Saturday, March 21, 2020

Book Review: The End of Billy Knight by Ty Jacob

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Lucky Pony Press (may 2017)
Pages: 454

A rocky tale that explores the relationship between a gay hustler and an aging drag queen, set in the world of 80s porn stars. This is not erotica, but a weak attempt at literary fiction. The characters are tired stereotypes, and because of that they fail to be convincing. The plot is a string of one gay cliché after another. 

The one positive thing I can say is that author must have done a great deal of research into both the 80’s LA porn industry, as well as what it takes to be a drag queen. That said, I was not only disappointed in the story, but doubly so because this same author wrote another book, non-fiction using his real name, titled: An Olive Grove at the Edge of the World, which I loved. After reading his non-fiction story, I built up my expectations very high, and then was disheartened. All the freshness and humor I found in Olive Grove was sorely missing in Billy Knight. The only reason I finished the story was because it was selected by my book club, and I needed to read it all in order to properly discuss the book at the next meeting. 

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Book Review: Shortest Way Home by Pete Buttigieg

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Liveright, (Feb 12, 2019)
Pages 352

In its heyday, South Bend, Indiana had been one of the industrial revolution’s brightest achievements, a factory town that produced everything from cars to watches. But then like much of the Midwestern rust belt, it fell into hard times, lost almost all its industry, and the young people were escaping to larger cities for better opportunities. The leadership Pete Buttigieg displayed as mayor of South Bend, steered the people of South Bend to rebuild their city into a thriving community. 

In this entertaining and insightful book, Buttigieg lays out a blueprint of modern political ideas for transforming and revitalizing our communities. I enjoyed learning about his insights, and how he approached problem solving. And against this backdrop of how Buttigieg renovated the city he grew up in, was the even more enjoyable personal story of how Pete Buttigieg grew into the man who is now altering the landscape of the American political scene by becoming the first openly gay man to run for the highest elected office in the country. 

In my view, the biggest thing to turn the tide on LGBT issues wasn’t theological or political evolution. It was the discovery that many people whom we already know turn out to be part of this category. The biggest obstacle wasn’t religion, or hatred. It was the simple fact that so many people believed, wrongly, that they didn’t even know anyone who was gay. At my high school in the late 1990s, I didn’t know of a single gay student. 

It is easier to be cruel, or unfair, to people in groups and in the abstract; harder to do so toward a specific person in your midst, especially if you know them already. Gays have the benefit of being a minority  whose membership is not necessarily obvious when you meet one (or love one.) Common decency can kick in before there is time for prejudice to intervene. Of course, humans can be cruel to people we know, too, but not as often—and we’re rarely as proud of it.

In the struggle for equality, we do well to remember that all people want to be known as decent, respectful, and kind. If our first response toward anyone who struggles to get onto the right side of history is to denounce him as a bigot, we will force him into a defensive crouch—or into the arms of the extreme right. When a conservative socialite of a certain age would stop me on the street with a mischievous look, pat my arm, and say conspiratorially, “I met your friend the other day, and he is fabulous,” it was not the time for a lecture on the distinction between a partner and a “friend.” She is on her way to acceptance, and she feels good about her way of getting there; it feels better to grow on your own terms than to be painted into a corner.

This well-written, insightful book is a mosaic of growth and hope, both for South Bend and for Buttigieg. Pete delves into his childhood growing up in a decaying industrial town, his attempt to escape that town and the promise that brought him back. He describes his experiences being a Harvard and Rhodes Scholar, Mckinsey alumni, and a talented musician. He tells of his military service, gives a frank and interesting account of coming out at age thirty-three, and also about finding love. 

I found this a fascinating read. I didn’t find him as “presidential” as Barak Obama or Bill Clinton, but I did see a very intelligent, capable, and positive role model who transcends the “gay” stereotype. What comes shining through is his integrity and altruism.  

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Book Review: The Fourth Courier by Timothy Jay Smith

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Arcade (April, 2019)
Pages: 320


Set in 1992 Poland, Jay Porter, an American FBI agent, is asked to assist in a multiple-murder case in Warsaw. He teams up with a gay, African-American, CIA counterpart, Kurt Crawford to investigate three murdered Russians that may have links to stolen nukes. When a fourth Russian body is found, new clues allow Jay to piece together a complex puzzle that involves high-ranking officials, local police, and even Jay Porter’s new Polish love interest. The deeper Jay digs, the more sinister things appear, because all clues point to someone assembling a nuclear bomb capable of wiping out a city and undermining the stability of the entire region. Jay’s biggest problem: he doesn’t know who he can trust.

Smith excels at crafting a post-Cold War Warsaw. The descriptions are vivid and mesmerizing, making the location one of the main characters. The writing was crisp, the dialog spot on, and the plot has all the twists and turns to keep the reader, at least this reader, guessing what will happen next. Indeed, clues and information are doled out in a very tantalizing way.

I found some of the investigative methods and situations implausible, but they did make for an interesting read. My only serious complaint is that I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likable. I found some rather interesting, which kept me reading to the end, but my lack of attachment in the characters put me at a distance from them, and thus at a distance from the story. That said, it is a complex puzzle that I enjoyed solving.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Book Review: Willa Goodheart by Edward C. Patterson

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Dancaster Creative (March 1, 2019)
Pages: 335


Set in San Francisco in 1995, the story follows the joys and troubles of Willa Goodheart as she balances her new administrative assistant job with her family obligations of cooking and cleaning for her father and two brothers. But as events unfold, Willa is linked to a string of recent murders. She soon finds herself sucked into mysterious events that all seemed connected to the murder investigation. Grabbing the bull by the horns, Willa undertakes her own investigation, connecting the dots in an attempt to clear her name. But she soon finds more than she bargained for, like a few family skeletons lurking in the closets, and perhaps even a love interest. 

I know I can rely on a stimulating collection of characters whenever I open a book by Edward Patterson, and Willa Goodheartis no exception. Crooked businessmen, old Chinese fortune tellers, ritualistic cults, drag queens, crazy mothers, and crazier grandmothers fill the streets of San Francisco. And of course, Willa Goodheart herself is a fascinating character who is able to engage the reader throughout the story.

I’ve read several of Patterson’s books, but this is the first mystery I’ve read by him. He handles this genre with a deft touch, keeping the reader guessing until the last few pages. And even though it is a dark mystery, with characters being murdered left and right, the author brings his special brand of humor to every page, keeping the story light and entertaining. 

Lovely prose. Snappy dialogue. Enchanting characters. Fiendishly inventive. Edward Patterson has written an utterly delightful mystery. 

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Book Review: Surviving Immortality by Alan Chin

Reviewer: Edward C. Patterson
Publisher: DSP Publications (June 2018)
Pages: 432

Powerfully fast-moving with now-relevancy

I know I can rely on a good read whenever I open a book by Alan Chin; and Surviving Immortality is no exception, except it is exceptional. With a believable spark, Mr. Chin presents us with a world devouring itself when promise has given it its greatest loss for hope. All the inchoate faults of humanity, ready today to strike our civilization to the core, leeches out when confronted by a mind shattering development and a simple, lethal condition. Surviving Immortality is masterfully rendered into a work long lingering after the last pages.
The characters are complex, each with their own demon, but honest to their convictions; so much so, there are no heroes, and those who appear villainous can be redeemed by their good intentions. The main thread of the story his told through Matt Reece’s point of view, although all the characters get their turn; but it is Matt’s intense purity, a purity despoiled by circumstances, which unfolds like a night flower in moonlight. Alan Chin crafts an action adventure and psychological political philosophical tale, if there could be such a genre, keeping the pages turning until those pages disappear and time is lost. The elements in the work, and those effecting Matt Reece, are all about us today just waiting for the spark to ignite them. Mr. Chin strikes that spark.
I am a fan of Alan Chin’s other works, but this one combines all the signature touches of them all — ranch life, storms at sea, tropical islands, police procedural, Buddhism, sexuality and a lust for travel. He even includes doffs to his latest wanderlust — Machu Picchu. The world he presents is hisworld as much as ourworld. The arguments are current ones, and I’ll not spoil your read by mentioning them, but whatever opinions you have on those topics, Surviving Immortalitywill not fail to engage you, even if you wind up talking to your night light at midnight in bed. 
Needless to say (but I will say it), I highly recommend this book if you enjoy a powerful fast-moving work with now-relevancy from a major author who contributes to our contemporary literary legacy.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Pages: 417


This epic presents the arc of English gay history from the 1940s to 2012, particularly the changing attitudes of the British public toward the LGBT community during that time. The story covers three generations of friends who meet at Oxford in 1940, and the people who come into and go out of their lives. These characters have affairs with each other, go to war, marry, divorce, remarry, raise children, all within the backdrop of dealing with bigotry and intimidation.

Although the title is named for David Sparsholt, the protagonist turns out to be David’s son, Johnny Sparsholt, who shows up in part two. Much of the story is Johnny having to deal with living with the shame that his father’s affair with another man became a national news scandal. In fact, Dave Sparsholt is almost always seen through the eyes of other characters rather than being on the page himself.

The core of enjoyment for me was the gorgeous language and detailed writing style the author brings to all his works. Hollinghurst is a master of the written word, and that shows in every paragraph. 

That said, I (and several others in my book club) felt that much of the story was too slow paced, to the point of being boring. There is very little conflict throughout the story, and what there is tends to be very subtle. It was a struggle to finish it.

The Sparsholt Affair is not for the lazy reader. It is a complex story where many blanks are given for the reader to fill in. The author adroitly captures the lives of gay men, from the longing of adolescence to the acceptance of old age. It is a story beautifully told.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Fabulous! An Opera Buffaby Laury A. Egan

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Tiny Fox Press (sept. 2018)
Pages: 254


This novel begs the question: Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing? And also: Be careful what you wish for. 

Gilbert Eugene Rose is a single, lonely drag queen who sings both cabaret and operatic numbers at a New York City nightclub. His drag name, Kiri De Uwana, is a takeoff from an opera diva because he has aspirations of one day becoming a star on the grand operatic stage. A psychic medium puts Gilbert’s love and career yearnings out into the universe, and within days Gil lands the lead role as a soprano in a production of Così fan tutte. Before Gil—or the reader—can catch his breath, Gil lands a tenor role across town in Rigoletto. To top it off, he is also hired to sing Handel arias at a notorious gangster’s private home. But the fun really begins when it seems everyone Gil meets—men and women—wants to become romantically involved with him. 

Thus begins a campy, rapid-fire juggling act that gets quirkier and funnier as the pages turn. 

Just as Gil seems to have everything in hand, he realizes that getting involved with a gangster may not have been his shrewdest move. Suddenly, Gil turns from reaching for the stars to running for his life.

Well written prose. Snappy dialogue. Delightful characters. Fiendishly inventive. And ultimately profound. Laury A. Egan has written an utterly enchanting book about reaching a bit too far. It’s the kind of light, entertaining read that lends itself well to summer, to a breezy day at the beach.