Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Butterfly's Child by Alan Chin

Reviewed by Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Published by Dreamspinner Press, December 2010
Pages: 280

Middle-age is a time of change for Cord Bridger, a talented NYC musician who begun to give up on things ... his dreams to become a famous concert pianist, his secure but unfulfilling dead-end job at a piano factory, and a relationship that has made him feel more lonely and unloved by the day. He finds himself returning to his boyhood home in a small remote Nevada town - which held bad memories he never wanted to revisit - due to the death of his grandmother, who had raised him after the death of his mother and abandonment of his father. After the funeral, he learns his grandmother was survived by her lesbian lover, Juanita, and that he apparently has a teenage son, Kalin. The boy's mother (his former girlfriend) quickly leaves Kalin and her younger son Jem with Cord and Juanita, to take care of "some business" with her ex-husband in California. That business becomes Cord's business, as he struggles to win over his disapproving son, deal with potential new love, and keep everyone safe from a threat he may have underestimated.

I've made no secret of the fact that Alan Chin is one of my very favorite authors, and he continues to amaze me with the variety of complex, diverse, character-driven outstanding fiction he manages to write. Though I thought he went a bit "over the top" with this one in parts, it is definitely an exciting, emotional page-turner of a story, and nobody could have done it better. Five stars out of five, in a clear Nevada sky.


The Geography of Murder by P. A . Brown

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by MLR Press
Pages: 273

Jason Aaron Zachary knew it was bound to be a bad day when he woke up next to a corpse who’d hours before had had his head bashed in. But things quickly grew worse as he was yanked to his feet and cuffed by a Santa Barbara Police detective named Alex Spider. A few hours later he was booked for murder one and sent to the county lockup to await arraignment.

Detective Alexander Spider, an openly gay police officer, had an immediate gut level attraction to Jason, but the kid was the kind of punk going down the toilet fast. Jason looked like he was into drugs, hustling , and about to be slapped with an open-and-shut case of murder one. But something didn’t smell right about the case. It seemed too easy, like someone had set the kid up to take a fall.

When things looked darkest, Jason couldn’t believe it when Spider paid him a visit in the county lockup, telling him there was new evidence that proved Jason’s innocence. Hours later, Jason found himself free from jail and riding home with this macho detective stud. Once at home, what Jason thought might lead to some hot sex did, but things got rough, and rougher, and rougher still, until it became clear that Spider intended to beat him into submission, and then own him, body and soul. Jason had leaped from one prison to another. But this new prison had its advantages…

This is not the first P.A. Brown novel I’ve read. So when I picked up this book, I expected a well-plotted murder mystery with the focus on sniffing out clues to solve a difficult murder or two. What I quickly realized was, although there is a murder case for Spider to solve, the guts of this story is a BDMS romance between Spider and Jason – one that takes them from being enemies on opposite sides of the law to painfully exploring the boundaries of a rather kinky relationship.

This story is unusual in that it is told in first person from two different protagonists. Each new chapter switches the narrator, first Jason then Spider, and so on. This POV swapping was slightly jarring at first, but it permitted the author to dive deeply into both characters’ persona, and allowed the reader to know them both intimately. My only issue about this POV switching was that both voices were similar. I felt that the author could have put more effort into making each voice more distinct.

This tale reads fast, and has the author’s usual spot-on attention to detail. The prose is raw, giving insight into the characters behind the words. Yet all too often the author used a word that was so inapt that I was jerked out of the story to ponder the choice of words. One example would be, “He jumped in the car. Cranked it on.” I couldn’t help wonder, how do you crank on a car that was built after 1915? But of course, that is only one of many examples.

The main issue I had with this story was purely a personal one. I didn’t like one of the main characters. I found Spider to be quite the hypocrite. One minute he was on a soapbox making speeches about pedophiles who can’t control their urges, and the next minute he had Jason chained to a wall and whipping him before having unprotected sex. It is difficult to be excited by a romance when you detest one of the players. But like I say, that was purely a personal issue. Most readers will not share my prejudices.

These two characters are drawn together, then struggle to overcome several obstacles. The author skillfully pulled me into their drama, and although there were relatively few sex scenes, they were hot. At times the sex went over the top for my old fashioned sensibilities, but never enough to keep me from flipping to the next page to see what happened next.

P.A. Brown is an exceptionally talented writer, and although I do not consider this story to be on the same level as her other novels, it is a well written, absorbing, and entertaining romance that I can recommend.


Tainted Blood by Sam C. Leonhard

Reviewed by Romance Junkies Reviewer: Christina
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Release Date: May 2010

Blue Ribbon Rating: 5

Gabriel Jordan has lived on the streets most of his life. His only source of income is the occasional jobs taking photographs for a private detective. Gabriel only gets offered the worse jobs that no one else wants and he gets paid practically nothing. As a result, he is barely surviving but he has no other choice. One night Gabriel is standing out in the freezing cold waiting to catch a cheating spouse in the act when he sees something far more interesting instead. Gabriel sees a man jump out a window but instead of falling he floats harmlessly to the ground.

Dr. Aleksei Tennant is shocked but intrigued when he is seen by a young man as he jumps out of an apartment window. Gabriel should not be able to see him. When Gabriel proves resistant to his magic, Aleksei is intrigued enough to invite him home. Gabriel has peaked his curiosity and he is determined to find out why his magic doesn’t work on the other man the way it should.

Gabriel goes home with Tennant despite his misgivings about him. Tennant begins teaching him about the magical world. Tennant is an expert at opening portals that connect many hidden worlds to this one. As they spend time together a friendship begins to form between them. When Aleksei reveals that he is investigating a series of murders Gabriel is determined to help, even though he risks revealing how important Aleksei has become to him.

TAINTED BLOOD by Sam C. Leonhard is a novel that reminded me why I love reading. I was hooked from the first page and I could not put this book down. The world building is creative and richly detailed. I was enchanted by the idea of hidden worlds that exist along side this one, worlds where many different kinds of supernatural creatures live. Humans know about these worlds but they are terrified. Anyone suspected of having the blood of a paranormal creature is persecuted. This world sparked my imagination and felt very believable to me.

Gabriel is an admirable and captivating character. He’s had a hard and lonely life living on the streets. As a young child he was often ignored by his foster parents. He has no idea what its like to be loved or cared for. When he meets Tennant he is understandably wary but as he gets to know the other man he finally learns what its like to have a friend. Aleksei is a unique and extremely intriguing character. He is intense and mysterious. For much of the novel I wasn’t completely sure he could be trusted. Although, it is obvious he cares for Gabriel he also has his own agenda. There is something different about Gabriel and he is determined to discover what it is. Their relationship is somewhat unconventional but very touching.

TAINTED BLOOD also contains an absorbing mystery. Someone is brutally killing people with a mixed heritage. The mystery investigation is well plotted out and held my interest. The murders are chilling. The mystery is interwoven with Gabriel and Tennant’s story in a very realistic and exciting way. The ending of the story leaves room for a sequel. There is still more to discover about Gabriel. I hope I will have the opportunity to visit these characters and their world again.


Monday, December 27, 2010

A Man of Principle by Victor J. Banis

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Amber Quill Press
Pages: 17

After a night at the opera, an elderly man decides to have a nightcap at a favorite watering hole to prolong the inevitable of going home to an empty apartment. But while enjoying the comforts of a twelve-year-old, single-malt scotch, he meets Neal MacIntyre, and they form a fragile bond.

Neal is nursing his well scotch, trying to make it last until closing time. He doesn’t have the money for another drink and he has no place to spend the night. Out of pure kindness and a desire for conversation, the elderly man offers him both – first a drink, then a couch to sleep on for the night. Neal happily accepts. But once the two are at the man’s apartment, Neal begins to tell what events brought him to that apartment. He tells a gripping tale of love and friendship, gain and loss, treachery and murder.

I’ve mentioned before that Victor J. Banis is one of my favorite authors, both for the vivid characters he creates and for his flawless prose, and in A Man of Principle, he does not disappoint. From the first paragraph I was drawn to this nameless elderly man, and could feel his loneliness and need. With a few well-chosen brushstrokes, the author paints a complete and compelling portrait of a man with not much to look forward to – someone who is waiting for something, and who perhaps spends his time savoring his past like his single malt.

With equal skill, he creates a younger man who is running from his past, a past that he can’t really run from. As the story unfolds, these two personalities bond in a unique way that is both touching and sad.

This story made me do something I seldom do: after reading the last word, I flipped back to the beginning and read it again – not for more clarity, but for the pleasure of a simple yarn told with skill and passion. Banis’s gift at crafting short stories is humbling. Take away one word and there is loss, take away any sentence and the beauty is diminished. This is not a story he whipped together in a day or two. It takes talent and patience to produce this kind of quality. This is a story I can highly recommend.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Boy Behind the Gate by Larry Jacobson

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Buoy Press
Pages: 414

As a seven-year-old boy, Larry Jacobson often stood outside the gates of the marina near his home in Oakland, California, staring at the sleek sailing yachts nestled in their births, and dreamed of sailing the seven seas. His fantasy, even at that young age, was to circumnavigate the world. That aspiration remained dormant, wrapped in a cocoon for over forty years, waiting, waiting, but always pressing on his heart. The Boy Behind the Gate is the nonfiction account of the author fulfilling his life-long dream.

This is not simply a sailing story of shimmering white-sand beaches, tropical lagoons, and exotic ports of call. It is the hard and gritty sea tale of overcoming fears and insecurities, of dealing with the harsh and glorious displays of nature, of facing loneliness. This is a story of a gay man who risked everything for uncertainty and adventure, and in the process, reinvented himself. It is an account of personal strength and perseverance. Oh, and did I mention love? Yes, this is also a gay love story, not only of Jacobson’s love for the sea, but also his falling in love with Ken, his first mate.

On December 7th, 2001, Larry Jacobson walked away from a successful career and a long-time lover. He, his first mate, Ken, and a skeleton crew boarded a fifty-foot sailing yacht, Julia, stowed their provisions, made last minute preparations, waved good bye to friends and family, sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, and pointed the bow south. They would not see that beautiful orange span again for another six years.

Jacobson had never captained an ocean going vessel before leaving the safety of the west coast of Mexico to cross the Pacific. He was not prepared for what lay ahead, but the unrelenting ocean served as teacher and guide, humbling his ego one minute, inspiring him the next.

Most of the entries of this book are presented as entries from the author’s personal journal and also emails written during the voyage. Don’t expect beautiful prose or lofty accounts of exotic cultures. These are gritty entries of a sailor and adventurer. The author’s mood comes through with each entry. The reader definitely gets his frustrations, fear, loneliness, his surprises and joys.

As a fellow world traveler (although I cross oceans from thirty thousand feet) I found this account fascinating. Jacobson describes many places I have visited, and his descriptions and insights are spot on. He managed to take me back to those destinations and let me relive my experiences there, from lagoons on Bora Bora, to the beauty of New Zealand, to diving the Great Barrier Reef, to the temples of Egypt, and the bustle of Istanbul. I thoroughly enjoyed his accounts of places I’ve been and others I hope for visit.

I only had one issue with this book. While Island hopping across the Pacific, the author seems to fall into a monotonous pattern of describing a fantastic island paradise, then a mechanical breakdown that impends the trip, then a horrendous storm that threatens their lives, then starts the pattern again with a tropical paradise. Not that it’s dull, but he does this multiple times, and, for me, it got too repetitious. And speaking of mechanical breakdowns. In the six-year voyage, everything that could possibly break did. I felt the author dwelled too much on his frustration of these incidents, and felt he could have cut half of them out and still made the point of how frustrating a journey like this can be.

The following is from a poem by the author taken from the book:
I have stood at the edge
Of the oceans.
I have stared in awe
At the power before me,
That pulled and tugged,
Until there was only the sea.
I left my life behind
To become a wanderer.
To explore, to live on the edge,
To search for something.
For that one thing that could satisfy
The urge that comes over me,
To keep moving, to wonder, to see.
I have circled the globe,
Sailed the seas,
Stared into death’s eye.

This tale is more than one man’s account of finding himself. This is a roadmap to finding one’s dream that anyone can follow, no matter what your particular desire is. It will also motivate readers to follow their own dreams at all costs. I can highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever imagined doing something great, something others fear, something that presses on their heart.


Friday, December 17, 2010

Book Review: A Taste of Love by Andrew Grey

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 187

Darrel is living the dream life. He had always wanted to own his own restaurant, and that’s what he’s done. He is the main chef and owner of Café Belgie. He has his dream job, good income, stylish home. What could be better? Someone to share it with. Then Billy walks into his café asking for a job.

But of course, things are never that easy in love. Billy is penniless, a decade younger than Darrel, and he is the caretaker of his two younger brothers – five-year-old twins. But then, he’s also gorgeous and charming. This is a romance, so those obstacles to love don’t outweigh the positives, and Darrel jumps in with both feet. But as the story wears on, complications arise, and our hero must fight to hold his family together.

This is a simple, romantic, fast-paced story. It’s what I call a beach read – one where neither the characters nor the plot are too deep, so one can easily follow along without the need to concentrate. It is often funny, often heartwarming, and ends on an up-note. The characters are charming and at times overly sweet.

I came away with two trifling complaints. First, I felt the story, pretty much throughout, was in need of a stringent editor with a red pen to tighten the prose. Second, there are a number of sex scenes that I felt were overly long and uninteresting. I should point out that I seldom appreciate sex scenes cluttering up the pacing of a good story, so this is possibly a reflection of my own prejudice.

The last thing I’ll mention is not really a complaint, but I was slightly disappointed that there were no descriptions of Darrel cooking up fantastic dishes. I had falsely assumed going into this story that much of it would take place in a kitchen, and there would be mouthwatering narratives of preparing exotic foods. There were certainly opportunities to add something of that nature to spice up the story, yet there was almost nothing of the sort.

My slight criticisms did not detract from my enjoyment of this read. It is, in the end, an engaging romance that leads the reader through an array of emotions, and leaves them feeling good. I can recommend this story.


Monday, December 13, 2010

The Woman I Was Born to Be by Aleshia Brevard

Reviewed by Victor J. Banis
Publisher: Blue Feather Books

I have long believed that of all the peoples gathered under the GLBT umbrella, the Ts—the transsexuals—are the one who garner the least respect. Life in today’s world is certainly not a paradise for the gay male, but in many ways he does have it better than the lesbian. Although I have known a number of bisexuals, I’ve never thought that they had it so bad, although it must surely be painful to know that one does not quite fit in either the gay or the straight world, and is likely to be viewed with suspicion, if not hostility, in both.

But, the poor trannies—and I am going to eschew political correctedness here and admit right up front that I am almost certainly not using the correct terminology because, frankly, I don’t know it. So, when I refer to trannies, I mean them all – the drag queens, the sex changes, the cross dressers. I know they see themselves as separate from one another, but one thing they all share—except among their own, they are too often likely to be scorned by all the others of our supposed community. And even among their own, as this book makes clear, they are not always free from attack.

The Woman I Was Born to Be is Aleshia Brevard’s second memoir, following The Woman I was Not Born to Be. I have not read the first book, but in the second she provides a sort of road map of the events covered in the first. In any case, there is little cause for confusion.

Aleshia Brevard was born Alfred Brevard Crenshaw in 1937. Christine Jorgensen’s sex change (as it was generally called then) in 1952 was headline news throughout much of the world. Alfred Brevard Crenshaw had his own gender reassignment surgery in 1962, after stints as a kept boy for a Catholic priest and a female impersonator at the famed Finnochio’s in San Francisco. What followed was a life of some surprising successes—as a Playboy bunny, a Vegas chorine, and a sometimes actress in movies, television and on stage.

The book is slight, in every sense of the word. There isn’t much depth here. It’s mostly of the, “and then I did…” and “then I went…” variety. The Aleshis comes across too often as somewhat self absorbed and at times downright silly, like a caricature of an Auntie Mame type, herself a caricature. On the other hand, she also shows herself repeatedly to be generous and kind, to her peers, her students, even her enemies. And more than once she displays an admirable resilience, even courage, in standing up to adversity. Which is to say, she has her faults, like all of us, but plenty of redeeming qualities. By the time I had finished this book, I felt that I knew her pretty well, and liked her.

The chief interest here, however, is not in reading about the ups and downs of Aleshia’s volatile career or her several marriages, but in watching a self-admitted sissy survive a hazardous childhood and an adulthood punctuated, not surprisingly, with a great deal of bias. This is especially refreshing in the current epidemic of childhood suicides as the result of bullying. Alfred, and later Aleshia, suffers no end of bullying—not only from schoolmates but domestic partners, even from an emotionally hobbled father—but she finds her own kind of triumph and eventually comes to terms with the woman she is. And though she fusses a great deal about aging, if the picture on the back cover is to be believed, the beautiful young starlet turned out to be a handsome septuagenarean.

In short, this is a sort of print version of the “It Gets Better” videos currently going viral. This publisher bills itself as “books by women, for women,” but if I could have my wish, I would personally hand a copy of this to every young person suffering today at the hands of bullies, so they could read this story of how one individual’s life did indeed get better. In the best of all worlds, every one of those unhappy youngsters would benefit from reading Aleshia’s story.

That won’t happen, of course. It seems our society would rather protect them from the positive encouragement they would find here than from the negative discouragement that leads to those suicides we keep reading about with dismaying frequency.
Still, I give this woman a hearty high five and a tip of the cap. She deserves it just for getting through. Lots of others didn’t.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Butterfly’s Child by Alan Chin

Reviewed by Jeff Graubart, author of The Quest For Brian
Pubished by Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 274

Rating: Five Stars

From opera to horse opera, Alan Chin takes the reader on an exciting journey into the rough and tumble West in Butterfly’s Child. In the early chapters, Chin uses his literary skill to make us feel the Zen of piano tuning, much as he did with tennis, in the Match Maker. But, he has a more difficult time exploiting that talent for the Zen of barren life on a dilapidated ranch. Perhaps that is intentional, since there is an undercurrent of violence that runs through the novel like the Bitter Water River runs through the Nevada land.

Although Butterfly’s Child seems to be a formulaic family values western, its greater-than-life heroes are gay men and lesbians. Chin shows us an extended family whose roots are as old as humanity and as new as same-sex marriage. At the same time, he weaves a tale of three fathers and three sons. We are treated to the thoughts of Jem, a seven-year-old boy, as he begins to understand his own sexuality. The close bond between Jem and the hero, Cord, is reflected by the two of them sharing in the telling of the story.

My only criticism of the novel is its excessive machismo. I wanted to strangle Cord when he failed to bring in the sympathetic sheriff for the climactic showdown. But that too, is probably intentional. A gay super hero whose reason is clouded by love for his family is a powerful political statement.

Butterfly’s Child is a pleasure to read. You can read it for pure entertainment or something deeper. Even the title is both an obvious metaphor and several more subtle ones. Alan Chin continues to establish himself as a writer of intelligent and entertaining novels.


Match Maker by Alan Chin

Reviewed by Jeff Graubart, author of The Quest For Brian
Pubished by Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 374

Rating: Five Stars

When Alan Chin describes the Zen of tennis, and shows us his players in action, he is at his best. The nail-biting games, crowned in spiritual wisdom, will keep the reader, even those like me who know little of tennis, on the edge of their seats. Tennis fans will gobble it up.
Chin’s attention to the details of coaching suggests this is a work of autobiographical fiction instead of intensive research. Surprisingly, his biography suggests the latter.

Match Maker is sexy, funny, and exciting. It is about homophobia in the sport’s world and gay pride. It is a love story, but mostly it is about hope, direction and the resiliency of the human spirit. Hollywood never produced Patricia Nell Warren’s Front Runner, but they have a second chance, and a much better one at that, with Alan Chin’s Match Maker. But don’t wait for the movie.


The International Homosexual Conspiracy by Larry-Bob Roberts

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Manic D Press
Pages: 158

The International Homosexual Conspiracy is non-fiction. The author presents a series of cultural polemics on an array of contemporary topics that pokes fun of the gay lifestyle and the absurd homophobic idea that gay’s recruit young people into our community – from gay community, to writing, to popular culture, and mostly on homosexuality in general.

In this collection of short essays, Larry-Bob Roberts offers funny, thought-provoking insights into the absurdities of modern queer culture. The writing is tight and fast paced.

For me, this book was akin to reading someone’s blog entries over the last year. Some topics are purely fun to read, others witty, some made me consider my own behavior. There was nothing earth shattering in these pages, nothing that changed my opinions or behavior concerning life, gay or otherwise.

I found these bite-sized discourses, like I find many blog entries of favorite writers, interesting and engaging. Fans of satire will enjoy this book, and will no doubt fined ample opportunities to laugh, at themselves and everyone else. I can wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Strings Attached by Nick Nolan

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Amazon Encore
Pages: 327

When his mother is sent to rehab for alcohol addiction, closeted teenager Jeremy Tyler is sent to live with his dead father’s relatives. In a matter of a few days, he goes from poverty in Bakersfield to the posh world of Ballena Beach. While struggling to fit in, Jeremy joins the high school swim team, dates a popular girl, and begins to think he’s landed in paradise – until is great aunt Katharine begins to make demands, playing him like a puppet. Then a mysterious phone caller insinuates that his father’s accidental death was no accident.

As Jeremy grows accustomed to the lifestyles of the rich and famous, so grows his curiosity about his father’s death. What he doesn’t realize is that the closer he comes to the truth, the deeper in danger he falls. He must race to unravel the clues before he meets his father’s gruesome fate.

This is an enchanting story. It moves well even though I felt the author went into much more detail than the story needed. It weaves a murder mystery, sexual ambiguity, and characters with hidden identities and agendas into an entertaining tale.

I feel that the closer the reader is to the late-teen/early-twenty target audience, the more enjoyment they will find in these pages. Not simply because this is a coming-of-age tale, but also because that age group won’t mind the thin characterization of the cliché characters. However, there are a few sexual scenes that take it out of the realm of the typical YA novel, which I felt was a mistake on the author’s part. Better to have toned down those scenes for a younger audience, in my opinion, because neither the writing nor the plot is strong enough for a more sophisticated audience.

What made this story for me was the character of Jeremy. Thin, yes. Cliché, yes again. But his youthful confusion, mistakes, yearning and wise cracks are charming and delightful, and carry the read through any shortfalls of the storyline.

I don’t feel that the author’s attempt to emulate the Pinocchio theme is well integrated, but frankly, it doesn’t matter. This is a gay boy’s coming of age yarn, with a somewhat darker tones that I’m used to seeing, but even with these opaque shades, the author keeps the tone light and moving, which makes for an enjoyable read.