Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cooper’s Hawk by Victor Banis

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: MLR Press, LLC (June 21, 2012)
Pages: 26

Four days after the death of his lover, Mike sits at his rural home grieving for Adam. Mike and Adam’s children flew in for the funeral, and they—two men and two women—do their best to comfort Mike, but there is no comfort for someone who has just lost their soul mate. Strangely enough, a Cooper’s hawk begins flying around the farm, bold as brass and seemingly unafraid of Mike. I say “strangely” because Adam’s last name was Cooper. The children believe Mike is loosing his marbles, associating the bird with his dead lover, but that bird leads Mike directly to the bank on the creek where Mike and Adam first made love. Coincidence? You be the judge.

This is a tale of a man dealing with great sorrow, yet it is a story of unlimited joy. Kahill Gibran once said: “When you're sorrowful, look in your heart, and you'll see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” Yes, the joy of this story came earlier, in the thirty or so years leading up to this tale. The reader catches the memory of a prodigious and honest love between two men.

Banis describes a love so real and so spot-on with such simple, straightforward language, that I found it mesmerizing. It is a beautiful story, told with simple elegance, and so real that I realized that my husband and I would someday experience the same emotions, the same path—at least I hope so.

As with all Victor Banis’s works, I can highly recommend this story.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Campaign Within: A Mayor's Private Journey To Public Leadership by Neil Giuliano

Reveiwer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine 
Publisher: Magnus Books, July 2012
Pages: 280

Neil Giuliano grew up in a close-knit Italian-American family in New Jersey, where he witnessed the successes and defeats of his father in local politics. A leadership role in high school and college eventually led Neil to seek public office in Tempe, Arizona, where he attended Arizona State University. He became a councilman, and later vice mayor, before being elected as mayor of that growing city in 1994. 

During his second two-year term as mayor, Neil faced increasing pressure to come out as a gay man, which he did, becoming the first openly-gay mayor of a city that size. The revelation was no big deal to most of his constituents, though his opponents saw it as an opportunity to claim he had a "gay agenda" on several occasions. After ten years (four terms, the last of which was four years) of service, and surviving a recall election, he decided not to run again, and embarked on a career as a consultant for non-profit organizations. 

This is a well-written memoir, limited in scope, dealing mostly with his public persona and private battles toward self-acceptance as a gay man, a process that started in his childhood, but took almost 40 years. The author is honest about mistakes made along the way, and acknowledges his accomplishments with significant humility. Interesting read, which I give five stars out of five.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Letter Q, Queer Writers’ Notes To Their Younger Selves

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Pages: 281

This is a collection of letters, notes, and comic strips from sixty-four award-winning writers and illustrators such as Michael Cunningham, Terrence McNally, Amy Bloom, Armistead Maupin, David Leavitt, Christopher Rice, and Susan Stinson. Each of these “letters” are messages the authors have written to their younger selves to ease the bumpy road of growing up an lgbt youth, all in the tone of “It Gets Better.” They give bracingly honest reasons for young people to tough it out, and hold out for a better future.

These letters are written with unyielding perception, humor, and tenderness. Many of the letters are both eloquent and touching, reminding me of many of my own experiences growing up.  They give a united voice of uplifting support of queer youth. I do wish I could have read this while growing through my teens.

I confess that I did not read all of these letters, simply because the themes are so repetitive it gets tiresome. Still I did read all my favorite authors, which many were represented here, and several writers I had not heard of before now, but will certainly read more of.

This book is a must read for any queer youth struggling to accept their sexuality or who are experiencing discrimination from the community. There is a clear and important message repeatedly banged like a bass drum, that queer kids are cool, and important, and just as worthy as anybody else. And the messages to tough it out, because it certainly does get better, is at their core all messages of hope, and of love. I highly recommend this book to all readers, young and old, queer and straight, sons, daughters, and parents.

Friday, June 22, 2012

THE MILES by Robert Lennon

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Kensington, June 2012
Pages: 352

Five stars out of five

Liam is a young gay man in Manhattan, underemployed as a fact checker for a celebrity magazine, who has been in one fleeting relationship after another, and usually prefers to just spend time with his older best friend, Monroe. 

One passion of Liam's is running, not just as an escape, but because he happens to be good at it. When he joins the Fast Trackers, a gay running club, he is looking forward to the camaraderie, but more so looking for a kindred spirit who takes running as seriously as he does. Unfortunately, many of the members are flakes, but he does make a few friends. But the man who he finds most interesting is Didier, a rather intriguing member of another, rival running club, who is married to a woman, but clearly is interested in Liam as well. Liam navigates the personalities of his fellow runners, as they build their distances toward their ultimate competition, the New York City Marathon. 

The author is himself a gay runner from NYC, a member of the "Front Runners" group (which borrowed its name from the groundbreaking gay novel). Although the book is very well written, and the characters meticulously developed, be aware that the jargon and "race talk" may be a bit distracting to the non-runner, but well worth tagging along.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Chase in Shadow by Amy Lane

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine 
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 320

Chase Summers was your stereotypical college athlete, popular and envied, living with his gorgeous girlfriend,Mercy, but he knew something was missing. When he took a chance and applied for a job as a model with a gay porn website, he found out what he needed all along, but had talked himself into denial. 

Of course, he wasn't the only model on the site who claimed to be "gay for pay" only. But holding onto that facade had one interesting byproduct: the ability to see others who were hiding behind the same flawed presumption. When he got together with Tommy, one of the other stars on the website, Chase found a source of happiness and fulfillment he had never known before, but struggled on how to juggle this around his time with the devoted Mercy. 

A refreshingly cohesive plot, though hurt a bit by extraneous (in my opinion) erotic content and some overly dramatic conversations. It can be a good light read for the summer, and I give it three stars out of five. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

MY MOVIE by David Pratt

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Pages: 220

David Pratt—who won a Lambda Literary Award for his delightful novel, Bob The Book—has published this anthology of fourteen short stories. Many of these stories have appeared in periodicals and other anthologies over the years, and the lion’s share of these tales feature young gay men coming to terms with being queer, which makes My Movie a look back on our own past of learning to deal with love and lust and isolation.

As with most anthologies I’ve read, I connected with several of these stories and didn’t connect with others, but each story carries Pratt’s unique voice and is pushed over the top by his superb imagination. The reader never really knows what will happen next, nor how far to extremes the story will take them.

Some of my favorites in this collection are: “Calvin Gets Sucked In,” where the hero who loves porn gets swept into a porn flick, only to realize the fictitious life in the movies is not all it’s cracked up to be, or is it?; and “One Bedroom,” about a young man who’s first sexual experience is answering an ad that says “Use My Face For A Toilet”; and “Ulmus Americana,” the tale of a long-term relationship between two trees in a city park; and best of all “The Addict,” where a guy takes a beautiful man home for sex, but the trick is too strung out on drugs.  

The author writes about love between men, and the yearning, loss, and loneliness that brings. These are not happy stories, but the author does use his distinctive brand of humor in the telling. He writes with unyielding perception with a precise, controlled voice.

Pratt has an amazing attention for detail, which is always a blessing and sometimes a curse—blessing because it brings each story to vivid life, a curse because some stories occasionally drag the reader down, like wading through quicksand.

My Movie showcases the versatility of David Pratt, confirming that he is an important voice in LGBT literature. I can recommend My Movie to all readers.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Survival Methods and Mating Rituals... by Chris Kenry

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine 

Publisher: Kinsington
Pages: 450


Marginally-successful children's book author Davis Garner is forced to take a career detour, when an HIV diagnosis makes it clear he needs to find a steady job with good medical insurance. A friend hooks him up with a position as a technical writer for a company conducting research in Antarctica, which necessitates he actually accompany the scientists on voyages there. A gay man with a minimal social life, even before the diagnosis, Davis now finds himself witnessing a bit of a love triangle between Artaud, a charismatic scientist in charge of the project, his smitten girlfriend Maureen (who is otherwise nasty to everyone she meets), and "Worm", a nebbish vessel tech who befriends Davis and confides his longtime crush on Maureen. Onboard conflict, regarding the use of a method potentially harmful to protected sea creatures, takes on a more serious note, when it seems clear there is some kind of conspiracy involved, beyond the scope of simple science. 

While Davis is openly gay, it is only incidental to the story, making it different from Kenry's three prior novels. It is well-written and very engaging (despite its 450 pages), providing an insight into a world many of us will never see. Recommended, especially for those into environmental issues. Four stars out of five. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Deconstructing Tyrone by Natalie Hopkinson and Natalie Y. Moore

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Cleis Press
Pages: 246

In Deconstructing Tyrone, two black journalists examine black masculinity in the hip-hop generation from a variety of perspectives. With chapters on black men in politics (Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick), on the relationship between the misogynist hip-hop culture and women, on how gay men fit into the black masculinity picture, on babydaddies, on gay black men on the “down low,” and black men in the office, at school, and in jail, this book presents a multifaceted picture of American black men today.

I confess I know little about the black experience today, and I found this book to be both illuminating and inspiring. These two writers examine a complex subject with empathy, wit, and acute intelligence.  They attempt to break down the myths presented in the media surrounding black masculinity, with a focus on how it effects black males, hip-hop culture, and the relationships between black men and women. I was particularly interested in how gay black men fit into this culture, and I found that fascinating, yet that is only a small part of an intricate puzzle.

This book goes beyond scrutinizing a snapshot of today’s black culture. It makes an honest attempt to understand where black masculinity as it relates to black women will evolve to in the near future.

Thoughtful and absorbing, I can highly recommend this book to anyone wanting a greater understanding of American black culture, and what directions that culture is moving.

Saturday, June 9, 2012


Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Lethe Press, May 2012

Edward introduces his younger lover, Robert, to his longtime friends at the P-Town house whom Bill had inherited from his deceased lover. Edward's best friend is Kyle, who has always had a crush on him. There was also Harlan, an outspoken, slutty (and proud of it) extrovert who calls the others on the carpet for being too politically-correct or pretentious. He shows is disdain for the domestic bliss of Greg and his newly-out partner, Victor, who set a wedding date now that Massachusetts has extended marriage to gay couples.

 The author presents a character-driven story of a group of mature gay friends in the middle part of the past decade, at a time when activism seems to be finally producing results, and AIDS has become a manageable disease for those lucky enough to have access to medications that hold it at bay. It's also a time of reflection, perhaps some regrets, and uncertainty about where we go from here. Beautifully nuanced, and much recommended. Five stars out of five!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Swan Cloud by Edward C. Patterson

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: CreateSpace
Pages:  327

A Brilliant Work that will Linger in your Heart and Soul

This delightful read is book III of Edward Patterson’s Southern Swallow series. Swan Cloud, like its predecessors (The Academician and The Nan Tu) is told by K'u Ko-ling, the amusing servant to the Grand Tutor, Li K'ai-men, who must forgo his obligated mourning period when his father dies, and sets out on a diplomatic mission for the Emperor Kao - a mission fraught with political intrigue and treachery.

The mission is a plan to reel in the warring generals and forage a peace with the enemies to the north. But while the Grand Tutor labors to help bring about a durable reconciliation, politicians closest to the Emperor are more focused on their own benefit. In an effort to fight for justice, Li K’ai-men finds himself battling the Emperor’s advisors, who now seem hell bent on destroying him.

Set on the broad canvas of Sung Dynasty China (12th Century), Swan Cloud is a tale of separation and sacrifice - injustice and intrigue. It represents a turning point in this saga for the hero and his band of spiritual warriors.

I have adored all three books of the Southern Swallow series, for a number of reasons. I particularly enjoyed the characterizations in this character driven novel. Patterson has created a number of interesting and likeable characters. They are flawed, and struggle to overcome those defects. Even the "bad-guys" developed into memorable foes.

Second, the author skillfully weaves an intriguing plot that holds the reader to the page, needing to find out what happens next. There came a point deep in the novel where I literally couldn’t put it down until I finished the last page.

The author has created a delightful voice. The tale is told both in third person, and also K'u Ko-ling’s first person narratives. Both voices are distinct and captivating. It is a pleasure reading such well-crafted prose.

Edward C. Patterson is scholar in East Asian culture. So not only is the storyline based on true historical events, but the descriptions of the cultural settings and rituals ring true.  Patterson has done his homework, and it shows from first page to last.

My one issue with the entire series so far is that Li K’ai-men, the Emperor’s Grand Tutor, and his band of devoted followers wields tremendous magical powers, but for some reason seldom use these powers to turn events to his or the Emperor’s favor. I kept wondering, why the author gave them these colossal powers if they failed to use them.

For anyone interested in reading Swan Cloud, I would highly recommend reading book I & II first (The Academician and The Nan Tu).  There is simply too much plot and relationship building that occurs in these earlier novels that is needed to fully understand the situations presented in Swan Cloud.

Readers who love historical fiction will no doubt treasure this series. But these books can be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates fully developed characters and finely crafted stories. This book, this series, is a gem that can be appreciated by everyone.