Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Letter Q Book Give-Away Drawing

The Letter Q: Queer Writers' Notes To Their Younger Selves

On this Saturday, June 2nd, I will give away two hardbound copies of The Letter Q, an Anthology of writers sending letters to their younger selves to help them through difficult times in their lives.

To enter for a chance to win a copy, simply leave a comment on this post giving your name and email contact information. I will randomly select two winners on June 2nd, and have the publishers send the hardcover books to your door.

About this book:
In this anthology, sixty-four award-winning authors and illustrators such as Michael Cunningham, Amy Bloom, Jacqueline, Woodson, Terrence McNally, Gregory Maguire, David Levithan, and Armistead Maupin, make imaginative journeys into their pasts, telling their younger selves what they would have liked to know then about their lives as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people. Through stories, in pictures, with bracing honesty, these are words of love, messages of understanding, reasons to hold on for the better future ahead. They will tell you things about your favorite authors that you never knew before. And they will tell you about yourself.

Link to The Letter Q on Facebook:

Link to The Letter Q on Trailer:

Best of luck to everybody
Alan Chin

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Carry The One by Carol Anshaw

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 253

“So Carmen was married, just,” is how this story begins. The wedding takes place on a farm, the ceremony in a barn. It’s a somewhat joyous occasion, and several young folks get carried away and overdo it with drugs and alcohol, but hey, it’s a celebration.  Late into the night, the last guests to leave are Carmen’s siblings, Nick and Alice, who climb into a car with four others and head back to the city. But then a misfortune strikes—a tragedy so profound that it will deeply touch all these characters for the rest of their lives.

The story follows the three siblings—Carmen, a new bride and housewife; Alice, a lesbian artist; and Nick, a stoner and wantabe astronomer—as they put their lives back together and attempt to maneuver through the mine field of guilt and self-loathing brought on by the accident. The chapters are seen as snapshots of time over the coarse of twenty years, showing how each sibling struggles in their own way to regain something normal, but there is no way to bury this hurt, no way to stop it from tinting every relationship, every occasion, every quiet moment spent alone.

They try to lose themselves in relationships, careers, drugs, and crusading to help others, but nothing can lessen the pain. In short, it’s a sad, depressing story, that once it begins rolling down hill, never really achieves an upward trajectory.

The premise is marvelous. Early on, I had high hopes for this read. The story starts with a bang, and the first thirty pages are riveting, but then I began to have issues with the writing and the characters.

The prose is, for the most part, nondescript, with patches of sloppiness and moments of brilliance. I feel the author tries overly hard to sound “literary”, which often makes the prose jerky and awkward, rather than a smooth flow. I also feel that Anshaw does too much telling and precious little showing, which quickly becomes tedious.

Shortly after the accident scene, a pattern develops. All female characters are shown as strong, intelligent, and resourceful. However, all (and I do mean ALL) the men are either lying cheating bastards, spineless buffoons, or drug addicts who can’t tie their shoelaces without some woman there to show them how. I find her treatment of women vs. men characters sexist and offensive. It colors the entire story, making it impossible for me to enjoy the book, or to take Anshaw seriously as a writer.

I have no issue with someone writing a story geared for women. Neither do I take issue with flawed characters, male or female. In fact, flawed characters tend to be the most interesting. But I do resent authors who blatantly attack a group of people by portraying them all as flawed, with little or no redeeming qualities.

The ironic result about her treatment of women vs. men characters, in my opinion, is that Nick, the most flawed and spineless character in the story, turns out to be the only interesting character. The author molds Carman, Alice, Maude, and Olivia into clichés, and hence, uninteresting characters.

The last issue I’ll mention is that, finishing the story, it seems that none of the three protagonist made any kind of a meaningful arc. After the tragedy, they all fall into their own defensive patterns that held true for them for the rest of the story. They struggle and struggle, but don’t really resolve. If they are able to overcome their obstacles, it is so subtle that it soared over my head.

Women readers will, no doubt, enjoy this book, men readers not so much. I cannot recommend this read. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Lonely War by Alan Chin

A Brilliant Work that will Linger in your Heart and Soul, 

Reviewer: Edward C. Patterson
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 325

The Lonely War is the story of a Chinese-American youth who is raised in a multi-cultural environment, schooled in Buddhism, and then is thrust into the world at war -- the US Navy during the Pacific conflict. Andrew Waters encounters every known flavor of intolerance, but because he is well grounded, strong in his pacifist convictions and emerging from the mysteries of the closet, he manages to survive events that the average person could not withstand. The issue, however, is that Andrew hasn't figured out the reason for his own existence and fosters the best part of all who encounter him, from hateful bigots, to duplicitous clergy, to prison commandants, and to wayward young men. A reader has no better guide to World War II than through Andrew Waters' soulful heart.

Alan Chin has created a realistic war novel, not the kind we imagine, but the ground level view that many veterans will easily recognize. However, whenever we feel afraid of the progression of the tale, the characters bind us to reality -- that duty and patriotism and even a hint of bravery can overcome the direst circumstances. Even death becomes a transitional state in this brilliant work. One does not generally expect tender imagery in a war novel, but Mr. Chin constantly provides us balm without becoming tedious. The only problem I had with the book is that it kept me up well after two AM each night, because I could not put it down. Just one chapter more. Just one. This happens perhaps with one in twenty or so books, and when I get one like it, I look for other works by the same author.

Two points: I particularly enjoyed the characterizations in this character driven novel. Even the "bad-guys" developed into memorable homilies. When they are exposed to the proper light, everyone can find their way to the heart of humanity. I especially enjoyed the character of Hud (Hudson), and I will say no more on that, because that would spoil the experience. I also enjoyed the absence of the usual labels for men on men relationships. They happen so organically in this novel that anyone who knows about these things will say, "Yep, that's it exactly."

The level of research is amazing. The various cultures revealed, especially Japanese and Chinese, are to the point, and I can attest to that having degrees in East Asian culture. Naval logistics are right on the money and the descriptions of Kyoto tell me that Mr. Chin has visited there in order to take me with him.

A brilliant book. I recommend it to anyone who wants a good read and lingering joy.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Closer, poems by Christopher Stephen Soden

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Queer Mojo – A Rebel Satori Imprint
Pages: 126

Closer is a collection of sixty-two poems by gay writer/poet Christopher Stephen Soden. These gems sparkle on the page, little snapshots of a gay man’s life, experiences, hates and loves, frustrations and joys.

I am no expert on poetry, and seldom read poems by any author, but I thoroughly enjoyed this collection. The writing is vivid, powerful. The poignant observations behind each poem seemed like a leaf from my own life, things I related to, only  couched with such beautiful prose that I often felt mesmerized, reading many of them over and over just to wallow in Soden’s beautiful wordplay.

Excerpt from Cowboys:
Lives would be taken judiciously:
Rustlers, horse thieves, cardsharps.
We would learn to recognize by blanket,
paint and bracelet,  the Indians
we could trust. You and I take turns
crooning the cattle to sleep,

swap dreams by the red and purple
watchfire after supper, snore together,
arms tangled in a careless net
of reassurance, under a vast
milk splash of throbbing stars.
In the morning lather the other’s back,
if we could find a spangly brook.

Soden masterfully explores gay sexuality, virility, and maleness, from the old west to ancient Greece. I found it an exotic ride through a vivid landscape that was at once fresh and familiar.

Excerpt from Reprieve:
God scatters and casts us away, far, far
from reconciliation and mercy. Flailing
in a quagmire of apathy and retaliation.
Ignorance. Sailing headlong into deepening
waves of nightfall. God’s orphans shivering
in the undertow of November. Then, suddenly

snow. Drifting patiently to gleaming heaps
of crystalline sheaves. Coating everything
in a veil of blamelessness. Flawless star
flakes aloft on airstream, tickling nose,
ear and lash, delicately covering the head
like astonishing, weightless benediction.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Clara's Story by Doreen Perrine

Reviewer:  Salem West at The Rainbow Reader
Publisher: Bedazzled Ink Publishing
Pages: 246

Many years ago, I had a brief sojourn in Paris, during which I became interested in the American expatriate experience. 

I took moonlit strolls along La Seine, studied the reliefs of the Arc de Triomphe, stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower on a starlit night, climbed the stairs of Montmartre’s Rue Foyatier, and listened to an organ concerto at Basilique du Sacré-Cœur.  I spent many of my days wandering the streets of La Rive Gauche, trying to channel the vibes of Picasso, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Matisse, and Sartre.

A little light reading
I spent my evenings studying the collective works of Frederic Bastiat in sidewalk bistros, swilling red wine, and being not-so-politely told to “Arrêter d'essayer de parler français!”

During my stay, I spent one memorable day wandering the vast collection of art at Le Musée du Louvre.  One thing I feel obliged to confess, though, is that I'm a neophyte when it comes to everything related to art and art history.    

I do, however, have a well-used box of 96 Crayola Crayons with a built in sharpener, and a few sketchbooks.

I went to Paris in September, after the French nationals and the hoards of tourists returned to work from their summer vacations.  It was the perfect time to visit, no crowds, no lines, and plenty of time to sit and watch the boats in the fountains.  I particularly remember that special day at The Louvre, and feeling like I was the only person allowed entry.  Imagine being able to stand mere feet from da Vinci’s The Mona Lisa, and staring into her quirky little smile for an undisturbed hour. 

But it wasn’t just The Grande Dame of The Louvre that got my attention that day, I was also able to spend considerable alone time with Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa, Prud’hon’s Empress Josephine, Ribera’s The Club-Footed Boy, Rubens’ The Disembarkation of Maria de' Medici at the Port of Marseilles, and Titian’s, Pastoral Concert.

In the immortal words of Joni Mitchell, “Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.”  

In Doreen Perrine’s debut novel, Clara’s Story, twenty-nine year old Claire Doral finds herself weaving her way through a dispassionate life.  She’s working at a tony New York art gallery, trying to maintain balance between her overbearing uptown mother and her guilt-ridden downtown father, and sleepwalking through an unfulfilling romantic relationship.  One day, she is introduced to a flirtatious, free-spirited Italian artist named Isabelle.  Claire is at once drawn to Isabelle’s charming ways, but at the same time feels the need to maintain her distance and discretion.  But after falling to Isabelle’s charms, finds herself unable to return to any of her previous life.

by Raphael
Oh, she tries.  But, she finds herself pursuing another female artist, pushing further and further away from her mother, and drawing closer to her father.  After getting sacked by the Gallery and ending her loveless relationship, she sells her artist’s loft, and heads to Europe to embrace the art and culture.  First London, then Paris, and then Milan.  A side trip to Venice inspires her to make contact with Isabelle, and the two begin a push and pull relationship that threatens to leave both heartbroken.  Within the shadows of Michelangelo and Raphael, is it possible for Claire to break free of the bonds of her past familial burdens and find her own free spirit, and can Isabelle regain that joie de vivre that embodied her life and art and brought Claire back into her life?

As a reviewer, I have the privilege of reading a lot of books by a wide array of talented authors.  Every lesfic novelist has a certain, oh, je ne sais quoi about her writing.  That is to say, a style of narration, dialogue, and ultimately, storytelling.  Doreen Perrine is no exception to this unwritten truism. 

However, I must admit, it took me a while to “get” where she was taking Clara’s Story, and to “get” into the hustle and flow of the characters.

As I began to read this novel, I found myself not really liking Claire Doral, feeling unsympathetic to her struggles, and almost bored with her story.  She wasn’t particularly a nice person, she didn’t treat people particularly well, and I didn’t particularly care about her problems.  I DID find myself almost immediately falling in love with her therapist, Gary, her father, George, and his long-time partner, Lloyd.

This distressed me for quite a while, but I stuck with the book.  I wanted to find out how Claire was going to find her way to Isabelle, and what path they would take.  What happened, though, was the ultimate beauty of Clara’s Story.  At some point, it occurred to me that Ms. Perrine had intentionally written Claire to begin the story more like her mother and end up more like her father.  This character growth was not only central to the romance with Isabelle, but more importantly it was the story for me. 

As Claire begins to open herself up to humor, adventure, and happiness, she becomes interesting, the world around her becomes brighter, and the story becomes lighter and more approachable.  The art takes on color and form, and the supporting cast of characters develops more depth and vitality. 

With any book, I look at the depth of characters, and Ms. Perrine does a remarkable job of transforming her protagonist.  A few characters seem flat; including the mother and Mr. Lacy, and that may very well be from design.  However, a few other characters, like Lloyd and Nonna, become unexpected and delightful co-stars.

Clara's Story begins slowly and builds up into a satisfying conclusion; again I believe the pacing is a product of author intent.  The plot is sound, and Ms. Perrine joyously avoided the use of tired plot devices and trite conflict.  

I will say, that as a reader, I am not particularly enthralled when an author plops a 9/11 scene into an unrelated story when that same scenario could have happened without connection to that historic event.   In this case, Claire could have 'saved' her father from a robbery or some type of accident.

However, after reading a bit about the author, I learned that the book was dedicated to a friend and survivor of that day, so I’m giving it an official pass because in this case, it isn’t a plot device inserted for maximum heart tugging effect.

I’ll freely admit, when I started Clara’s Story, I had more than a few misgivings.  However, Doreen Perrine stayed true to her vision for the novel, and the pieces came together into an interesting and satisfying conclusion.  I’m giving this surprising debut from a talented new author a 4.8 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale.