Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Strange Bedfellows by Rob Byrnes

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


Just in time for the November elections is this amusing novel about a crime scam built on political backstabbing, "sexting" and internet gossip bloggers. 

Austin Peebles has the political support, looks and charisma to win his first election to Congress. Unfortunately, he unwisely snaps a picture of his genitals, e-mails it to the wrong place, and it is forwarded to a conservative blogger who is threatening to publish it, which would ruin his career. His mother-in-law, also in Congress, insists her aide (who is also Austin's campaign manager) hire someone to prevent that from happening.

Enter the gang of gay and lesbian petty thieves, con artists, misfits, a bungling barfly, and a larcenous soccer mom - originally introduced in Byrnes' two previous novels - who agree to take on the job. Led by Grant and his partner Chase, they plan to infiltrate the office and apartment of the blogger, and cart off any computer or smart phone on which the image may be stored. Unfortunately, there's more to this than they are led to believe, and the job becomes more complicated, forcing them to utilize additional help, including a young man who dresses up in superhero costumes. 

Byrnes delivers his usual well-written, very amusing, fast-paced story-telling, getting his characters into seemingly improbably scenarios, but with a thread of realism and NYC-centric flavor that makes it seem possible, as well as wildly entertaining. (I'm still having nightmares about Argentine Leaping Bedbugs!) Five stars out of five. 



Sunday, August 26, 2012

THIRD YOU DIE (Kevin Connor Mysteries) by Scott Sherman

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine 
Publisher: Kensington, Sept 2012
Pages: 288

Compromise is part of any relationship, and Kevin Connor gave up his lucrative (but dangerous) work as an in-demand Manhattan call-boy, in order to appease his lover Tony, a New York City police detective. Ironically, Kevin ends up working for his mother, Sophie, who parlayed a memorable debacle on a daytime talk show into her own such show. 

When "Sophie's Voice" does an episode about sex trade workers, Kevin meets Brent, a gay porn star who looks enough like him to startle both of them, and they have a nice conversation. When Kevin tries to contact Brent later, there is no answer, and he finds out that nobody has seen him since a few days after the TV appearance, he remembers Brent mentioned he wanted to leave the business, but worried about angering those who had set him up in it. As the weeks pass, and the young man is still missing, Kevin looks into his disappearance, and finds out the kind of hold the studio might have had on him. 

Kevin is also dealing with Tony's remaining closeted to his co-workers, friends and young son, which forces Kevin into "Best Friend" mode when anyone else is around. Kevin wonders if Tony is as committed to the relationship as he is. 

This is (obviously) the third in the series, and perhaps the best so far. Sherman crafts an engaging mystery, tempered with colorful characters and his quick wit throughout. While not absolutely necessary to read the series in order (since enough back-story is given), I recommend you catch up on the previous books as well. This is probably my favorite current mystery series, and seems to get better with each new book. Five stars out of five!


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rising Above It All: A Memoir by Terry Lee

Foreword by Casey D. Eberhart
Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: On the Inside Press, August 2012
Pages: 215

There is no shortage of memoirs detailing an author's overcoming adversity in his life, and it would usually be easy to lump this one in with those. But reading this amazing book makes it clear that Terry Lee has clearly had much more than his share of physical, medical and emotional challenges, starting with his abusive parents and grandfather, and the isolation of growing up gay in a small Arizona border town. A serious accident as a child was the first of several times in his life that he was expected not to survive, but he did, seeming to gain strength from each such ordeal. He battled government bureaucracy, careless medical providers, and recovering from the death of a partner. At the same time, he managed to renew his faith in God, and reconciled his ability to "see things" as an undeveloped psychic gift. The book also goes detail about a natural food supplement which has proved amazingly beneficial in restoring health to him when he has been ill, sometimes from the toxic HIV medications that had been prescribed decades ago. 

The book is very well written, and awesomely inspiring, regardless of your personal battles. Wish it were longer. Some may question that it sometimes seems like an "infomercial" for the supplement he advocates (He gets no compensation for doing so, and, in retrospect, should have mentioned that in the book), but it seems obvious to me that this obviously was a major force in his life, and thus belongs in the book. Available at Amazon, currently in print only. I give it four stars out of five. 


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Shirts and Skins by Jeffrey Luscombe

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Pages: 223

Jeffrey Luscombe’s debut novel features Josh Moore, who lives with his dysfunctional family in the gritty industrial city of Hamilton, Ontario. At an early age, Josh plans his escape from the oppressive steel-mill culture, and dreams of adventures in far away places, but year after year Josh’s dreams take a backseat while he grows further immersed in the town and society that he abhors.

The novel is a series of well-written short stories, each one a snapshot of a time during Josh Moore’s life. Every story is finely crafted to show the development of each turning point in the protagonist’s life, and illustrates how life can, inch by inch, crush a person’s dreams and the will to fight for what one believes.

Although each story brilliantly captures a mood and paints a vivid picture, it took me a long time to warm to this lead character, about 180 pages. I simply didn’t care about him or his dreams because the author didn’t do enough to make me connect with him. That made for a somewhat dull read, but things changed in the last 40 pages. I began to cheer for Josh, and finally became absorbed in his story.

I’m not a huge fan of coming out stories, but this one I can highly recommend, because I feel it is more about overcoming a lifetime of bad choices to finally savor that sweet wine of triumph. It is about battling one’s culture and past, to find one’s identity. Shirts and Skins is a story that, I feel, everyone can relate to.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Into The Garden With Charles: A Memoir by Clyde Phillip Wachsberger

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 2012
Pages: 224

Clyde was a quiet boy, fascinated by the vast variety of flowers and trees, and appreciating artwork that depicted their beauty. Coming of age during the Stonewall era, Clyde knew he was gay, but falling in love (or even having sex) always took a back seat to his horticultural interests, and friends and acquaintances accepted that he was a loner. When visiting a friend in Orient, on the North fork of Long Island, he fell in love with an old, historic house with overgrown shrubs and trees, and bought it on impulse. The house's garden became his mistress, and he was happy, but lonely, in his world. A friend convinced him to answer a personals ad, and he was stunned to find a kindred spirit in Charles, who had a similar interest in unusual and beautiful plants and trees, and they soon settled in to a life together.

The book is very well written, generally a positive life lesson on following your dreams, though it also has its share of disappointments and adversity. This is ideal for someone who, like the author, has a keen interest in unusual plants and trees, but the horticultural detail given may tend to diminish the enjoyment for those who, like me, have trouble distinguishing plants from weeds in a garden. Overall, four stars out of five. 


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

FONTANA by Joshua Martino

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

When struggling NYC newspaper sports writer Jeremy Rusch first sees the NY Mets' new hitting sensation, Ricky Fontana, he knows the young outfielder is destined for greatness. From the start of his second professional season, there is conjecture that Fontana could easily surpass hitting records set by legendary superstars like Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, and Jeremy believes it could easily happen. He hitches his writing career to the increasing popularity of the hitting phenom, while neglecting his personal life, leading to an increasing alcohol problem, to the point where his wife leaves him. 

One night, while leaving a bar alone, Jeremy discovers Ricky Fontana sharing a tender kiss with another man, which seems to instantly explain the ballplayer's hesitancy to talk to reporters or teammates about his private life. Under pressure to try to save his job, Jeremy "outs" him, though in a way that he believed would be supportive and help him be more relaxed in his life. Being the first "outed" player who was still playing major league ball, Ricky faced scrutiny that nobody had before, from the public as well as teammates and coaches. His sexuality somehow became a bigger story than his impressive stats, and he faced daily struggles in his professional as well as personal life. Jeremy can't get Ricky to speak with him, and enlists the aid of the young man he had spotted him kissing.

As an avid MLB fan as well as a gay man, I initially thought the book was unnecessarily dark, and that - in this day and age - an openly gay baseball player would not be that big of a deal. Reading further, I had to admit that the scenarios were all too realistic as to what could indeed happen, and perhaps we are not as far along as I had given us credit to have come. As such, I recommend this well-written book, which likely will have you thinking along the same lines. Five stars out of five. 


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Eromenos by Melanie McDonald

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Seriously Good Books
Pages: 168

This coming-of-age novel is set in the second century AD, and recounts the seven-year relationship between Emperor Hadrian and Antinous of Bithynia, a Greek youth from Asia Minor. Told from Antinous’s point of view, this story recounts the affair between the fourteenth emperor of Rome and a Greek farmboy that was raised to the height of a pagan god because of his famous beauty.

The author gives rigorous attention to historical accuracy in recreating Roman society in the second century AD, and presents it with beautiful prose, which is by far the highlight of this otherwise dull novel.

The first third of the book is mostly description about the setting, with few scenes and no conflict to speak of. In fact, the writer’s style of telling, telling, telling, keeps the reader at a distance from the characters, and offers very few engaging scenes throughout the book, making it read like a dry history book. I found it lacking in exploring the interpersonal relationship between Antinous and Hadrian, which left me wanting more.

The author offers up a few petty court squabbles as a way to inject drama, but they seem so insignificant that they don’t register on the interest scale.

This is obviously a well-researched novel, told with a lovely voice, but it is not a book I can recommend.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Bay of Foxes by Sheila Kohler

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine 
Publisher: Penguin Books, June 2012
Pages: 240

Dawit is a young, well-educated and attractive escaped political prisoner from Ethiopia, barely existing while living on the streets of Paris, when he has a chance encounter with "M", a 60-something famous author whose books Dawit has adored. She invites Dawit to live with her, first in her Paris apartment and later in her villa in Sardinia, with him acting as her secretary and muse. While she recognizes early that Dawit is only attracted to other men, she can't help her dreams that somehow this situation will change, and they will become lovers. When Dawit meets an Italian man whom he starts to see regularly, it becomes painfully clear to M that her fantasy will never happen, and she tells him to leave the villa. Since this will not only leave him penniless but could result in his being captured and returned to prison in his homeland, Dawit knows he cannot let this happen, and takes drastic measures. 

This talented author, best known for her "Becoming Jane Eyre," spins a riveting psychological thriller with both gay and straight erotic overtones. It makes the reader consider how far a disturbed but plainly intelligent individual can justify his actions for a seemingly fair resolution to an otherwise bad situation. It also makes powerful statements about division between economic and social classes of people, with very different priorities. Captivating read, which I give five stars out of five.