Saturday, October 27, 2012

For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suidide When The Rainbow Is Still Not Enough Edited by Keith Boykin

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

In the continuing flood of "It Gets Better"-type books, meant to give reassurance to gay youth, comes Keith Boykin's excellent anthology of forty-four essays or poems spotlighting diverse gay youth of color. The selections, from a variety of talented authors, cross a variety of social and economic levels, and deal with issues as varied as HIV, depression, racism, sexual abuse, as well as simple bigotry against LGBT individuals. It deals with religion and spirituality on several levels, as an area of support but occasionally an excuse for intolerance. The young people portrayed deal with difficult situations that should not be allowed, but manage to find the strength to overcome such adversity. 

The stories are actually relatable to most LGBT people, regardless of race, and most readers will find a favorite or two that especially hit a note with them (My favorite was "No Asians, Blacks, Fats or Femmes" by Indie Harper, which takes on the tiny bigotries that exist in our own community.) Absolutely worth a read, and five stars out of five.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Portrait Of Phillip By J. P. Bowie

Reviewer: Jon Michaelsen
Publisher: MLR Press,LLC (January 3, 2011)
Pages: 264

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

GOD BELIEVES IN LOVE: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage by Gene Robinson

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Alfred A Knopf/Random House, September 2012
Pages:  208

Since we was appointed to be the first openly-gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, Gene Robinson has been forced into a position of being both a figurehead and a spokesperson in the LGBT community, and it is the latter that he tackles superbly in his new book. Robinson takes on not just the religious arguments against gay marriage, but also common misconceptions about same-sex parenting, scriptural passages most assume condemn homosexuality, as well as the pressures that closeted gays and lesbians deal with every day in trying to avoid confrontations about their sexuality. 

I have read more "gays vs. religion" books than I can possibly count, but none have done a better job of clearly and concisely addressing all of the issues that make for common misunderstandings about gay men or lesbians. In a remarkably straightforward manner, Robinson uses relatable metaphors and realistic scenarios to demonstrate the foolishness of most of the primary arguments against gay marriage, as well as making a strong argument why "civil unions" – or even actual marriages observed only on a state level – are simply not good enough. This is absolutely an affirming, well-constructed and valuable read, which I recommend highly to all readers. Five stars out of five. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

DANTE'S CIRCLE: An Elliott Smith and John Mystery by Dorien Grey

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine 
Publisher: Zumaya Boundless, August 2012, 
Pages: 206

Dante Benevetti is a world-known famous pianist, who is worshipped by countless music lovers, and hated by just about anyone who has personally felt ego-fueled condescention and disdain for others in his life. That's also the conclusion construction contractor Elliott Smith reaches, after Dante hires him to do some renovations at his home, and then keeps putting off payment. Collection becomes more difficult when Dante is suddenly found dead in his home, which police assume to be the unintentional result of self-medication. In his brief dealings with the man, however, Elliott has to disagree, and that suspicion is soon reinforced by his afterlife friend, John, who acts as a go-between relaying information from Dante that he was indeed the victim of murder. With so many people hating the man, there is no shortage of people with motive, so this turns out to be a rather unique case for Elliott to help his brother-in-law police detective solve. 

Dorien Grey spins a great mystery, and this is no exception to that rule. For purists of that genre, there are plenty of "red herrings" and seemingly obvious clues, which prove to be misleading. A definite page-turner, and I give it five stars out of five.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Butterfly's Child by Alan Chin

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. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Roids, Rumps & Revenge by Eric Arvin

Reviewer: Jon Michaelsen
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Pages: 17

When an ex-football player sets out to expose his steroid-pumping coach by breaking into the man’s office at night to find the stash of muscle juice he knows is there, he gets far more than he'd bargained for. Coach Mauler makes a surprise visit and flips on the lights as the footballer watches from the shadows. The team's players have gathered together for a hardened pep talk in preparation for an important game the next day. To the teammates surprise, Coach Mauler berates his player’s past performances, but proposes a suggestion that gives the word physicality a whole new meaning by offering up his sweet, muscular ass to give the boys some much needed release and to get their “heart” into their game.

Told from the footballer’s point of view--who watches as one player after another climbs aboard the massage table to take Coach Mauler in more ways than one--from being poked by Jay’s mushroom dickhead to getting ripped by Chazz’s monster cock. But revenge could not have been sweeter than when Coach Drummer of the wrestling team barges in questioning the salacious goingson. The footballer had texted Drummer and watches from the shadows with a smile pastered on his face and and his drawers down at his ankles, pumping his own meat as Coach Drummer slams into his arch nemesis.

Roids, Rumps & Revenge by Eric Arvin is every gay boys' dream and a straight boys' nightmare; well perhaps not. The colorful characters come alive in detailed observations from the protagonist, whose rural southern roots ring true in his assessments of his teammates and coaches, revealed in abrupt style by Arvin’s sharp wit and gift of penning a hot story of a somewhat over-the-top fantasy just this side of good, ol' raunchy fun.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Into The Flames by Mel Bossa

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

Dr. Jamie Scarborough is a respected psychiatrist who deals with an eclectic group of diverse, troubled patients. Most do not realize that he can relate to them far better than they'd guess, since the good doctor has a good many hang-ups as well, including a hefty dose of obsessive compulsive disorder, germ phobia, and not dealing well with a recent breakup with his lover. Besides the doctor, the story focuses on his most challenging patient, an emotionally damaged young man who later disappears without a trace, raising significant concern from his transsexual sister and others who know him. Could the key to the disappearance be one of Jamie's other patients? 

Ms. Bossa is a uniquely gifted storyteller, and I have enjoyed each of her very different - but equally well-written and engaging - novels to date. This one is a bit more of a mystery than the others, and is absolutely riveting in its pacing and focus. Much recommended - five stars out of five.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Dream Ender (Dick Hardesty #11) - by Dorien Grey

Reviewer: Jon Michaelsen
Publisher: Zumaya Publications
Pages: 224

A Tightly Plotted Mystery - Well Written, Simple And Stylish
Someone is spreading vicious rumors that a member of a popular Levi/Leather bar, The Male Call, is purposely exposing patrons to AIDS, considered by some as both preposterous and callous. Outgoing PI Dick Hardesty is hired by the bar’s owner to investigate said rumors, convinced someone is out to ruin him and his business, but not believing someone would knowingly, intentionally infect someone with the HIV virus. The story takes place in the early 1980s when HIV/AIDS was in its infancy of knowledge within the gay community. For those who lived during this time – who witnessed our friends dying left and right – the story is both poignant and surreal. It was a time when information about the disease was scarce and effects unknown. Readers unfamiliar with the horror of the time will gain insight into the shock and awe of such a virulent disease that would decimate a community within a few short years, long before enough attention was paid to what would become a modern day pandemic.
Author Dorien Grey provides readers with incredible insight through a plausible mystery both representative and factual of the time without bogging readers down in the severe emotional aspect of the crisis that cause many who survived this time to avoid, and allows us to reflect while enjoying a tightly plotted mystery. Once Hardesty confirms the rumors, the believed source of willingly spreading the deadly virus is killed and a new angle for the investigator becomes personal when his good friends (and lovers) Jake and Jared, are accused of murdering the tough, bike-riding construction worker, Cal Hysong.
Fans of Dick Hardesty no doubt will laud this solid mystery that provides enough twists, turns and investigative skill to keep all guessing, but for any first-time readers of the Hardesty Mysteries, I quickly found not knowing the history of Dick Hardesty – the enormous backstory of ten previous novels -- is moot in order to enjoy this awesome mystery. The characters are memorable, the storyline real, the mystery adroit. 
Author Dorien Grey reminds us (or educates us) of the searing face of the AIDS epidemic in the early years and of those irresponsible, cold-hearted persons intent on inflicting rage of having the disease unto others. The storyline is as significant today as thirty years ago as society moves more and more toward ignoring the painful lessons learned back in the early ‘80s. 
The Dream Ender is well-written, simple and stylish, yet deft in drawing a reader in as some no doubt will burn the midnight oil reading until the very end. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Chaser by Rick R. Reed

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press, August 2012
Pages: 224

When he goes out to gay bars, Caden gets his share of appreciative glances and flirts, likely because of his athletic runner's appearance. Kevin noticed Caden as well, and was very surprised when he came over to talk with him, since, as a chubby gay man, he was used to being treated as invisible in such situations. Caden has always been attracted to guys who were a bit beefy, and was glad to find out they had many things in common as well, as they started to date. When a family emergency took Caden out of town for an extended period of time, Kevin worried if he'd still be interested when he returned, and undertook a massive diet and exercise program to slim down, which he succeeded in doing. The homecoming was not what either was expecting since, although Caden was glad Kevin was being health conscious, he missed his chubby boyfriend. 

Master storyteller Reed puts an interesting spin on the dilemma of physical vs. emotional attraction to someone, and how it is uncomfortable for either party to discuss such feelings. The characters are relatable and well-defined, although the story seemed a bit rushed in places. Overall, a recommended read, four stars out of five.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Songs For The New Depression by Kergan Edwards-Stout

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Circumspect Press
Pages: 252

This story compiles three snapshots in the life of Gabe, a gay man with a troubled soul, biting wit, and razor sharp tongue. Each snapshot—near death, middle age, young teen—focuses on his relationship with his love interest during that fragment of his life.

Gabe is a man who, because of a sexual-bullying incident during his early years, has built up strong, thick walls around his heart, and uses his cutting wit to keep people at a distance, even though he craves love and affection. Completely self-absorbed, he is also a man that during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, was changing sexual partners as often as he was changing his socks.

This is not really what I consider an AIDS story, yet the virus plays a major role in the interplay between Gabe and his love interests. This is a sad story brushed onto the canvas with insightful, dark humor and touching flourishes.

Gabe is not a likable character, yet the author skillfully presents his protagonist in such a way that the reader understands why Gabe chooses to push people away, even people he loves. Also, the three snapshots are told in reverse-chronological order, so the reader builds up sympathy for the character while he struggles with AIDS, and then in the end, reveals the sexual incident that derailed Gabe’s life, to finally bring understanding. Reversing the order was a stroke of genius.

The author presents a story that is heartfelt and authentic, and told with great skill.

If you are looking for a gushing mm romance with a happy ending, keep looking. If you are looking, however, for a well-written, intelligent, bittersweet tale of love and overcoming a troubled past, then I can highly recommend this gem of a book. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Second Chance - by David Lennon

Reviewer: Jon Michaelsen
Publisher: CreateSpace
Pages: 314

A Solid, Well-Crafted Gay PI Novel
The third novel featuring former NOPD homicide detectives Michel Doucette and Alexandra “Sassy” Jones kicks off with the two police alumni starting out their private investigations agency and for the most part assuming the same roles they had before, albeit with more leeway where the law and evidence gathering is concerned. One of their first cases is for Chance, Doucette’s boyfriend’s best friend, who has hired the team to look into a business venture he had with two members of an organized crime family where he lost of a quarter million dollar investment. In an ironic twist, the pair is hired by the head of the same crime family in order to locate the mob boss’s missing son, and they soon finding themselves caught up in an apparent turf war between aging kingpins and an outsider moving in on the action with far more leverage than anyone sees coming.

Once again the character of Sassy Jones shins through to steal just about every scene she’s in; the woman is tough, bright and very capable, with even a hint toward a relationship with a shady fellow that raises a few eyebrows. Meanwhile Michel stumbles onto evidence that indicates the case of Chance’s bad investment may not be as cut and dried as first presented, driving the early portion of the novel before the two cases merge and more emphasis – and complexity – is put on the missing mobster’s son and resulting evidence suggesting a growing turf war.

While all is going on, Michel seems to be struggling to find solid footing in his relationship with Joel, nine years his junior, who presses for more of a commitment from the former cop – which Michel seems reluctant to give as he seems unable at times to get beyond their age gap. Add to this a dumb move on Michel part that throws a ratchet into their love affair. Stating more would reveal far too much and spoil the fun, but suffice to say readers will likely be yelling at their e-readers like I was following Michel’s stupid actions.

Second Chance is a solid, well-constructed PI novel, never allowing the reader a dull moment. The pace is quick and smooth, the suspense nail-biting. Lennon has come into his own with this third featuring Doucette-Jones novel exhibiting a solid voice and style that makes for an enjoyable read as we learn just a little more of what makes these two flawed former detectives tick and of what consequences can mean for their actions.