Saturday, January 1, 2011

Alan Chin’s Top Ten Review Picks for the 2010

Selecting only ten books from the ones I reviewed this year is extremely difficult, because if I reviewed a book, that means I enjoyed it, even if I had minor issues with it. In addition to the forty-three books that I did review this year, there were another twenty that I did not finish or review for one reason or another.

And let me state that this list is not to say that any of the books on my list are necessarily "better" than the others I’ve reviewed over the year. Not all books resonate with everyone the same way. It's simply a judgment call. These are books that resonated with me, both during and after the reading.

I’ve listed my top ten picks below, in no particular order. I’ve also added an addition five books that I thought were in some way special and deserved an honorable mention.

My Top Ten Reads:

A Man of Principle by Victor J. Banis
After a night at the opera, an elderly man decides to have a nightcap at a favorite watering hole to prolong the inevitable of going home to an empty apartment. But while enjoying the comforts of a twelve-year-old, single-malt scotch, he meets Neal MacIntyre, and they form a fragile bond.
Neal is nursing his well scotch, trying to make it last until closing time. He doesn’t have the money for another drink and he has no place to spend the night. Out of pure kindness and a desire for conversation, the elderly man offers him both – first a drink, then a couch to sleep on for the night. Neal happily accepts. But once the two are at the man’s apartment, Neal begins to tell what events brought him to that apartment. He tells a gripping tale of love and friendship, gain and loss, treachery and murder.

West With the Night by Beryl Markham
West with the Night by Beryl Markham is the autobiographical account of Beryl Markham, the first woman (lesbian) commercial pilot in Africa, back in the 1930s and ‘40s. She describes her childhood growing up on a farm in Africa, and also about learning to fly and becoming a successful commercial aviator. Towards the end of the book, she describes her history-making flight over the Atlantic, flying from Ireland to Canada.

The Secret Historian by Justin Spring
Drawn from the diaries, journals, letters and sexual records of the novelist, poet, and university professor Samuel M. Steward, this biography is a reconstruction of one of the most bizarre lives in modern gay culture.
An introvert English professor by day, sexual renegade by night, Steward was an intimate friend of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Thornton Wilder. He also claims to have had sexual relations with a number of famous, or soon-to-be-famous, men, including Rudolph Valentino and Rock Hudson.

Counterpoint, Dylan’s Story by Ruth Sims
Near the end of the Nineteenth Century, Dylan Rutledge has two obsessions: composing music and Laurence Northcliff, his history master at the Bede School for Young Gentlemen. When all others turn against Dylan for the wild and unorthodox music he composes, Northcliff is the only one who encourages his dream. The two fall deeply in love, but it is a forbidden love in England, punishable by long prison terms at hard labor.
But Dylan’s passion will not be put down. He alienates himself from family, friends, and country when he moves to Paris to study music and live openly as Northcliff’s lover. Although he finds happiness in the arms of Northcliff, he pays a heavy price being out, even in Paris. At every turn, his career is fraught with disappointment, rejection, and eventually a devastating loss that shreds his soul. Can his music bring him back from the brink? Can the love of a man be the strength he needs to survive?

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
A Single Man is a day in the life of George, a man who recently lost his male lover in an auto accident. From waking up, to having breakfast, to driving to work where he fantasizes and converses with co-workers and students as he goes through his day as an English professor at a state college in Los Angeles. While George steps through his routine, the ghost of his dead lover, Jim, flits in and out, a constant reminder that no matter how many people George surrounds himself with, he is still alone. George is an outsider. He is British living in L.A., gay living in a heterosexual world, brilliant among dull students and colleagues.
George’s day is simple and routine; however, the author creates a rich and complex text where the reader is able to become the protagonist. The reader experiences George’s debilitating loneliness, his anger and resentment with society, and the walls he keeps between he and his “friends.”

Normal Miguel by Erik Orrantia
Miguel Hernández leaves Mexico City to complete a one-year teaching internship in the rural hills of Puebla. He is a serious teacher, who traveled away from home and family for the first time. But before he can begin teaching classes, he has a sexual encounter with the local baker, and later meets Ruben, the gay owner of the local candy store. These meetings lead him down a path where it is impossible to keep his private and professional life separate, or even secret.
This is story of Miguel’s self-discovery, which is aided by his students, the director of the school, the baker, but mostly by Ruben, who becomes both friend and lover. But of course, Miguel’s journey becomes rather stormy when people of his small rural landscape begin to notice the bond he and Ruben develop. Homophobia rears its ugly head. Can the lover’s survive the threat of small-town bigotry and the influence of family?

Native by William Haywood Henderson
Blue Parker, the twenty-three-year-old foreman of a Wyoming ranch, has a secret crush on his ranch hand, Sam. The two cowboys are drawn to each other, and Blue makes plans to place Sam in a high-mountain cow-camp for the summer (ala Brokeback Mountain), thinking he will have Sam to himself in this idyllic getaway setting. But before he can act on his plan, Gilbert, a Native American who fancies himself a Two-Spirits (gay), draws a drunk Sam into a lewd dance at the local honky-tonk. The other cowboys begin to suspect Sam could be queer. The result is that Sam is later beaten to within an inch of his life in the alley behind the bar. Once Sam is released from the hospital, Blue moves Sam into his own cabin to care for the younger cowpoke. This move casts suspicion on Blue as well.
The events that unfold in that drunken night on the dance floor will drive Gilbert across the western states looking for his place in society, while Blue must choose between the home he loves and the man he loves, all the while the three men are bound on a second collision course.

Deep Water, A Sailor’s Passage by E. M. Kahn
Gene lives and works in Manhattan, but he spends much of his free time sailing the waterways in and around that metropolis, from New York harbor, to Long Island Sound, to Martha’s Vineyard. He hires a woodworker, Kevin, to work in his shop, and the two soon become lovers. Kevin is a decade younger, a handsome blond, and emotionally needy. Gene considers himself lucky, and commits to this relationship wholeheartedly, even though Kevin likes to sleep around. They manage a fragile relationship.
Although Kevin does not share Gene’s love of sailing, he acquires a small skiff and learns the sport. As their relationship deepens, so does their love for the sea, and for adventure. Gene trades his nineteen-foot daysailer in on a twenty-two-foot boat so that they can take overnight trips. As the years roll by the boats get more seaworthy and the trips longer. Sailing solidifies their relationship. Their love for each other seems bound to their, now mutual, love of adventure on the water.

The Moonlit Earth by Christopher Rice
At thirty years old, Megan Reynolds is an outsider in her affluent hometown of Cathedral Beach, California. She has recently come home with her tail between her legs after losing an altruistic job and her free-thinking boyfriend in San Francisco. Living with her mother, with financial help from her cousin, she finally lands a dream job that will allow her to start over.
Half a world away an explosion rips apart a Hong Kong hotel, killing 60 people. Security cameras partially record this apparent act of terrorism, showing a Middle Eastern man leading an American away from the building only moments before the deadly blast. Watching the media broadcasts, Megan recognizes the American as her beloved gay brother, Cameron.
As the media and the FBI line up to embroil her brother in a terror campaign, Megan is the only one who seems to know he didn’t’, couldn’t, do such a thing. But no one can find Cameron. He has gone underground. Playing the role of White Knight, Megan flies to Asia to find her brother and prove his innocence. Her journey pits her against her mother, her estranged father, a wealthy tycoon, a royal family, and the FBI.
With the clock ticking and bullets flying, Megan uncovers the last thing in the world she was looking for, family secrets so shocking that it will rock her entire universe.

Impossible Princess by Kevin Killian
Impossible Princess is an anthology of finely crafted, edgy short stories that walk on the razor’s edge between camp and noir, exploring both the humors and bizarre sides of desire. There are ten stories, some written solely by Killian and some written by Killian with collaboration from others. The collection has five stories that didn’t appeal to me and five stories I found captivating, sexy, brilliant and a fun edgy ride.

Five Honorable Mentions:

Gaylias: Operation Thunderspell by Kage Alan

The Zagzagel Diaries – Denial by Bryl R. Tyne

Boy Behind the Gate by Larry Jacobson

L.A. Boneyard by P.A. Brown

The 38 Million Dollar Smile, a Donald Strachey Mystery by Richard Stevenson


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