Sunday, January 26, 2014

Gifts Not Yet Given and Other Tales of the Holidays by Kergan Edwards-Stout

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Circumspect Press
Pages: 186

Kergan Edwards-Stout has complied a collection of fourteen short stories all centered around different holidays.  Yet, these stories are not about holidays, but about turning points in character’s lives, where the emotions and magic of the holidays push these characters past those turning points. These are tales of personal awakenings, where dreams are achieved, hope is found, life is cherished. Many are touching, others sad.

Like all short-story anthologies, I found this work a bit of a mixed bag, connecting with some stories, some characters, and not others. I felt the author’s talent shown brightest with Glenbourne, Il, where a woman, Sarah, struggles to gain acceptance from her in-laws. And in The Old Rugged Cross where a mother leaves her home in Alabama to be near her son in L.A. I found these characters genuine, and their stories thought provoking.

The author’s prose is well-paced and beautifully written, yet I often felt there was simply too much telling, as apposed to showing, and I also found the author’s habit of head-hopping a bit distracting.

As much as I enjoyed each of these stories, I feel that this collection does not live up to the promise that this talented author exhibited so eloquently in his first novel, Songs For The New Depression. Still, this anthology is a worthwhile read.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Bar Watcher (Audio Version) by Dorien Grey – Narration by Jeff Frez-Albrecht

Reviewer: Jon Michaelsen
Publisher: Dorien Grey

In the third book in the Dick Hardesty gay P.I. series, we find tough guy, Dick, playing the field much more so than the first couple books, which is interesting in that this novel is set at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic (which actually isn’t mentioned by name since the virus was not yet identified). Rumors abound of otherwise healthy young gay men getting sick and dying, causing Dick to take note. It so happens, Hardesty’s latest case involves investigating the death of one of the partners of “Rage”, a popular, members only gay bathhouse where only the gorgeous need apply.

But while looking into the private club’s managing partner’s murder, Hardesty begins noticing other deaths of suspicious circumstances involving gay men, and with the help of his latest squeeze, Jarod, finds a common thread among all the deaths – including that of Rage’s manager, former porn star Comstock. It’s not long before Dick realizes there is a possible serial killer targeting gay men of the nasty kind.  

What I found striking in this novel along with the mystery- which is solid, deftly written, with twists and turns–is Hardesty’s philandering. Wait, did that just age me a bit? Hardesty is a bit of a horn-dog in this novel, which is understanding considering the time the story takes place during the very early stages of the AIDS crisis. I will be so interested to see how Grey deals with the emerging crisis since it was so much a part of the lives of gay men everywhere, especially in large, gay popular cities in the USA.

Again, I must admit that I listened to the unabridged audio book version of The Bar Watcher. Unlike the previous two novels, which I had read both print and listened to the corresponding audio versions, this one I did not. I still feel I got a received a great reading experience. I appreciated listening to the same voice of the narrator, Jeff Frez-Albrecht, who narrated the first two Dick Hardesty mysteries. He helps to bring Hardesty to life in a deadpan, non-complicated way, yet also helps us to view a glimpse of Dick’s inner thoughts through Dorien Grey’s awesome prose.

I highly recommend The Bar Watcher, and the entire Dick Hardesty P.I series! 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Who the Hell is Rachel Wells? by J.R. Greenwell

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Chelsea Station Editions
Pages: 219

Who the Hell is Rachel Wells? is a debut collection of queer-themed stories, mostly centered around the world of drag queens, or potential drag queens, in small southern towns. Eleven engaging stories, some serious, some silly, some bittersweet, others joyous, and all of them unique.

Most notable for me were: The Scent of Honeysuckle, the touching story of Sammy, a warm-hearted gay teen living on the streets, doing anything to survive. Duplicity, about co-workers at a community center who open up to each other while being held hostage by a troubled gunman. And Virgil’s Eulogy, the over-the-top story of an over-the-hill drag queen who performs her last dramatic performance while give a Eulogy for his lost lover.

I didn’t find these stories particularly well written. They are, however, unique, moving, big-hearted, often funny, and always sprinkled with a healthy dash of campy bitchiness. These are character-driven stories, and these wonderful characters, with their spirited souls and injured hearts, are worth reading about.

I look forward to more from J.R. Greenwell.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Pretty Boy Dead: A Kendall Parker Mystery by Jon Michaelsen

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Wilde City Press (Nov. 2013)
Pages: 277

Five Stars Out of Five.

A body is found in an Atlanta park, the victim of a horrific gay bashing, and it is identified as “black sheep” son of a rich tycoon, who had been working as a stripper (and possibly prostitute) for a local organized crime figure. Assigned to the case is closeted Detective Sgt. Kendall Parker, recently returned from a leave recovering from an accident that was fatal to a friend. There is no shortage of fingers being pointed at possible killers with various motives, including a city councilman who was photographed with the stripper. The pressure on the police to solve the crime is turned up by an aggressive newspaper columnist who seems to be on a personal vendetta against Parker.

The book is well-written, with reasonable situations and developments, and offers an intriguing look into the thought process, personal demons, peer pressure and bureaucratic nightmares that can plague a homicide detective working on such cases. As a diehard reader of gay mystery series, I enjoy that insight, which is lacking in many other in that genre. The ending hints at further stories in this series, and I look forward to this author’s efforts in providing them.