Friday, August 26, 2011

Like Lovers Do by Lori L. Lake

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Yellow Rose Books
Pages: 194

Kennie McClain is a security guard/handy person at a Portland apartment complex. Unbeknownst to her tenants at the Allen Arms, she also owns the building. She is still in recovery mode from the loss of her lover three years prior, but she also has eyes for the sexy artist, Lily Gordon, who rents the entire top floor for an art studio.

Lily is beautiful, stylish, and a nationally-acclaimed painter. She also has a hard-as-nails, detective girlfriend who will stop at nothing to protect her relationship with Lily.

A series of events lead Kennie into Lily’s bed for a night of blissful lovemaking, which opens Kennie’s heart for the first time in years. Kennie’s emotions begin to bud, but then Lily’s girlfriend steps back onto the scene to nip that relationship before it can blossom. Kennie is thrown back into her protective shell and struggles to deal with her disappointment.

When things look bleakest for Kennie, Max, an abused teen, comes into Kennie’s life, and she finds herself in a nurturing role. Within this new role, Kennie shows both the reader and Lily the goodness of her soul. But will it be enough to win back Lily?

I don’t often get a chance to read f/f fiction, so this was a treat for me. Like Lovers Do is a well written, detailed study of loneliness and longing, and a potent lesson in the Karmic message that good things eventually rain down on good people, but only if they maintain their goodness through a period of drought. This story is heart-warming and uplifting, and what makes it so is the multi-layered depths of the characters Lori Lake has skillfully crafted. The author made me care about the characters, compelled me to pull for the protagonists and despise the antagonists.

There were several questions I had about the story that were never answered to my satisfaction. For instance, I never understood why Kennie kept the fact that she owned the building a secret from her tenants. It made no sense to me, and if it was explained, then I missed it. None of these types of questions kept me from enjoying the story, however.

Although there is a lot of story packed into these pages, the author does not hurry. The story moves at a leisurely, measured pace and offers enough detail to paint vivid pictures of each scene.

This is a story that will appeal not only to fans of f/f, but also to all readers who enjoy a heart-warming romance. I can highly recommend Like Lovers Do.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Moffie by Andre Carl van der Merwe

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Europa Editions
Pages: 364

Like every gay boy in 1970s South Africa, Nicholas van der Swart must hide that part of himself that is different from other boys, especially from his father. Nicholas grew up fearing his tyrannical father, an abusive Afrikaner devoted to apartheid and all things manly. And Nick grew up being ashamed of himself, thinking he was an abomination against God.

Nick is conscripted into two years of mandatory army life when he turns nineteen years old. The military goes against everything Nick feels at his core. He is a pacifist, but the lure of freeing himself from an oppressive home life helps him cope with the reality of becoming a soldier fighting for a cause he doesn’t believe in.

But Nick finds that the nightmare of living at home is nothing compared to the hell of boot camp. Within his company, he is labeled a Moffie (a queer), and his superiors stop at nothing to destroy him. At the same time, he makes three close friendships, and even falls in love. Nick finds that the one thing that is more terrible than the physical abuse he endures every day, is the mental torcher of not being able to tell his close buddies and the person he loves what he really feels for them. He must keep that secret locked deep in his heart, or risk being shipped off to a mental hospital for shock, drug and hormone treatments.

After boot camp, Nick and his friends are shipped to the boarder where South Africa is at war with Angolan terrorist. On the battlefield, Nick learns a valuable lesson: to not ask God to help him, but merely to put his life in God’s hands, become an instrument of the Almighty, and accept God’s will. Within the depths of this military torture, bloodshed and his new religious faith, Nick is able to acknowledge his homosexuality and come out to the men he cares for. His coming out somehow helps him find the strength to survive.

I found it hard to believe that Moffie is Andre Carl van der Merwe’s debut novel. This is a powerful, emotional, well-written gem. This author writes with all the polish of a seasoned professional.

The story grabbed my gut on page one and didn’t let go. It starts with the protagonist fighting a hopeless and heartbreaking home situation, then the reader watches Nick’s life disintegrate from there as he free-falls deeper and deeper into hell. The reader shares his anguish, and craves revenge against an unjust world. And just when it seems that Nick has reached the lowest level of purgatory, the reader realizes there are deeper regions yet to discover.

I did have two minor issues with this story. First, I felt the author relied too heavily on clichés. It starts with a rather cliché battle between a gay teenaged son and the hard stoic father who wants his boy to go into the service so they will make a man of him. The mother, of course, is overly protective—more cliché—followed by the company Sergeant who takes a disliking to the hero and tries to break him. It’s all been done so many times before.

My second issue is that sprinkled throughout the storyline are numerous flashbacks to the protagonist’s childhood to demonstrate the battles and hardships of his development. I felt most of these flashbacks added little or nothing to the story, and were a distraction to the main storyline.

Both of these issues are easily overlooked. This is a tale of survival, of love, and of finding the light of courage when the world is pitch black. The story is not for the faint of heart. If you are looking for a pleasant beach read, then keep looking. Moffie is a gritty, brutal, poignant, gut-twisting read, and the reader will surely feel a euphoric sense of accomplishment upon completing that last chapter as the writer skillfully lifts the reader back into the light.

This is a somber drama that I thoroughly enjoyed, and can highly recommend to serious readers.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rite of Passage by Bryl R. Tyne

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 80

John Ashley Price is a celebrity author who has gone into hiding to escape the constant hounding from paparazzi and fans. He wants to become an island unto himself where he can write in peace and not have a soul in the world who knows who or what he is. His publisher, Carol, finds him the perfect getaway within the forested mountains of Colorado—a hick town named Divide.

Alone at his mountain retreat, John finds that his constant companion, extreme anxiety, refuses to leave him in peace. He must still take a regiment of pills to control his mood swings, and he finds he has a merciless case of writer’s block. On top of all that, he finds his cabin is not as remote as he anticipated. There is a neighbor within a stone’s throw, and the neighbor turns out to be just the kind of man that twirls John’s skirt—Mid-twenties, handsome, muscular, a silent cowboy type.

To pass the time and to do research for his next novel, John volunteers his time to help out at the local wild animal clinic. He does odd jobs but his real purpose is to research wolves and their habitat. What he finds instead is that he is being studied by the clinic foreman, Pat Smith. Then a series of strange coincidences unravel John’s new world, beginning with John discovering that Pat is in fact his sexy neighbor. John soon realizes there is some kind of plot afoot, but what could it be?

This story is a fun, romantic romp that had me smiling throughout and often laughing out loud. Neither the story nor the characters are overly complex, but it doesn’t matter. This is a fast paced, delightfully sexy tale.

What I loved most was the voice the author was able to capture and maintain. It has a Western twang, rough around the edges, yet reads smooth as silk. It described even mundane things in the most humorous ways. This is a funny story, without being slapstick or stupid, and yes, there is enough romance to warm your heart and enough sex to get your blood pumping.

Admittedly, there is no mystery here. The plot was pretty clear early on, but again it doesn’t matter. It is the delivery that makes this a fun and sexy read. Bryl R. Tyne is a huge talent. I can highly recommend this novella to all readers.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Abode of Bliss by Alex Jeffers

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Lethe Press
Pages: 265

In a series of ten remarkable short stories, Ziya explains his erotic journey into manhood to Adam, the man Ziya loves. Raised in cosmopolitan Istanbul, Ziya is immersed in his Muslim family and traditions, yet he harbors a secret that goes against everything he knows. He is gay. His mother understands, and arranges for Ziya to attend college in the United States, where he will enjoy an easier time of being accepted and be free to live his life without pressure from family or religion.

Ziya’s journey takes him from Istanbul, through Europe, and finally to Boston where he tries to assimilate a new lifestyle, yet, he keeps being drawn back into his culture. This is a long and beautiful journey. Along the way Ziya encounters old friends, surprises from family members, one-night stands, rape, weddings and bashings and deaths, and in the end a chance meeting.

These ten stories are told in chronological order and build on each other, making this book read like a novel. This is nearly a perfect read. What struck me most was the intricate detail of a young, Muslim man’s life in Turkey, and how cultural pressures make it difficult to assimilate to life in the U.S. But this is more than a story of culture clash. It is an in-depth study of a young man’s sexual education, which delves deeply into his being. Alex Jeffers lavishes exhaustive detail onto the page, uncovering layer after layer of both the characters and the culture, yet with such beautifully crafted prose that it is a pleasure—an exquisite dream you don’t want to wake from—rather than being tedious.

The pace of Ziya’s introspective excursion toward his sexuality is slow and concise. As Ziya ponders his attitudes, so does the reader. This is a book that makes the reader examine his/her own values as Ziya examines his. It makes you think, scrutinize, weigh. This is not a light romp for lazy readers who merely want to be entertained. It is not a book for everyone. It is a detailed study of an inner journey of one man that spans multiple countries and cultures. I suspect readers will either love it or be bored to tears. As you can tell, I loved it.

I’ve long believed that Alex Jeffers is a remarkable talent. I regard The Abode of Bliss as his most impressive work to date. This is a book I will read, savor, again and again. I highly recommend this book to everyone who loves finely crafted prose, lush descriptions and gratifyingly deep characters.