Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Woman Like the Sea By Anne Brooke

Reviewed by Victor J. Banis
Published by Untreed Reads

When an author pens a novel, it’s pretty much up to him to tell the reader what he wants the reader to know. In a short story, however, the author must seduce the reader into becoming a participant in the process. The short story allows only so many words, so many lines. It becomes the reader’s role to read between the lines, to fill in the blanks from what the author has given him.

There are few authors who illustrate this point more effectively than Anne Brooke, and perhaps nowhere better than in this brief, nearly perfect story. Sometime in the past, the woman telling the story, a good but not great artist who painted the sea, met another woman and they loved. Now her love is gone, and the narrator waits by the ocean for her to return.

That’s it. But within the bare framework of this tale, beneath the surface of its elegant phrases, its impeccable rhythms, its haunting familiarity, lies an ocean of feeling, of suggestion and unfathomable menace. The author gives us a breathtaking palette of shadings, of sounds and scents—but it is up to the reader to provide the nuance, the feel of it, the sense. These come from our own deep fathoms, borne on the tide of our love, our hate, our loss. Because the author is wise enough to know that we have them too.

The sea is a mystery—as the author puts it, “a primeval force like anger or fear or love.” Ultimately we must all of us stand at the shore of those deep emotions and remember—and wait.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Immortals by Victor J. Banis

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Amber Quill Press, LLC
Pages: 29

Jason was quite surprised when Peter took a fancy to him and immediately wanted them to move in together. Not only was Peter far better looking and successful than the men Jason dated, but he expressed feelings of true love. Jason didn’t consider himself a catch. He was rather ordinary looking and, because he was a student, had no income. None of that mattered to Peter, who had the looks and income to keep them both happy.

They set up house together and everything was going great until a fantastic career opportunity opened up for Peter in Los Angeles. Against Jason’s better judgment, the lovers moved to L.A., and temporarily moved into Peter’s father’s house until they could find a place of their own.

Peter’s father, Alders, had been widowed for several years. He was a man eaten by loneliness, and he welcomed the young men into his house. At first Jason couldn’t fathom how this ugly little man could have fathered such a handsome, desirable son, but over time, Jason began to peek beneath Alders’ unpleasant facade, and caught glimpses of a complex and intriguing man. Alders seemed to have that richly stimulating personality that his son totally lacked. Father and son were indeed opposites. And there lay the rub. As the days progressed, Peter’s image began to tarnish.

As always, Mr. Banis has drawn a set of noteworthy characters to enjoy. They are delightfully complex, as is the situation they find themselves in. I particularly relished Alders, with whom I wholly identified with. I felt he was painted by a master artist.

I could almost call this a coming-of-age tale, except that the protagonist was already of age. In this short but potent story, however, Jason comes to a definite maturity, a realization of what kind of foundation a satisfying relationship is built on. And once the light illuminates in his head, he has the courage to change his life in a most appropriate way.

The ending is not exactly what I define as happily ever after, but it is by all means a satisfying one. The author leads his characters, as well as the reader, down a path to where no other ending would gratify the reader, which is the mark of a gifted writer.

I can highly recommend this story to all readers.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dead of Night by Victor J. Banis

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by MLR Press
Pages: 215

Newly released from a mental hospital, Calvin Sparrow returns home to resume life in the house he was raised in, which is also the house his parents were brutally murdered in. Calvin’s years or therapy were an attempt to heal him of the traumatic psychological wounds of his being in the house that deadly night, of witnessing the killings. But Calvin has lingering issues.

With the help of his brother, Bobbie, and a maid/cook, Mrs. Hauptman, Calvin begins to take to his new life, living alone in that grand and empty house. On the first full moon, however, Calvin hears sounds, voices from that deadly night so many years ago. He finds himself reliving that night all over again. But then the voices go away, until the next full moon. And each time they come back, they grow stronger and more sinister, and Calvin grows weaker and more desperate to free himself of his past.

I’m not a fan of horror or ghost stories, but I say must have this tale had me hooked from the first few pages. Is it a ghost story, or is it a study of a man’s insanity slowly taking him over? I can’t answer that question. The author skillfully leaves that up to the reader to decide.

This story clearly demonstrates why Victor Banis has become one of my favorite authors. He delves into his characters, pealing back the layers as he ratchets up the tension. As the story anxiety intensifies, more of the character’s deeper psyche is exposed. It’s really quite brilliantly done here.

About halfway through this story, I began to wonder how in the hell it would end. I’m usually very good at anticipating how an author with wrap up all the loose ends and bring a story to a close, but not this time. Not only did Mr. Banis keep me guessing all the way to the thrilling last pages, but he left it up to me to decide how it ended. Without giving any of the story away, I can say that I was both surprised and delighted when I read that last page. It was much more than I had hoped for.

Like all the tales I’ve read from Victor Banis, Dead of Night is a superb story that I can highly recommend to anyone who loves impeccable prose, wonderfully complicated characters, and a delectably teasing plot.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

YU by Joy Shayne Laughter

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Open Books Press
Pages: 226

Ross Lamos has built a successful career in dealing with Asian art and antiquities. His specialty is jade carvings, and his astonishing gift is his psychic touch, that is, whenever he holds jade, the stone’s yu (its internal chi power) reveals its history to Lamos. He sees visions of what the stones have witnessed.

The story begins when a mysterious woman enters the antique shop where Lamos works, asking him to appraise three carved jade stones. The stones are all from the same period, Han Dynasty, and worth millions on the black market. Lamos has never worked with such exquisitely crafted carvings before. They are the work of a master craftsman. But more than the stones’ value, Lamos is intrigued by their history.

One by one, he holds the stones, and they tell three connecting stories of a forbidden love in China’s Imperial Court during the Han Dynasty. Within this unfolding tale, Lamos comes to realize that both he and this mysterious woman, in their former lives, played a part in this unfolding drama.

Each stone presents a piece of the puzzle that tells of a love between a prince and his father’s concubine, and the poet caught up in the middle of a deadly game of intrigue. But which former life did Lamos play? He will do anything to find out.

This story is so smart and so polished that I found it nearly impossible to believe that it is Joy Shayne Laughter’s debut novel. It is one of the most delightful books I’ve read in several years. I truly loved every scene, every page, every character.

Each character is richly drawn and complex, as are the relationships between the characters, both in contemporary times and ancient past. Interlaced with the three views of the past, are Lamos’s own tribulations with his career and gay love life. The author delicately weaves the past and present stories together, enticing the reader into this mystery, giving only glimpses of the whole, until it all comes together in a shocking and unpredictable ending. It left me stunned.

Joy Shayne Laughter has, with this one novel, risen to the top of my favorite authors list. Her delectable prose carries the reader along in an enchanting dream. She has demonstrated the power to captivate me with wonderfully unique characters, effortlessly drawing me into their drama, and then crushing my senses with an overwhelming love story.

My only complaint with this novel is that I have to wait until the author’s next release in order to enjoy more of her superb talent. For anyone who relishes romance novels or mysteries, this is a must read. Brava!!!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Baby Doll by Mykola Dementiuk

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Synergy Press
Pages: 56

A fourteen-year-old boy growing up in New York City discovers that, after a flirtation with a middle-aged woman, his sexual longings are surging and beginning to consume his life. He soon meets a man in a public restroom at the East River Park, and they have sex.

A few days later, after the boy has tried everything to find this man again, the boy ends up following another man home. This new man introduces the boy to cross-dressing, and also to unprotected sex. As the boy returns to the man’s apartment daily, his appetite for cross-dressing blossoms into something utterly consuming, something more enthralling than sex with this dumpy, older man.

Just when it looks like they will fall into a younger/older relationship that will continue on, the older man pushes the relationship in a different, darker direction.

This tale delves far deeper than an adolescent’s sexual experimentation with cross-dressing and sex. It peels back the layers of a brash teenager as he discovers new wonders about the world of sex and about himself. The reader feels his desires and yearning to be pretty, to be wanted and admired; feels the thrill of slipping on sexy silk undies, and walking in heels; and also feels the pain of an abusive relationship as payment for the prospect of continuing to dress up. The author has done a splendid job of getting into a boy’s head and making the reader live his life.

The story is sensual, and perhaps heartbreaking. It has dark underpinnings as well as the joys of discovery. It not only delves into cross-dressing, but also cross-generational relationships, and ideas about what’s masculine vs. what’s feminine.

Beneath these characters and themes, is the author’s superb writing that seamlessly presents the story and draws the reader into this seedy world. This is by no means a feel-good story. It hit me in the pit of my stomach, rather like watching a fatal car crash and not being able to turn away. It is a bold and courageous work that I can highly recommend.