29.12.13

Valentine Wish by Eden Winters

Valentine Wish by Eden Winters
Stars: 2.5/5

Length: 36 pages
Blurb
Isaac Lewis left the gangs behind to remake himself. He’s a street fighter turned gym rat, a thug turned honest man—only his loneliness hasn’t changed.

Success as a restaurateur hasn't erased Thierry Guillaume’s insecurities. Well-padded in a world where looks matter, he’s been grasping at crumbs of affection. Can Isaac convince him he deserves the whole cake?


Overall
A sweet, short tale that is probably just the treat for the February holiday.

Review
A sweet little short that has a good message, but lacks much depth, both for the characters and the plot. I definitely enjoyed this, and I especially liked how it was both a Valentine's story and not solely focused on Valentine's day.

I would have liked to have seen more of Isaac's backstory. We get the major points that are related to the plot, but in some ways the straightforward provision of this information makes it feel less real and more an element that was added to create the story. A more natural reveal, as well as a few more character-building facts about Isaac's previous situation, would have made everything feel more realistic.

Thierry was just the right mix of uncertain, nonaggressive persona and knowledgeable bed partner. They had a nice dynamic and I was happy when they ended up together, but the story lacked any depth that really would have helped me care about the characters and their relationship.

24.11.13

Family Man by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton

Family Man by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton
Stars: 4/5

Length: 262 pages
Blurb
Sometimes family chooses you.

How does a man get to be forty without knowing whether he’s gay? That’s a question Vince Fierro is almost afraid to answer. If he is gay, it’ll be a problem for his big, fat Italian family. Still, after three failed marriages, he can’t help but wonder if he’s been playing for the wrong team.

There’s only one way to settle it, once and for all—head for Chicago’s Boystown bars, far from anyone who knows him. Naturally, he runs smack into someone from the neighborhood.

Between working two jobs, going to school, taking care of his grandmother, and dealing with his mother’s ongoing substance abuse, Trey Giles has little time for fun, let alone dating someone who swears he’s straight. Yet after one night of dancing cheek-to-cheek to the sultry strains of Coltrane, Trey finds himself wanting to help Vinnie figure things out—no promises, and no sex.

It seems like a simple plan, until their “no-sex” night turns into the best date of their lives and forges a connection that complicates everything.


Overall
Beautiful in its simplicity, heartwarming, and sometimes painful, this novel was a thick blanket on a cold night.

Review
While the trope of “not realizing you’re gay until 40” may seem far-fetched, Cullinan and Sexton do an admirable job of showing how Vince of the great big Italian family got there. There are still some moments that made me roll my eyes, but most of those were in humor at his family. In the first few pages we see of his family, their classic accents almost seemed offensive, but beyond that first scene, they don’t really leave that impression (possibly because those family members don’t talk as much).

While the main romance plotline is good, what really made this story for me was the build between the main story and the side stories (specifically two older characters, which was so sweet!). There is a lot going on in Trey’s life, and when dealing with an in-the-closet boyfriend, it almost seems impossible for him and Vince to get together. But because of all the things that surround these two men (including all those things that cause problems), they are able to be together. That’s what made this special: the family. (And yes, I realize that’s the title and all.)

While this is very much a traditional romance in some ways, in other aspects the romance is secondary. Obviously to family, but also the struggle of identity, dealing with family members who have addiction problems, finances, asking for help, and being honest with yourself. It made for a very touching tale.

That being said, I found the last scene to be perfect and yet oddly too much. It works (especially for Vince’s character), but it also was a bit too cheesy for me. But that’s kind of what I love about the rest of the story, so it didn’t negatively alter my opinion of the novel.

31.10.13

Where Nerves End (A Tucker Springs novel) by L.A. Witt

Where Nerves End (A Tucker Springs novel) by L.A. Witt
Stars: 3/5

Length: 61,000 words, 180 pages
Blurb
Jason Davis can handle a breakup. And an overwhelming mortgage. And a struggling business. And the excruciating pain that keeps him up at night thanks to a shoulder injury. Handling all of it at once? Not so much. When his shoulder finally pushes him to a breaking point, he takes a friend’s advice and gives acupuncture a try.

Michael Whitman is a single dad struggling to make ends meet. When a mutual friend refers a patient, and that patient suggests a roommate arrangement to alleviate their respective financial strains, Michael jumps at the opportunity.

Living together would be easy if Jason wasn’t so damned attracted to Michael. Good thing Michael’s straight, or the temptation might just be too much.

Well, their mutual friend says Michael is straight…


Overall
Sweet, cute story that isn't incredibly fresh, but holds up on its own. Another lovely Tucker Springs tale.

Review
Oddly enough, this was the first Tucker Springs story to come out, so of course it was the last one I read (not including any future releases)! Part of that was just circumstance, so when I had birthday money to burn on books, I remedied that problem.

I could very much associate with Jason and his pain, and his struggle to find something that would relieve the agony, along with the sleeplessness that can join that pain. (And I'll be honest, the story has caught my interest regarding acupuncture.)

While I liked Michael and Jason together, I struggled with the mid- to late-sections of the book. The conflict, while reasonable, didn't feel believable to me. I had trouble really relating to Michael's dilemma, although I realize it's a very real challenge. In real life, something minor--no matter imaginary or not--can stop us from going after what we want. So it wasn't that it wasn't something that needed to be overcome, I just felt he was making a bigger deal about the whole thing than was necessary.

But, along that same vein, the resolution and falling action all fit well with the story, the characters, and the conflict. So I guess I'm a little mixed on the whole thing. It's all perfectly reasonable and realistic, but it also made me want to smack Michael upside the head.

If anyone was scared off by the presence of child in the story, this one is fairly safe. He's 7 years old and only with Michael half the time, so he's barely on screen for those who prefer their romances child free. And toward the end, he has some rather cute scenes with his family.

In general, I found the story enjoyable, but it didn't wow me. Aside from some disagreements with Michael, I don't have anything bad to say about this tale. Definitely worth a read, especially for fans of Tucker Springs, who--if you're anything like me--want to collect them all! (And on that note: These probably work best read in order, but for the most part, it's not necessary. The only points given away is you know who ends up with whom, which is usually obvious anyway in this genre.)

27.10.13

Dance With Me by Heidi Cullinan

Dance With Me by Heidi Cullinan
Stars: 4.5/5

Length: 240 pages
Blurb
Ed Maurer has bounced back, more or less, from the neck injury that permanently benched his semi-pro football career, but every time he turns around, dance instructor Laurie Parker is in his way. But when a bargain lands him as an assistant in Laurie’s ballroom dancing class, everything changes.

As Laurie and Ed lose themselves in dance, their lives continue to spin around them: Ed’s injury makes it clear he’s nowhere near recovery, Laurie feels the pressure by friends and family to perform once more, and the community center that has become such an important part of both their worlds threatens to close. Alone, they haven’t had the strength or spirit to face what life has hurled at them. But as the turns of their personal paths lead them time and again to one another, Ed and Laurie begin to think that if they dance this dance together, they might be able to succeed.


Overall
A slow-building story that took two men who had to overcome their past--and their present--and gave them the strength to have each other. It was a lovely, sweet story that hit home for me.

Review
First off, I would recommend this book to anyone who is going or has gone through rehabilitation for a life-changing injury (as long as it's still not raw in your heart) and for anyone who knows one of these people. Ed's struggle and epiphany are hard to swallow, but read incredibly true.

Being that I'm still in some rehabilitation for an injury, sometimes it was difficult to read what Ed was going through, but there were lines that clawed especially deep. For those who need someone else to understand what it's like--even if it's just reading about that person--or those who need help understanding what it's like because of someone in their life: read this story.

Some of my noted quotes:

"It was like all the fear got buried in some weird subbasement inside him when things were good, because until the pain hit, he honestly thought he was okay."
"[His pain] wasn't a punishment. It wasn't a gift. It just was. His pain was his life. It wasn't all his life was, not always."
"But what I am done with is waiting for when things are better. I'm done waiting for the pain to be all gone. I'm done trying to keep it at bay."

That aside, this has an incredibly sweet couple who verbally spar in the beginning, but eventually come to understand each other. The turn from advasary into friends was nice, and the subtle blossoming of friendship into something more was even better. Yes, that tale has been told before, but this book doesn't focus on that change, but allows it to happen in the background.

We also get to see both men with weaknesses and opportunities to overcome those weaknesses, as well as the need to rely on their partner for strength. It was a perfect balance in the relationship, which lended to the believability of the relationship.

However, it also meant the story took time to develop each character's struggle, strength, and failure or victory. That, of course, means some parts seem to drag, just a little, as the reader waits for the next surprise. It also made for a longer telling, which wasn't bad, but it was a surprise.

The various cast of characters added good flavor to the two men, creating drama, but never being unrealistic, either. They were, in general, all good people, but they weren't cardboard cutouts. They could be mean (intentionally or not), they could be selfish, and they could be helpful in the way that kids just don't want their parent to be helpful. In other words, they were wonderfully human. I always appreciate when even the 'bad guy' gets the depth that most every human has.

So overall, a pretty perfect story that didn't get 5 stars because of the slow bits that were too noticeable to let slide.

5.10.13

Now for a dance number.

Strictly Ballroom - Dumped by his partner just before a major dance competition, gifted hoofer Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) is forced to take a graceless neophyte (Tara Morice) as his new partner. But much to everyone's surprise, Scott soon turns his unpromising protégé into a topnotch dancer. Bill Hunter, Pat Thomson, Gia Carides and Barry Otto also star in this quirky, engaging tale from Aussie director Baz Luhrmann.

(rent) This is an older flick, and it’s quirky, but I definitely think it’s worth checking out. I like that the romance is present, but it slowly builds and is more an underlying niceness rather than the focal point. The lead female isn’t upset when Scott is a douchebag because he doesn’t love her (although that comes up early on), she’s upset because he’s being a douchbag. He’s going back on what he promised and he’s betraying her--as a dancer. So much of the plot is ridiculous (in a good way, I think), but their relationship is so pure and honest. It’s a great contrast to the insanity of ballroom (along with the sanity of her family and her life, which is so grounded, while his family is crazy). Fun, cute, and worth a watch.

My Neighbor Totoro - Legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki provides a stunningly realistic portrayal of life in the country. When their mother is hospitalized, two young sisters spend a summer in the Japanese countryside with their father. The strange new environment turns out to be a natural wonderland filled with exotic real-life creatures and a trio of furry woodland sprites who can only be seen by children.

(rent/buy) This was an enjoyable, light, children's movie that touches upon some serious subjects but never delves too deep into the dark waters. I found the beginning to be a little slow, but once the premise was established, things picked up. It's not action-packed by any stretch, but it is a fantastic children's story exploring elements of the fantastic while staying grounded in the real world. While I imagine many little kids will not be enchanted by the lovely animation or slow story, they will be pulled in by the adventures had with spirits. Worth a watch, especially if you have kids, but even without, it's worth the hour and a half of your time.

The Big Gay Musical - When not playing leads in a musical called "Adam and Steve Just the Way God Made 'Em," Paul and Eddie act out the story of their own star-crossed lives offstage. The recently dumped Paul just wants to stay in, while Eddie is still coming out.

(rent/buy) Surprisingly awesome. I went in expecting it to be ridiculous--and it is--but it’s also a touching story about Paul and Eddie and their lives. The ending wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was pretty perfect. It will hit you in all the squishy love places and make you laugh (and roll your eyes) at the crazy stereotype they are playing up. And while some Christians may take offense, I imagine most the Christians following my blog won’t (although it’s obviously not meant to be taken too seriously anyway). Check it out!

It’s in the Water - A new AIDS hospice sends a tiny Southern town into a hysterical homophobic frenzy, and the locals start heeding rumors that the facility has tainted the town's water supply with something that "turns" people gay. Caught in the middle is harried wife Alex Stratton (Keri Jo Chapman), whose fling with high school pal Grace sets off more chain reactions.

(rent) This was fairly good, but not great. It has a daytime drama feel to it with the ridiculous events and the ridiculous characters, but it also has some very tender moments and some downright laughable ones. While this didn’t amaze me or blow me out of the water, it was worth the watch and I appreciated the equal access makeout scenes. Also, I love Alex’s father. I think he and the housekeeper were my favorite parts. He plays a wonderful “that’s nice dear” to Alex’s hysterical mother.

Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day - Skillfully framed by an unknown enemy for the murder of a priest, wanted vigilantes the MacManus brothers -- Murphy and Connor -- must come out of hiding on a sheep farm in Ireland to fight for justice in Boston.

(rent) Compared to the first one, the second is pitiful. The beginning humps the fan adoration of The Boys being naked, then wanders around searching for a plot and trying to re-do everything that “worked” in the first. Mostly violence and humor which, especially in this movie, wasn’t that funny. Also, in reaction to the heavy homo-eroticism of the first movie, the director decided to add as many gay jokes and homophobic comments as possible. That’s the bad.

The good is everything after ¾ of the way through. The ending brings back much of the awesome from the first movie, and there is even plot (which the beginning was supposedly building toward, but could have been truncated). Even then, the movie was made by the last two scenes, where things get more interesting and almost seems like a setup for a third movie (although I don’t see that happening after the disappointment of the second and Duffy’s bad blood in Hollywood). I only bought it because I’d forgotten how bad the beginning was and because I do love The Boys.

7.9.13

Bolt-Hole by Amy Lane

Bolt-Hole by Amy Lane
Stars: 3.5/5

Length: 246 pages
Blurb
Terrell Washington’s childhood was a trifecta of suck: being black, gay, and poor in America has no upside. Terrell climbed his way out of the hood only to hit a glass ceiling and stop, frozen, a chain restaurant bartender with a journalism degree. His one bright spot is Colby Meyers, a coworker who has no fear, no inhibitions, and sees no boundaries. Terrell and Colby spend their summers at the river and their breaks on the back dock of Papiano’s. As terrified as Terrell is of coming out, he’s helpless to stay away from Colby's magnetic smile and contagious laughter.

But Colby is out of college now, and he has grand plans for the future—plans Terrell is sure will leave his scrawny black ass in the Sacramento dust until a breathless moment stolen from the chaos of the restaurant tells Terrell he might be wrong. When the moment is shattered by a mystery and an act of violence, Terrell and Colby are left with two puzzles: who killed their scumbag manager, and how to fit their own lives—the black and the white of them—into a single shining tomorrow.


Overall
An enjoyable exploration of race and sexuality that culminates in an ending that felt previously done by Lane, but which didn't diminish my enjoyment.

Review
I’m going to get my biggest negative off my chest first thing: the ending.

The ending itself wasn’t bad, but for me, it read too similarly to Clear Water. I really enjoyed Clear Water and it had a fine ending, but there were too many parallels between the two. It read, just a tiny bit, like phoning it in.

Now, I’m sure many readers of both books will raise their brows and wondering what planet I’m from, because they are not really that similar at all. But it seemed that way to me, so I’m saying it.

And now that I’ve gotten that out, I can go on to say how much I enjoyed this book. There were a lot of different levels going on in the story, dealing with money, race, classism, and a trembling thread of mystery. They are obviously focal points to the story, especially Terrell’s character, but I also didn’t feel like a point was being driven into my skull.

In fact, changing perceptions (both about others and the self) seems to be a central theme to the story. Colby and Terrell are both more than what they appear, and so is one of their coworkers (whoever committed the crime). Obviously their reveal is happier than that of the killer, but it’s still about external expectations of a person because of A, B, and C, while really the person is X, Y, and Q.

In that regard, Colby is almost too good at seeing beyond the A,B, and C, but it’s also shown to be a weakness (as positive traits can often be). So even though it was, at times, hard to buy that he was so broad-minded, it also didn’t bother me much because of two reasons: he sometimes suffers because of it, and it’s what Terrell needs (and sometimes you have to let fiction do its thing).

This had a small cast of characters, but that reflected well with the closed-off world that they lived in, and most of the cast play an important role at some point, helping either further the murder mystery, develop Terrell’s sense of self, or representing what Terrell would be leaving behind if he could move on. But the supporting cast also gives signs of hope (along with passing on information for the leads and the reader). Lane used all of the characters to the fullest potential.

One final thing that some readers may take issue with: There is a slight White Knight Rescue going on, but for the most part it’s just because of money and I was able to let it slide. Sometimes people do need rescued, after all.

18.8.13

Rip out your heart and take it back

Strapped - A handsome young hustler (Ben Bonenfant) moves almost effortlessly through the world, modifying his persona to fit the needs of each client, even though it leaves him with little self-knowledge. That changes during one night of unusual encounters. After trysting with a shy Russian, the young man tries to leave the apartment building but is stymied by its maze-like structure and meets a string of quirky inhabitants who teach him about himself.

(rent) This is another odd movie. It’s good--slow--but enjoyable. Everything that happens to the hustler is kind of subtle and internal, but we can see the transformation happening to him from his first client to his last. This is one that’s good to watch, but I wasn’t amazed by it. It’s more thoughtful than anything. The sex is all present, but aside from some butt and one penis, everything is tasteful (although still R rated due to drugs and language). I think what’s most interesting about this story is the collection of stories that are told within it. We are supposed to see the change that happens to the main character, but just witnessing the stories of the men he meets is fascinating enough.

Amnesia: The James Brighton Enigma - When James Brighton (Dusan Dukic) is found beaten and naked on a park bench in Montreal, he has no idea who he is or how he got there -- all he remembers (eventually) is his name and that he's gay. Now, he's determined to learn the truth, but as increasingly disturbing details emerge, a community that initially supported him begins to doubt his veracity, wondering whether the whole incident wasn't just a clever hoax carried out by a callous con.

(rent) This is very slow moving as the truth behind “James Brighton” is revealed. Most of the beginning is just kind of a mass of uncertainty, and while it’s not depressing, it’s not positive either. As more truths are revealed, a lot more about the main character’s personality is revealed and it’s an interesting look at identity and re-inventing yourself. Also of note, this movie is based on a true story, which I think adds a certain level of awe to it.

Repo! The Genetic Opera - In the near future, a biotech company saves mankind with synthetic replacements for failed organs. But those who default on their new liver or heart are subject to repossession. Shilo (Alexa Vega) navigates this dystopia while searching for a cure for her rare illness. Her odyssey is set to a number of catchy songs in this tongue-in-cheek opera. Paris Hilton, Paul Sorvino, Anthony Head and Sarah Brightman round out the deliciously diverse cast.

(rent) This has some interesting songs, a very dark feel, but is also kind of campy. This has the feel of a cult classic and won’t appeal to everyone, although it will grab some and drive them mad. I found the story to be interesting and the style unique//refreshing, but it didn’t wow me. I had a plot point that just annoyed me as soon as I found out certain events. It probably won’t disappoint if you see a trailer and decide to rent it, but be in the mood for musical singing where sometimes you can’t understand what they’re saying.

Watercolors - At a gallery opening of his work, artist Danny Wheeler (Tye Olson) looks back at the intense experiences that have shaped his life, starting with a fateful high school romance with Carter Melman (Kyle Claire), a classmate and talented swimmer. Their strong but troubled attraction -- and the artistic inspiration that Danny drew from it -- still pose issues for him 15 years later, both in his art and his current romantic relationship.

(rent/buy) This is almost 2 hours, so a little on the long side. It’s also pretty slow and standard high school romance drama in the beginning, although the drama obviously focuses around very different things than the standards. I was lukewarm on this until about three-quarters of the way through where a combination of my recent experience and current state had me crying. I found it powerful and moving, but not all viewers will. Still, I think it’s worth a watch, although I found the ending both hopeful and depressing. It’s very slow, and a little cheesy, but I think it has some good commentary about love, high school, and moving on.

Plan B - After his girlfriend, Laura (Mercedes Quinteros), dumps him and takes up with handsome charmer Pablo (Lucas Ferraro), Bruno (Manuel Vignau) plots revenge: He tries to come between the new lovers. But his plan -- which entails a growing friendship with Pablo -- soon takes an unexpected turn. Though Laura still goes out with Bruno now and again, his sexuality comes into question in this Argentinean import from first-time director Marco Berger.

(rent) Awkward movie is awkward. The one thing I felt made this watchable is the story that gets told, mainly surrounding Pablo. Aside from Pablo, I had difficulties connecting to the characters...Bruno who is deceiving Pablo and still sleeping with Laura, Laura who is cheating on Pablo with Bruno, and Pablo is just being a person who is being confused by the warring emotions within him.

His awakening--and the resulting awakening in Bruno--were interesting, although I found some of the events surrounding it to be stilted. It wasn’t hard to understand Pablo’s pain, but eventually it’s possible to understand Bruno too, although because of his previous actions it’s hard to be too forgiving. I found the end fitting, if not somewhat confusing. The picture leaves much of the conclusions to be drawn by the watcher, which opens up some level of interpretation...or maybe just confusion.

Generally this is maybe worth a watch if you want 2 hours of very mellow (and sometimes very awkward) movie watching, but it’s not the strongest piece I’ve seen, especially lately.

17.8.13

Hiatus-Like Thing

Just an update.

You may have noticed my posts, when they restarted after the accident, were twice a week instead of thrice. And lately once a week. Errr, yeah.

My personal life has been hectic. (Work full time, work part time, going to a chiropractor 3x a week, visiting with friends once a week, housesitting for various family members, and, oh yeah, relaxing.)

Work is fairly stressful on my eyes/brain, so I haven't been 'reading for pleasure' as much as I once did. I'm hoping this will change in time, but for now it's a limitation I'm working within.

So what does this mean? Mainly it means my reviews will be coming...when they come. I'm hoping this hiatus won't last long, but I wanted to let you know why the slow trickle may have suddenly stopped. It will return. I will be sure to announce if I ever plan on NOT continuing my reviews. That isn't the plan at the moment.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

11.8.13

Weight of a Gun II, an anthology by Storm Moon Press

Weight of a Gun II, an anthology by Storm Moon Press
Stars: 3.5/5

Length: 36,000
Blurb
Everyone knows that guns are dangerous; they have long been a subject surrounded by controversy. Combine them with sex and you have a subject that is virtually taboo, but smoking hot. Our second gun kink anthology continues to push the envelope of combining sex and guns with three more stories hot enough to cause powder burns.

Continuing in the world of
The Machinist, Avery Belfour and his captor/lover Lord Harrow now face the threat of The Inquisitor. But Harrow is very possessive of his prize and has no intention of turning Avery over without a fight.

Then, a routine black market bust goes wrong for Officer Caleb Baker. He ends up
Playing With the Big Boys when the thieves get the drop on him and decide to have some fun with their new catch.

And finally, Cole Beauchamp is the greatest pistoleer of all time; he's also thoroughly unpleasant and has a habit of scaring away his assistants. But when he is sought out by a devotee with a love of guns that matches his own, Cole finds a new respect for
Benjamin Pepperwhistle and the Fantabulous Circus of Wonders.

Overall
This has some good stories, and for those more into gun kink, this will definitely be something to pick up. They are all well written and enjoyable, although some of the stories were lacking, which turned what could have been a fantastic anthology into an average one.

Though the cover makes up for that a little. Another gorgeous one.

The Inquisitor by Gryvon
Stars: 2.5/5
Note: I read "The Mechinist" in the previous anthology, but didn't remember any of it when reading this story. Even taking into consideration the previous story, I think most of my qualms still stand.

I feel like I'm missing something from this story. There is so much world building, and while it happens through character action, there is also a lot of unknowns that are never explained. The end resolution also feels incomplete, as if the lessons learned by Avery only had a minor purpose, when it feels like a grander scheme is in play. More points are raised and never really mentioned, and the title (and instigating element) seems secondary to much of the story.

I enjoyed the writing and everything that I saw here, but it felt like an incomplete story. There were too many elements left hanging and while a happy ending isn't completely necessary, this felt more like the opening chapter than a standalone. I want more--not just because I enjoyed it so much, but because it felt unfinished. I would have loved to have given this a higher star rank, but the ending was not enough of an ending to satisfy. Considering this is the second story of this type, it seems to be ongoing, but offers no indication when it'd be continued.

Playing With the Big Boys by Scarlet Blackwell
Stars:3/5
For readers sensitive to rape, this story may trigger, but despite the circumstances, the main characters enjoys what he's given, which kind of recalls the adage, "It's not rape if you like it." (Whether or not you agree with that is completely different.) This is very much the setup of a porn, and with the amount of smut going on, it feels like a porn. However, that's not a bad thing. This story relishes it's dirty, dirty place in the world and hopes to take the reader along with it down the path of pleasure.

I could never really sink into the story. It wasn't quite believable (again, the porn storyline) and the hints we're given about the ending, while I think were absolutely fitting and necessary, also had me hurrying through to find out if I was right. So yes, this story is unabashedly gun smut being gun smut. But it's well written, enjoyable, and very, very dirty. There are definitely some questionable morals in most of the characters, but the fact that the narrator enjoys everything so much makes it hard to be too annoyed at the circumstances.

Benjamin Pepperwhistle and the Fantabulous Circus of Wonders by Cornelia Grey
Stars: 5/5
Yum. This is a sexy, smoking hot piece that weaves in touches of humor and humanity that brings it all together. I loved the two main characters (one hard ass, one newbie) and the colorful people who surround them in rainbows of movement. While the plot is pretty much exactly what you expect, it delivers in every way you want it to. And maybe even a little more.

I think my only complaint (and it's minor) would be that we learn nothing about Pepperwhistle's life before he came to the circus. But that's mostly just reader curiosity, I think the hints and teases we're given are all that's needed for the story. After all, he's leaving all of that behind him and moving forward--there's no point dwelling on the past.

Another fantastic piece by Grey!

3.8.13

Pup (Guards of Folsom: Book One) by SJD Peterson

Pup (Guards of Folsom: Book One) by SJD Peterson
Stars: 3.5/5

Length: 214 pages
Blurb
Micah “Pup” Slayde knows he wants Tackett Austin the moment he lays eyes on him in the Guards of Folsom. Micah wants to have purpose, to be taken care of, and to take care of his Dom—wants to trust him completely, live for him, belong to him. To become his everything. Micah is sure Tackett is the one. The problem is, in order to be the perfect sub, he needs to stay focused, and that’s not easy for Micah, who suffers from what he refers to as a “broken brain.” Focus and adult attention deficit disorder rarely coexist.

Ever since Ty Callahan and Blake Henderson’s collaring ceremony, Tackett’s been thinking too much about his own loneliness. Even though Ty introduces Micah and urges Tackett to give him a try, Tackett isn’t so easily convinced. He’s spent his life pursuing a successful business career, and the subs he dominates almost never enjoy the kiss of his leather twice. Twenty years Micah’s senior, Tackett has no interest in taking on and taming such a young and naughty sub—but it’s difficult to resist such an adorable pup when he begs.


Overall
An enjoyable, if not surprisingly mellow, novel that taps more into the psychological than the sensual.

Review
I went into this novel with fairly high expectations, I think, and the novel didn't exactly disappoint, but it wasn't what I'd been expecting either. The story is very mellow and the conflict happens in small waves rather than a rising action—climax—falling action style. In some ways this works for the books, because it shows Micah's small improvements over time in a realistic way. It also lets the characters come together (specifically the Dom) and create an emotional bond.

However, it also meant that when I hit the epilogue, I was surprised. I was at the end? Because nothing had really happened yet. Because all the actions are small waves, there was no big wave to ride out the end of the story on. Again, this isn't necessarily bad, but it does interrupt the reader's expected story flow and make the ending seem sudden.

Something that could work against this story for some readers is that the main plot takes place over two weeks. It works for the purposes of the story and it works for the characters, but some people may cry "instalove" although I don't think it applies. We don't see every day of those two weeks (and I feel that we could have seen more), but the days we see are the ones pertinent to the story and development.

One nice thing about this story was that while it had a sexual focus, it wasn't so heavily ladened with sex scenes that I grew bored with them. Because the focus was more on submission than sexual satisfaction, it lent itself to satisfying the needs of the story and relationship without sex happening on screen every four paragraphs. Many BDSM novels fall into the trap of BDSM = SEX, and while this is often true, this story explored other elements of it as well.

This is not a book to pick up if you want some sexy BDSM time. However, it definitely has its own strengths ands presents some interesting characters and differently presents some elements of BDSM. While I would have liked to have seen more of the training played out to experience what the characters were going through, we see enough to get a feel for the relationship.

27.7.13

boys, boys, boys

Boy Crush - From a bittersweet tale about unrequited love to the story of a deaf jock secretly in love with his teammate to a Hitchcockian thriller, this internationally flavored anthology features seven gay-themed short films with a singular topic: the crush. The collection includes "Summer" (Great Britain), "Night Swimming" (United States), "Running Without Sound" (United States), "Out Now" (Germany) and "The Bridge" (Australia).

(rent) There are two other shorts in addition to the ones listed. One was “Hitchcocked,” one of my favorites, and the other was “Oedipe - [N+1]” which was interesting, sort of dystopian future. The first two shorts were kind of sad, the second more than the first. The third had a glimmer of hope and the fourth was very sad, but ended on a positive note. Unfortunately, “The Bridge” didn’t really make sense to me and I’m not sure if I’m missing too much cultural context or what, but I feel like parts of the story were left unexplained.

For those who are interested, you can watch “Hitchcocked” here. (Be sure to watch after the first set of credits for a bit more of the movie):

Romeos - Transgendered 20-year-old Lukas is going through gender reassignment treatment, a process eased by his friendship with the lesbian Ine. As Ine introduces him to Cologne's gay scene, Lukas sees his romantic opportunities open up.

(rent) While I felt this was a well-done film focusing on trans* issues while also providing a romantic plot, I also felt it was somewhat lacking. It was a little slow, probably because of the subject matter, and I had a hard time understanding what Lukas saw in Fabio. That aside, the film gives a raw look at humans being humans in all their self-centered glory, while trying to be themselves. While it wasn’t powerful enough to move me, I’d definitely recommend people check it out once. Also, once again the summary feels very different from what we’re given.

Ciao - After the death of his close friend, Mark, Jeff (Adam Neal Smith) begins corresponding via e-mail with Andrea (Alessandro Calza), an Italian with whom Mark had an online relationship. Upon Jeff's suggestion, Andrea comes to visit, and the two men explore Mark's life and grow closer. A quiet and tender look at relationships and desire, this drama also stars Ethel Lung, Chuck Blaum and John Boles.

(rent) This was a slow moving film, definitely more artistic than action, but it’s very moving and touching. The exploration of feelings, relationships, and how we know a person is well done and often without many words. I’m not really sure why this is rated R, as nothing sexual happens and I don’t even think there’s much (if any) cursing. This is beautiful, but was kind of hard for my heart to watch as well.

Loveless - Director Kurenai Yu's adventure-filled anime series finds sixth-grader Aoyagi Ritsuka at a crossroads. His older brother Seimei was brutally murdered two years ago, and now Ritsuka thirsts for revenge. But how can a 12-year-old fight for justice? Enter Agatsuma Soubi, Seimei's former cohort, who arrives on the scene to help the boy hunt down the killers and uncover the truth behind the mysterious murder.

(rent/buy) First of all, the Netflix description above is..um..interesting. And not really how I felt the story was portrayed, even if it’s sorta true. I watched this over about a year with a serious concussion in between, so keep that in mind. But Ritsuka isn’t really the “thirst for revenge” type.

I enjoyed this for the relationship between Ritsuka and Soubi, though I found things moved VERY slowly and ultimately left us with a cliffhanger ending (aka, blue balls). While there is some resolution and the characters are bonding, it’s not really a complete resolution. It’s mostly a teaser to encourage you to read the manga. For lovers of anime, for people who like teases of BL, and for lovers of cat boys, this is worth checking out, but keep in mind my warning.

Ai No Kusabi: The Space Between - In the future, on a distant star lives a new society. Ruled by a computer system named Jupiter, men are divided into classes based on their hair color. The Blondies, genetically altered by Jupiter, are the highest class and occupy the capital city of Tanagura. Those with black hair, Mongrels, are forced to live in the slums, Ceres. Iason, the leader of the Blondies, encounters Riki, a mongrel, in the streets of Ceres one night and sets out to own him.

(rent) While I enjoyed what we’re given here, it’s more of the beginning of something rather than the complete set. This could easily be a 12-episode set, but I’m not sure we’ll ever get that. What we get here is good, but is mostly building a plot that we’ll never see, so while I think it’s worth a watch, I can’t outright recommend it for purchase.

21.7.13

The Good Fight (The Good Fight Series) by Andrew Grey

The Good Fight (The Good Fight Series) by Andrew Grey
Stars: 3/5

Length: 200 pages
Blurb
Jerry Lincoln has a problem: his Sioux Falls IT consulting business has more work than one man can handle. Luckily, that means he can hire some help. Jerry just hopes his new employee, John Black Raven, ends up being more helpful than distracting—but John’s deep eyes and long hair are very distracting.

John came to town for an education and a chance at a life he couldn’t have on the reservation, but what’s important to him now is getting a job and keeping it. Six months ago, his sister died, and now her children are in foster care. Despite having the law on his side, John can’t get custody—can’t even see his niece and nephew.

As Jerry and John grow closer, John discovers he doesn’t have to struggle alone. Jerry helps him win visitation rights and provides much-needed support. Yet their victories aren’t without setbacks. Child Services is tangled up with money, politics, and red tape, and Native American children are their bread and butter. But John and Jerry are determined to fight the good fight and to win—in more ways than one.


Overall
A classic Andrew Grey romance with an interesting story that touches upon specific topics I don’t see much in this genre. The unique elements definitely added to the story.

Review
I'm not a huge fan of Grey's writing style, especially during sex scenes, but I can't deny he does standard romance well. And while many of the stories I've read by him involve a dramatic climax, I found this story to be refreshing in that the conflict happened over the course of the book.

In addition to the main struggle between John and children's services, there were also multiple minor issues that kept the story flowing at a steady pace, including whether to date an employee, cultural differences, family acceptance, and being gay in a small town. Not all of these themes are challenges they have to actively face, but they all play a part in creating the men we see on page.

Some of the best, and necessary, moments of the story involved racism, both against natives and against whites. ("Evil White Woman" as a nickname was great.) This did an excellent job of showing that racism works both ways (although some degrees of racism seems more reasonable), and also worked to open the minds of both sides of the race barrier, not just one. Because people are people, no matter the color of their skin or their culture.

While children in stories often play a background role, Grey did a nice job of involving the children without overwhelming the story. They were a central point of the story and necessary to its progression, but they were balanced in the writing, and in their personalities, adding flavor, not distraction.

I think my biggest qualm with the storyline was at the very end, when one character is gay that I felt would have worked better as straight. While there's nothing wrong with the character being gay, and possibly makes the support he offers “make sense,” I felt it also made the resolution there feel less solid, as if his support (and that of the group he represents) of the situation was only because he was gay. I don't think that's what Grey was saying, but it left the ghost of that impression when I read it.

14.7.13

A Lie I Can Live With by Eden Winters

A Lie I Can Live With by Eden Winters
Stars: 3.5/5

Length: 67 pages
Blurb
With a few extra pounds and a geek reputation, Otis Tucker despairs of ever finding someone to share his life with. When the GLBT dating service GetaDate.com matches him with handsome hunk Garret, he thinks it's some kind of joke. But the more he learns of Garret, the more he realizes that even gorgeous people can be taken at face value and that Mr. Perfects come in many different sizes.

Overall
A wonderfully sweet holiday piece that puts you in the lovey-dovey mood, but is more sugar than substance.

Review
The only reason I couldn't give this a perfect 5-star rating was that not much happened. It's a great story to sit down and read in one sitting, and it has all the required tender moments, but it lacks in plot. Aside from Otis's internal struggles, there is no conflict. Which is great for our leading guys, but will leave some readers disappointed.

Despite the lack of conflict, I still enjoyed this. Maybe I associate with Otis too closely (and hey, where's my Garret?), but if you're looking for a laid-back romance, this will probably be your thing. I found Otis to be positively adorable, and hearing their tame exploits as they wooed each other was fun and sweet.

So yes, there isn't much plot, no twist, no real challenge to overcome, but if you need your shot of romance happiness, this will give it to you tenfold.

10.7.13

More by Sloan Parker

More by Sloan Parker
Stars: 2.5/5

Length: 245 pages
Blurb
For fifteen years Luke Moore has lived by three rules: stay off his father's radar, never spend more than a single night with any man, and never fall in love again. But one night of explosive sex and two men whom he can't get out of his head have Luke breaking them all. Richard and Matthew push him past all his boundaries--both sexually and personally--and now he's no longer hiding from his senator father; he's taking him on. And he isn't just falling for one man; he's falling for two. If you're going to break the rules, might as well break them big.

But Luke's father has his reasons for hating how his son lives, and he'll do whatever he can and use all his power to keep Luke away from Richard and Matthew.

Can this threesome find a way to make their unconventional relationship last with the world around them trying to pull them apart? And will Luke be able to keep breaking his rules for Richard and Matthew, or will he head back to his familiar way of life just when his new lovers want to bind him tighter?


Overall
An interesting story with a sexy threesome that dragged out the plot with too many sex scenes and a somewhat unbelievable set of circumstances.

Review
This is a long novel, which isn't a bad thing--at least not completely. The pacing is fairly steady in regards to the actual plot. However, the length at times felt due to the author not focusing on the flow of the story, or maybe focusing too much on too many different parts of the relationship.

The main conflict (Luke versus his father) was always an underlying threat as these men came together, but while it worked as a motivating factor for Luke, I found it difficult to believe. (From the beginning, Luke came across more as paranoid than cautious, which made it hard to suspend my disbelief.) Obviously people often behave irrationally, but I found it hard to believe that Luke, who has been tormented by his father for years, never actually takes any action to protect himself besides hiding.

On the other hand, unless Luke's father is insane (which his final scene would indicate he's not), I found his obsession with his son kind of extreme. He's always talking about how Luke will affect his career, but he keeps pushing Luke in ways that would make any rational person draw as much attention as possible so that people knew what a crazy asshat the father was. Why would a man who wants his son to keep quiet keep doing that?

To some degree I give leeway because obviously people react differently in different situations, but I just couldn't buy both of these men making such idiotic choices at the same time.

On the other hand, I love how Luke's father screws with Richard and Matthew, and I particularly like the small dramas that these men bring to the table as well and how they work together in the relationship and help Luke handle things.

The relationship between the three men was handled well, and while at times it was hard to see what the other two saw in Luke, I think it worked--mainly because it was from Luke's perspective and he found it difficult to understand what they saw in him too. There are glimpses where he is the perfect fit for one or both of them, and that made the relationship work. I also liked that all three men came together at once instead of a pair taking on a third. This seems to be the way a threesome would work best, although it's obviously the hardest to conjure. Parker did it well here.

I found the sex scenes to be kind of repetitious after a while, and also too many (which kind of go hand in hand). Anytime they have an argument, a bad day, or eat food, sex happens. While not all of the scenes are detailed, I still found myself rolling my eyes and saying, "Another sex scene." Also, although it is pointed out once, they tended to use sex to solve problems, or at least as a Band-Aid. I think if it wouldn't have happened so often, I probably wouldn't have minded, but the continuous "Disagreement-Fight-Sexy" pattern wore me out.

Finally, although I couldn't buy the conflict between father and son, I thought the final confrontation between them was very enjoyable. Not completely surprising, but I liked seeing a different part of the father and the resolution, along with the conversation Luke has with his mother after.

There are definitely positive parts of this book, but I found the overwhelming amount of supposedly mind-blowing sex weighed down the flow of the story, and I had a difficult time believing some of the actions of the antagonist and protagonist.

4.7.13

Good Breeding by JL Merrow

Good Breeding by JL Merrow
Stars: 5/5

Length: ~6,000 words
Blurb
Adopted as a baby, Giles Frobisher has grown up with every privilege. Encouraged by his best friend—and secret crush—Oz to seek out his birth mother, he’s appalled to discover she’s loud, lower-class, and insists on calling him Wayne!

Giles’ snobbier-than-thou, none-too-faithful boyfriend Hugh is equally horrified, and Oz, who’s always been secretive about his own family, starts acting very strangely.

It seems Giles is about to learn that good breeding has nothing to do with who your parents are!


Overall
Utterly adorable. Good, clean fun in a short story.

Review
This is less a romance than a look at English social class, genes versus environment, and an inner reflection in a cute, humorous way. The main character is a classic "too blind to see the love in front of him" type but the characters in the story make this tale come to life.

There are no real surprises or twists, just a slice of life as a snob finds out his true heritage, the unveiling of which reveals truths about his boyfriend and his best friend. A character study of sorts, although I don't think this short takes itself quite so serious, although it touches upon serious topics. It's a feel-good romantic comedy and I think it plays out perfectly.

Because this is a short story, there isn't a whole lot of meat here, but that would probably be my only complaint. And along those lines, while it's not meaty, it is a good thick broth with some hearty chunks. (Me and my food comparisons, right?) For what this is, I think it brings a lot to the table, and that's what really won me over with this story.

29.6.13

Blood Red Butterfly by Josh Lanyon

Blood Red Butterfly by Josh Lanyon
Stars: 3/5

Length: 28,000 words
Blurb
Despite falling in love with aloof manga artist Kai Tashiro, Homicide Detective Ryo Miller is determined to break the alibi Kai is supplying his murderous boyfriend--even if it means breaking Kai with it.

Overall
An enjoyable, well-written story with a simple, interesting plot...unfortunately I feel the sheer amount of sex detracts from the complex character building, leaving me with two not particularly likable characters who seem to have a sexual dynamic as their only basis for a relationship.

Review
I think one of my biggest issues that arose comes from the expectations I had for the story. I really liked the cover art and the basis of the story. And in many ways I enjoyed the characters, both of whom are stubborn gits. But I struggled to feel any connection between the two leading men aside from sexual.

They had sex. A lot. Which may not bother most people, but I felt it detracted from time that could have been used to develop the emotional bond. I wanted these two to go together so badly, but I felt the ground beneath their feet was too flimsy to really stand up to a real relationship. Along those lines, there is a time skip that ends with a very nice scene that seems to show how much the two men mean to each other, but doesn't feel substantiated by any of their previous interactions.

Despite what appears to be mainly negatives about this story, I did enjoy it. The two men are dry and funny (and sometimes incredibly stupid). They snark and snap at each and for the most part can handle what the other brings. I can see the beginnings of a deep relationship, but I'm not sure the story we see fully develops it.

I was also a little confused about Kai's involvement with the murder suspect, why he kept hooking up with him, and how he felt toward him, or if it was purely a sexual matter, much like all his male-male relationships seem to be.

So mostly, I enjoyed this, but not as much as I was hoping, which could be in part due to my own expectations being disappointed.

Note: I read this all in one sitting during a miserable night of insomnia, but my glimpses back at the story afterward seem to reinforce my opinions above.

22.6.13

The Perks of Playing Fruits and Boys

Role/Play - A sex tape outs soap opera hunk Graham (Steve Callahan), who's summarily fired. At a Palm Springs resort to decompress, he meets Trey (Matthew Montgomery), a gay marriage advocate whose own relationship is on the skids. After a bumpy introduction, the two hit it off and love blossoms. But there's more to each man's scandalous past than they're ready to admit, and the truth has a way of getting out. David Pevsner and Jim J. Bullock co-star.

(rent/buy) I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. Some of the plot and drama felt a little forced, but if you ignore that, it’s a sweet love story about two men who overcome preconceived notions about one another. I personally found the innkeeper to be the best character, but there is a fun collection of four guys, two of whom are the leads, and they all bring something to the table. This is definitely worth a watch, but keep in mind it’s more a short story than a novel. It’s not meaty or heavy, but it did have a moment when my little heart ached.

Fruit Fly - When a performance artist (L.A. Renigen) moves into an artists' commune in San Francisco to work on her latest show and search for her biological mother, she soon realizes she's surrounded by "family" in this musical from H.P. Mendoza. Filled with clever production numbers -- including "Fag Hag" and "Public Transit" -- and creative visuals, the film provides an exuberant tale of artists trying to find their voices.

(rent) This is for a certain set, I'd say. It was oddly enjoyable, sorta well done, and kind of deep. It plays off tons of stereotypes that could either amuse or offend the viewer. I found the lyrics hard to follow and the instruments overwhelmed the words, but it was easy enough to get the gist without them. The film looks at the creative community and the queer community, but doesn't seem to have a strong focus on one plot line. Some of the songs are OK, but some are fairly enjoyable. So, worth a watch, but not something I'd want on my shelf.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - In this engaging coming-of-age tale based on the best-selling novel by Stephen Chbosky, a shy freshman struggling with depression deals with his best friend's suicide and his first love -- and finds help from two seniors who take an interest in him.

(buy) I read this book (probably around 2003) and when I heard the movie was being made, I was cautiously excited. It’s been a while since I read the book, but the movie feels like an honest and faithful adaptation. I’m sure some things have been changed, but the important rough stuff stayed, which I was concerned they’d toe around. Definitely worth a watch as it’s well acted, well scripted, and overall, very well done. My two friends (who knew nothing about it), also enjoyed it.

Vampire Boys - In this gay-themed horror flick, Jason Lockhart heads the cast as Jasin, a century-old vampire who -- in an effort to save his band of bloodsuckers -- goes on the prowl in Los Angeles looking for an eternal mate. But after settling on a flaxen-haired college beauty who's willing to fill the bill, Jasin finds his plan disrupted when he meets a fresh-faced young student named Caleb (Christian Ferrer).

(rent) This is not an awesome movie. While watching it, I compared it to the first Twilight movie. Mostly awkward acting and bad dialogue. Though by the end I had some serious issues with the main character, who has some very questionable decision-making skills. The leading guys don’t really warm your heart, making it difficult to side with them, although the appearance of an actual antagonist (besides time) helps. A little. Although it’s a little abrupt. I think what this movie suffers from most is being a vampire movie, as everything is trying too hard to be vampire-tastic. Ah well, they can’t all be winners.

Boy Culture - A male prostitute with the enigmatic name of X carefully avoids personal intimacy and affection, maintaining his stoic approach until one of his regular customers tempts him to reconsider his position by sharing a meaningful story.

(buy) This movie surprised me and blew me away. I was expecting a poorly acted porny film with a thin plot to fill in the film description. What I got was well-done sex scenes that were more pan-to-fire-place than porn and was neck deep in emotional plot. It’s very first-person narrative, and elements are very reflective, but it also looks at society as a whole, at people, at relationships, and at changing. I was choked up at least twice and laughed out loud at least once. Plus the eye candy is worth it. Classy and deep, I’ll be watching this one again.

19.6.13

Pricks and Pragmatism by JL Merrow

Pricks and Pragmatism by JL Merrow
Stars: 3.5/5

Length: 60 pages
Blurb
English student and aspiring journalist Luke Corbin should be studying. Instead he’s facing homelessness, thanks to the lover who’s just kicking him out of their posh digs. It’s not his first rejection—his father tossed him out at age sixteen—but Luke has no problem trading his favors for a home and security. Especially with rich, powerful, handsome men.

Except now, with finals bearing down, there’s no time to be choosy. He needs a roof over his head and he needs it now. Even if it means settling temporarily for a geeky, less-than-well-off chemical engineer called Russell.

Luke’s fully prepared to put out for the guy—because after all, in this world no one gets something for nothing. But Russell isn’t just a nerd; he’s an honourable nerd who wants to save himself for someone special.

At first Luke is annoyed, but the more time he spends with Russell, the closer he comes to a devastating realization. He wants to be that someone special. Except he’s fallen for the one man he can’t seem to charm…


Overall
The perfect length for this look at Luke’s change from sugar-daddy hopping playboy to a fool in love.

Review
I was bumming around and saw this on my kindle so I decided to dive in. It was short enough to entice me and yet long enough to develop everything I wanted to see. I also read it at probably the perfect time: I didn’t want something too involved, didn’t want anything too heavy, and I didn’t want to have to work for it.

It's surprisingly tear-jerking, although not an outright-crying story. Luke evolves quickly over the story, just because Russell is such a different kind of roommate that he has to change to deal with. The two are total opposites, but Merrow does an admirable job of showing how they end up meeting in the middle and how their differences work for them.

Luke is very likeable, even if you're like me and have no fondness for playboys. Because even if he does pretty much sell himself for room and board, he's not a harsh personality. He's still very human. And Russell is geeky and awkward, but also kind of adorable, especially seeing him through Luke's eyes.

The plot isn't too thick or deep, but the author uses the various side characters to build a world around these two men, and that helps the story work and not be a flimsy romance. So while it's enjoyable and the characters are a ton of fun, the plot is probably the weakest part, although it still stands up to a re-read.

Also, it took me re-reading Hard Tail to realize that the Luke and Russell that make an appearance are these two. I love that!

15.6.13

Oddly Normal by John Schwartz

Oddly Normal by John Schwartz
Stars: 5/5

Length: 304 pages
Blurb
A heartfelt memoir by the father of a gay teen, and an eye-opening story for families who hope to bring up well-adjusted gay adults.

Three years ago, John Schwartz, a national correspondent at The New York Times, got the call that every parent hopes never to receive: his thirteen-year-old son, Joe, was in the hospital following a failed suicide attempt. After mustering the courage to come out to his classmates, Joe’s disclosure — delivered in a tirade about homophobic attitudes—was greeted with dismay and confusion by his fellow students. Hours later, he took an overdose of pills.

Additionally, John and his wife, Jeanne, found that their son’s school was unable to address Joe’s special needs. Angry and frustrated, they initiated their own search for services and groups that could help Joe understand that he wasn’t alone. Oddly Normal is Schwartz’s very personal attempt to address his family’s own struggles within a culture that is changing fast, but not fast enough to help gay kids like Joe.

Schwartz follows Joseph through childhood to the present day, interweaving his narrative with common questions, including: Are effeminate boys and tomboy girls necessarily gay? Is there a relationship between being gay and suicide or mental illness? Should a child be pushed into coming out? Parents, teachers, and counselors alike will welcome Oddly Normal and its crucial lessons about helping gay kids –and any kid who is different -- learn how to cope in a potentially hostile world.


Overall
In a touching, educational, and surprisingly thought-provoking memoir, John Schwartz tells the story of his son--and of other LGBT youths. The focus is Joseph’s unique journey, but the author also uses his tale as a reflection of what LGBT youths, and teens in general, face. The topics include sexuality and the social atmosphere, as well as the ramifications of coming out and the statistics on gay teens (and the strength of that evidence). But Joseph’s struggles also touch upon mental health, ranging from teachers tossing diagnoses at children to the use of powerful medications on growing bodies.

Review
The tale opens with Joseph’s suicide attempt, then backtracks to the beginning—Joe’s birth. We are given a slow progression through his life, with contemplation about early signs of his sexuality and his progression through the stages of childhood. Between chapters exploring his son’s life, John provides information, sometimes on sexuality, sometimes on mental health. While he provides a wide variety of statistics, he also evaluates the quality of the data and studies that have confirmed or refuted what are often considered well-known facts.

As Joseph’s unique personality begins to be expressed, other traits begin to appear as well. While they don’t show up at home, troubling behaviors begin to occur at school, ranging from confronting authority, biting the back of his hand, and difficulties socializing. These behaviors—which vary and fluctuate year to year depending on how the teacher handles Joe—lead to conflicts with the school system, a series of therapists and counselors, and a flood of diagnoses.

While sexuality does play a key role in Joseph’s story, and in his mental health, it is the mental and behavioral health issues that become the focus. The Schwartzes are hesitant to place young Joseph on medication, especially when different therapists and psychiatrists can’t agree on a diagnosis, and so, for a large portion of the tale, Joseph faces his problems with the help of mental health professionals, both in and out of school.

The debate on whether children should be given powerful medications for their mental and behavioral health conditions is analyzed, but in some part doesn’t affect Joe until the pressure at school from his announced sexuaity build up and he attempts suicide at age 13. This thrusts him into a more intense evaluation of his problems and pinpoints one major motivating factor as depression.

Once he’s on medication for his depression (and again, there is a discussion on what medications are appropriate for children) and has resumed therapy, Joseph improves. His new out status also enables him to join the LGBT community and see that he is not as alone as he previous felt. The memoir ends with him still in high school, but it leaves him in a hopeful, happy place.

Oddly Normal is a memoir, not a self-help book, but John recognizes that the story he shares can be used to help other parents facing similar struggles. However, he is quick to point out that every child and every family will go through different experiences and overcome different obstacles. He is not trying to tell parents how to handle their child, but merely showing what he and his wife did, how it worked out, and the information he gathered along the way.

12.6.13

Bookended by Heidi Belleau

Bookended by Heidi Belleau
Stars: 3.5/5

Length: 32 pages
Blurb
Ad exec Fletcher Williams has the ideal personal assistant. Julian is hardworking, totally in tune with his boss’s needs, capable of enviable attention to detail... and completely willing to apply all those skills to their mutually gratifying sexual relationship. Fletcher doesn’t realize the extent to which he’s wrapped around Julian’s finger—until Julian invites Ogden, a bi-curious young artist they meet in a bookshop, to come home with them. After adding Ogden to their sex life, will Fletcher and Julian be able to return to business as usual?

Overall
A sexy little short that left me wanting more, dammit!

Review
This was enjoyable, but left me with a serious case of emotional blue balls. As a slice of life, this works great, showing Fletcher and Julian in their standard turn of affairs, picking up guys and taking them home for the night. However, the opening and closing scenes, in addition to moments sprinkled throughout, hint at so much more.

And it's this more that my brain is obsessing over. Is what I'm implying actually true to the story, or is it just what I want so badly that I'm imagining it? I think leaving this couple where we are left/abandoned is a good spot to leave them and is fitting with both them and the story--because any resolution would be rather far down the road, I imagine--but it doesn't make it any less difficult to be left there.

That said, if you can go in with the warning that the question asked at the end of the blurb never really gets answered--insert sigh here--then this will be a fun little threesome. If you're more like me--insert second sigh here--you'll still enjoy these three men getting hot and heavy, but you may be pulling at your hair and plotting how to make Belleau tell you it IS a happy ever after.

Either way, enjoy!

3.6.13

I'm a beginner at the blues..

Dorian Blues - A closeted gay high schooler on the verge of college lets it all hang out in this witty tale. After hiding his feelings forever, Dorian can't wait to move to New York City, but before he leaves, something inside him snaps.

(rent) This wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought it was more high school comedy, but it was actually pretty serious and deep. It definitely had funny moments, but they were more toward the beginning (and focused around the psychologist). It felt like Catcher in the Rye but less emo/angst, and it is a look at relationships with family and ourselves and how we are influenced (sometimes negatively) even by those we hate the most.

Les Misérables - The musical version of Victor Hugo's epic tale of love and sacrifice, first produced for the stage in 1985, now receives the big-screen treatment. The bloody era of the French Revolution is the backdrop to Jean Valjean's long struggle for redemption.

(rent) This is a very well done production of a musical, and the music is all fantastic, as are the performances. The craft of this movie is great. I just had some issues with the actual story. The romance felt flimsy and assumed, placing a bit too much focus on the romance of idiotic young adults while much more interesting things are happening. Specifically, M--- is heartbroken from the loss of his friends, but he has his girl, so it’s all okay. That easy. The lovebirds did nothing to really enchant me to their ‘plight’ while many of the side characters seemed far more interesting.

However, the struggle between the two older men was fantastic. It was a crazy love-hate relationship that I think climaxed in an excellent fashion. The clash between them and the ultimate resolution is superb. Obviously the romance played the machine to get the stories all together, but to me the real focus of the movie should have been the older men’s struggles and the revolution.

Of course, that would have left the viewer with a moving that was 99.9% depressing, so I could see why a spark of hope had to be introduced.

Beginners - Oliver, a graphic artist, is coming to grips with the imminent death of his father, who, at 75, has one last secret: He's gay. Inspired and confused by his father's determination to find true love at last, Oliver tentatively pursues his own romance.

(rent) This is a quirky movie jumping between Oliver dealing with his father dying and dealing with his romance with Anna. It’s fairly slow moving and it’s not a riveting movie, but it’s also interest to see how the people unfold. It’s more a study of humanity than a plot-driven story. Enjoyable, but definitely something to rent before buying to see if it’s your cup of tea.

Kinky Boots - After inheriting a shoe factory, Charlie Price aims to take the fashion world by storm with help from a flashy cabaret dancer named Lola, who helps him design a racy line of men's boots.

(rent) This is a sweet story that handles bigotry, concepts of manliness, confidence, gender identity, and boots. Most of the plot points aren’t incredibly surprising, and the romance, while sweet, is fairly predictable. That said, I still very much enjoyed it in all it’s goofy honesty.

Available Men - Tales of mixed identities, personal ads, gay cartoon cowboys, passive aggression and more are collected in these seven hilarious, gay-themed shorts, which have been honored at such festivals and ceremonies as the Sundance Film Festival, the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival and the PlanetOut Awards. The films are Available Men, Straight Boys, Hello Thanks, The Underminer, Sissy French Fry, Tumbleweed Town, and Irene Williams: Queen of Lincoln Rd.

(rent) A true mix of shorts, with good and bad. The first few were well-acted (Available Men, Straight Boys) and felt professionally cut. Then there was one that felt more raw in style, but it fit with the theme of the film (Hello Thanks). The Underminer was interesting in concept but not having the expensive equipment to make the sound and visuals perfect was a touch distracting. Tumbleweed Town did nothing for me, and Irene Williams was kind of cute, but just mostly odd. Sissy French Fry was surprisingly good and I think possibly the best of the bunch. It looks at identity, peer pressure, and being true to yourself. So definitely worth a rent, but unless you’re hardcore in the Indie film scene, I wouldn’t buy it.

27.5.13

This Is How by Augusten Burroughs

This Is How by Augusten Burroughs
Stars: 4.5/5

Length: 230 pages
Blurb
If you're fat and fail every diet, if you're thin but can't get thin enough, if you lose your job, if your child dies, if you are diagnosed with cancer, if you always end up with exactly the wrong kind of person, if you always end up alone, if you can't get over the past, if your parents are insane and ruining your life, if you really and truly wish you were dead, if you feel like it's your destiny to be a star, if you believe life has a grudge against you, if you don't want to have sex with your spouse and don't know why, if you feel so ashamed, if you're lost in life, if you have ever wondered, How am I supposed to survive this?

This is How.

Overall
A self-help book--sorta--that teaches you how to help yourself and deal with what life throws at you. While I don’t agree with everything, I found some very helpful bits of advice...if only I can apply them.

Review
Parts of this book were spot on, amazingly insightful, and inspiring. Those are the parts I’ll take from this book and apply to my own life. I pulled a couple dozen quotes that I really liked that I’ll hold on to and remember when shit gets tough. Put it this way: this book was good enough that I want to buy a copy (I originally borrowed from the library).

Other parts made me worry about people reading it and taking it and going to a bad place. I can imagine psychologists would get angry about large sections of this book, but I also think it could be important for a mental health professional to read. They may disagree with a lot, but I also think it could create some potential for how they can help their clients.

It’s interesting to see the changes that have happened in Burroughs’ writing from Running With Scissors to this. Fans will find something very different in this book, but if you’re willing to be honest with yourself, I think you may even enjoy it.

And now a few quotes:

“But feelings, no matter how strong or ‘ugly,’ are not a part of who you are. They are the radio stations your mind listens to if you don’t give it something better to do.”

“The truth about healing is that you don’t need to heal to be whole.”

“Because they are not the only ones who die: you die, too. The person you were when you were with them is gone just as surely as they are.
“This is what you should know about losing somebody you love. They do not travel alone. You go with them.”

“This is how you you survive the unsurvivable, this is how you love that which you cannot bear to lose, this is how you reinvent yourself, overcome your abusers, fulfill your ambitions and meet the love of your life: by following what is true, no matter where it leads you.”

21.5.13

Sinner’s Gin by Rhys Ford

Sinner’s Gin by Rhys Ford
Stars: 3.5/5

Length: 260 pages
Blurb
There’s a dead man in Miki St. John’s vintage Pontiac GTO, and he has no idea how it got there.

After Miki survives the tragic accident that killed his best friend and the other members of their band, Sinner’s Gin, all he wants is to hide from the world in the refurbished warehouse he bought before their last tour. But when the man who sexually abused him as a boy is killed and his remains are dumped in Miki’s car, Miki fears Death isn’t done with him yet.

Kane Morgan, the SFPD inspector renting space in the art co-op next door, initially suspects Miki had a hand in the man’s murder, but Kane soon realizes Miki is as much a victim as the man splattered inside the GTO. As the murderer’s body count rises, the attraction between Miki and Kane heats up. Neither man knows if they can make a relationship work, but despite Miki’s emotional damage, Kane is determined to teach him how to love and be loved — provided, of course, Kane can catch the killer before Miki becomes the murderer’s final victim.


Overall
A dramatic romance that toes the line of insta-love and sweeping rescue hero but has enough strong points to make all those elements work. The mystery is well done with some disturbing images but no heart-stopping suspense.

Review
I’ll freely admit that I have a giant soft spot for broken characters, so Miki pushes that button easily. He had a bad past and just when he was getting things together, life threw him a curveball. But then, it also threw him Detective Morgan, so it isn’t all bad. Kane is from a giant Irish family that is friendly and accepting (although a bit overwhelming). Even though he and Miki have a rough start, fate keeps tossing them together and makes it impossible for them to ignore the attraction they feel.

Kane plays the hero, sweeping in to protect and save Miki, while also healing him and teaching him to love. Analytically I could see how some readers would find this cliche or overdone, but I felt it was handled well and brought something to the relationship besides chemistry. Although I would definitely say that having a preference toward hurt/comfort helps.

While I found the police investigation to be a bit drawn out, I can see why it was done that way. Still, I think better pacing or balance between the police drama and the romance would have made for a quicker story. In addition, the amount of detail to settings and visuals threw me off sometimes, but I think it was more because I’m not used to reading stories with so much, so often, but that could just be me.

Miki’s emotional struggle is the driving purpose behind the book and what made it so easy for me to finish. I think anyone who doesn’t enjoy Miki will find this difficult to read, as he’s obviously a main character and his issues run deep. He develops and changes over the course of the story as he gets a support system, but for the majority he’s a prickly pear.

One sort of issue I had with the ending was the tagged on bit. It really threw me for a loop. It felt disconnected from the story at large although it was related to the events, and it had a very different feel from the main story. I can respect it’s potential necessity in order to introduce the idea before the next book (or else they would hardly feel connected at all) but it also made my brows go up and my nose wrinkle. If it weren't for this odd teaser at the end, the story would have concluded very satisfactorily. It still sort of does, but another can of worms is opened.