail time. He saw the McCarthy Era as it happened. He had packages and letters opened by the Post Office. Yet through it all, the reader doesn't get the feeling of someone who is frightened, bitter, angry, or full of "why-me". He may very well have been all of those things from time to time; he would hardly have been human if he hadn't. But Victor Banis is quite possibly the most balanced (he would probably say, with a laugh, that he's unbalanced) individual around. Banis has become an icon without intending to be, and any author who writes books with gay characters and every reader who reads them, owes Banis and people like him. They took the lumps and the risks, and defended free speech.

Spine Intact has humor, wit, gossip (but not the malicious kind), history, and compassion. He tells stories of a family that lived in poverty in every way except that of spirit. In fact, when you read about the Banis family you feel that you may be reading about the richest family on earth. They're not a group of Pollyannas and they had their ups, downs, and tragedies but they had each other. There's a delightful story of him and his mother in a bookstore, with his mom calling out the titles of books ("Here's Lesbians On Parade." Is that one of yours?") to the sound of dropping jaws. He doubts she even knew what a lesbian was. I fell in love with Mother Banis at that moment.

There is so much in this book that a complete review would be as long as Les Miserables. My only complaint, and it's not really a complaint but just an observation, is that it should have been two separate books, one dealing with the his autobiographical material and gay history aspect, which were so intertwined, and the other with his sprightly comments on writing and the world, comments that are pithy and wise. It's hard to say if he is amused or bemused by life. Both, I think.

Just as an example of the comments and of his breezy, reader-friendly way of writing, I hope he and his publisher will indulge me in quoting a couple of my favorite lines (there are so many!) "...regret [is] just another...way of flagellating oneself. ... If you like yourself what is there to regret?" (page 326) On supposed Biblical condemnation of homosexuality: " I just know some are dusting off their Sodom and Gomorrah mantelpiece villages at this very moment."(page 342) In the last chapter, writing about not worrying about offending someone because you're going to, sooner or later (he says it much better than that and throws in a great quote from Winston Churchill's wife) he ends by saying "...serve the cheese balls anyway. Someone will love them." (page 358). Trust me. There's a story behind that!

Deadly Vision By Rick Reed

Reviewed by Lori L. Lake for the Midwest Book Review

Cass D’Angelo lives a regular life in small town, Ohio, with her seven-year-old son, Max. She works at a popular diner and has little unusual going on in her life except, initially, the lack of a girlfriend. Her whole life changes, however, after being struck on the head during a storm. When she wakes up in the hospital, she discovers that she’s acquired psychic powers, specifically the ability to visualize the grisly deaths of local girls who have recently begun disappearing.

The killers are an insane, but handsome, psychopath and his smitten and spectacularly confused girlfriend. We find out very quickly that they worship a devil-like entity, “The Beast,” and when they discover that Cass has directed the police to unearth one of their victims, they go after her and her family.

Like Charlaine Harris’s Harper Connelly character, Cass D’Angelo is a psychic character who’s fascinating to read about. She’s thoughtful, smart, and capable. Unlike Harris’s character, who travels around to use her gift, Cass is mostly happy and settled in her Ohio home and committed to family, friends, and her community. That makes her deadly visions and horror over the sick murders even more palpable. Everyone is at risk, even her own son.

Reed gives us alternate chapters from the perspective of the twisted killer’s girlfriend and of our increasingly-stressed heroine. His secondary characters, particularly Cass’s mother and Cass’s journalist girlfriend, are lively, interesting, and essential. His use of tone, pacing, and atmosphere is masterful. A natural born storyteller, this author does an excellent job showing Cass’s increasing panic in the face of the killers’ single-minded murderous intent. With every page, the reader’s tension level rises until the wild climax. At times graphic, always descriptive, and endlessly suspenseful, this novel takes you on a rocky ride through horror and anxiety. Will the killers be thwarted? Will Cass live to see another vision? Will she lose the one she loves the most?

Highly recommended for all who enjoy heart-pounding suspense, horror, and good old-fashioned fright within an expertly constructed narrative.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Man Oh Man! Writing M/M Fiction for Kinks & Cash by Josh Lanyon

Review by Vincent Diamond

Kinks and cash? Who wouldn't be tempted with a juicy title like that? With this intriguing title nibble, author Josh Lanyon, entices readers to dig further into this smorgasboard of writing about male/male fiction, erotica, and romance. A multi-published author himself, Lanyon has the publishing experience and awards to author a how-to guide on appealing to the male/male market.

Lanyon makes the distinction early on that male/male stories are different than gay fiction. "In M/M fiction, the romance is the foundation." He emphasizes that even a genre story such as mystery, thriller or paranormal, must have the appropriate genre elements plus the romantic elements that focus on a male/male relationship (which may or may not include traditional romance elements such as Happily Ever After). In traditional gay fiction, the emotional elements of relationships are often glossed over and are not the focus of the story.

The reason for this romantic emphasis is the nature of the male/male market: women. Yes, gay male readers are beginning to discover—and enjoy-- these stories, but the vast majority of publishers in this genre readily admit that most of their customers are women. Women enjoy stories without the "baggage" of main female characters; they want exciting stories with adventurous action; and they want hot sex scenes with two men. Sex scenes that don't include women.

Lanyon traces the history of male/male fiction to its roots in fanfiction (stories written in an already created universe such as Star Trek and The Sentinel). Written almost entirely by and for women, a substantial number of male/male authors have made the transition from fanfiction to professional publishing. And they've taken with them the recipes for cooking up a best-selling story: characters that readers care about, dramatic scenes with clear settings, and sex scenes that both serve the story and arouse the reader.

Lanyon quotes a number of publishing professionals throughout the book, letting their comments add distinctive flavor to the points he's making. (And a few appear to mis-step; one editor for a New York print publishing house makes statements that show a clear lack of understanding of the totality of the male/male market, dismissing women as readers entirely). The e-publishers readily embraced male/male fiction, and editors from Amber Quill, Aspen Mountain Press, Loose Id, Samhain Publishing, Torquere Press, and others discuss what storylines work, what submissions catch their eye, and how quickly the market changes. MLR (Man Love Romance) Press founder Laura Baumbach has terrific insights into the ever-evolving market for readers and authors.

With chapters on topics such as characterization, pacing, dialogue, and setting, a reader skimming the Table of Contents might mistake this for the same-old, how-to-write-good tomes of the past. But Lanyon's nitty-gritty details on these topics, and their application to male/male writing is the real meat of the book. By using examples from his own writing and others, Lanyon is able to point out exactly why or why not writing works. (Clunky blocking, un-necessary adjectives, boring physical beats). Even better, Lanyon edits on the page several writing samples to show readers how to maintain POV, how to block action scenes, how to cut bland words, and how to incorporate the crucial elements of male/male fiction.

He generously provides some real-world samples of an outline, synopsis, and query letter for his book The Hell You Say. Seeing the actual words on the page along with Lanyon's advice on pinning down a storyline is invaluble. For readers who are new to publishing, the resources section include listings of contests and publishers that are open to male/male fiction. Chapters are laid out in a logical order, and the overall design is easy to follow. Major points are often in a call-out text box or bolded for emphasis.

Even if you don't write male/male fiction, anyone writing erotica, GLBT fiction, romance or other genres will get a satisfying meal out of this. More than a how-to genre book, Lanyon's advice on writing is universal—and tasty.

Hard Hats by Neil S. Plakcy

An erotica anthology, including an introduction and story by Neil S. Plakcy

Review by Vincent Diamond

Cleis Press continues their series of erotica anthologies based on male archetypes with this installment on construction workers: Hard Hats. (Cowboys, Truckers, Cops—are they running through the Village People? Will we be seeing Native American Hotties someday soon?)

Editor Neil Plakcy worked on construction sites himself, and, as he says in his Introduction, "From the shirtless carpenters to the beefy laborers, there was plenty of guy candy." Some of the stories here are just that: guy candy with a little scenery stuck in to make it work for this theme. Twenty-one stories are in this collection, and they generate a lot of heat and sweat—for the characters and for the reader. Better though, several of the stories really delve into the concept, and authors have come up with some interesting takes on the building trades.

Rob Rosen's "Hammered and Nailed" is a fun start to the collection. When a new condo owner takes possession of his place, he christens his home with a jerk-off session that includes a tradesman's hammer. When the hammer's owner shows up to finish some carpentry, smut ensues. Raw and rocket fast, the story zips right along.

"Fantasy Man" by Aaron Michaels is one of the longer stories in the book; it has a set-up that shows a character looking for action then finding it at the construction site across from his office building. Smoothly written, with some fun language, this story is one of the stand-outs in the collection.

Plakcy contributes his own "Daniel in the Lyons Den." When site foreman Joe Lyons takes an unexpected fall in a thunderstorm, the assistant building manager (hired only because he knew Microsoft Project- a nice, humorous touch) saves him from drowning. From there, it's only a few short steps to Lyons' site trailer, a hot shower, and some even hotter sex. With his astonishingly foul mouth, Lyons is probably based on a real foreman—somewhere. Construction sites aren't know for having especially erudite and articulate men so this touch of realism from Plakcy is humorous and real.

"Vertigo" from A. Steele is another stand-out. Conrad Wilcox is afraid of heights, and when his new office is under construction, he's forced (kind of) to face his fears. Steele has a deft touch with dialogue, and the action is both realistic and tense. Conrad's lover literally fucks him into the air; it's un-nerving and sexy to read about it.

The end story, "Sandhogs" gives readers a nice glimpse into the life of a miner. Set in the claustrophic world of the underground, a classic older man/younger man scenario plays out from beneath tons of rock and earth and steel. Author Kiernan Kelly has a nice touch with acknowledging the real fear and unease that must be a genuine part of the working world.

If you're looking for an evening's read that will give you a happy ending, this book is for you. If you're looking for a glimpse into the variety of trades that make up much of the blue-collar world, Hard Hats does that, too. But mostly, if you want some vivid description of man-on-man sex, hard bodies, and hunky construction workers, this is the book to choose.

STAIN OF THE BERRY by Anthony Bidulka

Reviewed by Neil S. Plakcy
In Stain of the Berry, his fourth Russell Quant mystery, Canadian author Anthony Bidulka demonstrates a sure hand with character, plot and setting. Quant, a gay private investigator based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is awakened one night by a phone call from a frightened young woman. “He won’t leave me alone,” she says. “He wants to hurt me.”

Before he can help, though, the phone goes dead. Only later does he realize that the young woman, Tanya Culinare, committed suicide shortly after the call. Hired by her parents and brother, Quant tries to understand who or what tormented her so that she was forced to leap from her apartment balcony to her death.

In each of his previous books, the Lambda-award-winning Bidulka has taken his sleuth to exotic locales, and in Stain of the Berry a secondary plot, concerning Russell’s missing neighbor, Sereena Orion Smith, takes the intrepid sleuth to Canada’s far north. This jaunt, tied into Russell’s trepidation at approaching his thirty-fifth birthday, combines with the question of what has happened to Tanya and her friends to make a very enjoyable read. *****

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Angel Singers by Dorien Grey

Reviewed by Rob (paddyofurniture)

It is certainly hard for me to believe that The Angel Singers is the twelfth book in the Dick Hardesty mystery series. It doesn’t seem that long ago that The Butcher’s Son kicked off this wonderful series with a tale of arson and mayhem, and introduced us to one of the most endearing, not to mention enduring gay investigators, Dick Hardesty.

The Angel Singers takes us into the world of a gay men’s chorus (and by the way gives quite good information and insight into that particularly fascinating world) and introduces us to a particulary nasty man named Grant Jefferson who happens to be sponsored by one of the choral group’s benefactors. It is not long however until Grant is scattered far and wide by a car bomb which lets the reader know there was some serious dislike for Mister Jefferson. Due to his nastiness there is no shortage of suspects for Dick to sift through on the way to revealing the somewhat surprising solution of this murder.

However as entertaining as the solving of the crime is, it is in making the characters come to life that Grey really shines. Just like an elegant merlot chablais, this series has gotten better with time and age, each novel seeming to improve on the last to create a rich tapestry of not only Hardesty’s professional life, but also his home life. Dick, Jonathan and the adorable Joshua are characters we have come to love and to really care about, and I find the home and family life is every bit as entertaining as the mystery. Grey is a master at writing tongue-in-cheek wit, and there is plenty of that to be found in The Angel Singers.

If you already love the Dick Hardesty series, as I do, you will love this one too, and if you have never read a Dick Hardesty book (and shame on you if you have not) this is as good as any of them as a place to start.

Voyeur by Jon Michaelsen

From loveyoudivine Alterotica's His and His Kisses Anthology - MEN
Reviewed by AJ Llewellyn for Dark Diva Reviews
Kevin enjoys gardening on the balcony of his high-rise. When he notices a chiseled Adonis staring out the window of the penthouse across the street, the sunlight cascading down the man’s naked torso, he’s mesmerized. What begins as innocent glances soon spirals into an obsession that changes his life forever.

Kevin has an obsession; one that involves the muscular Adonis in the penthouse adjacent to his high-rise condominium. He’s told no one, not even Alice, his best friend at the office of his fascination. He purchases binoculars, adds a camera with zoom lens and spirals into the depths of voyeurism before devising a plan to finally meet the man of his dreams. An evening of easy conversation and lustful glances ends far too soon, but not before Tony plants the most amazing kiss ever on Kevin’s lips, leaving him yearning for more.

When Tony shows up at Kevin’s apartment the next night all bloody and bruised, Kevin offers him instant refuge…and his bed. But not all is what it seems. Police burst into Kevin’s home, searching for the killer of a man in the penthouse across the street—Tony’s so-called partner.
Will Kevin’s pleas of innocence save him from this horrible turn of events?


Kevin Mitchell has a neat, orderly existence with his high rise condo, his balcony garden and his investment clients. An accountant with a deadline looming, he finds himself increasingly drawn to the man living in the building opposite him. Knowing nothing about him, Kevin enjoys staring at him but fascination with the handsome stranger quickly turns to obsession, distracting him from his real world. Buying cameras and binoculars, spying becomes his full time occupation. Finally meeting the man, whose name is Tony, Kevin becomes embroiled in a white-hot love affair with him…but is there more to Tony than meets the…er, eye?

Jon Michaelsen does an excellent job of building up the tension of lonely Kevin’s increasing obsession with the hot and sexy Tony. At every turning page, the reader worries that the scrutinized stranger will catch him, at the same time feeling it’s all a bit…creepy. The theme of one neighbor spying on another and becoming obsessed is well traversed fiction – but the gorgeous, evocative prose Michaelsen uses to describe Kevin’s reawakened senses, not to mention the scorching sex scenes and the surprising plot twists make this compelling, refreshing reading.

Rated Five Delightful Divas by AJ Llewellyn: A Recommended Read

L.A. HEAT by P.A. Brown

Reviewed by Niel S. Plakcy

Chris Bellamere seems to live a charmed life in the City of Angels. Blond and handsome, he’s a well-paid computer engineer, living in a luxurious home and tricking with a different sexy guy each night. But darkness lurks even in the sunny environs of LA’s Silver Lake neighborhood.
LA homicide detective David Eric Laine couldn’t be more different. A beefy, hairy bear, deeply closeted, he lives in a crappy house and suffers the homophobic comments of his partner and other officers in silence.

A serial killer brings these two men together—and ultimately into each other’s arms. In P.A. Brown’s debut mystery, L.A. Heat, Detective Laine and his partner are chasing a man they’ve come to call The Carpet Killer, who kidnaps gay men, tortures them, kills them, then wraps them in carpeting for disposal.

This is not the sun-drenched LA of the movies. It’s a workaday vision of this complicated city, from the side streets of Beverly Hills to the deeply wooded canyons where evil lurks. Against his judgment, David finds himself falling in love with Chris, though all clues seem to point to Chris as the killer.

All David’s strength of will must transfer from maintaining his place in the closet to believing that Chris is not the killer himself, but instead the killer’s target. Chris brings his considerable computer talents into play as he seeks information on a former trick, now dead. “While the crackers and the decrypters ran against the database he refreshed his coffee one more time… In another ten minutes his zombie machine registered success. He was in.”
L.A. Heat is not so much a mystery as a thriller, though the clues don’t all come together for our intrepid detectives until the heart-stopping conclusion.

This is a strong new entry in the narrow niche of gay male mystery, and I hope the future brings more adventures for this sexy pair.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Orientation by Rick R. Reed

Reviewed by Tyler R. Tichelaar

Orientation is surprisingly different from Rick R. Reed's previous highly suspenseful novels such as "IM" and "High Risk." Most of his books feature very dysfunctional villains whom the plot circles around. While "Orientation" includes the character of Ethan, who is a frightening yet somewhat inadequate villain, the novel's real focus is on love rather than suspense or terror.

Robert and Keith were lovers whose relationship lasted only a short time before Keith died of AIDS at Christmas 1983. Robert cared for Keith until the end, and Keith, who was financially well-off from writing popular children's books, left Robert with enough money to be comfortable the rest of his life. In the years that follow, Robert has had several lovers, but none ever compared to Keith. Robert, now well into his forties, is living with Ethan, who is two decades younger. While their relationship was hot at the start, they have started to grow apart. Robert even suspects Ethan of cheating on him when Ethan makes excuses for why they cannot spend Christmas together. Alone on Christmas, Robert goes for a walk along the beach. He soon meets, Jess, a young woman who is contemplating drowning herself in Lake Michigan because her girlfriend, Ramona, left her. Robert convinces Jess to come home with him, and then a strange series of coincidences and dreams make Robert and Jess believe she may be Keith reincarnated. To substantiate the possibility, Jess was born the same day Keith died. Robert, tired of Ethan's antics, begins contemplating a relationship with Jess. Little does Robert know that Ethan also wants out of their relationship, but in a far more drastic way. Will Robert end up with Jess? Is Jess really Keith reincarnated? And if so, can a gay man love a lesbian woman?

Rick R. Reed puts his characters in a difficult situation. The concept of reincarnation and two lovers meeting again is not completely original in fiction, but Reed has done his research—he mentions the real life story of Bridey Murphy's claim to reincarnation, and he adds a gay twist to the reincarnation plot. I was also reminded of the more disturbing scenes in the Nicole Kidman film, "Birth," where a child was Kidman's reincarnated husband.

While Reed explored paranormal possibilities, I appreciated the realistic ending. Fans of Reed's novels will be entertained by Ethan's attractive villain role—I actually found him the most interesting character in the book—but readers will also note a different tone to this book which suggests Reed is seeking to express himself in new ways, pushing against the limits of his genre just enough not to lose his faithful readership, yet to explore deeper questions, not simply about being gay, but about what it is to love someone.

"Orientation" is not my favorite of Rick R. Reed's novels, and I think the end is a bit contrived to reflect the suspense ending his fans would expect, but I appreciate his effort to push the genre's boundaries. I will be interested to see if he continues to look deeper into his characters' emotions beyond the fear, lust, and anger that motivated his previous villains. I also enjoy the paranormal possibilities he only slightly experimented with in "Deadly Vision" and now in "Orientation." I would like to see him focus more on the paranormal in his future novels.

THE HELL YOU SAY by Josh Lanyon

Reviewed by Neil S. Plakcy
The Hell You Say, Josh Lanyon’s third mystery in the Adrien English series, gets off to a fast start with a phone call to Adrien’s mystery bookstore, Cloak and Dagger Books in Pasadena. His clerk, Angus, has been hanging out with a group of fellow UCLA students who’ve delved a little too deep into Satanism, and someone’s calling the store to put a deadly hex on Angus.

Author of a series about a gay Shakespearean actor who’s also an amateur sleuth, Adrien is also, in a twist of fate known only to mystery writers, an amateur detective himself. Trying to help his clerk, Adrien finds himself getting caught up in a world of curses, demons, and murder.
In the great tradition of amateur sleuths everywhere, Adrien has a connection to the police force, and in his case it’s his sometime boyfriend, Jake Riordan. Why only sometime? The deeply closeted Jake also has a girlfriend, and only a few people are privy to his occasional desire for man-on-man love. Adrien must contend not only with inverted pentagrams painted on his doorstep, but also with his lover’s fervent attempts to keep him out of the case—to keep their relationship from going public.

Adrien’s life is filled with interesting, humorous characters, from the mousy new clerk who might just be a Wiccan to the daughters of his mother’s new beau, who greet him in “a butterfly swarm of scented breasts and long legs and silky hair.” The fast-paced plot keeps things moving along smartly, joining the Christmas season with the Witches’ Sabbat of Yule and Adrien’s mother’s impending nuptials.

Though this is the third in the series, you don’t need to have read the first two to enjoy this—you just need a taste for a witty, page-turning mystery.

The Angel Singers by Dorien Grey

Reviewed by Drew Hunt
Nothing requires more harmony than a chorus, but when an eager Jonathan Quinlan joins his local gay men's chorus, his PI partner Dick Hardesty becomes immersed in a seething cauldron of conflicting egos, power struggles, rumors, gossip...and murder.
When a protege of the wealthy chorus sponsor get blown up, Dick is hired to find out if anyone from the chorus was involved. As is all too often the case, there at first seems to be too many suspects, and then another man is killed in an apparent mugging. Or was it?

This is the twelfth, and most explosive, Dick Hardesty story.

In some ways I was quite relieved when Grant died. He was, to put no finer point on it, a bastard. And he isn't the only bastard to meet his end during the unwinding of this complex tale.

It's difficult to talk about the gripping main mystery plot without spoiling it for the reader. Suffice to say, Dick's loved ones are put in grave peril because of it. His investigations also bring him back in contact with the delightful Iris and Arnold Glick. Alas we saw little of his friends, Jared, Jake, Phil and Tim.

Dick's personal life continues to enthrall. Joshua is a delight. He's a typical five-year-old kid. By which I mean, he's moody, melodramatic and messy, but still loveable. Grey does an awesome job in writing about life with a pre-schooler.

Jonathan. What can I say about this guy that I've not said before? He has grown from the innocent and naïve man who first appeared in Dick's life several stories back. His increased maturity is natural and believable. However, there still remains an essence of trustfulness and a willingness to try to find good in everyone he meets. The closing of the story had me blinking away tears at just how true this last statement is.

GWR Fiction Reviews doesn't have a recommended read award, but if it did, I would definitely nominate this story.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Vienna Dolorosa by Mykola Dementiuk

Reviewed by Victor Banis
A stunning and exemplary work of historical fiction, set in Vienna, Austria, taking place during a single day—March 12, 1938, the day Hitler "invades" Austria—in the Hotel Redl, a brothel where young boys dressed as girls entertain a discreet clientele. The hotel's proprietress, transvestite Friska Bielinska, watches the violence building on the streets of the city and tries valiantly to save guests and workers from the Nazi storm breaking around them.

Some books are easy to read. You snuggle up with them for a few hours of pleasure, a divertissement; perhaps a thrill or two from the plot, maybe a phrase here or there to savor. For most of us, this is mostly what we read.

Other books are not so easy. They are the ones whose prose, whose authors, challenge us. They dwell on serious subjects, or sometimes, subjects that are difficult to face. They make us think. They make us face, within ourselves, the reality of the human condition; perhaps for better; more often, for worse. I personally find that certain themes, certain subjects, are difficult for me to read. That is not meant judgmentally. The good writer is, or should be, a student of human behavior. To wrinkle up one's nose at very much of it is to distance yourself from your rightful task. You cannot write about human beings if you do not understand them, and you cannot understand them if you cannot see them honestly.

Still, I am inclined to avoid violence and there are certain types of sexual behavior—sadism, masochism, scatology among them—that turn me off on a personal level. Man's inhumanity to man depresses me. I do not generally read William Burroughs, as an example; he is just not to my tastes. But, this does not mitigate my opinion of him as a writer, a writer whom many consider to be brilliant.

Vienna Dolorosa was, then, not an easy book for me to read, dealing as it does with this one day of violence. But, to review a book, as I see it, is to provide a potential reader, who may not at all share my own prejudices, with some intelligent basis upon which to make his decision, whether to read, or not to read. If I write reviews only of books that reflect my bias, I am producing only a certain kind of vanity writing, and avail the potential reader naught.

I did not savor this book on a personal level. It troubled me greatly, in fact. It puts me, I fear, too closely in touch with my own inner brutality, which is to say, our common human thread of brutality, the seed of which exists in each of us, acknowledged or not. It can be painful to be forced to recognize it. Far easier to shy away from it. Like Burroughs, Mykola Dementiuk holds the mirror insistently before our faces, forces us to look into the darkest corners of our souls. He takes no blame if the image we see is not a rosy one.

This is a book that reminds me, indeed, very much of Burroughs' work, and the writing is certainly brilliant. How could I not admire a writer who captures the reality of the Nazi brutality with such astonishing brevity and horrible clarity: "The time of indecisive slapping was over; the millennium of clenched fists had arrived." Who could make the point in fewer words? What writer could not admire this snippet of bitter humor: "When told about the Nazi book-burning…in Berlin, he was to say, When they start burning the writers, call me; only idiots pay attention to writers."So, no, this is not an easy book. It is not for the reader seeking an hour or two of gay fluff; nor the prissy; nor the timid. It is not a pretty book. It is, in fact, an ugly one. It is often over the top. One senses here and there the author striving to shock, to dismay, and he does. Horrible would not be too strong a word. Life, the author insists, can be horrible. People can be horrible.But they can be beautiful, too, and for all of his shock tactics, the author finds too here and there little redeeming gems of beauty, of courage and goodness, even of love, buried in this momentary dung heap of history.

This is in fact a beautiful novel, beautifully realized, a novel for those interested in history—not just history's glorious triumphs, but its sometimes putrid underbelly as well. It is for those interested in the human condition, for it is in just such chapters of history that one sees humankind stripped of pretense, exposed, raw nerve endings and all. And, certainly, it is a novel for those interested in literature more than mere fiction.

In the best of all literary worlds, this would have been published by one of the major publishing houses, hailed by the leading critics, the author assuming a place in the front ranks of authordom. Stephen Spielberg would be filming it at this very moment.

One can only be grateful for the courage and insight of this small press and its publisher in bringing this extraordinary novel to fruition, for what will sadly almost certainly prove to be a small—but a discerning—audience.

Vienna Dolorosa by Mykola Dementiuk

Reviewed by P.A. Brown

This book is not for the faint at heart. It was very hard to read and only the complex characters made me read through to the bitter unsavory end. Taking place in Vienna on the day the Nazis occupy the city this book deals with many ugly characters, dealing with an ugly world, and not very well.

There are no likable characters in this book, the closest thing to a sympathetic person is the hotel proprietor, a transvestite who runs a hidden brothel in her hotel that caters to homosexuals. And in Nazi Germany and Austria homosexuality carries some serious repercussions, including death. In fact one of the characters meets what has to be one of the grisliest deaths I think I've ever read in a fiction book.

Years ago I developed a fascination with Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler. I slogged through The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. It was like a really bad train wreck, I had to stare. I wanted to find out what made this kind of insanity possible. Not only what drove Hitler in his madness, but what allowed the average German to go along with it and release their own monster. This book does no more to answer that than any other book I've read. I've since come to the conclusion that it's just something dark in all humans. Same thing occurs with serial killers and child abusers. These days I write about my own dark characters and try to capture the essence of those people.

Mykola Dementiuk does a creditable job of peeling away the layers of these monsters and showing their normalcy. If you have a weak stomach, do not read this book. If you sicken easily don't read this book. But if you want to delve into the dark heart of people who have chosen a path that nearly led the world to the brink and resulted in the death of millions of people whose only crime was being 'different' then by all means read Vienna Dolorasa. You won't easily forget it.

Since My Last Confession by Scott Pomfret

Reviewed by Alan Chin

When a devout Catholic, porn-writing, sodomite lawyer fights to protect the Massachusetts same-sex marriage laws, he finds that his main adversary is the same Roman Catholic Church he loves and supports with fervor. As the battle intensifies, Pomfret reveals the church hierarchy’s gross hypocrisy, homophobia, rabid anti-gay political agenda, and the fear it instills in gay priests. Not surprisingly, this ugly side of the Church forces Pomfret to scrutinize his own beliefs, and to justify, or not, his continued support of a church that openly and actively discriminates against him.

Pomfret -- best known for the steamy, gay, pornographic novels that he co-authors with his partner Scott Whittier -- paints a funny yet ominous picture of the political power struggle going on in the church hierarchy, an underground gay movement organized by homo priest, and a church in transition (although transitioning to what is still a question).

This memoir is a serious romp, a humorous and intelligent look at the Roman Catholic Church under a magnifying glass, and an interesting look at one man’s attempt to justify his spiritual longings. I seldom laughed out loud, but I found something interesting and humorous on nearly every page. It made me laugh, it made me angry, it made me scrutinize my own beliefs.

Being a Zen Buddhist (which means I don’t believe in a God), I know little about the Catholic Church, and of Christianity in general. I suspect that Catholics will find this memoir much funnier than I, yet I found it an absorbing study of the Church’s teaching and workings. I especially liked the helpful, tongue-in-cheek sidebars that enlightened me on such topics as how to detect a gay Catholic, three easy steps to being excommunicated, and the ten commandments of reading gay porn.

I also was impressed Pomfret’s interpretations of church doctrines, including the following prayer which I found to be very Zen-like:
I don’t know what I want from You, God, if I want anything at all. I don’t want to beseech You, or thank You, or seek Your forgiveness or others’ salvation. I just want to stand naked before You, choked with wonder, uttering a prayer as joyful, guttural, sorrowful, agonizing, and inarticulate as an orgasm.

The one question that kept nagging me throughout this book, like a catchy jingle in my head that I can’t remember the name of, is how a gay man can justify supporting a church that actively discriminates against gay people. To me, that is equally as absurd as gay people supporting the Bush administration (and if you read this book, you’ll notice some not-so-surprising similarities between the two.) It was a question Pomfret asked himself and attempted to answer in the last few chapters, but I found his answer lacking, considering there are many alternatives for spiritual growth that don’t discriminate against anyone.

Mahatma Gandhi once said: “The various religions are like different roads converging on the same point. What difference does it make if we follow different routes, provided we arrive at the same destination.” But I, for one, disagree. I think that any church that actively discriminates against any portion of the population, including its own followers, impedes the whole human race from attainting that glorious destination.

But by all means, pick up a copy and judge for yourself. You won’t be sorry you did.

Seventy Times Seven by Salvatore Sapienza

Reviewed by Alan Chin

Vito Fortunato, a twenty-seven year old, gay Brother in a Catholic order finds himself torn between his spiritual longings and his carnal desires. Set in the early 1990s, Brother Fortunato is only months away from taking his final vows. Although he and his gay friends frequent gay bars, and he occasionally wakes up with a hangover and wearing only a cock ring, Vito struggles to maintain his celibacy, his spiritual purity, and his ability to forgive others, forgive the Church, and forgive himself. But when Vito is assigned to spend the summer volunteering at a San Francisco AIDS center, he falls in love with Gabriel, a divorced landscaper. When those feelings of love are returned, Vito must choose between his sexual identity and his spiritual idealism.

Sapienza, himself a former Catholic Brother, obviously has an in-depth knowledge of the subject matter -- both the teachings of the Catholic Church and the struggle to integrate Christian beliefs with gay sexual desires -- and it is because of his knowledge that the story comes off seeming so real. This is not a story about a closeted priest who struggles to accept his sexuality; it is a love story, and more importantly, a story about finding dignity, and embracing ourselves. Although I had several issues with this book, the love story that develops between Vito and Gabriel is touching, and a pleasure to read. It made me overlook the many other things that were not so well done.

The story was slow to draw me in, and I didn’t much care for the main characters early on, but that eventually changed as the characters exposed more of themselves. I found the two or three main characters had a wealth of depth, but most of the secondary characters were paper-thin. The main character, Vito, also came off as too preachy in several areas, but that was in keeping with his character and can be easily overlooked.

The read is occasionally jarring because of the abysmal copy editing: jumping back and forth from present tense to past tense for no apparent reason, dozens of typographical and grammatical errors, and a blaring font change. I’ve never before read a published book that was so poorly copyedited.

Those negatives said, I still found this an enjoyable and touching story. I give it three out of five stars.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mahu Surfer By Neil S. Plakcy

Reviewed by Alan Chin

Kimo Kanapa’aka is a detective working on the island of Oahu in Hawaii and has recently been outed on television by his brother, who works for the local station. The Honolulu police chief decides to use Kimo’s outing as an opportunity to send Kimo undercover to investigate the surfers, and three murders on the north shore near Pipeline. Kimo is the perfect candidate since he was a competitive surfer before joining the force. The fact that he’s been outed so publicly provides the chief an opportunity to report that Kimo has left the force due to pressures regarding his sexuality.
Kimo wants to use this case as a way to regain respectability with his fellow officers, but once he begins to infiltrate the close-knit surfer community, he finds he must immerse himself in the north shore’s gay enclave in order to uncover information. Once he gets tangled within the gay web, he finds himself falling deeper and deeper into trouble, both in terms of the case and his personal life.

The story is a glimpse into a sometimes funny, sometimes sexy, sometimes sad struggle of a gay man trying to prove himself in the straight dominated field of law enforcement, while solving a murder case. Watching Kimo juggle his career aspirations, his family obligations, and his sexual needs felt very real. Although I’m not a fan of detective stories, the ending did not particularly surprise me. I found this read rather interesting because I could identify with Kimo’s struggle to blend his sexuality into his professional and family life. It was the main character, rather than the plot, that kept me turning pages.
Being a traveler, I did have one regret: I was hoping that the story would give me more of a feel for life on the islands, and there was some description of the landscape and the culture, but it came in little nibbles, certainly not enough to make a full meal. However, if you like a well written detective story, and the idea of a dark skinned, hunky, Hawaiian surfer snapping the cuffs on you ups you heart rate, then by all means, this will be an enjoyable read.

The Dream Ender By Dorien Grey

Reviewed by Alan Chin

This who-done-it story is set in the early 80s, when a “Gay Cancer” begins sweeping through the gay community. Little is known about the virus, and there is still no test to confirm its presence. Above the general fear of who would be the next to fall sick and die, grows a rumor that some villain is deliberately spreading the virus by having unprotected sex with as many people as possible. Is it true? Could anyone be so dastardly, or is the rumor being spread as a way to close a popular leather bar and financially destroy its owner? Detective Dick Hardesty is called onto the case to find out if the rumors are true, and if so, to track down the murderer. The tension rises as Dick is sucked into a world of leather bars and hospital rooms, chasing the grim reaper as he moves through this unsuspecting gay community.

Although I am, admittedly, not a fan of detective stories, I found The Dream Ender a satisfying read. Beyond the normal mystery plot twists, is the convincing story of a community in turmoil. Having lived through that particular time myself, this story kept me turning pages while remembering all the fear and confusion of the time. It also kept me guessing all the way to the last ten pages.

Dorien Grey paints rather pleasant prose that is spiked with wit. I sometimes felt he was sitting across the desk telling me the story rather than me reading it. He gives detailed descriptions of gay relationships, gay parenting, and the hectic life of a private investigator. Interesting characters, life style details and suspense, make The Dream Ender a good read.

This is the eleventh book in the Dick Hardesty Mystery series. I’ve heard some people call it Dorien’s best work, but I can’t say since this is the first of Dorien’s books I have read. I can say that, having not read the other ten did in no way diminish my enjoyment of this one.