Friday, August 24, 2012

"Tales of Foster High"

Review - "Tales of Foster High" by John Goode

Probably the best YA series out there

Very Highly Recommended

This is a compilation of three previously released works about two young men, Kyle and Brad, and their coming to terms with their homosexuality and how it affects their lives when they come out. The works are heartfelt, direct, amazing pieces, and I get chills every time I read them. I have reviewed them individually, and will share them collectively.

"Maybe with a Chance of Certainty"

"I don't remember the moment I knew I was broken...but I do recall when I started to understand it might be okay. It was the moment I fell in love with the boy with the green eyes."


Kyle is the loner in school - intelligent, socially awkward, alcoholic abusive mother. Gay.

Brad is the star of the baseball team, one of the gods of high school. Popular, beautiful. Unattainable.

When Brad asks Kyle to tutor him in history, it sparks a change in both young men that has to be read to be savored.

I LOVED this book. And I cannot wait for the sequel.

Mr. Goode captures both boys so heartbreakingly well. I found myself aching and crying with the care he invested in these characters. Other writers looking to capture what it is to be a gay man, or a boy, or whatever, should read this and pay close attention to the voices, especially of Kyle. So many don't get it right, that it is scary and unreal and that you feel broken when you realize you are different.

I wish I had had this to read with I was a teenager. Or even in my early 20s. At 50, I get it now. But the fragility of these boys' hearts and the fear and the ache and the love. Beautiful. it. Please.

"The End of the Beginning"

This fine book picks up where “Maybe with a Chance of Certainty” left off. Responding to Kyle’s being bullied, Brad has outed himself to his classmates to protect Kyle. We find Brad the next day, contemplating what he has done, and doing some soul searching. Did he do the right thing? Can he take it back? What will his friends thinks? His family? Teammates? Can it be undone?

In the course of dealing with all this fear, which is ultimately what this book is about – fear, and will Brad master it – he meets a kindred spirit. Tyler, an older and hopefully wiser version of Brad, helps him in a weak moment. He recognizes himself in Brad, and gives him the best advice of his young life - “Trust me, living with a life full of regrets is just about the shittiest way I can think of existing.” God, where was my Tyler when was 16, 17, 18?

“I promise you the only thing worse than being a rat trapped in a maze is being aware that you were that rat.” With one simple observation, Brad’s soul is bared to us.

Where “Maybe…” was more about Kyle, this is definitely Brad’s story. We find out much more about what makes Brad tick, his fears, his hopes, his family, and most importantly, what he wants out of life. And we see, though his eyes, how very tough it is to be young and gay in a small town. How love can make us vulnerable when nothing else can touch us, and how fear can grab even the toughest of us by the throat and the heart and shake us until we are weak. How even knowing the right thing to do can scare us so badly, we will give up on ourselves and the ones we love to protect what is. Because what might be – no guarantees there, are there?

And that, in turn, makes us take a hard look inside. And makes me wonder, if I were in Brad’s position, what would I do? And that, my friends, is the sign of a great writer. Most anyone who writes can tell a competent tale – it takes an artist to make us stop and think. To hold up a mirror and invite us to look, think, feel. And make no mistake, with this book, Mr. Goode is an artist.
“At that moment I knew I’d follow him anywhere he took me.”

I feel the same way, Mr. Goode. Keep writing like this and take me with you.

"Raise Your Glass"

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.

Read this wonderful series and enjoy!!!


Sunday, August 19, 2012

"To Reach the Stars"

Review – “To Touch the Stars” by Jeremy Pack

Amazing epic story of love and courage

Very Highly Recommended

From the time he was an almost-teen in the early 1950’s, Nicholas Sullivan was fascinated with flying and the stars. His father, a pilot during WWII, filled the young boy’s ears full of stories of derring-do, and it shouldn’t have come as any surprise when at the age of twelve, Nick was stealing off under cover of night to take his dad’s crop-dusting plane off to try to get as close as he could to the edge of the sky.

At the same time, young Tait Williams was keeping his eyes much more to the earth. Usually in a book. As his mother noted, both wryly and with wonder, the boy was an old soul and wise beyond his years. His future, even then, was tied to writing and his dreams, while lofty, were fixed on the Pulitzer Prize.

Their lives, even then, took them in such different directions. Young Nick would grow and enter the fledgling NASA astronaut program of the early sixties as part of President Kennedy’s pledge to reach the moon within ten years. And Tait, he would finish college and start his career as a newspaper beat writer and copy editor.

Across the backdrop of thirty years – the triumphs and tragedies of the Apollo manned launches, the Vietnam War, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the early days of AIDS, love, marriages, deaths, babies, families – we are introduced to Nick and Tait’s lives. Their families, their friends, their loves, joys and sorrows. We meet Bill, Alex, Eleanor, the Senator, Vannak and Nkeah, Isabella, and Adam.

We see how fate and life hinge on small moments and seemingly minor encounters – what ifs. What if an unexpected nudge in the right direction didn’t happen? An offer of a job was missed. A gentle push from an unexpected source went to someone else. Even the unwilling granting of the second chance to make a better impression never materialized.

Will Nick and Tait be the biggest what if – what if the slow, inevitable dance of two people drawn to each other was stopped in its tracks because same-sex relationships are a generation away from being utterly forbidden and career-killing?

Jeremy Pack has written an exquisitely crafted ode to dreams, men and love. He’s taken a deceptively simple puzzle piece – boy meets boy – and gently and lovingly added piece after piece, layer upon layer of subtle grace and power until the complete, stunning panorama is shown. He’s spanned thirty years of almosts, not quites…of close. Of missed chances, of regrets.

This is a truly remarkable book. Mr. Pack keeps his hand firmly on the wheel, never allowing the story to veer, keeping his voice as pure and sweet as any I’ve read. His description of Nick’s exuberance at flying is as controlled and beautiful as is the horror of the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields of Cambodia he so hauntingly shows us.

This work is a treasure. I stayed up two nights reading it, and longed for more of Nick and Tait when I was finished. These are the men who paved the road for me as a gay man, and in turn my generation – gutted and devastated and maybe a little jaded in the time of HIV – has hopefully blazed a path for today’s gay youth.

This is a special book. Buy it, savor it, and fall in love a little. I did.

This is quite possible the best book of the year.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

"Last Dance With Mary Jane"

Review - "Last Dance With Mary Jane" by John Goode

What if...your dead love could talk to you?

Very Highly Recommended

Peter isn't handling the death of his partner well. Ah, that's an understatement, perhaps. He's out of his friggin' mind.

He's drinking, thinking over and over about the irony of what strength and will it took for Shayne to not only accept his diagnosis of Stage 2 HIV infection and the six or seven year life expectancy, but to actually overcome it and be healthy on the other end. Then, to lose his life in a freak car accident when he had everything to live for.

And the worst of his downward spiral is the constant calls he makes to Shayne's cell phone, just to have that one last bit of his man, one small slice of his day where he can hear his voice and everything can be right with the world.

But he knows that he's just hanging on by his fingernails. To Shayne, to his sanity.

And there are people all around him trying to help - his therapist, a bartender, and his neighbor. Trying to get him to get it all out and move on.

And then his life takes the weirdest turn yet when he calls Shayne's phone to hear him one more time...and Shayne answers.

What would you do?

John Goode has taken this dilemma and turned it inside on itself in this breathtakingly beautiful story about the ultimate second chance. To take my worst nightmare - losing a loved one without being able to say all the important things like "I love you" one more time - and having God, fate, the Universe give me one more chance to talk to that so poignantly gut-wrenching.

Mr. Goode took me by the hand and led me along this road of discovery that is at once so self-evident and yet so very hard to grasp. He showed me the slow growth of love and caring, and how the path of love and life takes us through joy and illness and anger and joy. Then the grief of loss, and the stumbling steps we try to take to get back on way to living again.

Ah, but it would be easy to stop there. Just to make this another man-gets-over-tragedy story. That's not good enough. Mr. Goode took it one step further, and asked me, if you could make one last call, have one last talk, what would you say?

His Peter has to make that choice, and it forced me to wonder for myself, what would I do and what would I say? It's especially relevant as I just lost my partner, but I had the chance to say all the important things, the I love you's and the you are mine and I am yours' and the goodnight and goodbye's.

But...I would give much - everything - to have one more talk...but I have no regrets.

There are fantastic turns and twists here - how Shayne got to be nicknamed MJ, and how Peter used the word "feckless" and who it pissed off, and how the Universe is like a clock.

Trust me, read this and find it all out for yourself. Then think about who you need to call tonight and say something to, in case you don't have a tomorrow with them.



Friday, August 17, 2012

"Conner's Courage"

Review - "Conner's Courage" by SJD Peterson

Slow Dancing In A Burning Room

Highly Recommended

*This is the fourth in the Whispering Pines Series, and while it stands alone, it is really best to read the books in order. Conner and John are in them all, and to know them is to love them..."

For thirty-seven years, Conner Burnett has loved John Price. Now, he's facing the fight all of these years of love have prepared him for. John has inoperable cancer, and Conner won't accept the only sure outcome.

Conner first showed up at the Whispering Pine Ranch on the run from yet another flirtation gone bad, and another job crashing and burning. But Cole Taylor, the ranch's owner, sees something in the cocky and brash young man, and decides to take a chance on him and hires him as the cook while his wife Cindy is out of town.

The slightly build, young looking Conner immediately draws the attention of John Price, the big bear of a ranch foreman, and his admonishment for him to tone down his dancing around around the kitchen rubs Conner the wrong way. Especially since the sparks the two men have? Could light a fire.

So begins a slow, smoldering dance towards romance and love for the two men, a dance that is threatened by John's fears, Conner's anger, and the very real attitude of the times - the 1970's - towards gays.

What follows is simply...stunning.

SJD Peterson takes us by the hand and leads us to the dance floor with this hauntingly small, intimate story of love and romance and hope. The steps are ones we all know - strong but vulnerable men, broken lives and hearts, and two men starving for love and afraid to reach out and take a place at the table.

But oh...then she pulls us close in and wraps her arms around our necks and sings the words to their love song in our ears. A quiet and gentle hymn about Conner's need to be himself, and John's surrender to the power of love. About learning to drop walls and defenses, and trust in the goodness of another person.

And the best thing? Ms. Peterson lets us dance with her 'til the song closes with a sweet, sweet ending.

This book is amazing. Beautifully written, believably paced and just so honest and true.

I loved it. This series just keeps getting better and better. Now, give me Jess's story.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"Sub Zero"

Review - "Sub Zero" by Angel Martinez

Touching story of a second chance

Very Highly Recommended

On the mostly frozen world of Drass, Aren Dalsgaard found his true love among the genetically-altered dangpo population left there during the galactic re-organization. Able to deal with the extreme cold of the planet, and with poisonous spurs on their arms, the dangpo were ignored for years and formed their own peaceful self-govermnent. That changed when Aren and his people came to Drass. He met Akarnyima, his love and became Serpodom, the voice of the dangpo. Then both men died.

But when Aren is re-awakened from his death – science allowed men to be frozen until a cure for the cause of the death discoveres – to investigate a series of murders of human merchants on Drass, he finds himself alone. His love dead decades before and all those he knew long gone.

In the course of his investigation, he finds another young dangbo man, Nyachung, arrested for the crimes. His instincts and knowledge of the dangbo convince him the man is no danger, and he assumes custody of the young man and takes him along as he investigates.

Which is difficult. His memories of his lost love, the familiar yet foreign people and places all combine to haunt him as he navigates the maze of this new, yet not-new, world. Can Aren uncover the cause of these murders? Can he lay down his burden of grief at his and Akarnyima's deaths? And most of all, can he allow himself to live again, and perhaps find a second chance at happiness with Nyachung?

This book was...exquisite. Angel Martinez had me from the first page, grabbing me by the throat and then by the heart - “It would be difficult for anyone, son. That's where he died.” How? Why? I had to know.

Then she took me by the mind and the hand, guiding me through this amazing world populated with rich, textured characters, finely detailed history and intricate politics. The mystery kept me guessing, and the slowly building relationship between Aren and Nyachung – just so very, very right.

Aren, so full of grief and memories, stuck between his old life that left him behind and this new and strange world. His body slowly recovering, he is forced to deal what what was, and lay it to rest, before he can move on with what can be.

And Nyachung, the wonderfully nuanced young man. A tale-singer – bard – he carries the history of his people in his song, and remembers the tragic tale of Aren and his mate. But he also recognizes that this is a new chance for the man, and slowly falls in love with him. So sweetly innocent, yet strong, he forms the true emotional core of the story with his resiliency and hope and power.

I was enthralled with this masterfully told, perfectly executed tale. The romance and mystery are equally important and go hand-in-hand. There is a harmony to this story that drew me in, comforting and challenging me at the same time. I watched the characters unfold, and marveled at the beauty I discovered on this cold, ice world.

Fantastic. A must-read.


Friday, August 3, 2012

"The British Devil"

Review - "The British Devil" by Greg Hogben

The British Devil

Funny, romantic and so very drily satisfying

Very Highly Recommended

Greg Stephens is happy with his life. He's still a young man, gets to visit exotic locations as part of his job as a flight crew attendant, and has great friends. He's got a veddy proper English accent, which lands him in as many guys' beds as he wants. So it's a bit of a surprise when, at the end of accompanying a flight of troops to the Middle East, he walks into a bar and sees a handsome blonde Navy man who hits all his hot buttons.

Danny Taylor is out with some fellow officers, having a drink, when he looks up and sees a good-looking man walk in. When the man works his way to Danny's table with his beautiful female companion, he just has to strike up a conversation with him. And while the packaging and accent and smile all float his boat, it's Greg's ridiculous sense of humor and good heart that prompt him to ask Greg out to dinner the next night.

So at the height of DADT (Don't Ask Don't Tell), Greg starts a circumspect and unlikely romance with the semi-closeted Navy man. Despite the fact that he's a British citizen, that he's in a different country every week, that he's very concerned about his widowed mother and not over the loss of his father, and that he's really not looking for something long-term, he flat-out falls in love with the strong, intelligent and sexy gentle man.

Oh. Then he meets Danny's mother. And...then other shoe drops.

Because the born-again, church-going, Steel Magnolia of a Texas mother takes a very distinct dislike to her son's boyfriend, and begins a well-choreographed campaign of quiet terrorism against him.

Will Greg maintain his famous British stiff upper lip and try to keep the peace between Danny and his mother, or will he give in to the overwhelming odds stacked against the couple?

This book is straight-up fantastic. Greg Hogben doesn't fool me for one minute - he snarks, gripes and all but bitch-slaps us with funny one-liners and droll humor, but what really shines through like the sun in this great big ol' Valentine of a book is his huge loving heart.

This is a romance, make no mistake. Pure and simple romance. Sure, there are parts where I had to put my Kindle down because I was laughing so hard, and other parts that choked me up. But this book made a direct connection with my heart, grabbing hold of it from the first encounter where Greg and Danny meet. The easy and predictable thing would have been to have them meet eyes across the crowded bar and sneak off for a quick romp, then falls instantly in love.


Mr. Hogben takes us on a long, scenic drive in the country instead, showing us all the little things that creep up on a man when we look up and find ourselves in love. He lets us see the small jokes, the intimate moments and silly phone calls, the in-jokes between two guys that make us giggle-snort but that nobody else gets. The million thoughts that run through our heads when we meet our guy's family and friends and have those WTH moments.

But most of all, he shows us the ups and down, the petty things we do when we are ticked off and regret, then the quiet regrets that always bring us back to the one we love. The everyday thing that add up to a month, a year, then five, seven.

Most remarkably, he shows us all this care, this love, without opening the bedroom door. Oh, there's no doubt these two men are wearing the mattress, sofa, and probably the kitchen counters out with hot times, but we don't need these...distractions. This is a LOVE story, not a sex story.

And damn, if that wasn't refreshing.

I loved this book. At a particularly hard time in my life, this came along like a soothing balm and made me remember how and why love matters.

I couldn't have asked for more.

Buy this book.