Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Plain Of Bitter Honey by Alan Chin

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books, June 2013
Pages: 225

Bravo … 5 stars out of 5

Take a look at America in the year 2055. The fundamentalist Christians have taken over, and have brought government corruption to a frightening level. Banks failed, farms stopped producing, free enterprise no longer existed, and inflation made food and all goods a luxury. Rich people fled the United States in droves, until the government began to forbid it. Poor people, along with racial and religious minorities, and anyone gay or lesbian, were banished to guarded "slums" located in various locations, including what used to be The Castro in San Francisco. Most Americans felt powerless to do anything but comply, with the exception of a silent group of resistance fighters, which the government spent countless time and resources to try to destroy.

It is in this context that we meet Aaron Swann, a longtime resistance fighter, and his twin brother, Hayden. Hayden is gay, a lot less militant, but admires the work his brother does, and worries about him. When the government forces ambush Aaron's group, while Hayden was visiting, he takes off on his motorcycle to divert the attention of the attackers, and ends up in jail, where they believe he is Aaron. Aaron and his supporters vow to break Hayden out of jail, and then they can all retreat north along the coast, to a secret hideout of the resistance known as The Plain of Bitter Honey. The trip won't be easy, with the government monitoring their every move with a secret tracking device. They'll also need to contend with the Caliban, a rogue group of fierce cannibalistic fighters who control most of the land north of the Bay Area.

I've said in the past that Alan Chin is my favorite author, and that is still the case with this new book. It is best described as a sci-fi/speculative/political novel, so unlike any of his previous works I have seen, and he handles the genre with mastery. The story is action-packed, well-constructed and expertly told, with a diverse, developed cast of gay and straight characters working together in situations that risks not only their lives, but perhaps the future of this country. Bravo … five stars out of five.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Facialist by Mykola Dementiuk

Reviewer: David Sullivan
Publisher: Create Space (Aug. 2012)
Pages: 150

Bottom line: Very good book; I recommend it and intend to read it again!

It’s New York City in the 1950’s when Timmy discovers his own sexuality. But he’s aroused by men and women, which confuses him. Then Timmy meets Dickie, who likes to take young men under his wing and teach them the arts of fellatio, and Dickie's current young protégé, Shelly.

But Dickie is abusive, much like the men who have used Timmy for their own sexual release since he was a child. His attraction turns to Shelly, but who wants nothing to do with him.

Timmy is also seduced by an older Polish woman, an acquaintance of his mother’s. Confused by his own desires, Timmy returns to his favorite activity -- cruising the pathways of Tompkins Square Park.  (End of blurb)

The story opens in the resort Coney Island, New York. Since I grew up across the river in New Jersey I liked the book right away and was prepared to be disappointed as sometimes occurs with books. Didn’t happen here.

Mr. Dementiuk writes quite well, so well that in several parts of the book I realized I was sitting with tension in my chair, gripping the arm and/or holding my breath (Gosh, how often does that happen in a book?)

I’m bisexual and was confused from an early age. I thought it had to be I like men or women. This book offers no psychological solutions except to let readers know they are not alone. We all struggle; LGBT folks struggle more.

The book is easy to read and is a classic page-turner. It didn’t send me to the dictionary more than a few times unlike some books where authors seem to want to show off a vocabulary.

Who would benefit from reading this? Anyone of any age who is LGBT or anyone who desires some insight into the pain and suffering that comes from being alone with no one to talk to about one’s sexuality and what it’s like to be insulted and rejected merely because nature failed to make one ‘average’ (heterosexual.) My hat is off the author.

What I didn’t like: It ended. I could have gone for another hundred pages. My hat is off to the author, who I am not related to and don’t have any business relationships with. Damn, I ended a sentence with a preposition.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Modern Library (2012)
Pages: 509

Cloud Atlas is a collection of six stories which all happen at radically different times in history, yet all entwined in such a way as to explore fundamental questions of reality and identity, and how the two link over time.  On a secondary level, it is a study of oppression, of overcoming man’s worst enemy—himself.

It begins in 1850 as an American notary, Adam Ewing, voyages across the Pacific. Ewing falls under the care of a corrupt doctor, Dr. Goose, who treats him for a rare species of brain parasite, but has dark intentions. The second story jumps to Belgium in 1931, where an impoverished, gay composure, Robert Frobisher, takes a job helping an infirm maestro compose the last works of his life, and is seduced by the composures wife. Story number three takes place on the California coast in the 1970s. A troubled reporter for a third-rate paper, Luisa Rey, stumbles upon a corporate plot surrounding a nuclear power plant.  She becomes tangled in a web of greed and murder that threatens her life. The next story is a tragic/comic tale of Timothy Cavendish, a publisher who’s brother locks him away in a mental hospital in present-day England. The most creative story is a futurist story in Korea where neocapitalism has run amok, and slaves are cloned to perform all service tasks. An underground uprising is in the works to free the slaves, and their only weapon is truth. The final story is set in a post-apocalyptic age in Hawaii, where survival is based on brute strength and cunning.

One of the things I loved most about this novel is that each story is told in a unique and purely captivating voice. Likewise, the characters and settings in each story are equally as distinctive. It felt like reading multiple stories from six different authors all on a common theme, yet all these disparate characters connect, their fates intertwine, and their souls drift across time like clouds across a globe.

I confess that Robert Frobisher’s story stood out as my favorite. Told in the form of letters to his lover, Rufus Sixsmith, it is one of the most touching gay love stories I’ve read in years. The letters create an intimacy that is both moving and poignant. Still, all six stories are superbly executed, equally captivating.

This book has everything a reader could ask for, as fun and wild as a rollercoaster, as mysteriously wise as a Zen koan. It is grand and fearless, foreign and strange, yet strikingly intimate. I can’t wait to read it again.

Friday, June 21, 2013

My Three Dads by Zane Silva

Publisher: Silver Stream Press (June, 2013)
Reviewer: Mick Mykola Dementiuk
Pages: 56

A delightful YA novella, which I read with great pleasure.

In My Three Dads by Zane Silva the main character, Carl, shows us the confusing world he has been abandoned to, foster parent after foster parent and none finding him acceptable, that is until he is taken in by Leonard and James, two gay men, who for the first time show him some kind of human love, understanding and kindness.

That is until his biological father, who had abandoned him at the age of two and hasn’t seen him until he is a grown teenager, shows up and is outraged that some queers will be taking over his son’s life. And the Youth Counselors totally agree with him! What a mess that is, boy oh boy… But the story isn’t only for teens; adults can get a glimpse into themselves, too

Zane Silva writes with disciplined ease and the size of the novella is perfect for a YA’s  attention, it easy and comfortable. I recommend this writer highly and give the story a top rating of 10. A must read! 

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

I'm an author with over 18 stories published. I read this book because it was a Pulitzer winner; most authors read a lot to improve their writing. I'm also a paid editor for a publisher.

First, it's a good book, but I was left wondering why it won a Pulitzer. The other reviews, before mine, are accurate in description of the plot so I won't repeat it takes place in North Korea, etc. As much as the story notes the N. Korean regime accusing the USA of being a propaganda machine and terror to the world, this book seems almost like propaganda. Maybe it's accurate; no way to know. I think a short preface to the book would be helpful to state the details of brutality, hunger and poverty are accurate or exaggerated, like is often done on TV and the movies.

As an author, I keep pen and paper with me as I read to write great words or phrases to borrow (this is often done; not plagiarism). I only wrote two things from this book. I enjoyed reading the book, but sometimes/often had to re-read because of jumps in the story between reality and hallucinations. I think there's a believability issue when a common N. Korean citizen is allowed on a diplomatic/political mission to visit a senator from Texas, and the same common citizen (an orphan of sorts, an insult and lower class status) ends up associating with the leader of N. Korea.

When I read Alan Chin's "A Lonely War" a few years ago I wrote four pages of useful, sometimes awesome, words and phrases that have enhanced my writing. I've re-read Mr. Chin's book and intend to buy more of his works. Note: He's not a friend or relative, he is just a great writer and I think "The Lonely War" would be better than this book I'm reviewing. Just my opinion. I pride myself on being fair and honest.

There is a homophobic threat that runs through most of the story, all male related. The term of  ‘man attack’ is often used. One high level military leader, who was credited with ridding the military of all homosexuals was killed when he attempted to rape a man. Ironic that someone so openly opposed to gay activity was closeted.

Confessions of a Gay Rugby Player by Patrick Darcy

Publisher: Wilde City Press (May 2013)
Reviewer: Jon Michaelsen
Pages: 34

Strong, athletic, hot muscular guys your fantasy, then Confessions of a Gay Rugby Player is the perfect sizzling erotic adventure! Clearly author Patrick Darcy is writing from first-hand experience.

Star Irish rugby player, Conor Murphy, lives and breathes rugby. He spends his weekends playing rugby, drinking beer, and singing songs with his teammates. There is only one thing he loves more than rugby, and that is hot rugby players. But after the final whistle sounds, the real competition begins: the hunt for the hottest men.

And, hot sweaty men is exactly what the reader gets, not to mention a lot of incredible testosterone-driven pounding on and off the field.

Confessions of a Gay Rugby Player is an incredibly stimulating, sexy read! 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Plain of Bitter Honey by Alan Chin

Chin, Alan, “The Plain of Bitter Honey”, Bold Strokes Books, 2013.

Reviewed by Amos Lassen

Aaron and Hayden Swann are twin brothers who are involved in a fight against the government that has been taken over by right wing religious fundamentalists. Aaron fights with ammunition; Hayden fights with intellect and words. Suddenly everything changes when they are caught in a sting and they manage to get to the badlands, to a safe haven—The Plain of Bitter Honey where the resistance has set up camp. What they do not know is that the government agents that have been following them know where they are.
While this certainly sounds like science-fiction, we realize that everything that happens in this novel could very well happen here. Set in 2055, this is not the America that we know—this is America, a Christian nation and for non-Christians, life is not good. They are put into ghettoes simply because they disagree with government policy or just because they are different. Aaron and Hayden are very different people. Hayden is preoccupied with the world of literature and Aaron is actively fighting the ruling regime. He is a gay man that has to hide his sexuality and his love for Julian, his boyfriend because homosexuality is against the will of the government.
I have long been a fan of Alan Chin because of the way he develops his plots and his wonderful writing. While I was ready this, I was fully aware of how Chin had thought this out before committing it to print. This is a book that has several layers depending upon the way the reader sees the story. I personally see it as a warning to not let ourselves become too content with the new freedoms we have because it does not take much to lose them just as the Jews of Germany did. We are all aware of what happened there. I realize Chin has done his research well so that he can give us this story and the comparisons to Nazi Germany are important especially since the LGBT community in America is standing at the threshold of having the greatest freedoms it has ever known. Chin presents us with a great deal to think about here and because of that this is not a book that be breezed through. It is, as if, he wants us to stop and think as we read and we do not often get novels that are written that way. 
We see early on that Aaron and Hayden live in a world of hypocrisy. Aaron knows that if he wants to have a good life he has to take action and when he does both his and his brother’s lives are put into dangerous situations. He has an inner struggle to fight as well and it is his only when Hayden’s life is put into danger that he realizes that he must act. It took a while for Aaron to understand that, as they journey to the Plain of Bitter Honey, in order to win, counter-violence may not be the best idea and he begins to see his own potential.
What I find to be so fascinating here is the way Chin combines philosophy and politics with an emotional story that touches the reader deeply. It is interesting that we read a story that makes us think as we find ourselves becoming emotionally involved with the characters. We do not often get the opportunity to think while we read m/m romances and we really do not get many m/m romances with little romance. Here the story is the most important thing and everything else is secondary to it.
You may ask why read a story that has little romance and heavy philosophical currents? This is one of the layers I wrote of earlier. Each of us is free to read the story in the way that we want. Personally I love being challenged by what I read yet I can see how others may read this differently. Chin gives us a very real tale and he does so with great style. I did something I never do before writing a review—I read a couple of other reviews and one of them was quite bothersome to me in that the things that I loved here are the same things the other reviewer did not like. Whereas he found the ideas presented to be too philosophical and over the top, I found them just right. He also commented that the characters were “poorly formed” and he found it difficult to understand just who they were. Again I disagree and I think Chin formed his characters to carry the plot and to allow us to use our own thoughts as we met them. But then that is the beauty of literature and disagreeing is why we have the right to choose. Chin has never let me down and I would much rather have something to think about than reading about two guys rutting away in sexual abandon.