Friday, June 25, 2010

Neighbors by Victor J. Banis

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Untreed Reads Publishing
Pages: 6

Linda is a woman caught in a marriage going nowhere. She stocks shelves at the 7-Eleven during the day, has dinner on the table before her man, Ray, walks through the door of their little trailer, and then pretends pleasure while he makes love to her at night. It’s a small life, a rather sad life. She feels trapped, but with a simple neighborly gesture, the lesbian woman who lives a dozen feet away, offers her hope.

Short stories are often about turning points in a character’s life. Some times that’s a physical act, like walking out the door and not looking back. Other times it is merely a little switch that turns on or off inside the mind, a switch that means life going forward will be different. Neighbors is such a story.

With consummate skill, Victor Banis weaves a short but powerful story of a woman’s quiet desperation. I felt her pain, her longing. The loneliness this heroine experiences is universal to us all, and all too real.

It takes great skill to pack so much story into six pages. Victor Banis not only captures this woman’s essence, he does it with an impeccable voice. He manages to bring both humor and pain with the same well-chosen words. This is a deeply emotional story that will stay with a reader a long time.

I can highly recommend this marvelous story to all readers.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Blue Moon Café by Rick R. Reed

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Amber Quill Press
Pages: 242

Thad Matthews is between jobs, between boyfriends and trying to pull his self-esteem out of the gutter in Seattle’s gay neighborhood, Capitol Hill. But he has to be careful during his nights out clubbing to find a new love/lust interest because there have been some gruesome deaths in the area, gay men mutilated and half-eaten, and it always seems to happen during a full moon.

When Thad decides to try the new Italian restaurant that opens near his apartment, he encounters more than great food and an authentic Italian atmosphere. He meets the proprietor, Sam Lupino, the man of his dreams. Sam has recently moved to Seattle from Sicily, and his family has opened the Blue Moon Café. Sam is large, rugged, hairy, and an aggressive lover. But regardless of how forceful Sam is in bed (which is fine with Thad), he exudes kindheartedness out of bed, and seems as taken with Thad as Thad is with him.

Thad and Sam’s relationship turns rocky, however, when Thad suspects Sam is hiding something, and it has to do with the fact that once a month Sam disappears for days at a time, which seems to coincide with the murders. Thad begins to suspect that the man of his dreams is a werewolf, but that’s ridiculous. Isn’t it?

Let me state that I’m not a fan of werewolf, vampire or shape-shifter stories. To my thinking these types of tales, for the most part, have become a tired cliché. That said, The Blue Moon Café drew me in from the get-go because of the characters, particularly the protagonist, Thad Matthews. Thad is jobless due to the economic downturn. He kicks around Twitter and Facebook during the day, and the gay clubs at night, trying to overcome his vast loneliness. Sam, on the other hand, is mature and stable but he has family secrets. He is put in a position where he must choose between love and protecting his family. Both main characters dealt with universal themes that I could easily identify with.

There are also some particularly tense and well-written scenes from the werewolf’s point of view while stalking its prey. Reed takes you into the killer’s psyche, and you feel its need, not only to feed, but to relish the terror it causes. Reed knows how to build suspense and keep the reader hanging on the edge of his/her seat. There were parts I couldn’t read fast enough to find out what would happen next.

My only complaint is that I walked away slightly disappointed. The only other Rick Reed story I’ve read was Bashed, and I was very impressed with that book, for both characters and plot. So I picked up The Blue Moon Café with high expectations, and as much as I enjoyed this read, I didn’t think it lived up to the promise that Bashed created.

The Blue Moon Café combines suspense with an erotic love story and moves along at a fast pace. If you like paranormal stories, you will most likely love this one. If you’re like me and shy away from them, you might give this one a try. It has a lot to offer.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Zagzagel Diaries: Denial by Bryl R. Tyne

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Untreed Reads Publishing
Pages: 9

Zagazagel is a guiding angel with a touch of devil in her. She has been assigned a hard case to watch over, a lady of the night named Deena, who is not only sexy, but also hard as nails. But that hardness is only a protective shell. Inside, she longs for the type of tender love only another woman can give. But of course, finding another woman is not so easy for someone who makes her living by sleeping with men.

In the course of a few fleeting hours, Zagazgel follows Deena from an altercation with a john, to her empty home. They have a rather touching and humorous confrontation, then Zagzagel leads her in the direction of salvation.

This is a well-told, gripping story. Bryl Tyne is a master at creating tension from the first sentence, and keeping his reader needing that next well-chosen word, sentence and page. His characters are real and captivating. They allow the reader to see something of themselves on the page. But what most charmed me about this story, was the way the author weaved humor into a sad and desperate situation.

All the fine qualities of this story listed above came as no surprise. I’ve read a couple of longer works by this author, so I knew I was in for a top-quality read going into it. I think Bryl has one of the finest voices in lgbt fiction. But what did surprise me was how much story Bryl packed into nine pages. I am left awed and grateful. It takes a huge talent to write short stories, and this author has proven he has what it takes.

This is a story I can highly recommend to anyone who enjoys fine writing and wonderful characters.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Normal Miguel By Erik Orrantia

Reviewed by Victor J. Banis
Bristlecone Pine Press, 2010

These days, so much glbt fiction is written in bold letters: cowboys and space travelers, murder mysteries and of course lots of high-octane sex, that it is a special treat and indeed refreshing to read something from the other end of the spectrum. Erik Orrantia’s enchanting novel, NORMAL MIGUEL, is what we used to call “slice of life,” in this case, especially intriguing because it describes a life with which few of us are likely to be familiar.

When he graduates from Normal School (what in the States we mostly call “teachers’ colleges”) young Miguel Hernández escapes from his unhappy gay life in the near-slums of Mexico City by accepting an internship for a year at the Internado, a live-in school in a distant mountain village, but his long and arduous bus trip to Comalticán turns out to be a journey of discovery.

The author shows us the life in the small rural village with such perfectly rendered detail that the unique setting becomes familiar to the reader and one feels that he has been there not only in the spirit but in the flesh as well. In the same way, he introduces us to a large cast of characters, bringing each of them indelibly to life, often with no more than a word or two, and sometimes with well constructed side stories that enhance rather than distract from his main narrative. And though the reader may be utterly unfamiliar with life in rural Mexico, it is unlikely that any gay reader won’t identify with Miguel in his struggle to come to terms with himself as a homosexual.

The events that happen are mostly low-key, though important to the characters and increasingly, as we find ourselves absorbed in the life of the village, to the reader as well. Lonely, Miguel allows himself to be used sexually by the local baker, before rebelling and regaining his pride. He meets the owner of the local candy store, Ruben, and falls gradually in love, a love that, as the story progresses, will be tested in ways that I can’t discuss without spoiling things.

Mostly the story centers on Miguel’s interactions with his students, who come to respect and ultimately to love him, while he in turns realizes that he has as much to learn from them as he has to teach them. What a diverse and lovable bunch of imps they are, too.

Heart breaking poverty, violent summer storms, some homophobia, the working out of relations between the two young men and their mothers, a memorable Christmas, an amusing but sweet wedding, the gentle awakening of love—quiet but intense dramas—keep the pages turning. One finishes the book with a sense of sadness that it can’t go on forever—as life in the mountain village will—and at the same time a sense of satisfaction, of completion. This is, in fact, a very satisfying read.

Yes, of course, there are some flaws. The use, especially early on, of a passive voice saps the opening chapters of some of their vitality, and a sterner editorial eye would have caught the too-frequent repetition of the same words and phrases in a single paragraph – “as,” for instance, pops up sometimes in sentence after sentence. And the author resorts to the clumsy device of telegraphing things—sort of, “in good time, dear reader, he will learn…” which destroys the illusion for the reader of living the events and reminds him that it is only a story being told to him.

None of this, however, really spoils the pleasure of reading this truly charming book, and I find myself already looking forward to the next one. A fine addition to our genre, and highly recommended to those who like a beautiful story, beautifully told.

Read more about his author and book here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

All Lost Things by Josh Aterovis

Reviewd by Alan Chin
Published by P.D. Publishing, Inc.
Pages: 318

All Lost Things is a Killian Kendall Mystery, I believe the third in a series. The story picks up with Killian about to graduate high school, and change is in the wind for our hero. Within a few short weeks, he graduates, breaks up with his long-time boyfriend, and starts a new job as an assistant to a private investigator. But the cherry on the cake is when his ex-boyfriend, Asher, comes to him for help. The boy who Asher dumped Killian for is accused of murdering his father. Asher begs Killian to help prove his new boyfriend is innocent. Killian reluctantly agrees to take the case, having no idea what kind of a hornet’s nest he’s stepping into.

At the same time, Killian’s surrogate parents decide to buy a historical mansion and plan to turn it into a bed and breakfast. But Killian soon discovers that the house is not only rich with history, it is also haunted. But it seems he is the only one who believes it. He must find a way to convince the others, and himself, that he is not losing his mind. Or is he?

I had a ball reading this novel. Although the target audience for this novel is young adults, this is a story that people of all ages can enjoy. It is sometimes touching, often funny, and very well written. Although this is the first Killian Kendall mystery I’ve read, this one convinced me to read all the others.

The characters are well developed and interesting, especially the protagonist who charmed my socks off. The pacing was strong and moved at a fast clip. And I was kept guessing all the way to the down-to-the-wire finish. This was a thoroughly intriguing read.

As much as I enjoyed this story, I did have two issues with it. Not to give the ending away, but when it came time to reveal the true villains and how they committed the dark deeds, I felt a bit let down. The reveal was too easy. The author had done such a superb job to that point of juggling the clues and keeping the tension as tight as a bowstring. I was expecting something more intricate for the reveal.

The other issue was that the “A” and “B” stories didn’t join. The A story is Killian solving the mystery, of course. And the B story is his parents buying the haunted house. What most often happens in good literature, is that the A and B story run in parallel for most of the story, like to trains racing along side by side in the same direction, but then at the beginning of Act 3, the tracks converge and the two stories collide. That is, something happens in the B story that helps resolve the A story. But in this novel, the A and B never converged. The B story didn’t add anything important to the mystery, and I felt the author stuck it in there as a setup for a future story, which I found disappointing.

Those two issues, however, did not keep me from being totally engaged throughout the story. I can highly recommend this novel to all readers who enjoy interesting, tense, well thought out mysteries.