Saturday, December 12, 2009

Marengo by Carey Parrish

Reviewed by Alan Chin

Rob Brent and Jeff Schrader, two gay American journalist living in the UK for a year, take a flat at Mrs. Rose Mary Shugart’s townhouse in a posh section of London. They congratulate themselves on their fantastic luck at finding something inexpensive in such a wonderful neighborhood. Of course, they have no idea what delights and dilemmas await them.

There are five flats in the townhouse, including Mrs. Shugart’s, and each one houses someone a bit off-kilter. They are quirky and funny and lovable, and perhaps a little dangerous. There is Mrs. Shugart herself, a grandmotherly snoop with a tidy pension but rents flats for the social interaction with interesting people. There is Mr. Humbolt, the elderly queen who sells diamonds for Warwickes, and is more of a busybody than Mrs. Shugart. There is Rob and Jeff, two men who seem like a gay couple but never do anything in public to confirm everyone’s suspicions. On the top floor resides Miss Bullivant, a middle-aged woman who is attractive for her age but slightly desperate for romance. Across the hall from her is another new tenant, Richard Lawrence, a rather handsome man who keeps to himself and goes out of his way to keep his business private. Mr. Lawrence, is not all what he seems; he hides a secret that could prove perilous to everyone at Mrs. Shugart’s townhouse.

The charm of the characters at Mrs. Shugart’s townhouse pulled me in and kept me turning pages. This story has a delightful tone, but it is agonizingly slow to heat up. For half of the book it seems to wander aimlessly along without regard to plot or purpose. What I didn’t realize was the author was laying a foundation that would pay off in the latter half of the book. When one of the tenants suddenly dies, the story takes a sharp turn and things begin to simmer. And even though I could tell where the plot was headed, I was kept interested to see how it played out. I hoped for a surprise at the end, and was not disappointed.

This was an excellent story by author Carey Parrish. Still, I came away with three minor complaints. One is I felt that the author, particularly in the beginning, over-wrote the descriptions. I wanted the pace to be faster, and felt like taking a red pen to his wordy prose to speed things along (it’s an issue I sometimes find with my own writing.)
The second issue was that the author head-hops, that is, the point of view shifts from person to person in mid-paragraph. Although I never had any problem following who’s pov I was reading from, it occasionally felt awkward.
The last issue happened in the last thirty pages, when the author spent twenty pages recapping everything I had already figured out for myself. It was simply twenty unneeded pages when I was anxious to read the ending – much like a speed-bump when I’m in a hurry.

Those minor issues aside, I very much enjoyed this read, and have no reservations about recommending it to all reading audiences. Bravo!

For more information on Marengo, press here.

This Christmas by J.M. Snyder

Reviewed by Alan Chin

Ned Matthews is all alone this Christmas. All the other students, save one, have gone home for the holidays. But Ned’s parents are vacationing on a Caribbean cruise to escape the snow and sleet. The only other man left on campus is Bobby Cratchett, the boy Ned had a crush on all during high school, and who is even sexier now that they’re both in college.

Ned doesn’t mind missing Christmas with his parents, but the knife twisting in his gut is that his recent breakup with Jake, his now ex-boyfriend, has left him with nobody – no lover, no friends, no prospects, and no desire to get tied down with another loser. Hurt and bitter, Ned retreats into his hard, thick, protective shell and refuses to let anyone near, not even if they are sexy as hell and the only other man on campus.

Alone and feeling sorry for himself, Ned falls into a troubled sleep where he has a dream of Christmas past, reliving life with Jake-the-flake. He barely has time to shake off those memories before he has another dream of Christmas present, where he envisions how it could be with Bobby Cratchett.

Moments after waking he has Jake on the phone begging for a second chance, and Bobby at the door inviting him to come to his apartment for the night. What to do? How will Ned’s Christmas future unfold?

This is a smart, funny, sexy, poignant short story that often touches brilliance. It packs so much story and emotion into a meager thirty pages that I was left admiring the author’s exceptional skill.

This story is a gifted study in how to introduce a not-too-likable protagonist, and by the end of the story have the reader totally engaged and pulling for him. The characters and emotions are real. Anyone who has ever suffered a broken heart will identify with this main character. Indeed it sparked memories of bitterness long buried in me. I was touched.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read. It has a marvelous voice that is lean on description and fast paced. The author expertly nails the voice of a college-aged student.

I highly recommend this read. In fact, This Christmas is one of eight stories featured in J. M. Snyder’s So In Love, an anthology of contemporary stories celebrating gay love in its many forms. My only complaint about reading This Christmas is that I didn’t get to read the other seven stories in So In Love. But I can assure you, I will purchase the anthology and read them all. Bravo!!

Learn more about This Christmas at

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Strange Fortune by Josh Lanyon

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Publisher: Blind Eye Books
ISBN 978-1-935560-00-5

Valentine Strange is delighted to accept a job from the Holy Order to find and retrieve an antique diadem of the Goddess Purya from somewhere in the distant White Mountains. Although the mountains are filled with bandits and scoundrels, this soldier of fortune has little fear of anything short of not being paid for his services. But when the Holy Order insists that Master Aleister Grimshaw, a witch with a history of insanity, join the expedition, Strange realizes there is more at stake than the retrieval of a relic.

As the small band begins their search, Strange and Grimshaw forge a tenuous friendship. But they are followed, step by step, not only by bandits, but by a demonic power more powerful than anyone could imagine. When the stakes are raised well beyond the danger level and they are betrayed at every turn, they are forced to rely on each other for survival. Finding the diadem could spell doom for Strange and Grimshaw, or could it be their only hope of survival?

Strange Fortune is a rollicking good read – interesting characters, fast paced, rich descriptions, and action that kept me turning pages. It’s a fun read. Adventurous and romantic. Lanyon has created a wonderful world of magic and spirits and spells and romance. It is a winner.

I stumbled over a few issues that I felt kept this marvelous story from being a great one. A minor annoyance was it held a dozen more misspellings and missing words than I’m used to seeing. The book could certainly use a more careful copyeditor.

A more troublesome issue was the story’s time setting. Although the author clearly created a unique setting, the physical setting seems to be taken from early twentieth century India, yet the customs and beliefs of the characters seems to indicate ancient times, when Holy Orders ruled, witches were common and people worshiped demons. For me, it seemed to disconnect. One minute they were worshiping idols, the next Grimshaw was checking the time on his wrist-watch or firing his rife. And the language the characters often used – such as “the bottom line is” – is really quite modern. I just kept getting the impression, that if the author had paid closer attention to keep the language and the physical setting in ancient times (bows and arrows instead of rifles) this would have been a great read, rather than a very good read.

Still, my few minor issues aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this story and highly recommend it to everyone.


Suburbilicious by Eric Arvin

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Pubished by Dreamspinner Press

Suburbilicious is the frolicking sequel to Subsurdity, comprised of further vignettes from Jasper Lane. It is not necessary to read Subsurdity to enjoy this sequel, but it is highly recommended to get more background on these madcap characters.

Jasper Lane is a well-trimmed, upper-middleclass neighborhood with a mixture of gay, straight, liberal, conservative, young, and old people, all a bit wacky and all reaching for the brass ring. There is not one central character, but rather everyone seems to play a part with equal billing. The story jumps from house to house, neighbor to neighbor as their stories intertwine, and in some cases collide. Returning characters are Cassie Bloom, the grand dame who likes to throw gay-porn parties and hides a deadly secret from her son, Jason. Melinda, who is now single and dealing with the dating scene. Steve, husband to Sandy, who now owns a gay porn production company while Sandy runs for office in the Gay Porn Wives Club. Rick Cooper, who is now living with Dave, and is jealous of the stud who’s buzzing around David. And Jefferson, a secretive person who’s spying on the neighborhood. Even the dog who goes by the name of Gay Hound makes a cameo.

Like Subsurdity, this is a fast paced, easy read, the kind of carefree read people take to the beach. It is often interesting, often silly and often funny. The story jumps from one character to another every three or four pages, of which there are five main characters to follow.

I was a little disappointed that Patrick, whom I very much liked in the first Jasper Lane book, didn’t make an appearance until the very end of this story. I was also disappointed that the lesbian couple introduced in the first few pages, were not mentioned again until page ninety, and then played a very small role. As for the other characters, they had same impact on me as the first book. I found them slightly one-dimensional but fun. Most of them were somewhat believable, and a few, like Jason, were sympathetic. There were some – like Terrence, the gay man who took his son to summer camp – that were portrayed as far too infantile to be believable or likable.

There were also a couple of plot points introduced in the first book, the murder mystery for instance, that paid off in this sequel.

This is certainly not the kind of character driven, thought provoking book that I normally enjoy. However, it was fast and fun. If you are looking for gay “Literature” then I suggest you keep looking. If you simply want a fun read that will lift your spirits, they I suggest you give Suburbilicious a try.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Book Review: Subsurdity by Eric Arvin

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Jasper Lane is a well-trimmed, upper-middleclass neighborhood with a mixture of gay, straight, liberal, conservative, young, and old people, all a bit wacky and all reaching for the brass ring. There is not one central character, but rather everyone seems to play a part with equal billing. The story jumps from house to house, neighbor to neighbor as their stories intertwine, and in some cases collide. There is Cassie Bloom, the grand dame who likes to throw gay-porn parties and hides a deadly secret. There is Melinda Gold, the religious overbearing mother to son Patrick, who is trying to cut those apron strings. There is Steve, husband to Sandy, who gets laid off and ends up performing gay-for-pay porn to pay the bills. And there is Rick Cooper, the gay boy who just moved in with the neighborhood token gays, David, Cliff and Terrence. There is even a dog who goes by the name of Gay Hound.

This is a fast paced, easy read. It’s the kind of carefree read people take to the beach. It is often interesting, often silly and often funny. The story jumps from one character to another every three or four pages, of which there are about seven or eight main characters to follow. These characters often stumble into interesting situations, but unfortunately, because the story kept switching characters as it breezed along, I never got the impression that any of these characters had any real depth. Most of them were somewhat believable, and some, like Patrick (the young boy trying to pull way from his overbearing mother) were sympathetic. There were a few that we’re not so believable and neither were their situations.

There were also a couple of plot points, the murder mystery for instance, that simply didn’t work for me. There was simply not enough effort devoted to making it interesting or to impact the story in a meaningful way.

This is certainly not the kind of character driven, thought provoking book that I normally enjoy. Twenty pages into it I was rolling my eyes and wondering if I should continue. However, I must say that it did grab me, and I wanted to find out what happened to a few of these wacky characters. I do wish the author would have devoted more time into giving these characters more depth, however, I walked away from this one smiling.

If you are looking for gay “Literature” then I suggest you keep looking. If you simply want a fast and fun read that will lift your spirits, they I suggest you give Subsurdity a try.

Aaron’s Wait by Dorien Grey

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Publisher: Zumaya Boundless

Aaron’s Wait is the second book in the Elliott Smith Mystery series. The main character, Elliott, is one of the dullest people on the planet – he’s got loads of money, good looks, a caring boyfriend, a hobby of restoring old apartment houses – yet he is placed in an interesting situation, he is on a first name basis with a ghost, John. Together, Elliott and John attempt to solve a mystery involving yet another ghost who is haunting the building that Elliott is renovating. This proves rather difficult because the other ghost, Aaron, doesn’t realize he’s dead and can’t really communicate effectively with either Elliott or John. Readers who enjoyed the first Elliott Smith mystery, His Name Is John, should feel a sense of déjà vu about now. At times I felt that the elements in the two stories were a bit too similar.

What Elliott and John discover, is that Aaron has been dead for four years, and during that time he has been waiting for the return of his lover, Bill, who is also dead. In order to set Aaron free from waiting for eternity, Elliott and John must solve the mystery of how Aaron’s lover died, so that Aaron can finally move on, or rest in peace, or whatever it is that spirits do.

As with most of the Dorien Grey books I’ve read, this one is not to be rushed. The level of rich detail in the life of Elliott Smith makes for slow, sometimes glacial, pacing, yet it is seldom a problem because the author’s voice keeps the story absorbing. Fans of Dorien Grey will no doubt enjoy these well-written scenes and lush descriptions. Most of the characters are likable and feel real. The author skillfully keeps the reader guessing until the last puzzle piece falls into place.

There were two issues that made me not enjoy this story as much as the first Elliott Smith mystery. The first had to do with caring about what happens to a ghost that has been dead for four years. I simply failed to care about his situation, having been dead for that long a time. Part of that not caring came because the reader never really has direct contact with Aaron, but always experiences him through the words of John.

My second issue is a larger drawback. Of the two main characters, Elliott and John, one is a ghost. He has no physical form. Therefore, the reader can’t visualize him and he performs no physical actions. He’s simply a voice in Elliott’s head. Because of that, he comes off as one-dimensional. His only role seems to be a go-between for Elliott and Aaron. Because of this, Aaron has to carry the story, which he mostly does, but I was left wanting more. I feel that if the author continues writing stories with this paranormal duo, he needs to find a way to give John more depth, give him a much larger role to play, and give him the ability to affect physical events.

My two concerns did not stop me from enjoying this read, and I feel that anyone who loves mysteries will enjoy this story as well. I can recommend this story without hesitation.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Coin Operated Boy by Bryl R. Tyne

Reviewed by Kathy Kozakewich

Published by Noble Romance Publishing; October 2009

This is the latest of Bryl Tyne’s stories that I’ve bought and read and loved. In the short time since I discovered the stories of this wonderful writer, I’ve acquired them all. Bryl’s story-telling is fresh, vital and engaging and the characters are very real people... even if they’re not human. Case in point, Chal.

Although, to be fair, even as an android he has far more human characteristics than expected. His creator, Silk Pecatti, was an absolute genius when it came to robotics and in Chal all his talents came together to create an astounding whole. In fact Chal amazed even Silk once he found him again.

Chal... wow! This really is his story. Coin Operated Boy details his journey of discovery from nothingness to finally understanding the reason for his existence and his place in Silk’s life.

I was, by turns, amused, amazed and astounded and completely and totally engaged. Bryl delights in bringing an emotional self-discovery to the characters and we, who follow along, are not only entertained but find for ourselves a nugget of truth in our lives.

Well done Bryl... and keep the stories coming. As long as you write ‘em, I’ll buy ‘em!


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hidden Conflict: Tales From Voices Lost in Battle

An Anthology of Four Novellas

Reviewed by Victor J. Bannis

Blurb: Hidden Conflict presents four novellas that tell the experiences of gay military men, their families and friends, during times of conflict and war. Each story presents a unique voice at a distinct time in history.

A terrific quartet of beautifully realized stories exploring hidden loves and secret desires, set against backdrops of war and violence. And, as the blurb says, each told in unique voices.

Mark R. Probst's Not to Reason Why is set in 1876, on the eve of the massacre at Little Big Horn. Corporal Brett Price and his best friend, Sergeant Dermot Kerrigan are both a part of Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer's 7th Cavalry as it rides to a fateful rendezvous with rebellious Sioux forces. Brett is in love with the happily married Dermot, but the hardships of their journey bring them even closer together, until finally Brett confesses his love and is rewarded with a single kiss before they engage in one of the most grisly battles in American history. There's not much suspense, since we all know where this is headed, but Probst compensates with vivid descriptions and apt dialogue: "Haven't you ever noticed," Brett muses, "how these things are reported in the newspapers? When we win they say it‘s a victory, but when they win they say it‘s a massacre?" The battle scenes are horrific indeed, but even more painful is the picture the author paints of Brett's not altogether requited love. Yes, he and Dermot are best friends. Yes, Brett gets a kiss, just one. And, yes, Dermot loves Brett too, but not in the same way. A loving friendship may be harder to endure than the absence of love altogether. A little love is like an arrow to the heart of one who pines.

The two men in Jordan Taylor's No Darkness don't even progress to the kiss, though their awareness of the possibility, and ours, is palpable. The setting here is 1915, during World War I, on the Western Front. In a tale worthy of Poe, an enemy shelling leaves Lieutenant Darnell and Private Fisher trapped and injured in the root cellar of a farmhouse. Injured and struggling to survive their stygian tomb, they two men pass the time exchanging stories of their upbringing and trying, with almost certain futility, to find some means of escape. Here the theme of love is poignant and muted. A growing closeness suggests the possibility of physical sharing, but their backgrounds and their injuries – and ultimately the military conflict - conspire against it. The possibility of their love is smothered in darkness. Excellent characterizations.

E. N. Holland's Our One and Only begins in 1944, with World War II, but spans forty years and is told in decade long segments. Here it is not only the love between Eddie Fiske and Philip Cormier that is hidden, but more tellingly, the pain that Philip must endure alone when Eddie is killed in battle. Philip carries his memories of Eddie in his heart until at length he finds the one person with whom he can share it. Despite the tone of gravity throughout, the story ends on a surprisingly upbeat and very satisfying note. Here, plot triumphs over character, but the result is a beautifully encapsulated story of one man's lonely life and a loss that informs it decade after decade. How difficult it is to shut everyone, even those closest to us, out of our hearts. And how little those in our lives really know us, though they may believe that they know us well. The author clearly understands the burden of pain long borne.

I finished Alex Beecroft's Blessed Isle (set in 1790, the British Age of Sail) convinced that she is some kind of sea witch, who had kept me in thrall from the first word onward. Although hers is the first story chronologically in the book, I've saved it till last because, notwithstanding the uniformly excellent work from the other contributors, I personally feel this one is the jewel in a very splendid crown.

I don't want to spoil a convoluted story by giving away too many of the details, but as just one example, a storm at sea is evoked with such splendid terror I felt as lashed by the wind and the rain and as sour with fear as the hapless sailors. Scarcely less stormy is the love that gradually develops between. Harry Thompson, Captain of The Banshee, and his Lieutenant, Garnet Littleton, both of them brilliantly evoked. The author uses the conceit of alternating entries in a journal, thus allowing herself the intimacy of a first person point of view, and the elbow room of a second POV as well.

Let it be said her story is not without its faults. A penchant for historical accuracy veers dangerously close a time or two to pedantry. And I feel downright churlish in mentioning the sometimes less than seaworthy plot. Like an old tub set adrift, it bobbles and weaves and leaks, and threatens a time or two to sink under the weight of its own contrivance. I should also add, however, that this is not unlike those 18th and 19th century novels of which the author is obviously a fan. Happily, her splendid prose is an ocean wind that blows everything before it, in the end bringing our vessel to the safety of the harbor. There are simply very few writers in any genre who can write this well.

I recommend this anthology heartily, and Blessed Isle with special enthusiasm, if only so that readers can see with what power words can be wielded.

Ebook from Bristlecone Pine Press at
Print book from Cheyenne Publishing at

Murder on Camac By Joseph R.G. DeMarco

Reviewed by Victor J. Banis
Lethe Press, 2009

This is a terrific read, and a bit of a departure from your typical gay mystery novel, in that while the story is set in the present, at its heart is another, decades old, mystery – did dark elements within the church assassinate Pope John Paul the first? So, then, consider this the kind of book Dan Brown might write, if Mr. Brown were just a little more gifted as a writer – and of course, supposing Mr. Brown wrote gay mysteries.

Therein, however, lies a problem for me. Because like Dan Brown's novels, this one is primarily plot driven rather than character driven, and anyone familiar with my writing history is surely aware of my bias in favor of character driven. How then do I write the unbiased and glowing review this book deserves, without turning what is meant to be about this individual work into a dissertation on the differences between the two?

Hmm. Well, for starters, I have to make clear that I refer only to my own personal bias, and that in reality, neither approach is necessarily and inherently better than the other. Yes, literary fiction will almost inevitably be character driven. Macbeth, as a prime example, is entirely about the fatal flaws in the characters of Mister and Missus Macbeth. Only have him say to her early on, "You know, hon, I don't think I'm all that keen on being king," and the story's over.

So, character driven is superior, right? No, not so fast there, Bucky. It's a rare and probably misguided author who doesn't give at least passing attention to the marketplace, and to a very great extent, plot driven fiction rules in the commercial arena. Not just Dan Brown's books, either, though it's kind of hard not to notice them. I would venture to say that at any given time, many – probably most – of the novels on the best seller lists are plot driven. This is in part because there are a great many readers who don't care a fig for enlightenment or coming to terms with themselves when they read, they want a story that keeps them turning the pages to see what happens next – and here, in general, is where plot driven fiction excels. Plot driven writers more often than not tell terrific stories. That is, after all, what they are focused on.
And before I leave this subject, about which entire books could be written, I should certainly say that the two often merge, as they do here, to some extent. In writing, as in life, things are not often altogether black and white.

Which brings me back to Murder on Camac (and none too soon, some of you are thinking). I said at the beginning, this is a terrific read, not the least for the pleasure of its intricate and solidly constructed plot (okay, I am surely entitled to just the slightest nip of sour grapes, since I could never do this.) The author has done a masterful job of weaving together two separate mysteries, that possible papal murder years earlier and the shooting death of a writer (the police think a mugging gone awry) said to be writing a book which will prove that past murder. Detective Marco Fontana is asked by the dead writer's partner to investigate the shooting and in no time he finds himself ensnared in a web of deceit and violence that threatens to add him to the bodies accumulating.

There's plenty of fast paced action, the tempo picking up nicely as the pages turn. I give high marks for pacing, a gift which seems to elude a great many writers, some of whose names often grace the best seller lists. And, let it be said, an essential element in plot driven fiction if you're going to keep those readers turning the pages. Too often, alas, in character driven fiction, there simply is no pacing. You can grow old waiting for anything to happen in a Barbara Vine novel, as one example.

There's a generous sprinkling of humor here to lighten things up just when the tension becomes horrific. The author has a gift for the pithy phrase and while some of the secondary characters remain insubstantial, the principles are all deftly brought to life (the fact that a book is not character driven does not mean it can't have viable characters.) The protagonist, Marco Fontana, is particularly engaging.

The author has an especially keen eye for his settings. If you've ever been to Philadelphia, you'll recognize it in an instant. If you haven't, you'll feel as if you've been there, smack dab on the cobblestone streets, by the time you finish reading.

Oh, there's a secondary thread running through the story: our detective also manages a line of male strippers. Yes, this business does sometimes get in the way, but not so as a lot of folks are going to mind.

The burning truth of the novel, though, is the inseparability of past and present, and the inevitability of your sins catching up with you. Time erases neither our mistakes nor our misdeeds. We may think we have put them aside, have left them safely behind, but they are always just outside the door of present consciousness, the sleeping demons, and who can ever know when they will awaken once again to bring us grief? For evil, there must ultimately be atonement. Our lapsed Catholic detective Marco Fontana retains far more of his childhood's faith than he cares to realize, and he's a far better character for it. And this reaching for the higher truth, not always a feature of plot driven fiction, elevates Murder on Camac to a higher level as well.

All in all, this is a stellar effort that will leave readers eagerly awaiting the next book in what should prove to be a popular series.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

M4M by Rick R. Reed

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler
(Published by Amber Quill Press)

I’m always on the side of an artist who steps out and tries something different. That kind of experimentation refreshes both the artist and his audence, whether or not the attempt is totally successful. But in his first go at erotic romance, M4M, horror author Rick R. Reed doesn’t have to worry about his success rate.

M4M is comprised of two novellas previously published in electronic form – “VGL Male Seeks Same” and “NEG UB2” – both featuring Dorito-chomping theatre publicist Ethan Schwartz and his newly-found boyfriend Brian. In the first installment, Ethan snags Brian after a bumpy Internet interlude where he uses a much handsomer pic to sell himself. Craigslist anyone? I wouldn’t be spoiling the read to say it all comes out fine in the end.

It’s the second piece that stands the book on its head. Ethan, not exactly a sexual adventurer, finds himself diagnosed HIV-positive with only one possible way he could have caught the disease – new boyfriend Brian. Or is it? Can Ethan and Brian overcome this breach of trust to continue their relationship or will their new love go out with Monday’s trash? If I told you, that would be the spoiler.

I particularly liked the parallelism between the two novellas, plot-wise (both plots turn on Internet twists) and stylistically. They even start out with the same sentence pattern – “Ethan White was alone.” and “Ethan White was stunned.” with both plots serving to remedy those conditions. And Reed is a powerful writer, creating two multi-faceted characters you’ll be happy to meet.

The tone, however, is different in the second novella. The first is light and breezy, but the second is much darker as befits the subject. Ethan is still the same 1940’s-movie-loving romantic, but his sense of romance has been injured by Brian’s perceived betrayal. This shift in tone is what lifts M4M from standard – albeit well-done – romance fare into a realm where the characters are allowed to grow and change.

M4M isn’t the roller-coaster ride Rick R. Reed fans are used to, but instead turns out to be a refreshing change of pace that shows his versatility and his talent for making us cry as well as scream.

Find out more at

Monday, October 5, 2009

Island Song by Alan Chin

Island Song

By Alan Chin
Zumaya Boundless, 2008

Reviewed by Victor J. Banis

When it was first suggested to me that I write something for a blog site on forgotten or neglected works ( ), my mind went quite awhirl. Crime, she suggested? Oh, the choices available. Who, today, other than the occasional scholar, has read James M. Cain's Serenade, though in many ways it is his best work? But the very field of crime novels (perhaps the most American of all literary genres) conjures up so many delicious possibilities, so many reads permeated by Chandler's "scent of fear." Hammet's The Glass Key, perhaps? Is that really his "least interesting work," as some have suggested, or, as others have described it, "his most accessible?"

But wait. Not necessarily a crime story, I was told, which opens a still wider door. What of Maugham's The Summing Up, surely an elegant (if, as it turned out, several years premature) coda to the remarkable life of a man who still today remains an enigma. Or Forster's Maurice, whose essence is the mystery of one's own nature, and truly remarkable for having been written in 1914, so far ahead of its day that it dared not be published until 1971?

In the end, though, and not without great mulling about, I chose what might be considered, length notwithstanding, a "small" book, one which has not been around long enough to be described as forgotten, though I do think it has been unjustly neglected. Nor is it quite a crime story, though there are crimes in it. Violent crimes, yes, but more significantly, in my opinion, crimes against love, which surely ought to be heinous enough for any reader.

Alan Chin's Island Song is, for want of a better description, a love story, but it is so outside the boundaries usually pertinent to that genre that I fear I am starting off on the wrong foot by labeling it so. It could also be described as a "gay novel," but I don't think that label is any more appropriate, either. It is a novel about love, but of many sorts and of many aspects, and some of that love occurs between two men, but this is truly not the thrust of the story, only one element of it.

The novel begins on an eerie metaphysical note. An ancient Hawaiian shaman, known to everyone only as "Grandfather," and his grandson, Songoree, come to a small island in the middle of the night to perform a mystical ceremony, summoning the ancient island Gods, Kane and Pele. "Bring forth the Speaker," the old man chants. "Bring forth the Speaker."
The story's focus shifts to Garret Davidson. Two years after the AIDS related death of his lover in San Francisco, Davidson comes to Hawaii to write a book about his lost love. He wants only to be alone in the beach shack he has rented, to stare out at the endless ocean and heal his wounded spirit.

He has rented the shack, however, from Grandfather, who sends Songoree to serve as Davidson's housekeeper and man-of-all trades. At first, a bitter Davidson resists Song's ministrations, but the old Kahuna has his own plans for these two and in time they become entwined in an extraordinary relationship, a relationship increasingly resented by Song's surfer friends. Violence follows, vicious and sudden, like the bite of a great white shark.

Island Song is not only about the love that gradually grows between Song and Davidson, however. There is as well a profound love between grandfather and grandson; the love that both of them have for their island traditions; the love of friends. Even the all-sacrificing love of a dog for his human partner. Most especially there is a love of nature, and of the mystical.
Wafting through it all, like the tropical breeze rustling the leaves of the palm trees, is the author's love for his idyllic island setting and for the interconnectedness that he sees lying beneath the surface of all existence: "All things begin within the density of silence."

Alan Chin has penned an uplifting read that transports one not only to Hawaii, but ultimately and far more importantly to the island that lies within, the island of the heart. What the author would have us understand is that it is on this island where the wounded and the unhappy—and isn't that at one time or another each of us—will find the healing, the peace, they seek. This is its song.

A beautiful book. The real crime here would be in not reading it.

Victor J. Banis is the author of more than 160 published works in a career spanning nearly half a century. He has been called the "godfather of modern popular gay fiction" (Thomas Long, PhD). Learn more at

Learn more about Island Song and Alan Chin at:

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pull By Bryl Tyne

Reviewed by Victor Banis
Pubished by Dreamspinner Press 2009

The late Carole Lombard is alleged to have said, pertinent to Clark Gable's sexual equipment, "Pappy ain't got much, but what's down there is cherse."

The same could be said of this admittedly slim bit of erotica. Not a lot of words, but what's here is choice. For whatever reason (and you'd think it would be otherwise) most writers don't do maverick all that well. More often than not, it comes out all poses and bluff, like little boys playing at pirates. On the other hand, from what I've seen, this author's chosen are almost inevitably the misfits, the square pegs in the round holes, the lost lambs. Indeed, Bryl Tyne could well be the poet laureate of the outsider.

The protagonist here is Chaz, a classic square peg—outside the family who booted him, outside the school that dropped him and, after getting arrested in a raid on a sex hangout, inside jail, which is way outside the borders of polite society. So when he gets an offer for rehab…but, I really can't tell you much more of the plot without giving it all away.

Don't expect a lot of subtleties here. This is wham-bam man on man action, with just enough story to hold it all together, though I'm willing to bet you'll be rooting from the beginning for outsider Chaz to find his way in from the cold.

If this is your cup of tea, you'll find it well-brewed. But, be forewarned, Reverend, it's definitely not for the prim and prissy.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Jade Owl Legacy Book I By Edward C. Patterson

Reviewed by Victor Banis

Let me start right at the top by going straight to the bottom line: this is a helluva good yarn, the sort of read we're all hoping for every time we pick up a book, and all too rarely find.

Rowden Gray comes to San Francisco to accept, he thinks, a curatorship at the Museum of East Asian Arts and Culture, only to find when he gets there that the position has evaporated. Instead, he runs into (literally) a fey young man who leads him on a series of adventures involving an ancient relic, the jade owl, taking them at a rapidly accelerating pace from the city's gay bars to Yosemite, to Hong Kong and finally to mainland China. An odyssey that proves to be, in fact, a quest not unlike the Lord of the Rings. If that kind of adventure is your cup of tea, you are certain to savor this one.

I couldn't begin here to detail all the turns and twists of the plot, and why should I? Once you get started, you'll have all you can do to keep up with them yourself. Suffice to say the bird in question is possessed of magic (and not altogether happy) powers and is cursed, and must be returned to the tomb of the Empress Wu Tze-t'ien if major catastrophe is to be averted. "It brings the comets back to earth," to put it succinctly.

The cast of characters is extensive, too: Rowden, of course, and that handsome and gay youngster, Nick Battle, and his drag queen other half, Simone aka Simon, and a one-eyed Cherokee and Chinatown gangsters and…well, plenty of others, and surprisingly the author manages to keep them all well sorted out, without reducing any of them to caricatures or, worse, mere shadows. Indeed, even the most minor of these many people is well drawn and believable.

Locations are vivid, too—if you've ever been to San Francisco, this will take you there again in a twinkling, and whether you've been or not you'll feel like you, too, have made that arduous journey with The China Hands across The People's Republic.

Okay, yes, there are some complaints, so let's get them out of the way and be done with them. And, frankly, when I said above, "Once you get started," I touched upon one of those problems—the beginning is slow. I had to persevere. You probably will as well. You'll have to take my word for it: it's worth the effort.

What else? There's the length. That's just a personal hang up of mine. Please don't tell me about War and Peace. I read that—when I was much younger. But I'm along in years now and when I pick up a book of 600 pages, it is with serious trepidation. (On the other hand, I have to confess, my interest never flagged. Okay, points to the author. But I'll still bet he could have told his story in, say, 500 pages. Without sacrificing anything.)

More serious problem? There's hardly a page or three that doesn't cry out, scream, for more careful editing. Example (and this one pops up all too often): The word "past" is a time reference. The past tense of "pass" is "passed," not "past." As in, "The present days passed, one upon the other, and became the past." It's a tribute to the author's storytelling skills that all those mistakes and misspelling and, well, simply wrong words, don't break the span of the reader's attention. But they can be serious distracting, for some readers certainly more than others. As a writer, your objective, always, is to keep the reader "in the dream." With every distraction, you risk losing him. He might come back into the story—or he might just close the book and put it aside. Not what you want to happen, not at all.

So, grumble, grumble, grumble. Still, this is a remarkable accomplishment. I finished The Jade Owl with a happy smile and closed it with a sigh of great satisfaction. I recommend the book heartily, with but one reservation: serious grammarians will probably have less hair when they finished than they did at the beginning.

On the other hand, you'll find the journey so thrilling, you won't realize till you're done that you're bald. In which case, you simply follow the example of the lady Simone: invest in a good wig and a lovely sun hat. Hopefully you can always grow new hair. You may never read another adventure tale this good. Honest, possums.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dreaming Of You by Ethan Day

Reviewed by Aunt Lynn at Reviewsbyjessewave

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Restaurateur Aden Ingle has been in love with the perfect man since his fourteenth birthday. Unfortunately, his perfect boyfriend only exists in his dreams. But Aden’s always believed it was his destiny to meet his dream man, and he’s perfectly content to wait around for him to walk into his real life.
When he meets Logan Price at a Hotel/Restaurant Trade Show, he finds himself drawn to this man who shakes him out of his dream world. Pretty soon, the flesh and blood reality is becoming more appealing than the fantasy. The only problem is Logan lives half way across the country in California.
Aden’s going to have to choose whether to give up everything he’s built for himself professionally and uproot his whole life for Logan, or wait for the man from his dreams to become a reality.

Dreaming of You is Ethan Day’s second published work, and the second I’ve read (Self Preservation, reviewed here, sparked quite a bit of lively comment a few months ago). At the time I reviewed SP, I said that I’d be more than happy to read and review his next offering as I thought that he’s a good writer, and, well, here I am. I’m so glad I committed myself to that because this was a great book! I’m not usually a gusher, but this book is gush-worthy. DOY is light and humorous — with some seriously funny laugh out loud moments — and sexy. Well-written and plotted with smart, snappy, witty dialog, it reminded me in some ways of a romantic screwball comedy from the 30s and 40s, and I could easily see this made into a film. I read it earlier in the week when I was having a bad time in RL, and it lifted my spirits and successfully took my mind off things.

I am mad about Aden! Narrated by him in first person, we are privy to his discussions/arguments/negotiations with his inner voice, or what he thinks as opposed to what he says out loud, and it’s hilarious. I loved his odd personality quirks — he’s accident prone, he tends to let his mouth get away from him when he’s nervous, he has a karma point system, he has a need to be liked, he’s a horrible driver, and he has a dream man. Here’s a perfect example of Aden:
I never could stand the thought of intentionally being mean or selfish. It had always been my thing. I couldn’t help myself. When people had described my personality to others, I heard one of two things: “He is the nicest person you will ever meet,” or “He is so nice it’s disgusting.” I’m terrified one day I’ll crack and release the serial killer that’s been lurking inside me somewhere.

I want to be friends with this man! Based on some interviews I found and reading his site and blog, I suspect that there’s a lot of Ethan in Aden. *g*
I thought fellow restaurateur Logan was a wonderful compliment to Aden, a sensitive alpha who is willing to unconditionally accept “the sexiest, sweetest oddball [he’s] ever met,” even finding the quirks adorable. He gets Aden when perhaps others may not have.
I adored how fun Logan and Aden are together, even in bed, and how easy their relationship is. I rooted for these two, especially toward the end when Aden needed to make some choices.
Ethan has not only given us two great protags, but also a large, colorful secondary cast, all of whom are well-drawn and three-dimensional: Nathan and Finn, Aden’s best friends; Logan’s group of friends in LA; Rufus, the pseudo-dream man; even Logan’s mother, who makes an appearance early in the story. I loved how Aden is with his friends, especially Finn (who is a total hoot!), and how just about everyone accepts him, oddness and all.
Ethan is a gifted writer who has a way with prose that sucks you in and makes you see what Aden is seeing. I really liked the depth of description of much of the environment, especially when he is in a restaurant. As a pretty serious foodie who has considered opening a restaurant, I could see the décor, how the room is arranged, what the bar looks like, hear the ambient music, cough on the cigarette smoke. It all felt real to me.

Dreaming of You is one of those feel-good, fun, romantic books that you can immerse yourself in, one I’ll be reading over and over. I highly recommend it, and I am eager to see what Ethan has next for us.

Monday, August 3, 2009

False Colors By Alex Beecroft

Reviewed by Alan Chin
In 1762, John Cavendish is given his first command, the HMS Meteor. Along with a motley crew and a handsome second in command (Lt. Alfie Donwell), Cavendish receives orders for a suicide mission to attack a fleet of pirates off the coast of North Africa. The captain’s stern moral attitude keeps a distance between himself and Donwell, but before HMS Meteor can engage the enemy, Donwell is captured and beaten to within an inch of his life. Cavendish leads a daring rescue mission and recovers his lieutenant, then unleashes a bold attack and manages to inflict his revenge, complete his mission, and flee the enemy relatively unscathed.

But before they reach the safety of port Gibraltar, Cavendish is wounded during another sea battle, and it’s Lt. Donwell’s turn to play nursemaid. During Cavendish’s recuperation, he and Donwell slowly become close friends – born from each other’s brush with death – so close that Donwell misinterpret the captain’s familiarity and makes an improper advance, professing his love for Cavendish. The captain immediately rejects him, and fearing recrimination which could lead to hanging, he takes a berth on another ship, HMS Britannia where he comes under the protection of Captain Farrant, a gay man whom Donwell has a history. They quickly become lovers, and Farrant tells Donwell, "Stop chasing love. Love is not for men like us. We share a deviancy we must pay for with lives of exemplary duty...You will get yourself hanged if you think otherwise.” Although that seems to be a theme in the story, it’s impossible for the hot blooded Lieutenant to follow such advice.

By the time Cavendish recovers and goes back to sea – not as captain, but as second in command – he has realized why his insides feel like a black hole after Donwell abandoned him. He had unwittingly fallen in love with the handsome Lieutenant. And as horrible as that thought is for this morally prudish man, the only thing worse is not having his love near him. The two men have a series of adventures before destiny brings them together again. And when they come together, with the full knowledge that they love each other, will duty and the threat of hanging keep them from becoming lovers? I won’t give it away, but suffice to say, their woeful adventures are far from over.

Narrated in the manner of a 19th century novel – primarily told, not shown – the characters are kept at a slight distance from the reader. There was not only this slight detachment, but I never really warmed up to either main character. I didn’t dislike them, they simply failed to win my sympathy, so I was not fully invested in their story. These protagonists are complex, flawed and for the most part believable. There were one or two scenes when Cavendish did something so completely out of character that he was not credible. There were several secondary characters that I would have like to have seen expanded, and even with the two lovers there were episodes that could have benefited by drilling to a deeper understanding.

Beecroft is superb at providing believable detail of 18th century life, especially nautical detail. This is where the author truly shines brightest. She puts you on deck of a tall ship and on the smelly wharfs. You feel the wind in your face, the fear of battle, the agony of wounds. At times I felt the story line sagging from the weight of too much description, but those times were infrequent. Although I am, admittedly, not a huge fan of historical fiction, I found myself fascinated by the world Beecroft creates. What I do love are good sea yarns, and False Colors is exactly that.

Beyond the normal romance plot twists, is the convincing story of two men in turmoil, and their only chance for survival is to cling to each other, which of course is seldom the case. The many varied plot twists kept me turning pages. There were times when I felt the storyline was too predictable, and there were certain elements about the ending that I found disturbing, but that did not detract from my enjoyment of this story. I have no reservation in recommending this book to anyone.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Moving Finger Writes By Carey Parrish

Reviewed by Alan Chin

Carey Parrish is one of the sweetest, most affable writers you’ll ever meet. So when he suggested that I read/review his new anthology of short stories, I was expecting some lighthearted gay romance or some comedy stories. I was thoroughly shocked to find that Carey writes rather sinister stories in the vain of Stephen King. Who knew this bright sunny guy has such a dark side?

I seldom read anthologies, mostly because I’ve found that I typically only enjoy one or two of the usual six to twelve stories, but I have to slog through the mud to find the gems. So I agreed to review The Moving Finger Writes with trepidation. But what I found here is that I wholly enjoyed each story. The first tale – The Woman Speaks – is fairly well written, good paced and even though it is was a tad predictable, it was delightful. It’s the story of Jason Connors, a young journalist on the verge of a career breakthrough story, and Violet Vaughn, an aging diva who has a deep, rather startling secret she has lived with most of her life. But is her secret too dark and too startling for Jason Connors? You be the judge.
I found the next story even more pleasing. The Piano involves Mark Booker, who bought a piano from a secondhand shop and got much more than he bargained for. Along with the piano, he inherited the spirit of a long-dead musician. But sometimes spirits can be like unwanted relatives, once they’re in you house, they won’t leave no matter what you do.
The Last Of Penny tells the complex tale of Steven Ballard and William Wilson, both affluent and successful lawyers with a Beverly Hills practice, and the one thing standing in their way of becoming a perfectly happy gay couple is Ballard’s wife, Penny. What lengths will these two men go to rid themselves of a tarnished Penny and find eternal happiness? The answer is marvelously shocking.
Arsenic and Old Cake is my favorite story of this book, both for its characters and suspenseful storyline. It’s a story of greed, crime, and turning the tables. What would you do if you discovered that the bright light of your life, your soul-mate, the person you most deeply love in the world, was suspected of murdering her previous husband, and also plotting to murder you?! This is a delicious little story that will keep you guessing throughout.
Killer Convent is a mystery involving the theft of a priceless painting from a convent, and the murdered guard who stumbled upon the crime scene. When two insurance investigators begin to scrutinize the case, they uncover some rather disturbing clues that all is not what it seems at the peaceful little convent. The results are unbelievable and wild, and very entertaining.
The Portrait is a story of jealousy and black magic. It’s a story a young man who wakes in what appears to be a deserted house, and he has complete amnesia. I found this tale the most disturbing because I once experience something similar, and I found myself reliving that appalling fear of not knowing where you are, or even who you are. The way Perrish handles the weaving together of information to overcome the amnesia is extremely well done.
And what dark anthology would be complete without a vampire story? Darkness and Light tells the interesting story of how the first vampire came to be, and trust me, it’s not at all what you think. It is a highly imaginative page turner.
The last story, The Christmas Present, was my least favorite. When a young man flies back to Chicago to visit his brother for the holidays, he befriends an old man, also going to Chicago to visit family. Only the old man’s family members are all dead. It is a tale of loneliness, of the importance of family, and the gift of reaching out to someone in need. It is a very moving story, and could have been my favorite had I been able to silence the editor in me.

As anyone can see, these stories are varied and imaginative. The characters are, for the most part, well developed and their situations interesting. These stories reminded me of a series of episodes from the Twilight Zone. Many were a tad predictable, and almost all the stories had some amount of head hopping (sudden switch of POV), but neither issue, however, was so blatant as to detract from my reading enjoyment. My only real criticism, which did detract from my reading enjoyment, is that all of the stories – some more than others – needs a competent editor with a flowing red pen to crawl through and tighten the prose. To be sure, Carey Parrish is not as seasoned a writer as one expects to find at the major publishing houses, so if your reading pleasure is incumbent on tightly crafted prose, then you may be disappointed. However, if you’re simply looking for some fun, fast paced, interesting and enjoyable stories to entertain you on a sunny afternoon, then I recommend The Moving Finger Writes.

The Moving Finger Writes is available at,,,, and it can also be purchased direct thru

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Roses Have Thorns by Jude Mason


Reviewed by Mykola Dementiuk

While reading ‘Roses Have Thorns’ I couldn’t help but think of that real life serial killer known as the Green River Killer who did away with some forty-fifty young women if not more, in Seattle and Canada during the 80s. Though Jude Mason doesn’t tell us that her story is based on him the similarities are too striking to look elsewhere. The Green River killer was after whores and Mason’s Rose, in her clothes and gaudy makeup, fits the description of a street whore perfectly.
She is a hooker turning tricks and one cold wet night with just a few cars passing her by she accepts a ride from a potential customer, Clifford, who instantly spots and eyes her cleavage, a mesmerizing sight. Clifford orders her to disrobe and she teasingly removes her clothes and feels an aroused and erect man moving atop her…until she passes out.
Somehow she survives her mutilation, which it was, and it might be disarming to some readers but I thought it was very real and true to the dangers of life on the streets be you whore with all kinds of customers for a quickie or killers preying on your body. Mason shows us the cunning subtleties of her characters, years later, as they meet and faze into their cunning reversed roles, a prostitute and a killer, to where she exacts her vengeance on him…I’ll leave this to the reader to ebb out the gruesome ending, but one complaint, I wish the story was a little longer, to me it was much too short, I feel because I could read stuff about whores for pages on end…that’s just my opinion. Anyway ‘Roses Have Thorns’ was a very good story at that…sure had me on the edge of my seat waiting to see what could happen next.

Mykola Dementiuk’s own novella about street girls ‘100 Whores and other stories’ is due out the Christmas 2009 from Synergy Press.

The Phoenix by Ruth Sims

Reviewed by Alan Chin

This compelling Victorian saga brings together two men. The first, Kit St. Denys (starts off as Jack Rourke), grew to the doorstep of manhood as a gutter rat in the slums of London. He suffered from poverty, a weakling brother, a prostitute mother, and a brutally abusive father. The one silver lining in his life was, by luck, that he established a connection with the theater, and began an acting career that would eventually lead to fame and riches, but only after Kit’s mother leaves them, his brother dies at the hand of his father, and Kit stabs his father in a vicious fight. To hide Kit from the law, a rich theater owner adopts him and changes his identity.
The other man, Nicholas Stuart, was destined to follow in the footsteps of his father, a poor village doctor. Nicholas however, runs off to study at the university, and becomes a highly qualified surgeon, respected by peers. He opens a clinic for London’s poor and lives a frugal, passionless life, until the day he accompanies friends to the theater and sees Kit St. Denys on stage. Nicholas is entranced by Kit, and when an act of luck brings him to Kit’s dressing room after the play, the two men are enchanted by each other in such strong terms that their budding love transcends time, distance, and a host of obstacles.

Narrated in the manner of a 19th century novel – primarily told, not shown – the characters are kept at a slight distance from the reader. But this didn’t keep me from caring about the characters. The protagonists are complex, flawed and completely sympathetic. Indeed, I wanted more. There were several secondary characters that I would have like to have seen expanded, and even with the two lovers, there were episodes in their lives that could have benefited by drilling to a deeper understanding.

In keeping with a historical novel told in the 19th century manner, there are no detailed descriptions of sex. I found that refreshing, and there certainly was no need for it. Kit and Nicholas’s love and need for each other was the focus, not what went on behind the bedroom door. Still it was a passionately told love affair.

Although I am, admittedly, not a huge fan of historical fiction, I found The Phoenix a satisfying read. Beyond the normal romance plot twists, is the convincing story of two men in turmoil, and their only chance for survival is to cling to each other, which of course is not always the case. The many varied plot twists kept me turning pages while pulling for both protagonists. There were times when I felt the storyline was too predictable, and there were certain elements about the ending that were disturbing, but that did not detract from my enjoyment of this story. I have no reservation in recommending this book to anyone.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Deadly Dreams by Victor Banis

Reviewed by Robert Buck

Victor J. Banis is a prolific writer as well as one of the most versatile and entertaining writers today. In recent years he has given us such gems as Longhorns, Angel Land, as well as the recent Deadly Series of mysteries. Deadly Dreams is the third installment in the series of mystery novels featuring the duo of Stanley Korski and Tom Danzel. In many ways it is the most satisfying book yet of the series. For those who may not be familiar with the series, the two met in the first book, Deadly Nightshade, when the openly gay San Francisco police officer Stanley Korski was teamed with the 'straight' Tom Danzel to solve a series of crimes involving gays.

In Deadly Dreams we find Tom has retired as a San Francisco Police Department detective and he and Stanley have become partners in a private investigation agency. They have also become partners in another way as they are now living together even though Tom is still loathe to openly admit the relationship. Following a prologue that ties the whole book together, Deadly Dreams begins with the death of Stanley's father. Stanley is forced to take a closer look at his past only to discover that things he had always considered to be fact, were not fact at all. His discovery of a family member Stanley never knew existed, takes him on a dark and twisted journey through his childhood in order to unravel not only a past mystery but also a present day mystery. Stanley discovers that little, if anything, from his past was as he had thought it was when growing up. And through this labyrinth of discovery, Tom is right there beside Stanley, protecting him.

Deadly Dreams however should be classified more as a thriller than a mystery as the reader is aware from the first of the book just who the killer is. This does not detract in any way from the book however as there are plenty of tense moments. Banis masterfully keeps the reader on the edge of the seat in this page-turner and even though we may know 'whodunnit' from the start, there are plenty of unexpected twists and turns along the way. But as good as the mysteries are in this series of books, the ever changing relationship between Tom and Stanley is what especially keeps readers coming back for more. Reading Deadly Dreams, one is reminded not only what a wicked wit Banis possesses, as well as what a master of wordplay Banis can be, but one is also reminded just what an urbane writer Victor Banis is in his cultural references, such as the references to the 16th century Italian painter Agnolo Bronzino. Without giving away too many secrets, romance lovers will be highly satisfied with Deadly Dreams, though the destination is not arrived at without some scrapes and bruises to the relationship.

The Deadly series of mysteries started off really good, and each subsequent book has gotten better, so if you like edge-or-the-seat psychological thrillers, or you are a fan of romance, this book should not be missed. And if you are a fan of both you will find Deadly Dreams to be doubly good.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bend in the Road By Jeanne Barrack

Reviewed by Victor Banis

Set in 19th century Poland, Bend in the Road is really two novellas, linked together by common setting and common characters. In the first of the two stories, In The Lion's Den, a penniless vagabond, Aryeh, joins a traveling troupe of Yiddish performers in need of a leading man. Aryeh meets and falls in love with pretty young Dani, who is soon playing the female lead, Esther, in their upcoming play, opposite Aryeh's King Ahasuerus. But Aryeh, experienced in the homosexual life, thinks Dani is too young, and Dani thinks Aryeh doesn't find him appealing.

In the 2nd of the novellas, From Stage to Stage, the troupe is hired by a prominent Jewish merchant to perform for his daughter's wedding, and the group's musician, Yuval, composes a musical version of The Emperor's Nightingale. Yuval, secretly gay, is fascinated by the merchant's homely gardener, Tvsi, whom Yuval recognizes as a kindred spirit, and when he hears Tvsi sing, Yuval realizes that he has found his nightingale – and also the love of his life. But, things don't go smoothly.

The stories are both charming and sentimental, in the nicest sense of the word. The settings are colorfully evoked and one truly gets a sense of sharing the lives of these people. For the most part the characters, even the minor ones, are well limned. Both stories have a folkloric air about them, almost a fairy tale quality, so it is probably less critical than it might otherwise have been that the two villains are mostly one-dimensional, almost the archetypical ogres of old legend. Or, Golems, if you will. Indeed, the stories remind me of fables handed down through generations rather than stories recently penned, which gives them a nice sense of authenticity.

There are, however, inherent problems with writing historical fiction, and they are compounded when the fiction is set in a milieu that might be considered exotic by many. The author must provide enough detail to lend verisimilitude, and not so much as to bog down the story. It is much like cooking: you want seasoning to add to the flavor, but not so much you can't taste the chicken. Here, the author's use of Yiddish phrases and words sometimes threatens to overwhelm the bird. Some of them are familiar enough and some of them readily grasped in context, but some also can have a reader unfamiliar with the language scratching his head. The effective result is that it is likely only those familiar with the language will really appreciate these stories to the fullest.

I asked the author about this issue and got this explanation from her, which seems reasonable: "One of the reasons why I included them was because of the very diversity of the members of the troupe. Some might have been speaking Polish or German or Hungarian. Aryeh more often than not would be thinking and speaking English since this was his first language and using Yiddish as a means to increase communication with the other members. Rather than saying, ‘Ruven spoke in Hungarian with a sprinkling of Yiddish words’, I just sprinkled them in. I wanted to let the reader know that what you spoke impacted on your status (for instance, Froy Silberstein's use of German) Also, to translate every word into English to me lost some of the flavor of taking place in another country."

The author adds a glossary at the end, but a good story is a dream shared by the writer and the reader. Ideally, the author wants the reader to forget he is reading a book and, in a sense, live the dream. But when the reader stops to look up a word, the spell is broken, and he is reminded that it is, after all, just a book.

None of which is to say the average reader, without knowledge of Yiddish, shouldn't, or wouldn't, enjoy this book immensely. I would recommend, however, that the reader forego resorting to the glossary while he is reading the stories. Even without understanding every expression, the astute reader will find little difficulty in following where the story goes and what the characters are about, and he can remain in the author's thrall – which is really the end most to be desired.

Notwithstanding this authorial choice of vocabulary, however (and it is just that, a choice, neither good nor bad of itself but simply how the storyteller chose to present her work) it is self evident that this was a labor of love for the author, and ultimately the affection she so obviously feels for her characters and their lives overrules all other considerations. Those who are willing to suspend their questions and read on without undue puzzlement will find it a lovely book, and well worth the reading. Then they can go to the glossary and look up those unfamiliar expressions at leisure. And perhaps gain a useful education in the process.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bend in the Road by Jeanne Barrack

review by Mykola (Mick) Dementiuk

While reading Jeanne Barrack’s Bend in the Road I couldn’t help but be reminded of that Yiddish story teller Isaac Bashevis Singer, whose Yiddish tales of the pre-Holocaust Europe earned him the Noble Prize. One story especially comes to mind, "Yentl the Yeshiva Boy," in which the girl Yentl, wanting to learn the teachings of the rabbis, disguises herself as a young man and befriends the other young men in pursuing this course of study. Though the latent homosexual traits are obvious to any reader, Singer shies away from exploring the relationship any further…

Not so Jeanne Barrack in her two-part novella, Bend in the Road. In Part One In the Lion’s Den, she explores a relationship between an older male, Aryeh, and Dani, a very young man.

(A digression here but this raises the question of how old should a fictional character be to appear in a sexual novella, 14, 15, 16? --though we’re later told that Dani is about 19 while Aryeh is 30 years old-- yet these fabricated rules are set forth by frightened publishers too scared of challenging the status quo. They assume that all young people are saving their virginity until they hit the glorious legal age of 18. What idiotic rot! My first sexual encounter was at the age of 15 with a man in his 20s or 30s. I was lured into a Newark alley not with an offer of money or good times --none was offered and none expected-- but just a glance that I received and recognized to pursue (even though I threw up afterwards) but it was a look of one I had always been after all my early life (yet I’m sure he saw that halting look in me, too.)

In this same way Aryeh and Dani recognize and know each other, in that mysterious homosexual way: they instantly long for each other even though they are both men. Aryey and Dani are part of an acting troupe in Poland in about the 1880s. Aryeh plays the manly roles, regal and bold, while Dani acts out the wimpy feminine parts. Falling into each other's arms is good as acting parts on stage, but Aryeh is hounded by what he secretly yearns for from Dani, physical closeness without the pretense of acting or playing a role.

In the other novella, Part Two, From Stage to Stage, Yuval and Tsvi are as different from each other as night and day or Christian and Jew. Yuval runs the theater troupe while Tsvi is a lowly disfigured gardener in a home Yuval is visiting. Yuval convinces Tsvi to sing in his company, at least part time, as they prepare for a recital.

Yet each feels he is unworthy of sharing himself with another male. Aryeh goes out and gets a drunkard who demands a blow job from him only to get pummeled by him at the end. Tsvi has an affair with a male prostitute he ends up somehow insulting and is given the boot. For some reason each man feels he in unworthy of sexual pleasure or true physical love; in this they stand utterly alone, tormented by their sexuality, by their aloneness. No wonder there’s a feeling of lost about them, which will persist until they let another into their lives.

These two stories are exquisite, rewarding novellas but with the many uses of the Hebrew or Yiddish words I was forced to flip back and forth constantly for definitions until I began to read it without referring to the dictionary; a wealth of Jewish information to learn in the end. Just to experience what gay avec means (what gay person hasn’t heard that?) is well worth the cost of the book; I would highly recommend these two novellas. You’ll definitely learn something from this book about a long-lived culture that now seems so short-lived before anti-Semitism reared its ugly head once again …but until then at least it was gloriously lived!

Jeanne Barrack has shown us what indeed was a fascinating way of life and that underneath all the poverty and hatred was a powerful resilience, a force of love pushing its way upwards not to the sky but directly straight to God…

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bashed by Rick R. Reed

Reviewed by Alan Chin

(PUBLISHER: MLR Press, 2009, $13.49)

Donald and his younger lover, Mark, strolled from the Brig (the leather bar where they had spent most of their evening) back to the alley where they had parked their car. It was late, the streets were deserted. They were playfully drunk and very much in love. The night’s chill made them anxious to be home where they could complete their joyous evening with more intimate activities.
Justin, a sixteen-year-old with an edge, was joyriding with his two buddies Ronny and Luis, both of whom were in their twenties. The night had been exciting for Justin. He’d had enough weed and beer to send him over the moon, and being with older thug types that he looked up to, gave him a quiet satisfaction that he, too, was a tough and dangerous man, not to be trifled with.
Everything was going great for Justin, and for Donald and Mark for that matter, that is, until their paths collided. Justin went along for the ride when Ronny pulled the car to the curb and said they should give those two fags a good ass-stomping – something to keep them out of the neighborhood. But Justin didn’t notice the baseball bat in Ronny’s hands until it was too late the stop the deed. How could something as innocent as name-calling and a little slap-slap turn into something so brutal, so deadly? And what was Justin supposed to do now that he was an accomplice to murder? Suddenly, he didn’t feel so tough and dangerous.

Rick Reed has created two touching love stories deeply embedded within a tale of hate, fear and coping – the love of Donald for his lost lover, and the love of Uncle Walter for his troubled nephew, Justin. It is tense, riveting, honest, sometimes brutal, and definitely not for the squeamish.
After that first fateful night, the author takes us on a journey that follows two paths simultaneously. The first path is Donald trying to pull his life back into some kind of order after he survives the vicious attack that kills his lover and leaves him injured. The second path follows Justin as he tries to extricate himself from his thug buddies and return to a more wholesome life by hanging out with the only person in his life that seems to have it together, his gay uncle, Walter.
It is a touching web of regrets and coping, until Donald and Justin’s paths collide a second deadly time.

Looking back, the first thing that struck me was how well the plot was crafted. Rick Reed knows how to put you on the edge of your chair and keep you there. As the story unfolds, the writer in me felt a little taste of awe at the author’s skillful hand. The depth of the characters was also notable. The reader understands their frustrations, their motivations, and their pain with exceptional clarity. The prose, like the story, is gritty and hard driving. In my view, Mr. Reed has created a winner.

I did have a few issues that slightly detracted from my enjoying the story. In several areas I felt that the author did too much telling and not enough showing. I wanted him to trust me, the reader, more to understand the emotions without telling me.
I also had an issue with the number of improbable coincidences that cropped up, like Donald and Walter living in the same building, to mention only one. Each time the story presented an improbable coincidence, it pulled me out of the story and reminded me that I was reading a fictional story, not living though something tragic, and a story that needed something slightly unbelievable to make the plot work.
The last minor point I’ll mention, without giving too much plot way, is that the ghost of Mark makes several appearances in the story, seemingly to protect Donald. It works well in this story because it reveals the depth of their love for each other. My issue was merely that I’ve seen that done in many novels and movies, and am feeling that it’s a bit over-done.

Those small issues aside, I found it a thoroughly well-written story. It is not an easy read, due to the dark content and complex emotional interactions, though it is well worth the effort. If you like a well crafted suspense story and have nerves of steel, then by all means, this will keep you up nights until you’ve finished it, and perhaps even after.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Holy Communion by Mykola Dementiuk

Reviewed by Dorien Grey

Those who read purely for pleasure, who look upon books as similar to opening a window on a pleasant Spring day, will not be likely to read Mykola Dementiuk’s starkly overcast “Holy Communion” (Synergy Press, 2009). Those, however, who see books as a way to explore all aspects of human nature and the human soul may find exactly what they are looking for within the pages of this far-from-the-mainstream tale. It follows one nameless seven-year-old boy—there is not a single proper name in the entire book—in the seven days leading up to his first communion. The dark and underlying irony of the book is that this emotionally and physically battered young soul should have no need for communion: he’s already lived his entire short life in purgatory. To read it is rather like peeling an onion; removing one layer reveals another.

It may never be made into a musical, but it does sing a complex song to those willing to hear it.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Bashed by Rick R. Reed

Reviewed by Jim at Rainbow-Reviews

BOOK BLURB:Three haters. Two lovers. And a collision course with tragedy.
That October night, Donald and Mark had no idea their lives and love were about to be shattered by fag bashers, intent on pain, and armed with ridicule, fists, and an aluminum baseball bat. Bashed charts the course of a journey that encompasses suspense, horror, and ~ ultimately ~ romance.

BOOK REVIEW:Walking home from a leather bar through a relatively safe part of Chicago, two men are brutally attacked and beaten by three punks. One of the victims, Donald, is hospitalized. His lover, Mark, is dead at the scene.

So begins this gripping and chilling story of one man's struggle to survive the death of his partner after they were gay-bashed.

The author, Rick Reed, lets us see the aftermath through the eyes of not only Donald himself, but his sister Grace, trying to bring him comfort and solace, Walter, a neighbor wanting to be more than neighborly, and Justin, Walter's sixteen year old nephew who was one of the three responsible for Mark's death.

With great skill Reed gets inside the heads of these people bringing their darkest thoughts and fears to the surface, and forcing us to share Justin's weakness and paranoia. Reed might have been trying to portray Justin in a sympathetic light, but I ended up hating him more than Ronny, the one who wielded the baseball bat that ended Mark's life. Justin's sniveling guilt racked persona mixed with his obsession for the older Ronny's moronic behavior makes for a very unlovable teenager.

Reed doesn't hold back on the kind of anonymous sex Donald prefers when he is finally able to start putting his life together, but his hook up with Walter gives him more than he thought possible. The paranormal theme Reed introduces with Mark, Donald's dead lover, is interesting and pivotal to the story, but to dwell on it here would give too much away. Suffice to say that the climax of the story had me on the edge of my seat ~ a real white-knuckle ride!

I read somewhere that Rick Reed has been dubbed the Stephen King of gay horror ~ not a bad comparison ~ but unlike King who can sometimes go into endless and often pointless detail, Reed's writing is stylishly simple, yet at the same time gritty and realistic.

Beyond The Reef by A.J. Llewellyn

Reviewed by Jayhayboy at Romance Junkies

received Five Bloue Ribbbons

Tony Kaven gets a job in one of the most beautiful places on earth with one of the most egotistical actors on earth. He finds himself not only surrounded by people who are unsure of what will happen with their jobs but, he finds that after dark – you never know what’s happening behind closed doors and with whom.

This brings him to his biggest problem and in the spirit of being on the mystical Hawaiian island, he prays to the gods to bring him a man who will not only make him happy, but who will also love him for all that he is.

Beyond the reef is fantasy come to life – at least for Tony. With his more than average size, he is self conscious of how people sees him and have issues with the fact that he is lonely and miserable because of it.

When he calls on the gods to give him his one wish – he forgets that sometimes what you wish for you just might get. And Tony has more than his work cut out for him with the man of his dreams, not only is he perfect, but he brings out all the unpleasant emotions in Tony that he doesn’t like about himself.

Messer Llewellyn has taken us back to the beautiful Hawaiian Islands with this wonderful location driven book; with lots of historical detail, he has delve into the best of the island and created a tale that will have you never wanting to leave. He’s also shown us his wonderful style by taking a very insecure man and finding the perfect man for him to love, and be loved for himself in return.

Once again my hats off to Messer Llewellyn; BEYOND THE REEF is a great read.