Sunday, March 25, 2012

"Gravitational Attraction"

Review - "Gravitational Attraction" by Angel Martinez

Fantastic, innovative sci fi romance

Very Highly Recommended

The crew of the Hermes responds to a mysterious distress signal from a ship left drifting in space.  It appears to be empty, but upon closer inspection there seems to be one possible life sign - a survivor.  Isaac Ozawa, the ship's communication officer, and a team of others are sent to rescue whoever might be left alive and see if they can figure out what happened.

What Isaac finds is a bloody mess throughout the ship, and one lone man locked in a holding cell.  A giant of a man whom he coaxes out and into safety.  A man who turns out to be a Drak'tar warrior named Turk.

Isaac feels an immediate connection and attraction to the silent, traumatized man, and makes it his mission to provide comfort and solace.  Because Isaac knows about being different, broken, and not fitting in.  Once a promising pilot, his brain did not meld well with a high tech implant, and he was left with an untrustworthy body, his career gone.

As the crew takes Turk to his original destination, Turk has secrets of his own that may prove dangerous for his new found friends.  His own brain is valued by the military for it's potential, and he is committed, through his honor and word, to serve those who could cause harm to the man he now has fallen for - Isaac.

Will Turk be able to maintain the honor of his people and keep Isaac safe?  Are the secrets he holds enough to drive him and Isaac apart?  Can he keep his love safe?

Angel Martinez blew me the hell away with this inventive, beautifully crafted and well honed epic sci fi romance.  She has it all here - characters that leap off the page and demand attention, a story line that grabbed me from the first page, and a world that is finely detailed and designed.

Isaac is fantastic.  A hero with a huge heart who has somehow found his way back after being broken physically and emotionally.  His sense of self was so crushed with the failure of his dream to be a pilot, and then the slow loss of his relationship almost ruined him.  But the strength of the man, his character and soul came shining through.

And Turk is a revelation.  A warrior, quiet and strong with a huge sense of honor and commitment.  A man like him needs no one.  And yet.  He bonds so quickly with Isaac, allowing him to be the strength and support he needs, then returning it when Isaac is in need.  Such a gentle-hearted giant, and so sincere in his love and giving.

Ms. Martinez really astounded me with this book.  The whole of it spoke to me, shouting and demanding to be heard and enjoyed.  I could not put it down, and read late into the night to finish it and still wanted more.  The action, the romance, the sheer sense of adventure, fun and exhilaration had me remembering back to how I felt when I saw the first "Star Wars" movie in 1977.  Such innovation and excitement - it made my blood run hot and my heart beat faster.

Thanks for bringing that back to me, Ms. Martinez.  I love that "Holy Hell" feeling of amazement.

One of the best books of this year.  Any year.



Review - "Bounty" by Hank Edwards

Great story of vampires in the Old West

Very Highly Recommended

Josh Stanton is not having a good week.  Besides never fitting into the town of Belkin's Pass since his mother disappeared when he was a child, he's had the very upsetting experience of seeing dead people...come back to life.  The latest one is the wonderful woman who took him in and raised him when no one else would.  And now he's had to put her back to rest.

Which, when discovered, puts him on the wrong side of the law.  That means against his best friend, Deputy Dexter Wells.  When Dex is put in the position of having to find Josh and perhaps arrest him for murder, it might just the only way to save him from a lynch mob.

Add into this whole mess the fact that something, or someone, is making the girls working the towns' house of ill repute sick.  A strange man named Balthazar is draining blood from some of the whores, and now, some of them are developing the taste for it themselves.  One of the girls, Glory, is able to resist and tries to save the other girls.

When Dex finally catches up to Josh, he learns some of what happened, but it only adds to the questions, not solve the problems.  But what does happen is the spilling over of the attraction the two men have fought for years into passion. 

Will Dex be able to save Josh, and prove he isn't guilty of the crimes he's accused of?  And will the town be safe from the night time evil attacking it?  How are the two problems linked?

Hank Edwards has written a fantastically original, rousing story of vampires, romance and the Old West.  It's funny, tender, hot and exciting, and a fantastic read.

Josh is a wonderful character, abandoned in his youth and, but for the grace of God, he would have been thrown away.  The fact he grew into a caring, kind man makes his story all the more sweet.  And his relationship with Dex was wonderfully imagined.  Friends all their lives, both fighting an attraction that is forbidden but strong.

The overreaching story lines are fascinating.  Vampires attacking a town in the Old West.  Josh' uncanny ability to raise the dead from their graves.  Balthazar and what he wants. 

All compelling.  Original.  Exciting and damn it, it left me wanting so much more.

This is the beginning of a series, and I for one cannot wait for the next installment.

Great job, Mr. Edwards.  Keep them coming!


Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Super Sock Man"

Review - "Super Sock Man" by Amy Lane

Another winner from Amy Lane

Very Highly Recommended

When Donnie was sixteen years old, he helped his sister Michelle move in with her new roommate, Alejandro.  Up till that time, all that really mattered to Donnie was baseball, hanging out with his friends, and playing video games.  But when he was around Yandro, whose dark Latin looks and dancer’s body were so very different from his own blonde jock build, something new began to stir.

As Donnie gets a little older, the feelings grow stronger and more powerful.  He recognizes he is gay, and finally comes out to his family and friends.  His friend Chase, another tall blonde jock, allows Donnie to experiment, but doesn’t reciprocate.  But nothing touches the feelings and attraction he feels for Yandro.

Ah, Yandro.  He is a bit of a man slut.  Has a different man every week, never settling down with one man for too long.  And when he gets too close to something resembling a commitment, he bails.  His wake up call comes, however, when he gets hit upside the head with a guy who uses him like he uses other men.  So he takes a break.

As the attraction between the two simmers, Donnie and Yandro keep each other at arm’s length.  But one night, as Donnie house sits for Yandro and his sister, his curiosity gets the best of him.  He ends up asleep on Yandro’s bed.  What will happen when Yandro and Michelle show up two days early?

Amy Lane takes us back to meet two of the characters introduced in “Chase in Shadow”, and fills in some of the back story there.  If you haven’t read that beautiful work yet, grab it immediately.  But here we are allowed to see how Donnie and Yandro met and fell in love.

This is Ms. Lane at her best, writing about family and true love and men who are so strong and weak for each other.  Men, who find their truest love.  She writes her stories like Yandro’s grandmother knits those wonderful socks she sends him.  Slowly, surely, row by row, link by link, adding a sudden splash of color in to the mix.  Hitting us in the heart, with a sudden observation and truth.  Then, the whole pattern shows up and we stand back in awe, our hearts touched.

Some of her truths hide in the mix, then shoot out and knock us off center.


“Donnie actually looked at her and rolled his eyes.  ‘Do you have to make me feel five?’  Michelle’s look was only a little sad.  ‘Honey, don’t you know that to me, you’ll always be five?’”


“…but…but I saw you growing up, and coming out, and I wanted you, but all I could think was, I don’t ever want him to stop looking at me like he first looked at me back when I first saw him, and he was so beautiful and young and…”

Heartbreaking vulnerability:

“I think God rewards people like you by not breaking their hearts, that’s what I think.”
I loved Chase in his story.  And I fell so much more in love with him, seeing him through Donnie’s eyes.  And I adore Donnie and Yandro.

So. Damned.  Good.  Read it.  Love it.



Review - "Vertigo" by Michael Mandrake

Dark tale of obsessive love

Highly Recommended

Dr. Hayden Curry is alone.  He's had to institutionalize his lover, and his work - examining the natural and unnatural world - is a lonely and hard world.  The London of 1916 is a very conservative place, and his unnatural bent leave him hiding big parts of himself.

When he is called in to examine a strange creature, part man and part animal, he is fascinated.  He brings the carcass home to examine and is stunned when it turns out to be alive still.  And when it turns human, into a beautiful man named David, he doesn't know what to think.

Especially when David cannot remember his past and forms an immediate connection and attraction to Hayden.

Hayden agrees to help David find out how he came to be, where he came from, and what he is.  And in the meanwhile, the two fast become lovers.  Companions.

But when David's secrets start to surface, and the truth of his past come to light, will the Hayden still want to be with him?  Or will it be too much?

Michael Mandrake has written a very interesting, dark and twisted tale of romantic obsession here.  It's very reminiscent of a Mary Shelley or Bram Stoker novel, and that's a very good thing.  The very old fashioned feel to the prose makes the horror of the book so much sweeter, and the whole atmosphere

This is at heart a love story, and some love stories turn dark.  Without giving away too much, there are hard choices to be made here, and horrible things have been done.  This is not a light or sweet tale, but a heavy and philosophically dark tale. 

Mr. Mandrake nailed this story.  It has the feel of foggy moors and creatures hiding in the shadows.  Creepy and romantic and shivery.

Curl up under the blankets and read.  And enjoy.


"Masters & Boyd"

Review - "Masters & Boyd" by SJD Peterson

Wonderful long term view of a relationship

Very Highly Recommended

Carrick Masters met Ed Boyd while he was an intern.  Their brief conversation on a bench outside the hospital where Ed's dad was taken after an accident led the young intern and lawyer to begin to see one another.  And to love.

But three years after their marriage, the demands of his specialty draws Carrick's attentions more than the love of his partner.  After missing one too many milestones, putting his work and studies first, and making Ed feel less than, Carrick needs a wake up call.

When he misses their third anniversary dinner, that may be it.  The last straw for Ed.  The slap in the face Carrick needs. 

So Carrick puts his focus on the most important thing in his life - Ed.  And inadvertently, he discovers a new way of expressing himself and his love to Ed.  Because Ed, he really gets off on the blindfold Carrick puts on him to take him to a surprise.  Which leads to talk about tying him up.

Which leads to a whole new understanding of their relationship.  What's important to them. 

SJD Peterson has given us a glimpse into what happens after the ring is on the finger and the commitment made.  There is more to life together than the initial joy and glow of a relationship.  There is the life after Happily Met.

And what a journey this is.  Ed and Carrick are two wonderful men, happy in life, successful, but by no means complete.  Ed is unhappy with the direction Carrick's obsession with his career is taking him, and Carrick, he is so focused on being someone else's version of success, he almost loses his most precious item in life - Ed. 

We get to see them slowly realize there is more to life than work.  That there are always depths to plumb in love, and many ways to satisfy each other.  That it's never too late to discover what makes your partner happy when you simply pay attention.

Ms. Peterson does here what she does so well - gives us solid interesting men we can care about, shows us what's important to them, and lets us watch as they make those discoveries with each other.  She adds layers of texture, color, shading and love to her men, and let us fall in love with them as much as they fall for each other.

And she never sells them, or us, short.  She lets us into their joy and their pain, always emotionally connected and honest. 

She shows us love, not as a shiny bauble to be put on a shelf, but as a favorite treasure taken out of your pocket and admired over and over, the edges frayed and the finish worn from so much handling.  Something that is looked at, cared for and valued.

That's why I love her books, her men so much.  They are true to life.

Great book.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

"I Am Fallen"

Review - "I Am Fallen" by Scarlett Blackwell

Utterly devastating

Very Highly Recommended

What might be considered slight spoilers ahead, but I can't recap without them.  Sorry...

The year is 1888, the location Scotland.  Jacob Bailey had gone to the coast to die.

Jacob's cancer has returned.  What started as a lump in his breast that was removed has grown again, and he knows he will not survive another operation.  The pain is increasing, and he doesn't have anything to look forward to in his life. 

So he begins the inexorable process of separating himself from everyday affairs and preparing for the end.  But most of all, he misses Lucien, the love of his life.  The man who left him to move to New York, unprepared to leave his wife for Jacob.

But then something happens.  An angel appears in his room.

Actually, an archangel.  Morning Star, one of his many names.  Lucifer is another.

Then Michael appears.  Then Raphael.

And Jacob starts to wonder if he's already in the grasp of morphine dementia.  If Lucifer is there to steal his soul.  But events show him otherwise.  Lucifer cares for him, helping Raphael take away some of his pain. 

All he knows is, he is ready to go.  As his condition worsens, truths are revealed.  For him, Lucien, Lucifer, Raphael.

And here I have to stop, or too much will be given away...

I will be honest and upfront - this was a one of the most touching, beautiful works I have read in some time.  I spent the last third of the book wiping away tears.

Scarlett Blackwell took two of the most difficult themes of all, death and religion, and created a stunningly simple book that gently cut me open and eviscerated me, tore my heart out and had me in tears.  And I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Jacob is such a heartbreaking man.  His life devoid of meaning, he lost his one true love to cowardice and fear.  Then his fiance died, he developed cancer, and he mostly gave up.  Accepted that all of it was punishment from God for being an abomination.

And Lucifer.  A revelation.  The unrequited love.  The pain.  The tenderness he shows Jacob. 

What gets me the most is the parallel love story between Jacob and Lucien and Lucifer and Raphael. 

And then the epilogue.  My heart can't take much more. 

I have to go now, and wipe my eyes.  Still my heart.  Say a prayer.  For God's angels, for Jacob.  For Lucien.


Friday, March 16, 2012

"King Perry"

Review - "King Perry" by Edmond Manning

A must read for everyone

Very Highly Recommended

Don't read any further if you don't like personal information, potential spoilers or rambling musings.
On a quiet evening in 1999, investment banker Perry Mangin attends an art show in San Francisco.  He's a  nice looking man, not super hot but not a slouch.

Vin Vanbly is also at the event.  He's a mechanic from Minnesota, in town on vacation.  Vin's a bear - a stocky, hairy guy - and soon he and Perry notice each other.  Vin waits, and soon Perry comes over where he's studying the paintings.

The two men flirt and converse about little things.  Then Vin begins to talk about the artwork, specifically a few pieces by a local artist.  His knowledge of the pieces is profound, his insights piercing to Perry.  As a crowd forms and Vin draws everyone around him in to the story behind these works, Perry reacts.  And leaves.

When he checks in with the gallery the next day, Perry is surprised to find a note left for him.  The note invites him to meet Vin Friday evening on Pier 33 and spend the weekend with him, submitting.  The note promises it is not a S&M thing, but will forever change his life.  It invites him to remember who he was always meant to be.  But most importantly, it invites him to "Remember the King".

Will Perry show?  What does Vin have planned for him?  And, what do the promises in the note mean for Perry?

A few words before I dive into this review.  As I've posted in another place, this has been a rough few weeks for me and I've been tired and flirting with burn out.  I review a lot, and have been stalled on that front, as well as in other areas.  And, as usual, when I have a problem or issue, the Universe has a way of throwing the answer in my face in the most improbable ways.

Because this book - I'm rarely at a loss for words, but this book is an answered prayer.

Edmond Manning, bless him, has written a book of rare depth, beauty and importance.  This work is all about the pains of the heart, finding ones true self and connecting with the mysteries of life.  It is funny yet serious, deep yet easy, and heart breaking yet heart warming.

If read with an open heart, this gem of a book has the power of healing, the serenity of grace, and the security of a father's hug.  It's about being powerful and connected and alive.

I really don't want to give away too much of the plot and substance of this novel, but some points are important.

Perry has been unable to really develop a lasting connection with another human being, and is stuck.  In some ways, he's sliding under the waves.  When the invitation to join Vin for the weekend comes, some part of him - the part longing for connection and openness - recognizes what might happen.

Vin is an enigma.  He's a mechanic, a visitor to the city on vacation.  But he knows things about Perry he shouldn't, thinks around corners, and acts like a madman.  He has a plan and an agenda, and he fascinates the whole way through this story.

I don't know if this tale resonates so loudly with me because I'm a man, and the author is male also.  At the risk of sounding sexist, this story is written by a man, about a man.  But the truths and issues are so universal, they transcend gender.

When I finished this book, I felt...alive again.  Sad, powerful, energized, loved, open.  And with the need to call my Dad.

I felt 'kinged'.  I am Tom, the Bear King.

Buy this book, carve out a quiet few hours, and open your heart to it.  Let me know what King or Queen you are.

King Tom

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"From Particles and Disputations:Writings for Jeff. A Book of Hours."

Review - "From Particles and Disputations: Writings for Jeff. A Book of Hours" by Philip Luing

Stunningly beautiful

Very Highly Recommended

In February of 1982, Philip Luing and Jeffrey Lalonde meet when they are assigned to the same study group at their church.  After rehearsal for a play, they went to a local deli for bagels and coffee on April 15th and begin their 12 year love affair.

Phil is the more artistic, creative and emotional of the two; Jeff is more pragmatic.  Over the course of their lives together, Phil writes Jeff letters of love, feelings and celebration.  He marks not only their milestones - birthdays, Valentine's Day, Christmas, anniversaries - but also those times in their lives that are mundane.  Just because.

In June of 1985, both men tested positive for HIV.

And on March 9, 1994, in the early hours of the morning, Jeff slipped from this life with his love standing watch.

Phil took the letters and notes and scribblings that he had given Jeff over the years and collected them into this small tome, "From Particles and Disputations: Writings for Jeff.  A Book of Hours."

And what a tome.  This beautiful little beating heart of a book traces the evolution not only of a life, but of a love.  It is unflinching in its joy and sorrow, in showing the fun and whimsy and growing pains of a relationship.  How it starts so sweetly and then hits bumps.  How we question ourselves, and each other.  And how the mundane can become so very precious when viewed from the now.

Mr. Luing - Phil, if he will forgive me for taking the liberty - gives us twelve years of his heart.  From the missives he shows us, he never shied away from acknowledging the beauty as well as the pettiness of their life together.  I was constantly amazed by the power of his observational skills.  How he, and I can only assume Jeff, never feared to face the demands and hurts that were in their relationship.

The prose?  So very lovely...

"All right, all right, so I prayed; you responded.  Perhaps I wasn't specific.  That'll teach me to pray poetry."

When the two men shied away from each other, retreating into silences...

"If we can penetrate the silences, we can usually get through the words.  It's been that kind of a year, you know?  Mostly overcast.  Sunlight on too brief occasions...Our words are wicked, as are our silences...For this anniversary, then, I give you my discontent and its corollary, hope for the future we are sharing."
How love means more than just you and me...

"We long ago discovered that one and one make three, not one; there will always be you, me and us at work in our domestic affairs."

How the disease they shared taught them lessons in how to support each other...

"Perhaps the vital lesson we've learned is that we bring injuries to each other to soothe, not to clone - and that we do nothing to soothe the other's injury by inflicting it upon ourselves."

How love isn't one great big thing, but a series of small considerations...

"Instead it is a quiet, practical matter, like looking around a room to see what needs to be done."
And the hardest part, for me personally, was reading the passages when Jeff was not long for this world...

"2-14-94 Lost Valentine.  Sometimes my love wanders in his dreams so as I sit by his side, I repeat 'My name is Philip I love you I'll take care of you.'"

Then, when he's gone...

"Jeff, meaning "peaceful", was well named."

The beautiful description of their last trip to Paris, so very different from their first, had me in tears.  Terribly intimate, it reminded me of lost loves and friends in my own life.  How Phil massaged Jeff's sore muscles after their day walking around the streets of the city.  But this time, it was because the bumping of his wheelchair made Jeff's legs and neck sore.  I had to put the book down and talk with a friend for a moment to settle my heart.

Quiet grace.  Two men who floated through the first couple of years of their mating, and then settled, sometimes comfortably, sometimes not, into their love.  But always present.  Always in love.  Always two, no, three - you, me and us.

It was a true honor to be invited into this intimate story of how a love grows in fits and spurts, through good and bad, in sickness and in health.  This is not to be missed, but savored and appreciated.  It's the true map of a heart.

Thanks, Philip, for trusting me with this.