Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Sand Bar by Owen Keehnen

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Lethe Press, May 2012
Pages: 264

Think of Bayetteville as a small Southern river town ... kind of like Mayberry, but with a significant gay (and slutty) population. (Floyd the Barber would have been less lonely!) 

Leo Dunsten is the sole beneficiary of the estate of his uncle, who lived in Bayetteville. In no hurry to go back to a dead-end job, and with an inheritance that offers other possibilities, Leo decides to open the town's first gay bar, which is immediately populated with a colorful assortment of gay, lesbian and "not sure" misfits, who form a rather entertaining, highly dysfunctional "family" of sorts. There's "Sister," who introduces Leo to the more interesting public restrooms. Bruschetta is strong-willed drag queen, always saving for her next cosmetic surgery. Fred is a shy gay boy with an unrequitted crush on a schoolmate, Del, who uses him and others to get what he wants. The book tells their stories, and others', as they celebrate each other's victories and share their defeats. 

This is a remarkable, character-driven book, actually following multiple characters' stories throughout the years, in a realistic,gritty yet lightly humorous way. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and look forward to more from this talented author. Five stars out of five.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Conversations with Capote by Lawrence Grobel

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Da Capo Press (Aug, 2000)
Pages: 233

“I am a homosexual. I am a drug addict. I am a genius.” —Truman Capote

Between July, 1982 and August 1984, writer Lawrence Grobel recorded many interview sessions with Truman Capote for what they both agreed would be the definitive in-depth interview with the great writer. This book is the remarkable result of those conversations. As startling, candid, and controversial as the man himself, these interviews have become a key part of the Capote legacy.

I have always been enchanted by Capote’s stories, and reading this book I became mesmerized by the man behind those stories. He had a genius that elevated talk to art, and gossip to literature. He bedazzles with brilliant insight, and also reveals a condescending pettiness toward many of his contemporaries.

I found Truman’s revelations about himself both candid and illuminating when talking about his childhood, early fame, his sexuality, and his battle with drugs and alcohol. The author also has much to say about the rich and famous, including Jacqueline Onassis, Norman Mailer, Marilyn Monroe, Lee Harvey Oswald, Elizabeth Taylor to mention a few, and these conversations about others tend to reveal more about Capote than the people being discussed.

While discussing In Cold Blood, Capote said, “I came to understand that death is the central factor of life. And the simple comprehension of this fact alters your entire perspective…. The experience served to heighten my feeling of the tragic view of life, which I’ve always held and which accounts for the side of me that appears extremely frivolous; that part of me is always standing in ta darkened hallway, mocking tragedy and death. That’s why I love champagne and stay at the Ritz.”

This is a must read for anyone who enjoys Truman Capote’s stories. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

One Last Lie by Rob Kaufman

Reviewer: Jon Michaelsen
Publisher: Rob Kaufman 
Pages: 326

One Last Lie by Rob Kaufman in a word is awesome, an incredible psychological thriller that will have the reader hanging on the edge during the explosive and thrilling final pages. Which is odd, since the reader knows a very important fact very early on that drives the novel - and yet, I found myself shocked and stunned by the actual event. To say that I was affected is an understatement.

The first half of the tense and romantic novel seems tame at best, a love story between two men wanting desperately to have a child and the one driving this dream is the one who is sterile due to a previous bout with cancer, of which he is a survivor.

Kaufman is a master of romantic suspense. The novel is set in the beautiful, romantic Westport, Connecticut. The subject - gay couple wanting to father and raise a child - popular in today's gay culture. The protagonists, Jonathan Beckett and dashing Philip Stone, are successful, love their careers, very wealthy and can afford the finer things in life - and to fulfill their dream of having a child.

In comes Angela, an old college friend – err, girlfriend – of Philip’s, squirreling her way into Philip and Jonathan’s lives, ironically offering what the boys are looking for – someone to carry Jonathan’s child via artificial insemination. Angela experiences a Jekyll-Hyde complex, able to turn on a dime with both her low-life moronic boyfriend, Tommy, and her brooding – and easily manipulated -- best friend, June. Angela manipulates anyone around her that she feels able to advance her agenda, an agenda set into motion the moment Angela picked up and moved to Connecticut, without invitation, to assist the boys in having a child with her via artificial insemination.

Kaufman’s gift as a writer is detailed within the sharp dialog, vivid imagery, skillful flashbacks, and well-rounded multidimensional character portrayals, but his inherit talent lay in his remarkable ability to craft a spell-bounding story, laid out for the reader in a way to have you cheering for the good guys and demonizing the psychos.

There are critical clues dropped within the novel that are thrilling, yet disturbing yet the same as Kaufman’s hurls the readers toward a well-crafted, suspenseful climax that will leave some breathless and others – like me- angry. Yes, I said it; angry. The reason for my anger is simple: I didn’t want the ending to happen as it did yet I KNEW what the ending would be and still, the author managed to shock me.

Angela is neurotic, psychotic and delusional – all required traits in portraying the villainess she becomes. Several characters that came before her came to mind as I learned more and more about her character, such as “Alex Forrest” (portrayed stunningly by Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction”), or Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s “Misery” (portrayed in film by the astounding Kathy Bates), even the sultry Rebecca de Mornay’s portrayal of Peyton Flanders in “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle”.

The malicious plot Kaufman’s Angela devises years before putting the such an evil plan into motion upon signing the co-parenting legal contract with Jonathan’s and Philip’s attorney.

But, I digress…Kaufman has created a spectacular psychological thriller that is sure to stun – is that the right word? – Readers of the genre. [Book:One Last Lie|14624158] is chock full of tense drama, betrayal, lies, compassion and violence; all the marks of an excellent thriller.

My only complaint is likely due to the HTML uploading issues unique to Amazon’s conversion technology for uploading e-books. The reader can become confused with the sudden backward or forward in time breaks without the benefit of section dividers. However, these small inadequacies are easily overlooked.

Ultimately, Kaufman has created a “must-read” novel for anyone searching for a kick-ass psychological thriller with a strong romantic theme. [Book:One Last Lie|14624158] will suck you in and won’t release you until the shocking ending, indeed the ‘one last lie’. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Absolutist by John Boyne

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Pubisher: Other Press, July 2012
Pages: 320

Already on his own for almost a year, since being thrown out by his parents, seventeen year old Tristan Sadler lies about his age, in order to enlist in the British army, heading into war in 1919. He meets another recruit, Will, with whom he develops more than just a strong friendship, though the feelings may not be mutual. Together through years of training and brutal battles, only Tristan survives the war. After a time of recovery and soul-searching, Tristan looks up Will's sister, Marian, to return a package of letters that were among Will's property, and to make an emotional confession to her.

Boyne is an accomplished Irish novelist, with one of his books, "The Boy In The Striped Pajamas," having been made into an award-winning film. This story is told in flashbacks, alternating after and during the war, and can be darkly graphic and emotionally brutal. An outstanding, thought-provoking look at the passionate choices we make, and how we react to life-changing situations. Much recommended for all readers, five full stars out of five.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Purgatory by Jeff Mann

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Bear Bones Books
Pages: 272

During the final days of the American Revolution, Drew, a Herculean Yankee, is captured by a ragtag Confederate band. He is put in the custody of Ian, a war-weary Southerner who has seen too much brutality inflicted on prisoners by his commanding officer, who also happens to be Ian’s uncle.

While on the run from the Yankees and being driven toward Purgatory Mountain, Drew is made a martyr, whipped and beaten and humiliated for all the sins of General Sheridan’s rampage and the frustration of the Confederates’ realization that they are losing the war.   But then the unexpected happens, Ian and Drew—captor and captive—find themselves drawn together. As a fragile love blossoms, Ian must find the courage to defy his uncle, and Ian and Drew must discovery a way to save each other from catastrophe.

This is an exquisitely written story. Jeff Mann’s command of prose is inspiring. He captures a voice that, line by line, is pure pleasure to read, to reread, to wallow in.

This story is never rushed. It takes place within the span of a week or two, and there is much packed into that timeframe. The pace is slow, often at a snail’s gate, giving the protagonist much time for reflection, and allowing plenty of time for a relationship to bud at a lifelike pace.

The tale is written in first person and present tense, which gives it an intimacy much like reading a personal letter or diary. However, I was not able to wrap my head around reading an historical account written in present tense. It simply felt strange, and I was unable to fully immerse myself in the story because of it.

For me, the book had two flaws. It took most of the story for Ian to do what he knew was just, which admittedly gave him a beautiful arc. But early on, I felt he was a coward, and I didn’t like him. By the time he finally grew a spine, it was too late for me. Along that same theme, I did not find it at all plausible that Drew could be so brutalized and dehumanized by his captors while Ian stood by, and still find it in his heart to forgive Ian, which, of course, was the point the entire story hung on.

Historical buffs will no doubt relish this story. Fans of gay romance who can easily suspend belief regardless of how implausible the story is will also enjoy this read.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tessa Masterson Will Go To Prom by Emily Franklin & Brendan Halpin

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: BloomsburyTeens, March 2012
Pages: 272

Tessa Masterson is a high school senior in a small Indiana town, where she runs track and works in her family's small supermarket. When her longtime best friend, Lucas, makes a spectacle of inviting her to go to the prom with him, Tessa realizes that, despite "hints" she has given him over the years, he doesn't realize that she is a lesbian. In fact, she wants to go to the prom with a young woman she met at the store.

Embarassed and hurt, Lucas makes some statements that are soon repeated throughout the school, and the town, eventually leading to widespread homophobic rants against Tessa, and calls for the school board to cancel the prom, rather than allow two lesbians to attend. Lucas regrets his role in this, and tries to make it up to Tessa. Can he come up with another "grand gesture" to make things right?

This is an outstanding coming-out/coming-of-age read for teens and others, with realistic characters and situations, and just the right amount of humor. Much recommended five stars out of five. 


Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Rape of Ganymede by John Peyton Cooke

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Editions Cuir Noir
Pages: 358

When the mother of a precocious fourteen-year-old gay boy claims she has evidence that mega-rock-star Jimmy Gilbert has been having sex with her son, Private Investigator Greg Quaintance is hired by Jimmy’s lawyer to thwart the mother’s multi-million-dollar extortion attempt. But only hours after Greg takes the job, the mother ends up murdered and her son goes missing. Greg’s job turns to finding the boy before any harm can come to him. From the streets of Manhattan to the home of presidential power, the bodies start piling up as Greg navigates his way through this plot of twists and turns.

The Rape of Ganymede is a murder mystery in the Greg Quaintance series. It is a story that tackles a difficult subject, child molestation, but rather than dealing with that issue effectively, the author turns this plot into a vehicle to showcase his sexy protagonist. The dialog is often clever, the plot highly imaginative, and a few scenes provide good action and are well written. 

For the most part, I found this to be a mildly interesting storyline that was marred by poor writing, one-dimensional characters, and over-the-top situations that I found impossible to suspend belief.

My chief issue is that the story is mostly told through dialog. The author puts two people in a room and they talk for ten, fifteen, or twenty pages at a time, over and over again. There is much talking and precious little action. Admittedly, when there was action scenes, they were well written. Telling a story through dialog, however, quickly turns dull and tedious, which is how I found of most of this story.

The author does an excellent job of delving into his protagonist, who has several layers, but every other character had little or no depth. I think this is because these other characters have so little time on the page that the reader never gets to know them.

Admittedly, I am not a huge fan of mystery novels, but I have read several that impressed me. This was not one of those. 


Thursday, July 12, 2012

COBRA KILLER by Andrew E. Stoner & Peter A. Conway

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

Anyone who followed the gay porn world back in 2007 is likely aware of a violent murder in a small Pennsylvania town, which publicity suggested involved Sean Lockhart (porn name: Brent Corrigan), one of the most popular stars at the time. The controversy involved possible fraud, related to the fact that Mr. Lockhart appeared in films while still a minor, and had been at odds with the man who owned Cobra Studios, which produced most of his films. That man was Bryan Kocis, the victim of murder victim.

Later, it was revealed that the likely killers were actually Harlow Cuadra and his lover Joe Kerkes, two Virginia men who owned a gay escort service, and wanted to branch out into producing gay videos. They had contacted Lockhart about possibly working together, which is how they found out about the ongoing battle with Kocis, and even suggested that they might be able to persuade him to "leave the country." Ultimately, Lockhart would help authorities get evidence that tied them to the murder. 

This is essentially a well-written, detailed chronological recap of the events involved, made up entirely of previously-published articles, website posts and assorted law enforcement transcripts. As such, it is occasionally repetitive, and I would have preferred to have seen some original content included, such as interviews with those involved. It can be an engaging read for crime mystery buffs, and especially for those who have an interest in the operations of the gay porn industry. Four stars out of five. 


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gulliver Takes Manhattan by Justin Luke Zirilli

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: AmazonEncore, May 2012
Pages: 426 

Twenty-something Gulliver Leverenz is sick of the gay scene in Los Angeles, made worse by a recent breakup with someone who won't leave him alone, and decides to take up a college friend's invitation to move to New York City, staying with him until he finds a place of his own. Gulliver is soon adjusting to the face-paced life of a Manhattan "A-Gay," and lucks into a job with a talent agent that has potential to be great. Unfortunately, like in L.A., a relationship gets in the way, and pushes Gulliver into a downward spiral that ruins friendships, costs him a job, and into making decisions he never would have imagined when he moved to NY just a few months before. 

This is a wacky, humorous take on the "If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere" spirit of tough New Yorkers, as well as a practical lesson on how bad decisions can come back to bite you, big time. The first-time author shines in his character development, providing many fully-developed (but not necessarily likeable) supplemental characters. Ultimately, this is a positive story of overcoming obstacles to live your life, and is recommended. Five stars out of five. 


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Naked by David Sedaris

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Pages: 291

In Naked, gay author David Sedaris presents seventeen autobiographical essays that are hilarious, elegiac, and often outrageous.  The author has apparently had an exceedingly rich life with family and friends and unique adventures, and he writes about them with take-no-prisoners sensibilities. From dealing with a sharp-tongued mother, to his Kerouackian wanderings with a quadriplegic companion, to family gatherings in the face of imminent death, the author presents his distinctive view of the world with razor sharp wit.

Although this book has sat on my shelf untouched for several years, once I started to read, I was hooked. It is one of the most entertaining reads I’ve had in years. There was never a dull moment, never a dry spot where one skims through looking for another interesting part. This is a fast paced read with unforgettable characters popping out of the woodwork on every page. He brings people’s flaws and foibles into a deliciously funny light that I found brilliant.

Naked is a fresh, comic look at the world, with much wisdom at its core. I can highly recommend this book to all readers. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

THE BORROWER: A NOVEL by Rebecca Makkai

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine  
Publisher: Penguin Books, May 2012
Pages:  336

Twenty-six year old Lucy Hull never imagined she would find herself seemingly locked into a career as a children's librarian in small-town Missouri. Having accepted the job right out of college, and adapted to be able to overcome workplace obstacles to do it well, she found herself in a comfortable rut, and treasured those moments that helped her over that. 

Many of those moments came when ten year old Ian Drake visited her library. A precocious boy with an appetite for life and learning, Ian was also unlike most boys in his mannerisms and interests, a difference of which his right-wing Christian parents were very much aware. Lucy cringed when his mother insisted that he only be allowed to read "boy" books with good (i.e., heterosexual) role models and Christian values, while Ian ached to expand his reading to topics that were far more interesting to him. When Lucy found out that his mother had enrolled him a "reparative therapy" church group run by the notorious "Pastor Bob," and saw that it bothered Ian so much that he actually ran away, hiding in the library with the plan to leave from there in the morning, she decided to get involved. That morning, she and Ian drove out of town, on a meandering journey to her parents' in Chicago, and eventually to search for Ian's grandmother in New England. 

Most of the book is about their impromptu "road trip," and the conversations and conclusions each makes about their respective lives. Lucy keeps in touch with a friend from the library, manages to concoct a story to explain Ian to her parents, and reassesses what she wants to do with her life. She also worries about a car that seems to be following them, and what will eventually happen with Ian when he gets back home. 

As farfetched and illogical as the plot seems to be, it will resonate with any reader who has, at times, felt overwhelmed with what life is offering them, and wants to hit the "reboot" switch to try again. It also gives a serious look into the mind of an intelligent young boy who realizes he is different, and can only find one person (Lucy) who seems to accept him as is. Worth a look, and I'll give it four stars out of five.