Monday, December 10, 2012
Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press (June, 2011)
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
Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publishers: MLR Press (March, 2012)
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
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Reviewer: Jon Michaelsen
Publisher: MLR Press
“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
Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Kensington Books
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
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Reviewer: Jon Michaelsen
Publisher: MLR Press,LLC (January 3, 2011)
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
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
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.