Blood Red Butterfly by Josh Lanyon

Blood Red Butterfly by Josh Lanyon
Stars: 3/5

Length: 28,000 words
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.

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.

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.


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.


Pricks and Pragmatism by JL Merrow

Pricks and Pragmatism by JL Merrow
Stars: 3.5/5

Length: 60 pages
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…

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

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!


Oddly Normal by John Schwartz

Oddly Normal by John Schwartz
Stars: 5/5

Length: 304 pages
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.

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.

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.


Bookended by Heidi Belleau

Bookended by Heidi Belleau
Stars: 3.5/5

Length: 32 pages
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?

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

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!


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.