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.