Friday, April 25, 2014

Boystown 4: A Time For Secrets - Audio Version - by Marshall Thornton – Narration by Brad Langer

Review by Jon Michaelsen

In Boystown 4: A Time For Secrets, Marshall Thornton has penned the first full-length novel featuring tough, rough around the edges, at times jaded, former Chicago cop turned private detective, Nick Nowak, which is perhaps my favorite of the series thus far. A Time For Secrets contains a stunning mystery that reveals an older gentleman’s longing to learn whatever happened to his long lost lover, a decades old murder and a mix of Chicago politics; the novel is first rate and deftly written with enough twists, turns and red herrings to keep a reader flying through the pages to find out what happens.

Also contained within the pages is further insight into the sometimes odd relationship between Nick and his cop-currently on medical leave-boyfriend, Bert Harker, who still has both feet firmly in the closet when it comes to his overbearing and unaccepting mother, Mrs. Harker. Unlike previous Nick Nowak stories, Thornton tosses in a budding friendship his lover, Harker, has with an ambitious young reporter with starry eyes, and seemingly ulterior motives. The boy inserts himself more and more into Nick and Harker’s home -- and relationship -- in the guise of learning more about the vicious Bughouse Slasher, the last case Harker was working before having to take medical leave as his health got worse.

The Bughouse Slasher case continues a story-arc that has existed since the release of the second Nick Nowak novel, Boystown 2: Three More Nick Nowak Mysteries and comes to a head by the end of the novel when readers learn Harker has been secretly carrying on the investigation into discovering the identity of the serial killer, perhaps aided by the doe-eyed young reporter who has now inserted himself into Nick and Harker’s relationship. Not surprising, really, considering the time – early 80s – and the openness of most gay relationships of the time, but readers come away with a real sense of the deep love Nick has for Harker, especially when he is forced to face his own jealously, something even Nick didn’t think he could ever exhibit.  

Once again, I listened to the unabridged audio book version. Boystown 4: A Time For Secrets. As I’ve said before, reading and/or listening to a Nick Nowak novel is like slipping on a well-worn leather coat, comfortable and warm and the same feelings holds throughout this novel. Nick Nowak continues his tough man, studly persona, while just beneath the surface he knows he must come to terms with his lover’s worsening health and be there to support Bert. Yet, it’s Harker who comes across stronger than Nick in this regard, working to prepare and provide support to his lover through the enviable, clear his conscience by finally coming out to his mother, and to enjoy what remains of his life.

Narrator, Brad Langer, who has narrated the previous Nick Nowak mysteries, has become Nick Nowak to me. His voice is perfect for the series and I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. Not only can I highly recommend Boystown 4: A Time For Secrets, but I can also assure any reader of mysteries the entire Nick Nowak mystery series is destined to become a classic, ranked up there with the likes of Michael Nava’s Henry Rios, Richard Stevenson’s Donald Stratchy and Greg Herren’s Chanse MacLeod series.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Plain of Bitter Honey by Alan Chin

Rating: 4.75 stars

Buy Links:  Amazon | All Romance
Length: Novel

It’s the year 2055, and the Christian Fundamentalists have taken over the government of America. Those with enough money to flee the country have done so, and everyone else is left to waste away. Anyone considered undesirable, especially gays, have been herded into concentration camp-like ghettos where they are mistreated, malnourished, and barely able to survive. But the Resistance is fighting, trying to bring down the government by mostly non-violent ways.

Aaron Swann is a part of the Resistance, leading a small cell of freedom fighters in missions to undermine the government in any way he can. His twin brother, Hayden, is doing the same. Though while Aaron does it with minor violence and mayhem, Hayden uses his words. Aaron has been under Homeland Security’s watchful eye, and one night they sweep in, determined to break up the resistance cell. Hayden sacrifices himself in attempt to allow his brother time to flee. When Aaron discovers that Hayden is still alive, he will stop at nothing to rescue his twin.

Aaron manages to save his brother, and with a small group of Resistance members, begin to make their way to the fabled Plain of Bitter Honey.  The leaders of the Resistance reside in this hidden place, and Aaron knows that if they can make it there, they can finally be safe. But the journey is treacherous. They must make it hundreds of miles on foot, while avoiding both Homeland Security and a group of rebel terrorists. With Hayden severally wounded, the journey takes even longer. Without the assistance and sacrifice of Gideon Tracker, a Resistance member, they would never make it. And everything is not what appears when they arrive. In the end, Aaron must make the greatest sacrifice, knowing that it’s the only way to finally free the country, and the ones he loves, from the tyranny of a corrupt government.

Wow. Whatever I was expecting when I picked up this book, it is more than it seems at first glance. This isn’t a romance, but love is at the center of it all. It’s the tale of a man who finds out that everything he believed in is not quite what he thought, and then does everything he can to bring about change. Aaron is a complex character. He has such conviction and believes so strongly in what he feels is right. He’s straight, but his twin brother is gay, and that is part of what drives him to fight the government at every turn. His love for his brother outweighs everything else. And when it comes down to it, he’s going to do whatever he has to in order to protect Hayden. I loved this guy. I admired him. I was invested wholeheartedly in his journey, both physical and mental, and I wanted nothing more than for him to persevere and come out victorious.

While most of the book centers on Aaron and his journey, we also periodically check in with Julian Stoller, Hayden’s lover. He was arrested after the raid, and now he faces his own horrors. Prior to his capture, Julian was a painter and, by all accounts, a gentle soul. We barely meet him, and only know that he isn’t a part of the Resistance. But after his arrest, the strength in this character really shines. Even knowing that one false move could result in a severe beating and possibly death, he still does whatever he can to undermine the government and uses the resources at his disposal to try and turn the tide. In fact, it is due to his actions that a series of events are put into place that make a huge difference in the end.

One of the more mystical parts of the plot was the connection between Aaron and Hayden. It transcends what anyone would think of as a normal twin link. They actually have a mental, metaphysical connection. They are able to connect to each other’s minds. It is a truly beautiful thing, and the scenes where this is described are done in such exquisite detail that I found myself believing that such a connection could actually exist. It is this joining that ultimately gives Hayden a second chance at life, and allows Aaron to do what he must to make the ultimate sacrifice. It is also this connection that makes the one ménage scene make sense. Aaron and Hayden are, essentially, one person in two bodies. After Hayden makes a connection with Faith, they need Aaron in order to consummate their relationship. I have to admit that at first, I was scratching my head, but as Chin wove the scene with masterful words, I completely understood why and how this worked. And why it was necessary for all three to be together.

I have to make quick mention of the secondary characters in this book because they were truly fantastic and well developed. Oftentimes, secondary characters can seem flat and one dimensional. That is not the case here. The author really flushes them out, gives us insight into their minds, and makes us care about them too. It made for a really well rounded cast of characters, and that meant I was happy with whomever we were following at the moment.

Really, the only tiny quibble I had with this book was that it occasionally slowed down too much. There were times I was grateful for the break in action, where I needed to breathe as much as the characters did. But there were a few instances where that break went on just a little bit too long, and I was ready to get back to the action before the characters were.

This book was full of surprises and twists that I didn’t see coming. Though not a romance, love and morality were at the heart of the message. In a society where everyone who is different is seen as undesirable, it is those who are different that can effect change. I really enjoyed it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Part the Hawser, Limn the Sea by Dan Lopez

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Chelsea Stations Editions
Pages: 51

These tales are five gems floating on a sea of reflection. They are turning points in the lives of five fiercely troubled gay men. Dan Lopez had compiled a collection of moving short stories, all sharing the common threads of water, sadness, and ultimately hope. They are a meditation on loss and loneliness.

An aging architect must decide to give up his grief, even if it means losing the vestiges of a lover’s memory. An object of erotic fixation galvanizes men against the isolation of exile on a cruise liner. As he watches the disintegration of his picket-fence fantasy, an ex-soldier looks to the sea for absolution.

Lopez’s writing style and skill of composing prose is nothing short of masterful, making it impossible to believe that this is his debut anthology. The storylines are rather simplistic, yet the characters are so complex the reader feels an intensity seldom achieved with short stories. These stories reach deep into the reader’s heart and embrace that part of him/her that understands despair. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Shoal Of Time: A Micky Knight Mystery by J. M. Redmann

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Bold Stroke Books, 2013
Pages:  284

Five Stars out of Five

New Orleans private investigator Micky Knight is back. While having a late pizza dinner, she happens to meet a group of federal investigators reportedly looking into human trafficking in the area, and Micky agrees to be hired to assist them. She immediately hits it off with one member of that team, Ashley, and they begin a slow but steady flirtation as they work together. It is a frustrating engagement for Micky, because she is only given details of the case on a need-to-know basis, and gets into dangerous situations she otherwise may have been able to avoid. She is also being shadowed by Emily, an FBI agent who likewise seems to have an interest in Micky. During her work for Ashley, Micky also comes into contact with a local madam, who hires Micky to provide some security for her “girls,” and may have connections that can be valuable in finding the traffickers.

While I have read a couple of earlier books in this series, it doesn’t affect my review of this book. To some extent, it is a credit to the author that some of her fans are so deeply involved in her books that they feel they know better than the author about what the characters should be feeling and doing. Obviously, they are losing sight of the fact that each should be reviewed on its own merits … the plot, the quality of the writing, how realistic and plausible it could be, etc. On that level, I can’t fault the book at all, and, as a fan of good mystery novels, enjoyed it immensely. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

With, Edited by Jameson Currier

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Chelsea Station Editions
Pages: 273

Writing short stories is difficult. It takes a gifted writer to condense a story down to its essence, and then tell it with only a few pages of prose. A short story well told is a joy, and the product of a true artist.

In With, several such artists have come together to display their skill. These wonderful stories are not gay erotica, dripping with sex every few pages. These are sixteen artists writing reflective stories that showcase relationships with men: gay men with their friends, lovers, partners, husbands, dates, tricks, BFs, hustlers, teachers, co-workers, family members, and strangers. For many, the plots are as complex as the characters.

There are several stories in this collection that are gems, some of the best fiction I’ve read in a while. Even the tales I didn’t completely connect with were skillfully written and engaging. A few of my favorites were: Andrew Barbee by Dan Lopez. Also, The Beautiful Boy by Shaun Levin, We Are The Revolution by Vincent Meis, and Follow Me Through by Tom Schabarum.

I loved the way William Sterling Walker pulled me right into the streets of New Orleans, something he does better than any writer I know.

Jeff Mann’s story, Eagle Rock is a thirty-page excerpt from his novel Purgatory. It seemed out of place only because I think one needs to read the backstory (I have read the novel) to completely comprehend the depth of feelings in this excerpt.

These are stories that deliver genuine human emotions and attitudes that reflect the many variations of male/male love, romance, and friendship. The list of contributors is a who’s who in gay fiction: David Bergman, Michael Carroll, Lewis DeSimone, Jack Fritscher, Ronald M. Gauthier, Michael Graves, Shaun Levin, Dan Lopez, Jeff Mann, Vince Meis, Matthew A. Merendo, Joel A. Nichols, David Pratt, Tom Schabarum, Stefen Styrsky, and William Sterling Walker.

I can highly recommend this anthology to anyone who enjoys finely crafted fiction.