Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Out & Equal at Work, From Closet to Corner Office, edited by Selisse Berry

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Out & Equal Workplace Advocates; 1st edition (January, 2013)
Pages: 314

Out & Equal At Work is a collection of stories from thirty-six business leaders—gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and some straight—who speak to the power of cultivating diversity in the workplace. These people hold prominent positions at Fortune 500 companies like HP, IBM, Dell, Prudential, and Disney.

These stories encapsulate the history of the fight for equality in the workplace, told by trailblazers who have fought, and keep fighting, the frontline battles in the boardrooms to shatter the glass ceiling.

Many of these business leaders are connected with Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, and organization dedicated to helping people bring diversity to the workplace.

It reads much like the “It Gets Better” anthologies I’ve read, only it is geared to professionals who are struggling to bring their whole selves to work every day. The message is, diversity in the workplace is not simply the right thing to do, but has profound benefits on companies because it effects employee engagement, retention, productivity, and, ultimately, business results.

I confess I did not read each story. Although I found each one I read interesting, and could relate, I found them all so similar that they became monotonous.

Never the less, this collection is an inspiring and motivational reminder of how important it is to celebrate diversity and openness in businesses. This should be read by everyone, janitor to CEO, who cares about improving their business environment. 


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Bear City: The Novel By Lawrence Ferber

(Based on the screenplay co-written with Doug Langway)

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Bear Bones/Lethe, June 2013
Pages: 190

Four Stars Out of Five

Tyler is an athletic young man who is coming out of his second "closet." Already out as gay, he is now ready to admit to his friends that his attraction is to older, hairy, beefy guys, not the hairless circuit boys most of his friends drool over. His twinky best friend, Simon, doesn't understand that attraction, but helps him navigate the wilds of the "bear scene" in NYC, where Tyler meets and falls in instant lust with Roger, a self-assured, uber-popular "muscle bear" from whom he seems to be getting mixed signals. We also become aware of mini-dramas going on in the same scene, such as a longtime couple wondering if they need to "open" their relationship to keep it strong, and a 300+lb big bear with his Latino "chaser" boyfriend who opposes his partner's plan to get weight-loss surgery. All this takes place over a special "Bear City" weekend being hosted by a NYC bar.

Having previously seen – more than once – the 2010 comedy film on which this novelization is based, I had doubts that the book would be of much interest to me. For one thing, the action is definitely character-driven, rather than following some kind of logical plot, and it's not easy to keep all of the different, diverse individuals straight (so to speak) when only meeting them on a printed page rather than portrayed by an actor. To my surprise, the writer does a good job of pacing the story so that it can be understood, and including sixteen stills (including some "behind the scenes") photos from the film. Light erotic content is not out of place in this well-written, often amusing story, and it's overall a positive message about a growing minority within the gay community.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Moon’s Deep Circle by David Holly

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books, April 2013
Pages: 264

Four Stars Out of Five

Growing up, Tip was never that close to his much older brothers, Thad and Tye, barely remembering them attending high school when Tip was just starting school. The memories end there, since both brothers disappeared mysteriously one day, and were never talked about again by Tip's deeply-religious parents. Still, a constant memory remained in the house, where their mother maintained their shared bedroom, which was otherwise locked to keep Tip out of it. More than a decade has passed, and Tip is now learning more about his brothers, having managed to sneak Thad's journal out of the room, when his mother forgot to lock it.

The descriptions of gay sexual activity in the journal helps Tip realize his own attractions to other guys, which he had previously suppressed in order to maintain the fa├žade of a typical high school jock in this small rural Oregon town. He began to explore those feelings with two other closeted swim team members, and shares part of the journals with them. The journals talk about a ritualistic gay pagan group, in which both of his brothers became involved through a professor at their college. Tip is also driven by wanting to know what happened to his brothers, and uses clues from the journal to find them, even though he realizes the results might "out" him to his deeply-religious, conservative parents and fellow students, which might result in his own subsequent "disappearance."

An engaging, well-written story, giving an extreme example of the problems that a forced religious background may have on a gay teen.
There is significant explicit content, making it inappropriate for younger teen readers.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

King Mai by Edmond Manning

Reviewer:  Kaje Harper
Publisher:  Pickwick Ink Publishers
Pages:  360

King Mai is a wonderful book, in quite a different way from King Perry, the book that comes before it. It took me about two chapters to realize what a good thing that is.

King Perry is not a story that could be told over and over. For all the title, King Perry is really not about Perry, but about Vin Vanbly, the narrator. Even though it's told from Vin's POV, it's cagey, slowly revealing Vin in increments. King Perry is a magic show, sucker-punching the laughs out of the reader in bursts of incredulous absurdity. It is also lovely and full of wonder, but the heart of King Perry is the growing discovery of who and what Vin is. That discovery is far from complete by the end of Book 1, but there is enough lifting of the curtain to give you a feel for the magician. Some of Vin's methods and his history become known by the time that shifting kaleidescope of a book is done.

So when King Mai opens, there is a moment of almost disappointment. The reader knows too much about Vin to experience that same wonder. Of course he has that prepared, and no wonder there are water bottles there. That's how Vin operates. It's cool, but, like watching a magic show after the tricks have been explained, that sense of startled wonder is gone.

It took me a few pages to realize that I was simply experiencing this book differently, more deeply and emotionally. That doesn't mean there aren't surprises, and humor. I laughed out loud over and over. But it was a warmer softer laughter, and at the same time, I cared more. Both about Vin and about Mai.

In King Perry, I liked Perry, but I didn't care deeply about him. And while I was fascinated by Vin, getting to know him, and therefore to become invested in him, was slow. My response to Vin was constantly revised and derailed by the shifts and plot-twists, as he changed form and intention based on the clues at hand. By the end of King Perry, I wished Perry well, but didn't have a burning desire to know what became of him. And I had just come to some kind of stable picture of Vin, and to feel some of his depth. The book was a tour-de-force of the mind and the senses, but not yet of the heart.

In this second book, I came fairly quickly to care about Mai. There was a vulnerable strength to this Midwestern farmer that was palpable, and admirable. I cared about his threatened farm, and his lost first love, and all the things that hurt him. And because I had already decided that Vin is a complicated man, with a wealth of personal pain and history underneath the choices he makes, I cared about him too. So this book was more like watching a painting, rather than a magic show. There were lovely colors, and tender brush-strokes. I didn't know what the end product would be, but I trusted the artist and was fascinated by the process. For this book, I did really care what became of Mai down the road, and loved the little epilogue at the end. Just perfect.

This is still not a gay romance. This is one more saga in the story of Vin Vanbly, enigma, magician, lost child and brilliant manipulator, as he makes his way through the world. He affects other lives, while looking for the truths that will impact his own. There is a happy ending again, but not a HEA or even an HFN. But it's a journey well worth making, and I trust this writer to bring us home safely in the end... by book 6. Ah, hell, four more years?? Well, it will be worth the wait, and the journey along the way promises to be spectacular.

Highly recommended, but read Book 1, King Perry, first. (Chronologically, this book happens to be set earlier in time, but it absolutely is second in the sequence, and there is no flash-back feel to it.)

I received a free advance copy of this from the author - it was unconditional, but how could I resist writing a review?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Picador, 2007
Pages: 248

Call Me By Your Name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy, Elio, and a summer guest at his parents’ mansion on the Italian Riviera. It is a story of one boy’s coming out, about a slow and simmering desire, and about how love develops.

This is a simple story, beautifully told. Andre Aciman shows significant talent in his characterizations, plot development and attention to detail. This novel is an excellent coming-of-age story with which many gays and lesbians can likely relate. Every phase of adolescent love unfolds in striking detail—each fear, each ache, each lurch of the heart, every giddy rush of sensation.

The author perfectly captures the voice of a youth; unfortunately, I found that school-boy’s obsessive prattle repetitive to the point of being boring, making the first half of the book a challenge to read. But after that first kiss, the mood and level of anxiety relaxes, and the book becomes a pleasure, page by page, until the end.

The author’s lovely prose and his insights into young love make this a gripping story. It is a well-written, feel-good tale, which makes me want to read all of this author’s other works.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Secrets of the Other Side by Eric Gober

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Regal Crest Enterprises, February 2013
Pages: 252

Living in a rundown trailer park outside of Las Vegas, Neil Ostwinkle is a gay boy who grew up with his single mother, who worked double shifts as a casino cashier. It's the relatively-enlightened 1980's, but he still faces (and survives) bullying in school, and seeks out his independent, free-spirited Aunt Louise for security and companionship. As he enters his teens, he meets a young man, Clark, whom he believes is the love of his life, but fate was not yet done with disappointing young Neil. This disappointment, along with the role model of his mother – who seemed to have a knack of choosing the wrong men to marry – make Neil believe he will be single forever. He does manage to surround himself with some uniquely eccentric friends, who encourage him to be more open to life and love, as well as opening his eyes to a possible career he never imagined possible.

This is the author's first full-length novel, and shows significant talent in his characterizations, plot development and attention to detail. "Secrets of the Other Side" is an excellent coming-of-age story with which many gays and lesbians can likely relate, but it can also be an enlightening read for heterosexual readers, putting in perspective that our dreams and fears really don't vary much from each other. Looking forward to his next novel, perhaps a sequel. A well-written, feel-good story, which I give a full five stars out of five.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Arthur L Levine/Scholastic, June 2013
Pages: 341

Rafe considers himself to be pretty lucky for a gay teen. He was able to "come out" in eighth grade with few challenges or problems, has supportive (PFLAG-active) parents, has some good friends, is active in sports, and is lucky to live in a rather liberal city in Colorado. Yet, tolerance can be annoying when he is constantly being referred to as "that gay guy," and it seems to overshadow everything else that he wants his teachers and fellow students to recognize about him. He convinces his parents into letting him take his last two years of high school at a boarding school in Massachusetts, supposedly to get into a better college, but his real plan is to see what it would be like to keep his sexuality under wraps for once. In his mind, he is not going back into the closet again; he's just declining to talk about it, and see if things are different.

His "experiment" starts off encouraging, as he is soon part of a clique of popular jocks, and enjoying this new experience. However, his parents, and best friend Claire Olivia, weren't initially told about his plan to be incognito about his sexuality, and they worry that his omission is actually a deception, which he will eventually regret. He confides in one teacher, remains closeted in making friends with a gay student, and is readily accepted by most of the campus athletes, including one somewhat quiet hunk with whom Rafe feels a special connection. Uh, oh!

Author Konigsberg, who has a background as a popular sports writer (and who won a GLAAD Media Award for his own "coming out" on ESPN.Com), follows up his award-winning first novel ("Out of the Pocket") with this creative and thoughtful spin on a gay coming-of-age novel. Rafe isn't ashamed of being gay, but he doesn't want it to define him. Sadly, it seems that gay teens will continue to carry a stigma as long as sexuality is a divisive issue in our society. Outstanding read, for all ages, and I recommend it highly. Five stars out of five.