Sunday, December 29, 2013

Alien Quest by Mark Zubro

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: MLR Press, (August 2013)
Pages: 355

Five Stars Out of Five.

When Mike Carlson stops to help an attack victim lying in a Chicago street, he never dreamed of the adventure to follow. He had spotted the man earlier, while working as a waiter in a popular gay restaurant, and noted some apparent eccentricities of behavior. He soon found out why: John was actually a traveler from another planet, sent to bring back a criminal who is believed to be hiding there on Earth. As they start talking, Mike is curious about the alien, but also finds himself somewhat attracted to the hunky, intelligent young man. Could the attraction be mutual?

It is great to see one of my favorite gay mystery writers back in action, and this new series could fill a needed niche in the sci-fi genre. Like all of Zubro’s works, this is a well-written story that features fully-nuanced gay and straight characters in realistic situations. I’m not a huge sci-fi fan, but I loved every page of this, as he resisted the common mistake of making things we don’t understand too far “over the top” to be believed. Worth a read.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Viking
Translated by: Dolores M. Koch
Pages: 317

Before Night Falls is Reinaldo Arenas’s stunning autobiography—a brave and unrestrained account of his life as a gay writer under the Castro regime. Arenas, acknowledged as one of the great twentieth-century Cuban writers, was born in 1943 into a poor, rural Cuban family. At the age of fifteen, he joined Castro’s guerrillas against the Batista’s right-wing regime, only to find that corruption and oppression under Castro was far, far worse.

Early in Reinaldo’s writing career, he had two manuscripts smuggled out of Cuba and published in France. That simple act branded him a traitor, and he spent twenty years surviving his “re-education” which included several years of imprisonment at El Morro prison in Havana.  The conditions he describes of El Morro are as hellish as any Jewish concentration camp, Russian Gulag, or Bangkok prison.

Reinaldo was able to flee Cuba in 1980 during the Mariel exodus, and lived in New York until losing a battle with AIDS in 1990. Before Nightfall was begun before Arenas left Cuba and was completed shortly before he died.

The thing that leaps out at the reader is Arenas’s vivacity, resilience, and his vast courage. This is a truly inspiring read. This book is raw, fierce and shocking, yet often touching and lyrical. It is particularly well written, revealing the horrors of the Castro regime, but more importantly, the valor of the human spirit. A must read.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Who The Hell IS Rachel Wells? by J. R. Greenwell

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Chelsea Station Editions, Sept. 2013
Pages:  191

Five Stars out of Five!

One of the more challenging things for an author to do is put together a collection of his own short stories, geared to hold the reader’s interest without competing with each other for attention. The stories should have a common thread that justifies the collection, yet be unique enough so the reader doesn’t think he is being pitched several drafts of the same story or sequels to what has already been read. That’s what makes this anthology so special, in that the author has compiled eleven clever and engaging stories based in small Southern towns, some sweet and emotional, most amusing and often full of campy bitchiness! The stories are character-driven, with a diverse cast that includes drag queens with attitudes to reckon with, clueless parents trying to deal with their “fabulous” kids, criminals without a lick of common sense, and men “coming out” late in life.

It’s hard to pick my favorite of the stories, but it would have to be “Duplicity,” a brilliant look at a group of co-workers at a community center, who suddenly find themselves opening up to each other while they are being held hostage by a troubled young gunman who attended GED classes there. The interactions between each other reflect their varied personalities, as well as their abilities to handle a situation that is out of their control. You can’t help but relate it to people you know.

This is a home run for this first-time talented author, and a Southern-fried treat for his readers.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pages: 238

Peter and Rebecca Harris seem to have it all. Midforties, denizens of Manhattan’s SoHo, and within reach of the pinnacle of their careers in the arts—he’s a dealer at a second-tier gallery, she’s an editor at an art magazine. They own a fashionable loft, have a daughter in college who’s living with an older woman, enjoy influential friends, and Peter has an opportunity to take on a hot artist who will catapult his gallery into that sought-after first tier. Could life be any sweeter?

Then Rebecca’s younger brother comes for an extended visit. Ethan (given the pet name Mizzy, “the mistake”) is a handsome, beguiling, mid-twenties drifter with a history of drug problems. He is looking for direction, and Rebecca and the rest of her family is determined to help him “straighten out his life.” But rather than helping Mizzy find himself, Peter begins questioning his own career, his marriage, even his sexuality. Suddenly, Peter’s carefully constructed world doesn’t seem so appealing.

Much like his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Hours, Cunningham takes a sober look at how modern society lives. He masterfully contrasts a responsible, ambitious, serious couple with a carefree, manipulative, playboy. It is a story that resonates, that forces the reader to think long and hard about what is important in life, and how we choose to live and love.

The epigraph Cunningham chose for this work is a line from Rilke's "Duino Elegies": "Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror." It gives us the all-encompassing theme: the pursuit, use, and misuse of beauty destroys.

Like many of Cunningham’s novels, this story has plenty of gay content without becoming a “gay novel”. It has universal themes that everyone can relate to.

I’ve not always connected with Cunningham’s work, but this novel captivated me. It is perhaps not of the same brilliance as The Hours, yet it certainly shines bright as a triumphant work. The prose is always spot on and a delight to read. The characters are real, flawed, and absorbing. The story resonates with frustrated desires and unfulfilled needs. Bravo.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Light by 'Nathan Burgoine

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (Oct. 2013)
Pages: 190

Five stars out of five!

Since he was ten years old, Kieran Quinn has been aware that he has psychokinetic and telepathic skills, which he has developed quietly, as there have been instances where people with his “powers” have been harmed and even killed by people who considered them evil. As a young gay man in Ottawa, Kieran works as a masseur at a day spa, using his talents to help relax his clients. Taking his vacation during Gay Pride Week, as has been his habit, he soon finds out that there could be problems this year, due to the presence of an evangelical homophobic preacher, nicknamed Stigmatic Jack, due to his ability to make his palms bleed, claiming it is proof he is a messenger of God. He also somehow causes those who oppose him to develop mysterious bleeding cuts, and Kieran uses one variation of his powers to distract the preacher and his followers to minimize injuries. This turns out to only be the beginning of Kieran’s involvement, as he becomes the anonymous “Rainbow Man” who intercedes each time that the preacher tries to create havoc at a Gay Pride event.

Burgoine’s initial novel is a marvelously intricate story, stretching the boundaries of science and paranormal phenomena, with a cast of delightfully diverse characters, all fully nuanced and relatable to the reader. The nature of the story creates a mystery as to how this will be explained, with clues seeded throughout. The author also shows a great sense of humor, in depicting Kieran’s dismay as becoming a tacky “gay super hero,” and in his spot-on interactions with his cat and a friend’s over-affectionate dog. I honestly could not put the book down, and recommend it highly, as I look forward to his next novel.