Saturday, July 24, 2010

Book Review: Gailias: Operation Thunderspell by Kage Alan

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Zumaya Boundless
Pages: 221

Nicholas and Anthony are not only secret agents working for the U.S. government, they are also lovers. Yes, a pair of gay 007s. Nicholas is the brawn of the duo; Anthony is the brains. They are opposites in almost every way, including the fact that Nicholas is Caucasian and Anthony is Chinese. And do opposites attract? Don’t bet on it. Only one thing is certain, when they come together, sparks fly.

They are paired up with Debora, a razor-tongued agent, and sent to a resort island in the Philippines where some very shady dealings seem to be going on, having to do with a new terrorist organization, ever-so-descriptively called, the League. But it’s not your typical sun-sand-surf resort island, it’s an S/M theme park, where all of the guests play a role as either a master or a slave. On this island, the Asians are the masters and the Caucasians are the slaves. Anthony is given an undercover guise that lets him be a master, while Nicholas must submit to being a slave. While Anthony has it easy, Nicholas falls under the brutal hand of The Ball.

Things become more complicated when they find they are not the only secret agents on the island. It seems that Rice and Christian are also there to acquire information; although it’s not certain which government they are working for. In all the confusion, bullets fly, buildings explode, helicopters are blown out of the sky. But do the good guys win? Do we even know who the good guys are? The only certainty is a surprise on every page.

Kage Alan is an extremely funny writer, and this novel shows him at his best. It’s much like watching a Marx Brother’s film, that is, if the Marx Brothers had been gay. Or more appropriately: a gay I Spy vs. Scooby Doo. Nicholas and Anthony spend the novel dissing each other, as only two witty and bitchy lovers can do. The only time they are not dissing each other is when they gang up to diss someone else. This novel has all the wit and banter that Kage Alan fans have come to expect.

There is nothing here to take seriously. It is a lighthearted romp with a couple of razor-tongued queens. The protagonists are in their thirties, which is a departure from Mr. Alan’s previous books. This humor is geared to an adult audience. On the one hand I appreciated the more mature humor. On the other hand, I think this book lost much of the sensitivity that Mr. Alan’s previous novels had, when Andy Stevenson was dealing with issues of coming out.

Still, if you're in need of a good laugh, page after page, then set your sights on Gailias: Operation Thunderspell, and be prepared to be entertained.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Princess Of The Andes by Victor J. Banis

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Untreed Reads Publishing

The Princess of the Andes is a freighter registered in Ecuador, making a trip from Los Angeles, through the Panama Canal, to Haiti. In addition to cargo, she also carries passengers looking for cheap transportation to Latin America. One of these passengers, Randolph Letterman, has signed on for the whole cruise to Haiti, and back to L.A.

Everything starts off fine. The weather is grand and they make good time. But as the trip progresses, Randolph makes himself into a bit of a bore. In an effort to be social to Captain Herrman and the crew, Randolph becomes too talkative, too much of a know-it-all, until he has everyone aboard avoiding him. The situation gradually becomes worse until Captain Herrman threatens to throw Randolph overboard so he can enjoy his meals in silence.

It is then that the ship’s doctor comes up with a plan. In his estimation, Randolph is a lonely, older, gay man who desperately needs to get laid. The Doctor suggests, that if they are to get any quiet, then someone from the crew should volunteer to satisfy the old man. That alone will shut him up. The Captain is willing to try anything, but whose to bell the cat?

For several years now, I have been a fan of Victor Banis’s work, whether it be a four-hundred page novel or a ten page short story, Victor puts the same level of artistic talent into everything he writes. And needless to say, I was not in the least bit disappointed with The Princess of the Andes.

I love his superlative voice, his quirky characters, his well-constructed plots. This story is a joy to read. It carries the reader along, and then gives him/her a playful little slap in the face at the end.

I’ve said it before, that I think it takes more talent to craft a short story than a novel, and Victor shows his considerable talent in spades. If you want to spend a joyful half-hour, read The Princess of the Andes.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tales My Body Told Me by Wayne Courtois

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Lethe Press
Pages: 303

Paul Lavarnway lives a comfortable life with his partner, Eric. Then Paul meets and becomes infatuated with Richard, a man he meets at the local gym. They have an affair that begins as car-sex at the gym parking lot, and progresses to a date at Richard’s house. Of course, after lying to Eric about his activities, Eric finds out about the affair and leaves Paul.

Thus begins a series of events that leads Paul to East Oak House in the town of Two Piers, Maine – a group home for “recovering homosexuals”. The house is a seedy place Paul shares with four other men trying to go straight with the help of a live-in counselor. The author turns this situation on its head, however, when the inmates begin to have nightly orgies. But there is something else amiss, and even though Paul is kept in a drug-induced mist for most of the story, he determines that something is terribly wrong. The question is, can Paul figure it out before things turn deadly?

This story is essentially a murder mystery, although the reader doesn’t realize that until nearly the end of the story. The plot, although clever, is difficult to follow and seems to wander aimlessly for the first two-hundred pages. Part of the confusion stems from the fact that the narrator is drugged and not thinking properly. His memories are disjointed, and he struggles to make sense of his life. The reader sees Paul’s world through his confusion. As Paul begins to see his life more clearly, so does the reader. The author manages to pull all the seemingly lose ends together in the end and make sense of it all. It is an ambitious plot, and a clever way to structure the story.

The thing I most enjoyed about the story was the author’s voice. Written in present tense, the prose is often impeccable. It carries the reader along as if in a dream. I think Wayne Courtois has one of the finest voices in modern fiction.

As much as I enjoyed reading his prose, I had numerous issues with the story. The main problem I had was that I didn’t care for the protagonist until the last fifty pages, and by then it was too late to care about his story. He comes off as a shallow and unsavory character, not the kind of person a reader normally wants to invest their time in.

I also had an issue with the pacing. Even though the prose was lovely, the story delved into uninteresting detail that drastically slowed the story to a crawl. I was often tempted to skip pages in order to move the story along.

There were a number of scenes with graphic sex, which I thought did little to move the plot forward. For me, that detracted from the story.

The last thing I’ll mention is that, in tying together all the plot points, the author presented several situations that were either way too coincidental, or simply unbelievable. It made the whole of the story seem false, at least in my eyes. That, more than anything, was disappointing. I expected more from such a talented writer.

Tales My Body Told Me is a bold story that breaks the mold of gay literature. It tells the story of a middle-aged man, struggling in a world that doesn’t appreciate him. In many ways the story is brilliant, and one is inclined to overlook the flaws. This is a book I can recommend to readers who like something quite different, and relish a challenge.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Short Story Review: The Lawyer, The Ghost and The Cursed Chair by Ruth Sims

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Untreed Reads Publishing

Horatio Lamar (H.L.) Snodgrass IV comes from a long line of successful Lawyers. At the height of his own success, he decides to do an office makeover, and he pays someone to haul away some tattered furniture that has been in his family for generations. That night, H.L. is visited by the ghost of Hawkins Forsythe Snodgrass, H.L.’s Great-great-great Grandfather. Hawkins tells H.L. that he should have never gotten rid of a certain chair, because it had a curse on it. If H.L. doesn’t get the chair back soon, a string of misfortunes will surely befall him. H.L. chocks the vision up to a bad food combination, and ignores the ghost’s warning. But that night his boyfriend leaves him, the next day his wife cleans out the joint bank accounts and drops him like second-period Spanish, he wrecks his car, and his secretary sues him for sexual harassment. It begins to dawn on H.L. that maybe he should get that damned chair back. Thus begins this hilarious journey.

This is a fun, fun read. It is not one of those stories that had me laughing out loud, but rather, it had me glowing with joy. The language, characters and situations all combined to tickle my funny bone. There was nothing deep about this read. It’s a pleasure that one treats oneself to, like a rich dessert only without the calories.

For me, comedy is the most difficult thing to pull off, and Ruth Sims shows off her notable skill and imagination with this little gem. This is the kind of story you want to have handy on a gloomy day, because it will most certainly cheer you up.

I can highly recommend this read to anyone who enjoys quirky characters and funny situations. Or for that matter, to anyone who just needs a good laugh.