Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"Raise Your Glass"

Review - "Raise Your Glass" by John Goode

Superb third book in the Foster High series

Very Highly Recommended

It's not a prerequisite to have read the other two Foster High books, but recommended. You will lose the nuance and backstory and a whole lot of great writing. And there may be spoilers here...

It's been only two days since baseball jock and school BMOC Brad came out to the school in an attempt to support his boyfriend, nerdy and invisible Kyle. The repercussions haven't really hit either boy terribly hard yet, as they skipped school the day before, and now will have to face the music.

The reaction at home has been mixed. Kyle's mother, gone agan, isn't a factor. And Brad's parents are, as usual, fighting over the news. It's at school where the dread will come in. Brad picks up Kyle and, drawing on other for strength, they head in to Foster High.

The kids are waiting. The news has spread, the gossip ripe. Whispers greet them everywhere they go. Conversations stop as they walk into their classes. Students once friends now look at Brad like he grew an additional head. For Kyle, it means he's noticed now.

But with attention comes conflict, and the underlying homophobia Kyle feared. And it comes out - verbally, physically, emotionally. Even to the point where Brad may not be allowed to play baseball, since he might...become aroused by the bodies around him. Never mind he's been dressing out in locker rooms for years. Never mind he is counting on a scholarship to get the hell out of North Texas.

Will the pressures of being out be too much for Kyle and Brad? How will the school, and the school board, deal with openly gay student? And, most importantly, will the boys be together and safe?

John Goode has once again delivered the goods. This is an emotionally stunning, powerhouse...gem of a story. The two characters, Brad and Kyle, leap off the page with verve and conviction. They grabbed my attention, my love and my heart.

This is a hugely relevant and important series. Nobody else in the genre has captured the pure psychological weight on the shoulders of gay teens, and how truly fragile, yet strong, these kids are. Brad on his own was maintaining, hiding his true self under a self-hating persona. And Kyle was living day-to-day, counting the moments until he was out of school.

Ah, but together? These two together have found something special, something that makes them more than just the sum of the two wholes. They found synergy. And with that, they can make it through.

There are horrible things that happen along the way in this book - deeds that can't be undone, words that can't be unspoken, hurts that can't be taken back. But alongside all that - there is something more. Something underlying all the pain and the fear and the hate.

The unspoken forces that Mr. Goode has given us here are Hope and Love.

Hope for these two boys. Hope for at least some of the people in this small Texas town. Hope for their parents, their friends - old and new. Hope for other gay men and women there.

And love. The love of a young man for another. A parent for their child. Love of self.

This book moved me to tears. Joyful tears that Kyle and Brad will make it. That they are not alone. And that it does get better.

Fine job.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"Dark Soul"

Review - "Dark Soul, Vol I -V" by Aleksandr Voinov

Fantastically dark and sexy novellas

Very Highly Recommended

As his Mafioso overlord lay dying, west coast boss Stefano Marino waits and wonders what his share of the old man’s territory will be. He waits his turn, hanging out with all the other bosses when Silvio Spadaro shows up to the vigil. Silvio is there in place of his “mentor” and lover Gianbattista Falchi, a respected retired Don. Although being gay usually means a death sentence among these men, Silvio is respected as a made man and as heir to Battista.

Over the course of five short novellas, we watch as Stefano, straight and happily married, falls under the spell of the intriguing and highly sexual young man. He catches Silvio in his guest quarters, which leads to a dangerous sexual encounter. After the two part, Silvio returns to Italy to be with Battista, while Stefano returns home to California.

There is a problem in his territory, however. The Russian mob is making a move to consolidate their power and force Stefano’s family out. Permanently. He has no choice but to approach Falchi for assistance. While in Italy, he observes the two lover’s violent love-making, exciting and dangerous as it may be.

Falchi offers to lend him Silvio to help him out. And dumps Silvio as a lover.

While taking action in spectacular fashion against the Russians, the two men play a hot and sexy seduction game. Silvio’s brother Franco, recently released from the French Foreign Legion, comes to visit and assist, and becomes part of the intrigue and romance.

But the final test of courage will come into play when an Assistant D.A. with a personal ax to grind wades into the equation. Where Russian mobsters and his own men failed to bring Stefano down, the law may find a way. Will Silvio and Stephano end up together? Or will their differing needs and futures keep them permanently separated?

Aleksandr Voinov, author of Scorpion and Dark Edge of Honor, has created perhaps his sharpest and most interesting characters here. Silvio and Stefano are edgy, dark and full of uncompromising heat and passion. The two simmer and bubble, then explode across the page in the most deliciously unexpected and wild ways.

This series is not for everyone, containing scenes of extremely rough sex and borderline dubious consent, as well as a little brother-on-brother action. But set that aside and savor the powerfully delivered storylines, characters that grab you by the throat and, surprisingly, by the heart, and action that is sublime.

I am a huge Voinov fan, and this series is him at his dark best. Bullets fly, plots abound, twists and turns take us on a fantastic joyride through the recesses of these men’s souls. The length of each novella had me hungry for more, and the finale was so satisfying, I felt like lighting up a good cigar, drinking two fingers of good scotch and closing my eyes and starting back at the beginning.

Subtle in some ways, in-your-face most of the time, but oh-so-very right. Just so damned good and truly not to be missed. This will have you scrambling to check out Mr. Voinov’s catalog of works. You won’t be disappointed. Just remember, it's not everyone’s cup of tea.

Thank God it’s mine!



Sunday, May 20, 2012

"Talker - Compilation"

Review - "Talker Compilation" by Amy Lane

Unforgettable, two of her best characters ever

Very Highly Recommended

It all started on a bus.

Tate Walker - ‘Talker’ to everyone - bopped on the team bus, tattoos, piercing, scars and rapidly running mouth, looking for a seat while the track team went to their next meet. And who did he pick to sit next to? All-American looking, handsome Brian Cooper. Talker’s spit-fire constant chatter didn’t bother Brian. Most people thought his quiet demeanor aloofness, but it hid his innate shyness.  

Despite their differences, the two become fast friends, then roommates. Talker dates around, a steady string of guys that Brian feels don’t deserve him. Although he wonders why he feels that way – after all, he’s straight and dating a very nice girl. But Talker is on a mission to lose his virginity.  

Slowly, and with his now ex-girlfriend’s help, Brian realized he loves Talker as more than a friend.  But how to get him to take Brian seriously is the question.

When Talker picks the wrong guy to go out with, Brian helps pick up the pieces. Brian loves him back to health, and can’t tell him how he feels, because that isn’t what Talker needs. As Talker spirals more and more out of control, Brian knows desperate times merit desperate measures.

And so begins the wonderful love story that is “Talker”. This is a compilation of three previously released stories – Talker, Talker’s Redemption and Talker’s Graduation. The first is how Talker and Brian met and fell in love, the second the tale of Talker stepping up to the plate when Brian is attacked, and the last, what happens when the guys settle into their relationship and Talker sees himself as Brian sees him.

These beautifully developed stories are at times heartbreaking, heartwarming, gut-wrenching and gasp-inspiring. We learn the backgrounds of these two seemingly different young men and how their past tragedies shaped them into the gentle souls they become.  And we celebrate with them, sigh with them, rage against God at the tragedies and unfairness that befall them, and then, only then, we watch them with awe as they share their hearts so very openly and without reservation.

We see Talker grow from the nervous, fragile and in-your-face boy to the confident, settled-in-his-skin lover, friend and man. His willingness to face head-on the brutality with which he, then Brian, was treated inspires me, makes me want to hold him and protect him, at first. Ah, but then to watch him find his core, his strength – Brian – and wrap that around him like armor and take on the world?  That, my friends, is love.

Then there’s Brian.  Such an unassuming lad, who thinks he’s nothing special. He plods through life, always settling, never asking for more. Until he meets Talker and his world expands along with his heart and he learns his own worth. And how he has to operate outside his own shell to get what he wants and BE who Talker needs. Simply stunning to watch his dignity as he blooms into manhood.

What the two start to realize, is they are simply two lost souls who are flip sides of the same coin.  Talker hides his vulnerable heart with a confident fa├žade, while Brian shows nothing to the world, masking his inner strength. Both men grew up out of tragedy, making their way into the world without a safety net.

Amy Lane took me by the hand and let me dance this magnificent dance with her (humming Springsteen’s “Lonely Valentine” and laying my head on her shoulder).  So lovingly done, these characters demand attention and love and respect.

And I do.  Love them.  Respect them.  

Well done.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hop Against Homophobia

I think I've been lucky in my life. 

I have always been a big guy, looked older than I am and what would be called "masculine".  So I never get much crap thrown my way.  Partly, I'm more a peace-maker and a thinker than a someone who gets in the middle of things.  And, yeah, my size and gruffness intimidates some people.  I'm okay with that.

But what that means also is that I never caught much guff about being gay.  Early in my life, it was all internalized, and I did a much better job beating myself up than anyone else could do.  Then I got over it, accepted it, made my peace with it.  I also decided to adopt an attitude of "Don't Tell Unless Asked".

That served me well for many years.  I was out at work from about 1992, when I worked for Grady, the indigent care hospital here in Atlanta, until today.  Never caught shit for it - and I made it a point to only work for gay-friendly organizations.  With my passion for non-profits, it's been easy.

But I had one experience that totally shattered me for a day and I still look back on it and remember I am not safe.  No one is safe.

My partner, Sam, and I took a vacation and drove to Florida, and we invited my friend Bill to go with us.  Now Bill is not the most butch guy.  He wears many many rings, bracelets, necklaces and earrings.  Flips his hands around when he talks, and rolls his eyes on average a hundred times an hour.  He's about ten years older than me (I was about thirty-five at the time, and never paid much attention to how we acted when all of us went out), a big guy, and has a mouth on him that I admire.

Anyway...on the trip, I was driving, Bill was in the front seat with me and Sam was in the back.  We were singing along to a Patsy Kline CD and having a good time.  The windows were open, and I didn't have any rainbow flags or anything on my car, but Bill was making kissy faces out the window at passing cars and generally just being himself.

Then it happened. 

An eighteen-wheeler was beside us, looked down and glared.  Then sped up and cut in front of us, clipping the right front bumper of my car.

I slammed on the brakes, immediately pulled over on the interstate and sat in shock.  None of us could speak.  Then Bill jumped out of the car and threw up on the side of the road.  We finally pulled ourselves together and made it to Orlando, but it put a damper on the whole trip.

It was the first time I ever felt personally threatened for being gay.  That someone would actually try to harm me and my friend and my partner because of my sexual orientation.  Yeah, I've mouthed off to straight boys and taken verbal shots back and forth a couple of times, but never had I ever had that uncontrollable fear, that "Oh Hell I am going to die!" sickening feeling directed at me.

Homophobia kills.  Fear, misunderstanding, loathing, hate, ignorance - whatever it is, it is deadly.  

Ask Matthew Shephard's mother.

Ask Darnel "Dynasty" Young.

Ask Jonah Mowry, Jay 'Corey' Jones, Jamey Rodemayer, David Levitt.

Ask the young man Mitt Romney attacked.

Ask me.

Stop the hate.  Stop homophobia.

Tom.  Out