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Big Love
Big Love
Price: $5.38

5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this best of all of Reed's books I've read ..., July 22, 2016
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This review is from: Big Love (Kindle Edition)
I loved this best of all of Reed's books I've read so far. He takes three cliches and makes them into something fresh and moving. Here's a fuller review.
[...]


Absinthe of Malice (Sinners Series Book 5)
Absinthe of Malice (Sinners Series Book 5)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The fact that this book left me sort of unsatisfied is a disappointment. In spite of the fact that the band ..., July 22, 2016
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I’ve been a fan of Rhys Ford’s books for years. In this fifth, but not final, episode we have the band going on the road for the first time. Crossroads Gin is comprised of the two survivors of the original Sinner’s Gin band: Miki St. John and Damien Mitchell, whose resurrections occupied the first two books in the series. Then we have the two new members of the cast, whose stories were told in the next two books: Forest Ackerman and Rafael Andrade. Romantically paired with these four gay rockers and their various psychological problems are three of the redoubtable Morgan clan; Kane, Connor and Quinn, along with a cousin of theirs, Sionn Murphy.

A precis of half the band appears early in the book: “They stood should to shoulder, a patchwork cobble of a broken band resurrected by Damien’s dream, a fallen bassist who’d lost everything and found himself again in his life’s ashes, and a session drummer who’d never imagined he’d leave the safe confines of the recording studio he’d inherited from the old musician who’d taken him in.”

It’s almost as if the four earlier books have been an elaborate set-up to the big road trip of book five. The fact that this book left me sort of unsatisfied is a disappointment. In spite of the fact that the band covers a massive tour of the United States, rocking the house in various clapped-out venues in every corner of the nation, nothing much seems to happen. Sure, we learn how they love their music—and that is vividly painted with Ford’s over-the-top writing and passionately described visuals. And there is an ongoing mystery woven into the storyline, with attacks by mysterious strangers that seem somehow to be linked to the past in ways as yet undiscovered. But most of the book seems to be intense, angsty, neurotic interactions between the various band members and their lovers. Although Ford is eloquent and ardent in her presentation of the guys’ emotional turmoil, it’s getting a little old after five books’ worth. Her repetitive themes of fear and self-doubt remind me of the tumultuous over-thinking that is also a trademark of T.J. Klune’s “Otter and Bear” novels.

And the Morgan clan are here in full force —including the patriarch and matriarch, Donal and Brigid—relentless in their love of these broken rockers. There are moments of intense sweetness that come out of the Morgan family’s particular pushiness; but between the endless angst and aggressive affection I found it all rather exhausting.

And now I have to confess, I found myself becoming impatient with the series’ refusal to discuss the pink elephant in the room: homophobia in the rock world. Crossroads Gin, and Sinner’s Gin before it, were hard-rock bands. No bubble-gum popsters or boy-band cuties; these guys are hardcore rock musicians. And they’re doing a 6000 mile road trip as an all-gay rock band, members of the most homophobic part of the music industry, known for its loud physical excess and relentless hetero posturing. So, not a single slur, not a whisper of the raging homophobia that must exist in at least SOME of the scores of back-alley venues they visit? Really? Is the fact that they’re gay not known at all (which in itself would be a problem for me—a closeted gay rock band, which is not the way they’re presented). Seems to me, after all of this at-home growth and emotional development, the road trip would be where Crossroads Gin would face the realities of the world they’re going back into.

I was just tired when I finished this book. I actually cringed a little when Edie, the band’s manager, walked in on the last page and dropped the cliff-hanger bomb that opened the door to the next book. I know I’m going to buy it and read it, because I’m a faithful fan and an obsessive completer-of-series. But for the first time, I’m not sure how much I’m looking forward to book 6.


Silver in American Life: Selections from the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University
Silver in American Life: Selections from the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University
by Barbara Ward
Edition: Paperback
52 used & new from $2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Published by Yale in the late 1970s, this slim ..., July 19, 2016
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Published by Yale in the late 1970s, this slim volume (a catalogue for an exhibition) is still the most important broad survey of silver in American culture written to date--even tho' it was written nearly 40 years ago.


Brandywine Investigations: Open for Business
Brandywine Investigations: Open for Business
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Olympus on the Brandywine., July 17, 2016
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Imagine that, after thousands of years, Persephone has decided to divorce Hades (who kidnapped her, after all); forcing him to move out of the Underworld and get a job. Hades, feeling lost and disoriented, decides to establish a private detective agency on the Brandywine River in Wilmington, Delaware. He is aided by his boatman on the River Styx, Charon, who takes on the role of sidekick to droll effect.

Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books built a young adult franchise on the premise that the ancient Greco-Roman gods are still very much alive and involved in the day-to-day affairs of humankind. Angel Martinez’s Brandywine Investigations triad takes this intriguing jumping off point two steps further. First, she posits the notion that ALL the gods of ALL human religions are still alive and active—in varying degrees, based on how well they’re remembered. All of these gods, goddesses and related creatures are still out there, trying to cope in a world that in some cases barely believes in them. On a darker note is the notion that it is the meddling of the less, um, warm-hearted of these beings that causes much of the ugliness in the world today. That’s a little disturbing, but Hernandez plays this out thoughtfully and I give her credit for the attempt..

This hefty book is comprised of three closely-interconnected novellas previously published individually: “Canines, Crosshairs & Corpses,” “No Enemy But Time,” and “Dragons, Diamonds & Discord.” To be honest, each of these books needs the other two to feel complete, and thus bundling them into a single substantial volume was a great idea. Within these three tales of life in modern America (yes!) we find not only Hades, but his nephews Dionysus and Hermes, his nieces Aphrodite and Artemis, his son Zagreus, the dragon Fafnir from Nordic myth, and a fallen angel named Michael, who is Zagreus’s boyfriend.

Which leads to the second step that Martinez has taken: she presumes that the Greco-Roman gods of western antiquity were by-and-large bisexual. Clearly, with a gay-romance audience in mind, this was sort of a no-brainer. Indeed, I wouldn’t have read these without that twist on tradition.

And I’m glad I did. There are all sorts of variant themes of paranormal/human interaction on the e-book shelves these days; but I love what Martinez has done with the premise here. Seeing these mythical beings in the context of the modern world, presented as akin to corporate executives or elected officials, is to be reminded of what a massive soap-opera the world of Olympus was.

I didn’t give this series five stars because Martinez can’t quite resolve all of the complicated issues she raises in a way that has the kind of moral heft I’d like to see. There are some really loose ends that are never resolved by the end of the book, and while I loved the romantic plotlines, I wish the overall premise had been kept a little tighter.


The Unexpected Heiress (A Nick Williams Mystery Book 1)
The Unexpected Heiress (A Nick Williams Mystery Book 1)
Price: $3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A sly, smart Perry Mason for the Castro set., July 15, 2016
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Oh boy, another new author to keep tabs on! Frank W. Butterfield has begun a series of short novels that are, by his own admission, satirical riffs on Earl Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason novels. Set in San Francisco, “The Unexpected Heiress” is the set up for the time, lace and the people.

Nick Williams is the richest man in San Francisco. He got that way in spite of being disinherited by his family for being homosexual. But his reprobate of a gay uncle Paul left him a vast fortune in an unbreakable trust. Now Nick works as a private eye, and lives quietly but comfortably with his fireman husband Carter Jones in a bungalow in Eureka Valley, a neighborhood now known as the Castro.

So we are meant to see this is as a fantasy, both tongue in cheek and wistful. Imagine being so rich that the prejudices of the world couldn’t hurt you. It is a reminder (not the first I’ve read, by the way) that San Francisco was not always friendly to its gay citizens, and that post-McCarthy America was a nasty place for anyone who didn’t conform. Butterfield gives us a series of interlocking stories: a tragic death, a raid on a local gay bar, a group of gay friends coping with a hostile world. He writes the lingo of the early 50s detective novel convincingly and with wit, and he also paints us a picture of a group of people who we also wish were our friends. Perhaps the worst part of being gay in the bad old days was loneliness. These folks aren’t lonely, and that makes a huge different.

The mystery is solved rather easily, and the other plotlines are really used mostly a set up for the premise for the rest of the series. But that didn’t stop me from really enjoying this, and buying book two, “The Amorous Attorney.” Can’t wait to read it.


Death Comes Darkly
Death Comes Darkly
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4.0 out of 5 stars And then there were seven., July 14, 2016
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Death Comes Darkly
By David S. Pederson
Bold Strokes Books, April 2016
ASIN: B01E66ZEFY
201 pages

Four stars

Charming and witty, this unapologetic homage to Agatha Christie—written not only from an American perspective, but with a gay central character—is a lot of fun.

Heath Barrington is a Milwaukee police detective. His sweetheart is a Milwaukee cop, Alan Keyes. While conscious of the dangers of being gay in late-1940s America, these men are comfortable in their own skins. They play discreet, know all the proper rules for survival, and manage to maintain flirtatious banter on a par with the actors in a George Cukor film. Barrington is a good detective, to boot, not to mention a snappy dresser.

Invited to a weekend party at an isolated summer mansion on Lake Geneva in Wisconsin, Heath and Alan become embroiled in a mysterious murder in a creepy house full of twitchy characters. The references to contemporary noir detective films and mystery novels are explicit, as Heath and Alan marvel that they’ve gotten caught up in something like this. But there’s a darker side to the plot, also linked to love between two young men, which serves as a reminder that Heath and Alan are still swimming upstream in a very hostile world.

Those of us children of Stonewall who grew up reading Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, will appreciate both the Americanization and the out-and-cautiously-proud demeanor of Pederson’s book. While Pederson might paint Barrington’s world view with a rosy brush, I’ve no doubt that there were young gay men in America in 1947 who managed to avoid the worst of the oppression and despair that loomed so darkly over LGBT folks before the concept of LGBT existed.

This is not one of those romances where there’s a lot of hot action. It is true to its genre, and what we see is young men falling in love and not being afraid. That’s really more than enough.

I sure hope this is just the first in a series of Heath Barrington stories.


Dead Celebrities
Dead Celebrities
Price: $6.00

4.0 out of 5 stars A contemporary gay spin on classic Hollywood noir., July 12, 2016
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This review is from: Dead Celebrities (Kindle Edition)
I really liked this book. No, I really enjoyed reading this book. Not exactly the same thing. This is a debut novel, and the author is, apparently, young as well as talented.

One weird fact is that the main character’s name, Carter Calhoun, never appears in the book until the last page. Other than that, this is a beautifully crafted homage to Hollywood noir novels. It’s gay noir, with a complex murder mystery woven in and out of a vivid, cynical depiction of Hollywood and the industry that rules the fantasies of the USA along with a good part of the rest of the world.

The closest recent parallel in my mind to “Dead Celebrities” is not a book, but the long-running TV series “Entourage,” which I watched with grim determination through every season to the bitter end. The difference there is that “Entourage” depicted a Hollywood with no gay people, which seemed even more bizarre than the one Calix paints for us. Everything else, however, is right there. I think my intense dislike and disrespect for Hollywood came into focus because of “Entourage,” and Calix offers nothing to sweeten that image.

The never-named first person narrator, Carter Calhoun, is an arch, WASPy Ari Gold, who re-emerges from his decade-long seclusion in the Hollywood Hills to solve a murder that had long been thought to be a suicide. The narrative moves neatly back and forth between the present-day plot and a flashback plot revolving around Calhoun’s onetime client and sometime lover Sam Madison.

There are precious few people that generate any sympathy in this book, and I don’t think that’s accidental. Calhoun's housekeeper and friend Lana (reminding me of Thelma Ritter with her kindness and smart commentary) is the only fully caring human in sight. Even the tragic central character, Sam Madison, is so duplicitous and manipulative that I never could completely embrace him, although Calix gives us a rich sense of his compelling beauty and complex character. The best description of Madison’s personality is presented thusly: “He’s a careless f*****g savage. But he’s also completely naÔve and innocent.”

For all its wry, smart gay noir storyline, this is not a book that I’d say would make any gay people happy with the way they’re depicted. For that matter, bisexuals might find this book bordering on defamatory. Only Calhoun himself, by the end, managed to pull me over onto his side. He is the one character who seems to emerge from the blighted, fraudulent culture of Hollywood with something like a soul.

Christopher Calix promises to follow up with another Carter Calhoun story, and I will read it. Interestingly, this appears to be his actual name, which is a breath of fresh air.


Dirty Angel
Dirty Angel
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars he finds himself back on earth with a second chance to become something better than he was, July 12, 2016
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This review is from: Dirty Angel (Kindle Edition)
Aden North wakes up dead and discovers to his dismay that heaven and hell exist. Because of the nature of his death, he finds himself back on earth with a second chance to become something better than he was. Turns out, his second chance is Brody Sanders, a young veterinarian working in a country practice near his family’s farm. Unlike Aden, Brody seems like a happy, normal guy, but as the two young men get to know each other, Aden realizes that there are more ways to be unhappy than even his own tormented life would suggest. The big question is: can Aden find himself a place in Heaven by helping Brody overcome his demons?

The very broken man is a large trope in M/M fiction, and I have to say Barbara Elsborg gives us a couple of doozies. But the stories of damage are very nicely balanced by the story of redemption as the reader probes the minds of both Aden and Brody. Not only do we get to know these young men deeply, but the supporting cast is used carefully and well to give a rich context for their journey.

Elsborg is a good writer, and the quality of her prose makes “Dirty Angel” a pleasure to read.


All Alone in a Sea of Romance
All Alone in a Sea of Romance
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4.0 out of 5 stars An insider's romance; a farce with a big heart and surprisingly profound ideas., July 9, 2016
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I almost gave this five stars. Almost. I read a bunch of reviews of it, and realized that my own reactions, good and less good, were echoed therein. So I decided I need to praise the book for everything that’s good about it. That fifth star—it’s all on me. My issues. The fifth star is rare for me; it’s for books that I embrace without hesitation or any unhappiness. So, it’s me, it’s not him. On the other hand, we are the sum of what we bring to the books we read. There are many NY Times best-sellers I’ve hated, so please know that this is a book I think you should read.

“All Alone in a Sea of Romance” is fast-paced, cleverly written, amusing, and filled with people who jump off the page. This is an insider’s book. It is to the M/M romance world what the TV series “Silicon Valley” is to the computer industry (my husband’s 40-year- career). Both the author and the protagonist, Jude Parks, are m/m romance novelists. The action happens at a huge romance writers’ convention called Romantic Voyages in Kansas City (where the author lives). There, as in real life, the gay romances are a tiny minority, awash in a sea of heterosexual romance.

Jude Parks is 41 and not skinny. His younger, gorgeous, Ambercrombie-model-worthy roomie, Lionel makes that perfectly clear. Although Jude writes about love, he has never found love. Both his roommate, and his best friend Jeannie, tell him that gay men can never really find love because they think with their little heads rather than their hearts or brains.

This is where my discomfort radar began to ping. There is much said in this substantial book about gay men and the joy of sex. It is a message that I heard as soon as I came out—in 1975—and a message that has survived the horror of AIDS and the targeted hated of the world in general. But there is also a lot said here about the idea that monogamy and fidelity are just not possible—or possibly desirable—for gay guys. Indeed Jude, and Lionel, and the wonderfully written and disarmingly complex Tommy Smith, who meets Jude the first afternoon of the convention, all seem to buy into this. I know lots of guys who believe this—particularly the under-40 generation. And yet, this whole mindset goes against my own core beliefs, beliefs have that guided my path through life. Jude says in the prologue: “I would rather regret what I have done over what I haven’t.” It sounds good, but it’s a little pat and, ultimately, an aphorism I can’t quite embrace.

And yet, as the story unfolds, all of these little disquieting pings begin to take on a pattern. It dawned on me that Thomas was deliberately salting his narrative with less-than-positive ideas of what being gay means—ranging from notions of masculinity to body image and the obsession with youth. All of this discomfort I was feeling was coalescing into Jude’s central dilemma: why is a nice, attractive guy who cherishes romance and writes it for a living still alone? Jude, whom I didn’t much like at first, gradually began to appeal to me greatly. He is a gay man struggling to find the happiness that so much of society, including our own subculture (whatever that might mean for any one of us), makes so difficult to find.

So, for a book that has a substantial bit of farce, a strong dash of anti-gay zealotry, and a savory stew of rich, interesting characters, it is also a surprisingly profound study of love and romance for people who are not fantasies, but just people.


A Night at the Ariston Baths
A Night at the Ariston Baths
Price: $6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A compelling historical novel of the bad old days., July 7, 2016
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What I loved about this book, and what earned it the four stars, is the history it tells. Based on one of the more dramatically homophobic incidents of the early 20th century in America, Michael Murphy’s saga of Theodore McCall, Martin Fuller and Jasper Webb is a sincere, thoughtful foray into historical fiction. By starting the book with the main protagonists celebrating the Stonewall Riots in 1969, we are assured that in the midst of all the despair, there will be joy. This is a story of gay men who survived and indeed thrived in the last 100 years of anti-gay reality in America. It reminds us that the rights we have fought for and the freedom we have won were hard-fought and only recently gained. Our lives are built on a long history of men and women who, all too often, did not fare well.

What I liked least about the book was that Murphy missed the mark in his attempt to recreate the language of the early 20th century. In trying to sound authentic, he often sounds simply stilted, and anachronisms that could have easily been avoided riddle the prose.

But such criticisms are for fusspots such as I. Let yourself get wrapped up in the story of these three men. They may be fictional, but they represent many lives long past to whom we should pay homage. Remember who they were and what we owe to them.


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