Sunday, September 30, 2012

Seven Minutes by Gary Adrian Randall

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: CreateSpace
Pages: 56

Adrian and Jedd are a couple of drugged-out, gay, party-boy badasses looking for a good time on a Saturday night. When they blow one party and head across town to hookup with drugs at another party, they have a toxic confrontation with a homophobic weirdo. At that point, their lives begin spiraling down hill, and the farther they fall, the faster they plunge with seemingly no place to land.

This story is a fast-paced, sexy, gritty, wild ride. It has a great hook and escalating conflict throughout that has your head spinning by the end. Tense, funny, sad, with excitement on every page. It is a frolicking rite of passage for two dopers out to find true love.

There are several voices telling this story, all using first-person narrative, which often is confusing and hard to know who is speaking. What makes it more difficult is that all the voices sound the same. Yet, that doesn’t detract too much from the ride. I’m not sure the story would have had nearly the same punch told differently.

Here is a little excerpt:

I snap back into reality when he is about to come, which I know because he starts fucking my face.
This is one of the reasons I love him.
The other reason is that he always has weed.
The other reason is that we’ve been together for a year and 8 months, and he is fine with the fact that he doesn’t know me at all.
The truth is I don’t really even know myself.
But who the fuck does?

This is an entertaining story that has moments of philosophical insight, and I can recommend it for those who wish to walk on the wild side.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Only Make Believe by Elliott Mackle

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Lethe Press, August 2012
Pages: 178

As general manager of the Caloosa Club in Fort Myers FL in the early 1950's, Dan Ewing had many experiences that made running this hotel/club more like being a sideshow ringmaster, from drag queens, to hookers, gambling, and lots of deeply closeted gay or bisexual men. His fellow former-military buddy, and current lover, Bud Wright, acts as the head of security for the Caloosa, while also working as a detective for the local police department. When a guest is found dead in his room, dressed in women's clothing, Bud and Dan track down all possible clues to who did that, and why. At the same time, they are fighting off a backlash from local conservatives, who blame the Caloosa's presence as somehow causing the deceased, reportedly a responsible family man, to decide to cross dress and hang out in sleazy hotels. 

This is the long-awaited sequel to Mackle's "It Takes Two" novel, picking up a few years after that story ended, thought reading the earlier novel is not a prerequisite for appreciating this one. The characters are colorful and complex, yet relatable, and the author spins a captivating mystery with appropriate touches of humor and emotion throughout. Much recommended, five stars out of five.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Forgotten Man by Ryan Loveless

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 168

In December 1932, times are tough all over, even in New York City. Captain Joshua Pascal has moved back into his family home, which has been turned into a Jewish boarding house. He doesn’t mind living at home, because he is needed to make ends meet after the departure of his father, but he longs for companionship, for a partner to share life with. Trouble is, Joshua is gay and deeply in the closet.

During Chanukah, Joshua meets Will, a street musician and his baby daughter. Even though Will is seemingly straight, Joshua dreams that this just might be his chance at love.  Joshua gives Will a snug place to live, Will gives Joshua comfort in each other, but issues of coming out and fear of being arrested drive a wedge between their love. Can they make a future together?

The author does an excellent job of setting mood and describing the historical setting. Also exceptional is how the romance develops at a slow, measure pace, giving the reader time to warm up to these characters. The plot is rather simple, your typical M/M romance with no surprises and plenty of overly sentimental moments.

I felt the two main characters were one dimensional, and needed to show more depth to be believable. The secondary characters were no more than props, and had very little time on the page. Because of thinness of these main characters, they were hard to like or even establish a connection with.

The main issue I had with this story is there is virtually no real conflict in the story, and the minor conflict there is seems forced by the author rather than any authentic problems these lovers would encounter. Conflict is what makes a story interesting, and without it, a story is dull.

Due to the lack of conflict, this is NOT a story I can highly recommend.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Redemption By Fire by Andrew Grey


Reviewer: Jon Michaelsen
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 72
Career firefighter, tough guy and resident asshole, Dirk Krause, has a big chip on his shoulder, one of his own making, an attitude that has driven everyone around the firehouse crazy. When Dirk is injured on the job while saving a baby from a burning building, his disposition while recuperating in the hospital continues to further alienate his comrades and potential new friends, his only visitor being his father until the new recruit at the station draws the short straw and arrives at the hospital with sympathy bouquet in hand and encouraging well-wishes from the guys.

I must admit, I noticed Redemption by Fire first due to the incredible cover, well designed and eye-catching, representative of the story within. The blurb intrigued me so I purchased the ebook version and never looked back.

Dirk Krause is described as an asshole of the first degree. His life is hell of his making, and causing those around him - indeed those charged with protecting his back when fighting roaring fires - miserable. When I began Redemption by Fire, I was immediately pulled into the story. The writing is very good, the storyline intriguing, with a grip that didn’t let go until the end.
I wanted to know what drove Dirk to treat those around him, including his comrades and friends, as he did. I gave Krause the benefit of the doubt, confident author Andrew Grey knew well how to set up a love-story between two of the unlikeliest of characters.
Enter Lee Stockton, a big, muscular hulk of a man with a baby face to boot and personality that screams gorgeous, decidedly opposite Dirk in every way, right down to his respect of his job and of other people. First impression is Lee is nothing but a dumb muscle-head just following orders, but readers will quickly learn he is anything but. Lee sees right through Dirk’s angry façade and takes the man to task right there in his hospital bed, delivering a scorching kiss that sets Dirk on fire and awakens a libido needing attention.

Redemption by Fire draws the reader in as Grey drills deeper than the typical gay romance with conflict to explore the makeup of the main characters, what’s their makeup and why they respond as they do. The sex is spot on, sizzling hot and leaving no prisoners, remarkably representative of the typical hot horny guys having insane, mind-bending sex. It’s not until much later however – indeed after a few mishaps and misunderstandings threatening their relationship - the two begin a slow romance.

What drives the story however is far deeper and much more difficult to portray well in such a brief story -a mere 72-96 pages (depending on your reading device)- to avoid coming across as preachy or cliché; a story of denial and acceptance, of repressed longing and insecurities, and of a judgmental father still holding control over his grown son. But it is control that Dirk responds to in more ways than he first realizes. Lee is the perfect match for Dirk, a polar opposite in personality, confident in who he is and what he wants out of life, a match of wit and brawn up next to Dirk any day of the week.

Experiencing near death in a terrible fire proves life-altering for Dirk and he’s forced to reexamine who he is and what kind of man he has become. The realization and truth is surprisingly numbing for him, but Grey captures such grim discovery with genuine empathy, authenticity and zeal. Dirk is so far in the closet that it takes heavy coaxing to get him to step forward into the real world, to experience all that is possible and can be. With the understanding and strength of Lee by his side, the chance to experience true love for the first time in his life becomes real. It is that budding love for Lee and the thought of losing him – literally - that becomes the catalyst to drive Dirk out for good.

Redemption by Fire is short, but succinct, a realistic and authentic portrayal of a man living in denial, laying bare enough embers in the novella to continue with future installments, which I certainly hope author Andrew Grey does. I feel confident his readers will be clamoring for more of Dirk and Lee.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

Holy Terror: Lies The Christian Right Tells Us To Deny Gay Equality by Mel White

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Magnus Books, May 2012, 
Pages: 350

A frequently-mentioned rule of the US Constitution calls for a separation of church and state, meaning that religion should not impact on the functions of government. The violation of this basic concept has never been more evident than in the current political climate, in which religion and its teachings have been cited as the justification for denying equal rights to LGBTQ individuals.

The author has a unique perspective as a witness to this influence, having worked for over 30 years with evangelical Christian institutions and leaders, and spent 25 years since then working to expose this "holy war" against homosexuals, and urge justice and understanding for all. The revelation is that the "Christian Right" actually deserves neither of those words in its name. 

It must be noted that this book was originally published in hardcover in 2006, as "Religion Gone Bad," and I could find no updates or changes to that text as it appears in this new paperbound release. Considering the inroads made by rightwing politicians in the interim, it is somewhat out of date. Give it four stars out of five.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

AUTHENTIC AND FREE: A Journey From Shame to Self-Acceptance by Courtney Long

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Create Space, July 2012, 
Pages: 368

Courtney Long grew up in a home with an emotionally-detached father and an overbearing mother with control issues, literally threatening her daughter to "make her life hell" if she did not follow her rules. This led to body image issues and an eating disorder, as young Courtney tried desperately to meet her mother's expectations, which also affected her ability to relate to her peers. At the same time, Courtney began to realize she was bisexual, and that brought up another entire level of guilt, although her parents were surprisingly open-minded when she came out to them. The person she really needed approval from was the one it was hardest to win over: herself. 

Part heartfelt memoir, and part self-help book, "Authentic and Free" provides a chronological journey of Courtney's struggles, told in flashbacks, as she slowly overcame actual and perceived obstacles to self-acceptance. Like many teens, she was a victim of bullying, but from her own "inner bully" whom she felt was preventing her from being what she desperately wanted to be. 

Like most memoirs, some conversations and incidents may have been embellished for effect, and some do come across more than a bit contrived. But, overall, this is an inspiring and well-written book, from which almost anyone can get some positive feedback. Four stars out of five.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Chase Of A Lifetime by Ryan Field

Reviewer: Jon Michaelsen
Publisher: Ryan Field Press
Pages: 152

Collage graduate, Jim Darling, has returned home to Texas from Princeton, confused and conflicted, the weight of the world on his shoulders as he grapples with not only the fact he has to tell his father that he didn’t’ want to follow in the man’s footsteps, go to law school and join the family firm, but also that he’s a gay. 

Jim has never been with a man, but he knows he’s gay. On his first night home,he spots his best friend’s father, the strikingly handsome, youthful and rugged, Len Mayfield. His heart flutters and something inside him comes alive, to the point it scares the hell out of Jim and he leaves his own graduation party.

Turns out, Len Mayfield has a huge secret of his own--living a concocted lie that only he and his wife know. Len has come to feel trapped in his marriage of convenience, a partnership both spouses agreed to long ago and now which circumstances stand to hurt those Len loves the most, his son—whose rebellious antics have caused more than their fair share of family drama--and his son’s best friend, the adorable and cautious, Jim Darling.

Sparks fly when Len meets Jim Darling at the graduation party his parents planned. Jim feels something he’s never experienced before and his longing for Len soon becomes overshadowed by his fear of discovery after he and Len begin along, seductive and eventual torrid love affair, sneaking around town, in hotels, indiscriminate and risky locations.

Drama flares again with Cain and Len takes off to address the trouble, leaving Jim to ponder of his relationship with an older, married man. Jim grown impatient and makes demands Len is not yet willing to see through. Their relationship goes from hot and heavy, to slow and heart retching. Growing stronger, Jim comes out to his mother, and later to his father right before Cain returns home for the summer.

Chase of a Lifetime by Ryan Field had me from the beginning pages, with naive and closeted college graduate Jim, running into his best friend's closeted cowboy father. The instant attraction between Jim and Len, awesome sex, hot romance and serious pull of the heart-strings helps make this gay romance between older man, younger man convincing possibility. The final third of the novel will have the reader rushing through the pages to discover if these two--with everything working against them—will survive together. A truly great gay romance!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Jetsetters by David-Matthew Barnes

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


Chicago college student Justin Holt is at his barista job, talking with his lesbian boss, Starsky, when a strikingly-handsome Latino young man comes into the coffee shop, asking if he could hang up a flyer advertising his band's show at a nearby club. Justin buys Diego a cup of coffee, and it seems obvious to an observer - Starsky, Justin's lesbian employer - that there is definite chemistry between them. This becomes more apparent when Justin goes to the show, and his band mates, who immediately identify Justin as "that guy" Diego has been talking about. 

Of course, love rarely develops without some obstacles along the way, and Diego and Justin encounter more than their share of these, with Diego's touring schedule, shakeups with the band's other temperamental members, an unexpected tragedy, and Justin's fear that he might be unintentionally hurting Diego's chances for musical success. Decisions are made, and life goes on, in this emotionally bittersweet exploration of what true love requires. 

Excellent storytelling, with relatable fully-developed characters, which is what I have come to expect from this talented author. Five stars out of five.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Murder In The Garden District by Greg Herren

Reviewer: Jon Michaelsen
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Pages: 256

Reading one of Greg Herren’s Chanse MacLeod mysteries is akin to curling up in bed with knees tucked beneath the covers and sipping a cup of hot cocoa. In order words – for me at least – reading a book in this this series is like a homecoming, comfortable, homely…and, incredibly addictive. Herren’s #5 entry in the series of six mysteries thus far has become one of my favorites. I read this one out of sequence since I had to wait until Murder In The Garden District was released in ebook format. Mr. Herren explained to me last year that he was waiting for the rights to revert back to him to get the title re-released as an ebook. I read Murder in the Irish Channel December last year and the first in the series, Murder In The Rue Dauphine last March (again waiting for the novel to be released via ebook).

Reading the Chanse MacLeod mysteries out of order is not a problem; each novel stands on its own, however, reading them sequentially, the reader gets a real good feel of the personal challenges each of the main characters, Chanse MacLeod and Venus Casanova, face throughout their trials and tribulations – indeed growth – from excitement, to setbacks, to heartache and of course, the wrath of mother nature.

In Murder In The Garden District, we learn right away former cop, private eye Chanse MacLeod is hired to investigate the murder of a leading candidate in an upcoming senatorial race. The man was a scion of Louisiana’s political world, loathed by many, with a very young wife, long held secrets and a grand-dame matriarch mother determined to keep the family name untarnished at any cost, regardless of breaking any laws. Sound familiar?

The premise may seem familiar to many a mystery lover, but Murder In The Garden District is anything but a mirror image of those novels which fail to provide the right balance of deft mystery with the realistic, personal side of the protagonist. Herren succeeds in offering us a tightly drawn mystery, with a thrilling backstory driving the angst and excitement of the last twenty odd pages or so. My favorite portion of the story however centers on yet another monster hurricane unleashed by mother nature and headed straight for New Orleans not a year or two after the devastating killer, Katrina. Here is where Herren reveals the true art of writing, the inherit gift of personal insight, the chilling anguish and fear brought about by yet another storm.

New Orleans becomes a character all of its own in this fifth installment of the private eye, Chanse MacLeod series, making Murder In The Garden District more than worth the read. Considering the political climate today with highly contested local, regional and national elections across the country, Garden is timely as Herren delves into the political arena of conspiracy, money and power in New Orleans., all framed within a murder under interesting circumstances in which MacLeod must steer clear of implicating a member of the family as killer and pin the murder on someone else.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sidecar by Amy Lane

Reviewer:  Bob Lind, Echo Magazine 
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press, June 2012, 
Pages: 255

On his way home from his job as a pediatric nurse at a hospital, Joe Daniels finds a young man by the side of the road, obviously in need of help. 16 year old Casey had run away from his parents, who could not deal with the revelation that he was gay. Still suspicious from a run-in with an abusive trucker who had picked him up when he first accepted a ride, Casey was wary about accepting Joe's offer of a ride and a meal, wondering what he would expect in return. As a turned out, Casey had lucked out, since Joe was an exceptionally caring and generous individual who simply wanted to help, as he had helped other runaways, both male and female, he found along the roads in his sparsely-populated Northern California town. 

Usually, Joe would first get the runaways calmed-down and fed, listen to the story they needed to tell someone, and then get then back home, or, if not feasible, call the local authorities to intercede. But Joe felt something special in talking with Casey, and arranged for him to stay as long as he wanted. Casey was thrilled with the arrangement, which included him going back to school and helping Joe with the significant renovations he was doing on his home. More than thankful, Casey also felt a connection with Joe, and was not shy about suggesting they become lovers, something that Joe immediately discouraged. Years passed, and both Casey and Joe had other relationships, but there was always something missing from those encounters, a closeness and love that they only had for each other.

The author weaves an outstanding story of love, compassion and faith, illustrating our ability to create an extended "family" based on trust and cooperation, The book spans a twenty-five year period, starting in 1986, and is very realistic on how the world and people can change in that period of time. Significant erotic content is not out of place, but reinforces defining the relationships between the characters. Excellent "It Gets Better"-ish message for gay youth and others facing adversity. Bravo! Five stars out of five. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Empty Family by Colm Toibin

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Scribner
Pages: 275

Nine exquisitely crafted stories make up this gem of a book, set in present-day Ireland, 1970’s Spain, and nineteenth-century England. Each story is a unique perspective on loneliness, desire, and love-lost.

“Silence” presents Lady Gregory, a woman married to a man she abhors. Her loneliness is temporarily quenched by an impeccable lover, but she is then abandoned by love and forced to live out her life, never being able to speak of her one great passion.

“Two Women” tells of a prickly set designer who takes a job in her hometown in Ireland, and is forced to confront the emotions of loss she has long repressed.

“The Street” draws a portrait of Pakistani immigrants working in Spain who must hide their relationship while living in a community ruled by the laws set forth in the Koran, obedience to Allah, and silence.

All nine stories are shatteringly beautiful, thought provoking, and poignant, but these three stand out as superlative.  Toibin is a master of the written word, presenting immaculately crafted stories with vivid, unsensationalized prose.

The Empty Family was my introduction to this author, but I was so impressed that I will acquire every book of fiction he has published. This volume of nine stories will go on my favorite’s shelf and will be re-read again and again.

For readers looking for warm, happily ever after, my advice is to keep looking. For readers who demand rich, bittersweet, and profound storytelling, then run to the nearest bookstore and buy a copy, or two. This is literature at its finest.