Sunday, November 23, 2008

THE JADE OWL by Edward C. Patterson

Review by Rainbow Reviews

Sinologist Professor Rowden Gray receives the opportunity of his professional lifetime, a curator position at the fabled San Francisco East Asian Museum of East Asian Arts and Culture, which houses the collection of his late mentor, "Old China Hand" John Battle. Battle's great work had been discredited due to his insistence on the Jade Owl, a mysterious missing artifact commissioned by China's only Empress. When RG arrives, he immediately discovers the position has been rescinded, he encounters a strange young man who proves to be Battle's prodigal son, and learns the Jade Owl really exists. Plunging into a drama worthy of an Errol Flynn swashbuckler, the soon-boon companions and several others are off on a life-and-death chase through San Francisco and then on to Hong Kong as the portal into China.

The Jade Owl is a nonstop, don't miss page turner and only the first in a quintology, The Jade Owl Legacy series. Readers, run, do not walk to your nearest book outlet and grab this intriguing gay mystery with its fully realized characters, gay and straight and bi, roller-coaster plotting, and paranormal fantasy elements. The Jade Owl is a true winner.

THE ANGEL SINGERS: A Dick Hardesty Mysteryby Dorien Grey

Reviewed by Bob Lind for Echo Magazine

Dick Hardesty is somewhat amused when his younger life-partner, Jonathan, tells him about the petty jealousies, gossip and backstabbing among the other members of the gay men's chorus in which Jonathan sings. But when one of those members, who made several enemies in the group, is murdered, private investigator Hardesty is hired by the chorus' board to look into the possibility of another member being responsible. Coordinating his investigation with a local gay-friendly police detective, Dick interviews the chorus members who had run-ins with the dead man, as well as his older benefactor/lover, who was also a primary financial backer of the chorus. The investigation leads to the son of the dead man's co-worker, a hustler who frequents a local bar, a former associate involved in art fraud, and a tragic incident in one member's childhood that should have been looked at more carefully at the time.

I've come late to the author's Dick Hardesty mysteries, and this is actually the first and only book I have read in that series. After clearing up some confusion as to the time setting (The series takes place about 15-20 years ago), I thoroughly enjoyed the book, especially the "everyman" quality he manages to convey with each character, making the read seem like it could be about people you know. Though I guessed the "whodunit" before Dick did, he admits later on that he sometimes misses obvious clues (which is understandable, when you are that close to the action) while his readers may not. An original approach, and one that I like. Looks like I have a series to catch up on!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mahu Fire By Neil S. Plakcy

Reviewed by Alan Chin

Kimo Kanapa’aka is a detective working a murder investigation and a series of arsons targeting GLBT owned businesses on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. He is thrust into the center of the investigation after he and his family attend a fundraiser for gay marriage proponents that is firebombed. Kimo is the perfect candidate to lead the bombing investigation because he is gay and has the support of the gay community, not to mention his personal motives: whoever bombed the fundraiser put his family at risk, and you don’t screw with a Hawaiian’s family, especially when he carries a loaded gun…
The deeper into the investigation Kimo crawls, the more the evidence seems to connect the bombings with the other murder and arson crimes. Could someone be targeting the whole GLBT community, and if so, what could they hope to gain? Or is Kimo simply grasping at straws because there is so little evidence to go by? When he teams up with a hunky fireman to investigate the fire bombings, he finds much more than he bargained for.

This topical story couldn’t have come out at a better time in. When the whole GLBT community is taking to the streets over gay marriage, this story pits equal marriage rights at the core of this plot.
As for a mystery, the plot is a bit too simplistic, readers know who done it very early in the story, but this story is much more than a mystery. It is a rather convincing romance, where both lovers bring issues and frustrations to the table and have to work through them. The story is a glimpse into a sometimes funny, sometimes sexy, sometimes sad struggle of two gay men trying to forge a relationship while caught in a deadly game with murders that show no mercy.
Watching Kimo juggle his career responsibility, his family obligations, and his sexual needs felt very real. Although I’m not a fan of detective stories, I found this read rather interesting because I could identify with Kimo’s struggle to blend his sexuality into his professional and family life. It was the main character’s love story and his relationship to his family, rather than the plot, that kept me turning pages.
If you like a well written detective story, and the idea of a dark skinned, hunky, Hawaiian surfer snapping the cuffs on you ups your heart rate, then by all means, this will be an enjoyable read.

Orientation by Rick R, Reed

Reviewed by Araminta Matthews

I have never read a romance novel. Can't stand the idea of them. I am of the theory that romance novels are for the romance-less, a commodity I have thankfully never been without. Rick Reed's Orientation is a romance novel, but it is unlike anything I ever imagined romance novels could be. It is a feminist testimony, it is an earthquake to the infrastructure of stereotyped sexuality, and it is a blessing to believers in an infinite universe.

Let me begin by explaining that, as a member of the GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queerstioning) community, I am often on the hunt for literature that I can relate to Рthat is, literature with a GLBTQ lifestyle theme or slant that captures my interest. For me, the mark of truly great GLBTQ fiction is that it is a story first with queer characters second. So much of this "specialized literature" expresses its characters as though being gay is the only thing that happens in a gay person's life, when in fact, being gay is just one small pebble in the riverbed of a person's entire soul. People are more than just their sexualities, and there is much more to life than with whom a person chooses to be intimate. Rick Reed's novel, Orientation, succeeds. The characters are not just homosexual stereotypes living a clich̩ life. They are real, believable, and whole, and they are engaged in a plot deeper than just their "coming out" or their "queeritude". And the story is as eerie as it is romantic.

The story begins in Christmas with Robert watching heart-breakingly over his lover, Keith, as he begins his journey toward death; moves through a Christmas stroll along the beach and a suicide intervention with a young lesbian, Jess; and culminates with a metaphysical reunion during the Christmas of 2007 with both Robert and Jess and the spirit of lovers past.

In spite of its fantastical plot, I never once felt like this story was contrived. I believed from moment one that everything Reed presented was not only possible, but plausible. That slippery veil that separates the reality of the reader from the fantasy of the story hung silkily over my eyes for every, single word I swallowed. The dialogue was real and engaging. The characters were whole and every one of them completely realized. The plot was poetic and emotional. The conclusion was the correct, heady mix of triumphant resolution with the characters' closure and bittersweet disappointment with the ending of a very good book. The good news is Reed has more books that I can read, and I can only imagine that his other novels are equally as deft and crafty as this.

In final words, let me express my excitement about this discovery. GLBTQ world, listen up! This author, Rick Reed, is the real deal. He tells the real stories. He challenges the myth that sexual orientation is fixed or stationary when it is more likely on an ever-changing scale. He shakes open myths about gender roles, and he reinvents the wheel of the romance novel. Thanks to Rick Reed, we are no longer stuck with tired coming out stories and floundering clichés."

Island Song by Alan Chin


Reviewed by Victor J. Banis

"They swim in a silent blue-green world thirty feet below the surface in the Sea of Cortez. Garret loves to swim facing up so he can watch their bubbles float away, mingling together as they race to the surface. It seems magical how they move…They dart around the rusted hull of a sunken freighter, like sea otters at play, until a giant manta ray glides up from beneath them, serene and graceful. The manta spans fifteen feet across, dark gray on top and virgin white on the underside. It flies right up to and around them, performing a slow motion ballet…Marc, the bold one, kicks his legs and glides to the back of the ray. He grabs hold with both hands near the eyes and begins to soar away, riding the ray like a magic carpet. Garrets struggles to catch them, and soon both divers ride the creature through the blue-green water…The giant saucer wings its way right into a school of squid, thousands of glistening clear-white bodies with long flowing tails. The vision is electrifying.
* * *
Reading Alan Chin's Island Song is as pleasurable as lolling in a hammock beneath the palm trees, sipping a Mai Tai and savoring the trade winds wafting from the ocean.
This is an impressive debut novel from an enormously talented new writer on the glbt horizon. Like the island shamans of which he writes, the author seems to cast a magic spell, transporting the reader from the printed page into the very scenes he evokes: one smells the scent of frangipani wafting from the tropical forests, feels the soft sand beneath one's feet, thrills to the graceful ballet of whales swimming—and, yes, knows the full horror as the teeth of a great white shark tear into one's flesh.
* * *
Garrett Davidson has come to a remote corner of the islands to finish a book and to recover from the death of his lover. Songoree is the grandson of the local kahuna anaana, descendant of powerful shaman warriors. The love that grows between them is developed in exquisitely subtle detail, with a growing sense of understated eroticism, so that even a first, fleeting kiss, the merest brushing of their lips together, is almost climactic in its intensity.
The author intends more here, though, than just a love story. Without resorting to preaching, he offers the reader as well a spiritually uplifting primer on enlightenment, and especially the wisdom of learning to live in the now.

It may be this underlying life-philosophy that encouraged the author to write the novel in the present tense. This was admittedly a bold decision, one with inherent challenges for both writer and reader. It is done here as well as I have seen it done, for which the author is to be commended. Only once or twice does he trip himself up and I doubt that most non-writers will notice, in large part because the prose is generally so compelling that one is simply swept along with the story. And I am a champion of the writer's freedom to do what he will with his material. Sometimes the novel dictates that you break from convention and one can see how that might have happened here.

Still, to paraphrase pianist Artur Rubenstein (he was speaking of playing Chopin) children and geniuses can get away with self indulgence; the writer serious about mastering his craft and, most importantly, being taken seriously, does better to work within the norms, though that is admittedly only my opinion and I do not pretend that mine is the only one.
The truth is, however, that few novels achieve perfect, nor does this one, and since I have touched upon its imperfections, let me get the rest of them out of the way in short order and be done with it.

While the principle characters are beautifully realized, which makes their growing love deliciously real and believable, a large cast of secondary characters remains mostly one dimensional.

Regrettably, too, the book continues for another twenty or so pages after the real story—Garrett's catharsis through his love for Songoree—is effectively over, thus somewhat blunting the ending. The writing in those twenty pages is fine, but the few details of interest there could better have been shorthanded into two or three paragraphs of an epilogue, making for a far cleaner and more satisfactory conclusion.

And, yes, a keener editorial eye would have been welcome, but that problem has become ubiquitous these days, sadly.

These are writer-ly complaints, however, and unlikely to diminish the considerable pleasure awaiting the reader who picks up this fresh and rapturous novel. Those who like their romance with a little substance will find this one a feast for the senses—as beautiful and as breathtaking as a tropical waterfall, as mystical and graceful as the world beneath the sea, and as sweet and satisfying as a juicy, ripe Hawaiian mango.
Highly recommended.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Phantom Lover By AJ Llewellyn

Reviewed on Romance Junkies By Romance Junkies Reviewer: jhayboy

Bobby Kikawa’s attraction to Hawaii’s most famous hula dancer Kimo Wilder happened long before his friend Johnny displayed a portrait of him in his gallery called Phantom Lover. About to begin training with the man himself, he visits the portrait daily to satisfy not only a yearning to see him before training begins, but to just stand and stare at the beauty of the man.

Kimo Wilder is not only straight but a “Keeper of Secrets” in Hawaiian culture. When he has to train a team of young men and women for his latest stage production, the last thing he expects is to be pleasured by one of the young male dancers. Trying to put distance between them proves futile, and when their obvious chemistry moves from the dance floor to between the sheets, a red hot affair begins.

When the young dancer satisfies a part of Kimo that he did not realize needed the attention, Kimo quickly inserts himself into Bobby’s life. And Bobby loves every minute of it! Things go from one extreme to the next, with propriety rearing its head and interference from friends and family. Are they prepared to sacrifice everything for each other?

Once in a while, after reading dozens of books, I open a book and know before finishing the first chapter it is worth the highest accolade. A.J. Llewellyn’s PHANTOM LOVER is one such book.

PHANTOM LOVER is a mix of Hawaiian history and fantasy with the hottest love scenes I’ve read in a long time. Kimo is a married man, who is not only every woman’s fantasy but every man’s wet dream. While trying to live up to his cultural expectations and maintain the propriety of marriage, he suppresses the need to find his own happiness. When the gods themselves takes the matter out of his hands, he has no choice but to run to the one person who makes him whole and cling to him for all he is worth.

Bobby starts out as any typical young man, wanting that special someone to love. But in travelling his path, he ends up with not only a broken heart but also making the wrong choices for the right reason – which, as expected, ends badly. Once he becomes involved with Kimo, and the realization of what and who Kimo is sinks in, he quickly grows up and embraces all the challenges of a dysfunctional relationship. His strength and the beauty of his personality is one of the highlights of the book.

The pain and pleasure of watching both Kimo and Bobby grow is quite an experience. The emotional highs and lows during their growth is unending and relentless, leaving you with deep regret for the time wasted getting to this stage and extreme pleasure at the fact that they have grown and use the lessons learned to recognize their soul mate.

For first time readers and old fans, PHANTOM LOVER is a character driven story. Kimo and Bobby suck you into their world of a thousand emotions and never let you go. Be prepared for a wild ride. A.J. Llewellyn - take a bow! PHANTOM LOVER stands up and roars.

Turning Idolater by Ed Patterson

Reviewed by Esmerelda Luv


I never saw the ending of this who-dunnit coming until the puzzle started falling rapidly into place at the end. Even now, I am still in shock over who did it, even though the clues were scattered throughout the story. I believe what made this story so successful was Patterson's ability to make the reader like each and every individual in the story, see who they really are and think "I know him, he couldn't do this!" But then, realize, after the fact, 'Yeah, he could.'.

Philip, forced out of his family home, gets a job at a porn site on the internet Where he meets his future flame, TDye. The story then flows with romance, broken hearts, multiple killings, restoring books, and excerpts from 'Moby Dick' until it climaxes with an explosive ending and fades into a warm glow. The author did an excellent job of tying up the loose ends and leaving the reader thinking, "Wow."

This book was full of emotional surprises throughout it's pages. There were times I laughed out loud and times when I needed to have the kleenex handy. When the characters had a serious moment, it was time to close the door, mute the stereo and focus intently on the words displayed on my Kindle.

Patterson has become an author I look for. Whenever I see he has a new book out, I'm in line to buy it. I'm not gay, but I like people, and his characters are likeable, full of spirit, going places and when they decide to go do something. . .I won't be left behind!"

Longhorns by Victor Banis

Reviewed by Bryl Tyne
Up until reading Longhorns, I'd never pictured hard-working, cattle-driving cowboys as lovers. Yet, Banis paints the story so that it feels as realistic as taking a drink and expecting it to moisten your throat. It never once occurred to me that this couldn't have possibly happened. In fact, it was quite the opposite. In a strange sense, I found myself thinking, "Makes perfect sense to me."

His characters pulled me in. They were manly men, rough, tough, and proud, and although he showed quite a few times that his men possessed consciences, brains, and hearts, they were always just men. I fell in love with Buck and Les, and Red from the beginning, and found myself cheering for them at the end.

Not an extreme amount of external conflict, yet enough to keep the tension at a level where one can't wait to see what happens next. And, the internal conflicts were amazingly written without being the least bit sappy.

Longhorns is a beautiful and well-crafted romance. I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to any romance enthusiast.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Angel Land By Victor Banis

Reviewed by Alan Chin

Victor Banis takes the reader into the future, late in the 21st Century, when the United States has disintegrated into territories ruled by Fundamental Christians. Catholics, Baptists and Jews are registered as heretics, and gays are herded into walled ghettos that are reminiscent of the Jewish slums of Nazi Germany. In this setting, Harvey Milk Walton, a young gay man on the run from the religious authorities, finds that his only option to escape execution is to hide in the gay ghetto, but he soon finds himself jumping from the frying pan into the fire, because the ghetto holds its own lethal threat: the Sept virus. Sept is the seventh and deadliest mutation of the AIDS virus of the Twentieth Century, but unlike AIDS, no one is exactly sure how Sept is transmitted, which makes it all the more frightening.
In a crumbling totalitarian society, where evil masquerades as piety, gay people are cut off from the rest of humanity and dying of the Sept virus, Harvey Milk Walton faces great danger and agonizing choices which could affect the future of mankind. Can he muster enough strength to live up to his martyred namesake of long ago and rise to lead a rebellion?

Victor Banis stretches his considerable talents in this daring novel. This story is a vivid, imaginative, and often humorous romp through a society turned into hell. It has extraordinary power, with images that grab hold of you and don’t let go. In the midst of this nightmare, Victor creates a heartwarming love story that is a testament to the human spirit.

The author uses a technique that I have not seen before. The story starts off being told from Harvey Milk Walton’s 1st person point of view, but then switches to 3rd person POV, and thereafter toggles back and forth from 1st to 3rd at regular intervals. I found these POV switches to be seamless, and greatly added to developing the depths of several characters. This is a character driven story, and Victor skillfully opens up his characters and allows us see to their core.

The plot is more complex than Victor’s previous works, which combines with his consummate skill at crafting prose and his well-researched details to keep the reader fully engaged until the last page. Victor Banis’s writing, like fine wine, keeps getting better with age. I would recommend this read to anyone who enjoys multifaceted characters, humor, and a well-crafted story.