Monday, December 10, 2012

Remembrance of Things I Forgot by Bob Smith

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press (June, 2011)
Pages: 272

In 2006 comic book dealer John Sherkston has decided to break up with his physicist boyfriend, Taylor Esgard, on the very day Taylor announces he’s finally perfected a time travel machine for the U.S government. John travels back to 1986, where he encounters “Junior,” his younger, more innocent self. When Junior starts to flirt, John wonders how to reveal his identity: “I’m you, only with less hair and problems you can’t imagine.” He also meets up with the younger Taylor, and this unlikely trio teams up to plot a course around their future relationship troubles, prevent John’s sister from making a tragic decision, and stop George W. Bush from becoming president.

Bob Smith has created a fun, funny, and interesting read that weaves together a tapestry of human experience: love, familial discord, compassion, wit, humor, sarcasm, and righteous indignation.

For me the most interesting slant to this book was the protagonist coming to terms with his younger self. The two really don’t like each other, but need to work through several issues in an attempt to accomplish their goal.

As much as I enjoyed this fast, witty read, it is not without flaws. The characters, although charming, never feel more than one-dimensional. Cheney and Bush were cartoon figures, not remotely believable. Still, in a fast paced comedy, that is easily overlooked.

Being a liberal, I enjoyed the book’s bald-faced left agenda. I believe, however, that many of the books political rants (and there are many) might offend anyone who voted for Bush/Cheney.

Lastly, I found the second half of the story lagged a bit, as it became even more far fetched. This plot has a dozen holes you could fly a 747 through.

This is a fun, original comedy that had me occasionally laughing out loud and often snickering to myself. I can recommend it to liberals who enjoy a light, clever read.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Zero Break by Neil Plakcy

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publishers: MLR Press (March, 2012)
Pages: 284

Openly gay homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka is back solving his sixth mystery in the Neil Plakcy’s Mahu series.  A lesbian woman is found dead in what appears to be a home invasion robbery.  She leaves behind an ex-partner and their adolescent daughter. But as Kimo and his partner dig deeper into the circumstances, they uncover a complex case of corporate fraud, greed, and more murders as the villains try to cover their tracks.

I have now read four of Plakcy’s Mahu series books and enjoyed the first three. With Zero Break, however, I had issues, and nearly gave up on it more than once.

The murder mystery seems to be a secondary storyline, taking back stage to Kimo and his lover’s (Mike) drawn-out discussion of whether to adopt a child. The topic is broached when Kimo finds that the murder victim, a lesbian woman, had been raising a child with her partner. This draws Kimo and Mike into a should-we/shouldn’t-we back and forth discussion that analyzes all aspects of gay adoption and parenting. Because the main thrust of the story is about gay adoption, I felt solving the mystery suffered, and the author didn’t put his usual flair into it. It seemed to me Kimo was simply going through the motions of solving a crime.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the earlier Mahu series, for me, has been Plakcy’s interesting details about island life and Hawaiian culture. That was almost totally missing from Zero Break, and I felt let down because of it.

Both the plot and Kemo’s character were not given the depth I’ve seen in the previous Mahu books. In short, I found Zero Break rather dull.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Irresistable Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions Of LGBT Politics by Urvashi Vaid

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Magnus Books, October 2012
Pages: 220

The author has been a gifted and dedicated spokesperson for LGBT equality for several decades, and has been a sought-after guest lecturer for dozens of organizations and educational institutions working for diversity and justice for all. Nine of those presentations, some going back as much as twenty years, form the core of this book, which also includes a concise introduction and complete cites to studies and concepts quoted in her talks. 

Ms. Vaid's point is simple, really: The fight for LGBT equality should not attempt to operate in a vacuum apart from other battles for diversity and justice, including those tackling matters of race, gender, religion and economic class, which also should demand the attention of anyone fighting for equality based on sexual orientation. Her points are made in the context of today's culture and politics, and their impact on our diverse relationships and interactions. Her words engage the reader and provide realistic examples (and occasional humor) that make this an easier read than you would first anticipate. Five stars out of five.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Raid by Lee Lynch

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books, October 2012
Pages: 264

The scene is a small Massachusetts town in 1961, where an eclectic and colorful mix of lesbians, gay men as well as a few other diverse locals, frequent the Old Town Tavern, an oasis in that otherwise seedy part of town. Over the years, the bar's owners, employees and customers have formed a family of sorts, and are generally there for each other whenever someone needs to talk, cry, celebrate or cope with life's disappointments. As was common in such times, most are deeply in the closet, and their time at the Old Town is the only time they can open up without fear of being discovered.

Things start to change when the local police seem to be spending a lot of time observing outside the bar, which makes some of the regulars leery about being there. Egged on by a local candidate for mayor, the police eventually raid the bar, causing physical and emotional injuries that may not ever be able to completely heal. While this drives some patrons away, it strengthens the bonds between them, as they help each other through their ordeals and take steps to make it unlikely to happen again. 

The story is told through the eyes of Rockie Solomon, a business-minded, generous middle-aged lesbian who owns a local bindery and has pretty much given up on finding new love after the painful loss of a partner. While there are gay male characters, most of the story centers around the many lesbian character and their lives, with light erotic content that is not out of place in that context. 

An interesting and well-written story, from an author who has been a major force in lesbian novels for over 40 years. This is the first of her works I have read, and I'm definitely planning to look for more. Four stars out of five. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

BEST GAY STORIES 2012 Edited by Peter Dube'

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Lethe Press, September 2012
Pages: 204

Like everyone else, gay men are looking for love, whether through traditional romance, or chance encounters that feed one's desire. Those desires and longings are as varied and diverse as the individuals involved, yet all unite us to some extent. 

This anthology presents fifteen such stories of longing and desire, written by talented and (mostly) well-known authors of gay male fiction, in styles as different as the focus of each story. From a story of renegade angels running an exclusive dance club, a tale of how bicycling keeps alive the memory of a good friend, a night out clubbing in "Gay City," and a story involving a unique way to enjoy cake, there is likely something here for every taste. Four stars out of five.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Rent By Rick R. Reed

Reviewer: Jon Michaelsen
Publisher: MLR Press
Pages: 236

“Sex can be a dangerous business. So can love…”
I could not have penned a better one-line mark to espouse the appeal of this new sexy romance thriller if I tried. Reed has returned with the release of his latest in fine form, returning to the murder-mystery, thriller genre fans have loved in his previous novels IM and Tricks, Obsessed, Crime Scene and Reckless, to name a few.
Readers of Reed’s earlier novel, Tricks, are treated to a sequel of sorts in that gay go-go bar, Tricks, features prominently within the storyline, with some mentions of previous characters – though not central to the plot. Rent easily stands on its own without reading its predecessor a requisite.
Wren Gallagher wants nothing more than to lose himself within alcohol’s nectar to chase the bad day away following his firing from a dead-end job he didn’t much care for anyway. Making matters worse, he’s somehow misplaced or lost his wallet, but all is not lost when a mysterious stranger steps forward to pay his tab and presents Wren with a rather tempting offer of richness -- and the promise of finding true love.
The stranger is the odd, rather diffident proprietor of À Louer, a male escort agency and he wants the nerdy handsome Gallagher to join his stable of boys for hire. Though initially uninterested, bad news and more unfortunate luck forces Wren to reconsider his financial alternates. He accepts the offer presented to him to become a high-end “whore”, as he refers. Yet what Wren did not expect, was to meet the man of his dreams so soon in Rufus, an older, wiser escort who is assigned to be Wren’s mentor.
On his first call, Wren is partnered with Rufus to perform for a client who only likes to watch, an opportunity to ease the young man’s apprehension, that which becomes the catalyst to the swooning of Wren’s heart.  No sooner has Wren begun his newfound career of hustling his smooth, trim body for successful, often older closeted professionals, does news of the shocking murder of one of À Louer’s escorts stun Wren into quitting, but not before encroaching in the personal privacy of Rufus, an act of suspicion sure to drive the love of his life away from him.
Rent is an outstanding sexy, romantic thriller full of dark, deadly secrets as one after another escort is murdered within a short period. The novel is well-plotted and suspenseful, a surprising thriller that will keep readers on a roller coaster ride through the final pages, with a jaw-dropping shock or two near the end– a trademark Reed eminence in crime fiction.
This heart-wrenching romantic thriller is quite simply brilliant!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Second You Sin by Scott Sherman

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Kensington Books
Pages: 314

This is the second book of the Kevin Connor Mystery series. Kevin Connor is a New York City callboy, who also spends his off hours volunteering at the local daycare center. He’s drop-dead gorgeous, has a heart of gold, and his circle of friends/family are all rather wacky and entertaining.  His only problem is that, one by one, his circle of friends is shrinking. Someone is killing off Big-Apple hustlers. Kevin decides to investigate these strange deaths, only to end up a target himself.

Let me state up front, this is a comedy. It’s meant to tickle your funny bone, and nothing more. It’s what I call ‘a beach read.’ The kind of book where 1) everybody is gay, 2) everybody is buff and beautiful, and 3) the plot is as paper thin as the characters. That said, it is hilarious and will keep you turning pages.

This is a light-hearted, speedy read that has something amusing on almost every page. People who enjoy gay comedies will undoubtedly love this story. It’s funny, often witty, and sexy.

I don’t normally read comedies, because I personally start off enjoying the humorous banter, but after fifty pages or so I begin to tire of it. This book was no exception. I found that the author often went off on long, sometimes chapter long, tangents where he blathered on about something unrelated to the story, simply to amuse the reader.

The last thing I’ll mention is that Kensington is a large and respected publisher, yet I found numerous grammatical/spelling errors. My opinion of this publisher has plummeted.

For readers who like a frivolous and funny gay romp, I can highly recommend this book. For readers who prefer a more serious and complex look at life, I suggest you pass on this one.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suidide When The Rainbow Is Still Not Enough Edited by Keith Boykin

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Magnus Books, September 2012
Pages: 300

In the continuing flood of "It Gets Better"-type books, meant to give reassurance to gay youth, comes Keith Boykin's excellent anthology of forty-four essays or poems spotlighting diverse gay youth of color. The selections, from a variety of talented authors, cross a variety of social and economic levels, and deal with issues as varied as HIV, depression, racism, sexual abuse, as well as simple bigotry against LGBT individuals. It deals with religion and spirituality on several levels, as an area of support but occasionally an excuse for intolerance. The young people portrayed deal with difficult situations that should not be allowed, but manage to find the strength to overcome such adversity. 

The stories are actually relatable to most LGBT people, regardless of race, and most readers will find a favorite or two that especially hit a note with them (My favorite was "No Asians, Blacks, Fats or Femmes" by Indie Harper, which takes on the tiny bigotries that exist in our own community.) Absolutely worth a read, and five stars out of five.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Portrait Of Phillip By J. P. Bowie

Reviewer: Jon Michaelsen
Publisher: MLR Press,LLC (January 3, 2011)
Pages: 264

Awaking from a coma that lasted three years, gifted young artist, Peter Brandon, is told that his best friend and lover of the past ten years was dead, brutally murdered when both he and Peter were attacked in apparent gay-bashing outside a theater featuring a gay play. Worse, he learns that no one has been brought to justice for Phillip’s death. 

For everyone else, Phillip’s death occurred three years before, yet in Peter mind, the horrible loss rings fresh, his emotions raw and painful. He has lost the love of his life and has little strength to go on, no longer caring what happens to him, wishing instead he had been the one murdered and not his previous Phillip. 

Physical therapist, Andrew Connor, who was hired by Peter’s mother to attend to her son’s therapy while he remained in the void of coma, remains the boy’s physical therapist after Peter regains consciousness, and quickly learns the uphill battle he’s facing. It’s not until Phillip receives an affirmation from his deceased lover while visiting Phillip’s gravesite for the first time that Peter gets the needed strength to go on – to uncover the truth behind Phillip’s murder and see to it those responsible get justice. 

Mutual friends introduce Peter to Jeff Stevens, an ex-cop now private investigator with a personal connection to Peter’s case, still frustrated police had dropped the ball in the investigation of the seemingly random gay-bashing. Soon, Peter and Jeff learn Phillip’s death isn’t so simple and that the young man was targeted because of something he had overheard at his place of employment.

Throughout the investigation, Peter finds himself increasingly drawn to Jeff while vascillating between guilt for having feelings for another man other than Phillip and moving on with his life, but it’s with the encouragement of Phillip’s spirit that ultimately pushes Peter forward, more than once realized that Phillip is the one responsible for bringing Jeff into Peter’s life.

A Portrait of Phillip is the first in a series of Portrait novels by J.P. Bowie. I actually began reading the fourth in the series, A Self-Portrait, first – having read all three Nick Fallon mysteries by the same author that I had enjoyed so much. I wanted to read more of how Nick Fallon was introduced and of how he had met Peter and Jeff. 

I actually got about 70% into reading A Self-Portrait, which largely deals with the early years of how Peter and Phillip first met and of their subsequent relationship. A Self Portrait gave me far more insight into the two men, though perhaps many more tears since I had come to love Phillip to then have to read of the his attack and subsequent death. Reading these two novels in either order however gives the reader an awesome experience as J.P. Bowie is truly a talented story-teller, with the gift of fully drawing the reader in.

A Portrait of Phillip is as much a romantic love-story as an intriguing – and at times – a harrowing murder-mystery/thriller. The opening of the novel begins with Jeff missing and Peter frantic with worry and a moment of reverie has him reflecting on first meeting Phillip leading up to the attack. The last quarter of the novel pours on the thrills as friends (former NYC police detective, Nick Fallon and his partner, Eric) come to California to help Peter locate the missing Jeff. The result is a fast-paced romance/mystery/thriller sure to please and earn fans.

Monday, October 22, 2012

GOD BELIEVES IN LOVE: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage by Gene Robinson

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Alfred A Knopf/Random House, September 2012
Pages:  208

Since we was appointed to be the first openly-gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, Gene Robinson has been forced into a position of being both a figurehead and a spokesperson in the LGBT community, and it is the latter that he tackles superbly in his new book. Robinson takes on not just the religious arguments against gay marriage, but also common misconceptions about same-sex parenting, scriptural passages most assume condemn homosexuality, as well as the pressures that closeted gays and lesbians deal with every day in trying to avoid confrontations about their sexuality. 

I have read more "gays vs. religion" books than I can possibly count, but none have done a better job of clearly and concisely addressing all of the issues that make for common misunderstandings about gay men or lesbians. In a remarkably straightforward manner, Robinson uses relatable metaphors and realistic scenarios to demonstrate the foolishness of most of the primary arguments against gay marriage, as well as making a strong argument why "civil unions" – or even actual marriages observed only on a state level – are simply not good enough. This is absolutely an affirming, well-constructed and valuable read, which I recommend highly to all readers. Five stars out of five. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

DANTE'S CIRCLE: An Elliott Smith and John Mystery by Dorien Grey

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine 
Publisher: Zumaya Boundless, August 2012, 
Pages: 206

Dante Benevetti is a world-known famous pianist, who is worshipped by countless music lovers, and hated by just about anyone who has personally felt ego-fueled condescention and disdain for others in his life. That's also the conclusion construction contractor Elliott Smith reaches, after Dante hires him to do some renovations at his home, and then keeps putting off payment. Collection becomes more difficult when Dante is suddenly found dead in his home, which police assume to be the unintentional result of self-medication. In his brief dealings with the man, however, Elliott has to disagree, and that suspicion is soon reinforced by his afterlife friend, John, who acts as a go-between relaying information from Dante that he was indeed the victim of murder. With so many people hating the man, there is no shortage of people with motive, so this turns out to be a rather unique case for Elliott to help his brother-in-law police detective solve. 

Dorien Grey spins a great mystery, and this is no exception to that rule. For purists of that genre, there are plenty of "red herrings" and seemingly obvious clues, which prove to be misleading. A definite page-turner, and I give it five stars out of five.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Butterfly's Child by Alan Chin

Reviewed by Piet Bach at Wilde Oats eZine
Published by Dreamspinner Press

4 ½ stars

Alan Chin has taken Butterfly and both re-set it in high-desert Nevada and re-imagined it in two different time lines, to stunning effect. Essentially, he has written a sequel to the opera, an opera in prose form. Such an undertaking requires both nerves of steel and a sure hand, and Chin demonstrates that he has both.

Some of the dramatic development is unexpected at the very least, but the character development is both subtle and deeply felt. The axis of both opera and novel is the character of Suzuki, which my Japanese friend told me translated as “Perfume of Pines”. As a name, it gives us a hint that the maid will be the strong survivor of the household, and in Chin’s tale it is indeed the maid/companion Juanita around whom the homestead revolves. Tough and resilient as a high-desert evergreen, scoured to essentials by wind and cold and desert heat, she holds the ranch together while disaster nearly consumes the family created by Butterfly’s child. The child has grown into a young man haunted by loss and grief, and whose preternaturally acute hearing has made him a misfit in the Manhattan environment he inhabits. His grandmother’s death and the necessity of returning to the family ranch to settle her affairs uproot him from life in the musical world, setting him on a course of growth and maturation. Along the way he sees one love wither and another blossom, witnesses deep devotion and fidelity, sees others’ loves grow in both romantic and non-romantic forms, learns what it is to be a man, and re-discovers a joy in music that he thought had faded completely away.

The characters of Butterfly’s Child are sensitively drawn; from the novel’s protagonist Cord, to the small boy Jem, they are believable and engaging. As the story progresses, we are pulled into the extended family. In the broadest sense, this is a romance, but it is far more than that. The tale is compelling – I was so transfixed by it, in fact, that I read the entire novel in one long sitting, stopping only when hunger drove me to the table and returning to the book as soon as I set my fork on the empty plate.

Short scenes and longer set pieces are intelligently balanced, and the pace never feels either rushed or inhibited. I did feel a twinge of annoyance a couple of times when a passage of recitativo ran too dry: the hero’s ruminations on Zen Buddhism could have been abbreviated without damage to the score. But that’s a minor point. You don’t have to be a fan of Italian opera to respond to this dramatic tale of high romance, just be ready to fall in love.