Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sal Mineo, A Biography by Michael Gregg Michaud

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Pages: 420

Sal Mineo was raised in a family who struggled to make ends meet. His father owned a casket factory in the Bronx, and his mother managed Sal’s early television and stage career. Sal appeared in a number of TV spots and big stage productions, including The King and I, staring Yul Brynner, before becoming one of the hottest teen stars of the fifties. His role opposite James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause made Sal into a teenaged heartthrob. Other notable movie roles were in Giant, The Gene Krupa Story, and Exodus. While still a teen, Sal was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Rebel and Exodus).

In Rebel, Sal’s character, Plato, was the first gay character to ever be shown in a Hollywood film. Many young gay guys, myself included, didn’t even understand what the movie was trying to show with that role, but we connected with it in ways no other movie role had ever done.  And of course, we fell in love with Sal. It made Sal a national sensation.

But when Sal grew into his twenties, and was no longer suitable for teen roles, his career began a long, downhill slide. Many other child stars have had difficulty making the transition to adult roles, but Sal had two other career setbacks to overcome: 1) his mother, as manager, had spent all his money supporting his family, leaving him virtually penniless;  2) He was gay, and rumors of his private affairs began circulating around Hollywood and Broadway, and that was the kiss of death for this remarkably talented actor.

Michaud does an excellent job of presenting Sal Mineo’s rise to stardom, his mother’s mismanagement of his career, and the wild life he unsuccessfully tried to keep under wraps. The book is extremely well written and paced, while still managing to include a great deal of detail of the actors life and untimely death.

The book goes into excellent detail regarding Sal’s movies and the major television roles, as well as Sal’s failed attempts at producing/directing. It also gives the dirt on Sal’s private life, with accounts from several of his ex-lovers.

Movie buffs will certainly enjoy this meticulous look into Sal Mineo’s highs and lows, his dreams and ghosts, but this book can be enjoyed by everyone, because it is not merely a presentation of Sal’s life, but also a peek into that elusive thing we call The Entertainment Business.  I thought it was brilliant, with something noteworthy on every page.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Big Business by Carey Parrish

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Gliza Media Group
Pages: 281

The residents of Number 56 Kensington Street, Holland Park, London are off on a another adventure when a new tenant, Sandra Leverock, moves into a flat on the third floor. Sandra is an upwardly mobile attorney who is engaged to an Aerospace Tycoon, Edgar Allardice. Tensions rise when busybody, landlady Mrs. Shugart, with her ally Mr. Humbolt realize that Sandra is the niece of her old nemesis, Margaret Armstrong.

Mrs. Shugart finds herself grappling with a past she had hoped was dead and buried, while Sandra unwittingly becomes embroiled in a mystery that seems to center around her aunt Margaret’s controlling shares in a lucrative Aerospace corporation. When dead bodies begin to pile up around Sandra, the other tenants—American journalists Rob Brent, Jeff Schrader, and DJ Pack—get sucked into a messy situation while trying to investigate the mystery on Sandra’s behalf. They uncover a plot that involves murder, intrigue, and corporate ruthlessness that threatens every member of Number 56 Kensington Street.

Big Business is Carey Parrish’s sequel to his novel, Marengo, and I’m happy to report that this novel showcases the author’s talents at his best. As with Marengo, the author creates a cast of interesting and charming characters, and weaves them into a tense, thoughtful mystery. Bottom line is, this is solid storytelling.

The author creates a delightful voice that has a distinctly British tone. The plot is breezy and fun. Each character has his/her own set of issues to deal with, while at the same time working to help the others. I was often not sure who the protagonist was because Mr. Parrish does such an excellent job of delving into each of the main characters’ lives. The fact that I already knew most of these players added to my enjoyment, but it is not necessary to read the first installment, Marengo. Big Business easily stands on its own.

I did find the ending somewhat predictable, which did not lessen my enjoyment. The only minor issue I did note was that after the mystery had been resolved, the author when on for several pages, summing up the plot that I already knew. I believe Mr. Parrish could have tightened the ending by a dozen pages and the result would have been a more satisfying ending.

That minor issue aside, I can highly recommend this novel, and I look forward to the next adventure from the tenants at Number 56 Kensington Street, Holland Park.

Other novels I’ve enjoyed from Carey Parrish are: Marengo and The Moving Finger Writes. You can read more about this novel and the author at:

Taxi Rojo by Erik Orrantia

Reviewer: Victor J. Banis
Publisher: Cheyenne Publishing
Pages: 212

Rating, 4.5 stars out of 5
Buy Link:

Tijuana—the melting pot of Mexico, the gateway to the U.S., the armpit of Baja California. Two million souls struggle for survival, each searching for a way to become ... something, anything better. Fate brings a few strangers together one night in a crowded taxi rojo. When the red taxi crashes down a canyon, it creates a connection between the passengers that, like the international border within sight of the crash, draws a line between triumph and defeat, hopelessness and perseverance, life and death.

Erik Orrantia is the Lambda Literary Award winning author of Normal Miguel (Cheyenne Publishing, 2010) and The Equinox Convergence (Etopia Press, 2011). He brings you a first-hand view of life on the south side of the world’s busiest international border Taxi Rojo.

The Review:
Author Erik Orrantia returns to something near top form with this, his third novel. In the style of Thornton Wilder’s classic The Bridge of San Luis Rey, the novel uses a tragic disaster – in this case, the crash of one of Tijuana’s route taxis, the eponymous red taxi of the title – to link together the stories of a diverse group of characters.
Pancha (Francisco at his birth and Sponge Barbie on stage) is a drag performer at the Tijuana bar El Taurino.

Rigo and Cristian are in a long term relationship, but Rigo is in a hot relationship with Toni, who is married and sees himself as strictly heterosexual despite his sexual encounters with Rigo and other males.

Oscar Sepulveda is an old man with, on this particular night, a new young trick, Derek.
Julia is a straight woman, overworked as a domestic for an American family in San Diego, commuting every day from the suburb, Playas de Tijuana, and worried that her visitor’s visa is soon due to expire, leaving her unemployed.

Fate brings these people together in the same taxi, the night it runs off the road and crashes. Julia blames herself for causing the accident in which Rigo breaks a leg and Pancha loses a tooth. The driver is killed, as is Oscar Sepulveda, and Derek disappears with Oscar’s wallet, leaving Oscar without identification and condemned to a common grave for unknowns.
Like the ripples in a stream when a pebble is cast into it, the consequences of the taxi crash continue to radiate out into the lives of the survivors.

Orrantia’s strength as a writer is in his ability to conjure up ordinary people struggling with their own personal, and often prosaic, problems–a young gay couple sorting out issues of fidelity, a latent homosexual struggling with his identity, a good-hearted but overtaxed woman trying to care for her family, a drag queen finding love where he least expects it – Clearly these are not earth shattering matters, but they are of a sort with which most of us can identify. Which is to say, most of us have known these people, even shared their burdens.

The author uses that gift here to usher us not only into the lives of his characters but into their hearts as well. And Sin City itself, Tijuana, becomes very nearly another character in the book. Having spent time in some of the locations the author describes—even to riding in a taxi rojo—I found myself nodding my head in agreement as I read – yes, I’ve walked by that fountain, been in those bars, down to Playas, and stood in line at that border crossing (the busiest in the world, I’m told.) All of them are brought vividly to life here.

The novel is not without its flaws, perhaps the worst of them being that too many of the problems seem to just vanish, rather than being resolved by the characters struggling with them. Happy resolutions pop up gratuitously, important actions are left unexplained, and coincidence plays too big a role. And a more careful edit would have been welcome.

Still, the author’s affection for his characters is palpable, and most readers will find it easy to share and to savor their triumphs –yes, admittedly they are sometimes mundane triumphs, but of such is much of life constructed. Few of us win the great fortune, or find ourselves the love object of the gorgeous alpha male or any of the other fairy-tale endings common to so much fiction. For most of us, day to day happiness is more likely to resemble the quasi-Italian dinner Julia and Roberto share, or just the fellowship of good friends like Pancha and his “sisters” in drag—what triumph can equal the cementing of real friendships? Orrantia’s stories are securely grounded in the day to day vicissitudes of real life, where just getting the use of a wheelchair, or scoring a new visa, can feel as grand as winning the lottery.

And it would take a genuine churl not to enjoy the special performance that Pancha and his sisters put on for the Great Second Anniversary of the Third Grand Opening of El Taurino. One can all but smell the smoke-filled air, hear the loud music and the cheering crowds. When the show concludes with this scene, it is indeed easy to believe that, in the words of the song, “Ooh Child, things will get brighter.”

For his finale, Sponge Barbie, or Pancha, or Francisco, had made an impulse decision. He wore a pair of khaki shorts and a white T-shirt; he had a knit beanie set back on his head, covering all but the front part of his short hair. The audience stayed quiet as the first notes of the final number came through the speaker. “Things Are Gonna Get Easier,” by the Five Stairsteps.

The English was simple enough for the border town population, most folks at least vaguely familiar with the song and its meaning. Pancha used only charm as she sang the words without dramatic flair, thinking as she did so of her past, her struggles, and the sunshine she now enjoyed. For this crowd, it was a universal story.

Halfway through the song, the dressing room door swung open. Rosa Fuschia came out first, having partially undressed already, which left her lame arm and its scrawny musculature on public display in her sleeveless undershirt. She stood beside Francisco and yanked off her own wig to the delight of the crowd.

Debi Do and Arturo followed. Debi had changed into a homemade muumuu in orange tie-dye, and Arturo wore the bottom half of a leotard, his shaved chest bare. They came out and formed an impromptu line, the lack of advance planning resulting in a bit of clumsiness utterly different from the radiant choreography of the rest of the show. They swung their hips together in their dressed-down glory, each of the girls guessing at the lyrics and smiling brightly while living the moment. A few lighters flickered around the bar. After a minute, an older gay couple dared to come up to the stage and join them, and a couple of tears streamed down Francisco’s cheeks…

Good show, Mr. Orrantia.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The God Killer by Charles Alan Long

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: CreateSpace
Pages: 335

There is a new serial killer in the town of Normandy, Ohio, and he has a uniquely sick calling card: he arranges his killings to simulate the deaths of gods from Norse, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythology. Each crime scene is littered with symbolic clues, carefully chosen to indicate which god the victim represents.

The killer is extremely meticulous, and leaves no clues. Neither Detective Dylan Black nor his partner Vivienne Sheffield are versed in folklore, so they are both pleased to find that the first victim’s neighbor, Trevor McDaniel, is a mythology buff. But Trevor is more than a college student majoring in mythology, he is also gay, and when he and Detective Black work together, the sparks fly.

The killer strikes again and again, and each crime scene becomes more gruesome, more disturbing. It is clear he tortures his victims for several hours before eventually killing them. As the two detectives race to find the man before he can kill again, Dylan and Trevor become involved, hiding their budding relationship. What they don’t know, is that the killer is watching them. He knows what is developing, and will stop at nothing to put an end to their growing love.

This story is a tense, gruesome, emotional rollercoaster ride. The prose is not particularly noteworthy, and the characters do not have much depth, but make no mistake, it is a fast-paced page-turner that will keep you guessing all the way to the last page.

The author presents a great deal of mythological information, which adds interest to both the murders and the antagonist. The thing that worked best for me was the unhurried, romantic manner in which the author built the relationship between Dylan and Trevor. That connection was handled with skill, making the reader really care about these lovers.

I also enjoyed the fact that the author occasionally put me inside the killer’s mind, giving me a depth of understanding as to his motives and his flaws. I only wish the author would have spent more time telling the story from the killer’s point of view.

This is a story that mystery buffs will enjoy, and also readers looking for a good romance. I can highly recommend The God Killers.