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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Two Weeks at Gay Banana Hot Springs by T. T. Thomas

Title: Two Weeks at Gay Banana Hot Springs
Author: T.T. Thomas
Genre: Lesbian Fiction
URL:  Smashwords / Barnes & Noble
Price: $4.99 - $6.99
Other Information/warnings: None

Summary (from the publisher):  When Margaret Butler (aka "Ret" Butler) receives the rundown Gay Banana Hot Springs Resort & Spa from her rich, redneck father, she feels like she's been given a second chance at life. Her self-induced delusional euphoria is soon shattered by...uh, Daddy, who seems suddenly and mysteriously intent on running her out of business. Because he can? Or, does he have a deep, dark secret reason?

And what does Ret's seemingly clueless mother know? Quite a bit, it turns out! But Ret is preoccupied: She has grand larceny on her mind, pink mischief on her lips and a chance to rendezvous with an old flame, the ever-lovely Wilhelmina White. Ret is not about to let some old geezer with too much money ruin her grand plans for the Gay Banana--even if he is her father. This will end well, right? What could go wrong?


My Review:  I must admit, I am woefully under-read when it comes to lesbian fiction; so this review will not so much be based on specifics of the genre, but upon readability and the enjoyment the story brings.  And on that front, author Thomas excels, delivering a thoroughly entertaining read for the beach or the living room. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

alt.punk

Title: alt.punk
Author: Lavinia Ludlow
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
URL:  Casperian Books
Price: $12.50 (direct from publisher)
Other Information/warnings: Graphic sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Summary (from the publisher): We Need a Cleanup on Aisle Five. Hazel is a middle-class hypochondriac doing (over)time as a manager at Safeway, the only place that would hire her with an MBA from a state school. She hates her boyfriend, her family, and her life. Otis is a guiltless weirdo who still has action figures in his bed; a postindustrial Peter Pan who wakes up in the middle of the night crying from nightmares he can't remember. A punk rock void, he describes the world with the creative imagination of a child. Together, they are a disaster.


In alt.punk, Lavinia Ludlow explores the ragged edge of art, society, and sanity, viciously skewering the politics of rebellion. With a savage eye for detail, she unveils the layers of mythmaking that underlie class and ideology in the twenty-first century.

My Review: From the moment I first heard of Lavina Ludlow’s debut novel, alt.punk, I knew it would be right up my alley. Germaphobia, hard music, and a sexy, man-boy lead singer in a punk band. I was so looking forward to it that I ordered it on release day. But, like Ludlow’s lead character, Hazel, I got too wrapped up in the drama of a day-job to find time to read it. Now, almost 4 months after the book arrived at my home, I got a long weekend to do absolutely nothing but sit down and read this really fascinating book.

Now, a warning up front…you better have a strong stomach before you dive into Ludlow’s world. There’s drugs, bodily fluids, drugs, excrement, drugs, irresponsible sex and...drugs. Hey, it’s rock and roll after all. Now, that to me is a plus, but it may not be everyone’s cup of Clorox. If it is, you’ll find yourself treated to a brilliantly dark, biting satire not only of the punk scene, but also of that middle class that settles for less than its dreams and of those who, about to exit their twenties, act as if they are living in Logan’s Run (well, the movie version), where life past 30 simply doesn’t exist.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sal Mineo: A Biography by Michael Gregg Michaud

Title: Sal Mineo: A Biography
Author: Michael Gregg Michaud
Genre: Biography, non-fiction
URL:  Amazon
Price: $25.99
Other Information/warnings: Frank discussions of sexuality, underage sex

Summary (from the GoodReads): Actor Sal Mineo (1939-1976) lived just 37 years, but as this striking biography vividly shows, in that short span he experienced many of life's extremes. This Bronx-born son of Sicilian coffin makers went rapidly from Rebel Without A Cause stardom to sudden obscurity while still in his mid-twenties; then to a mysterious stabbing death in a Hollywood alley. Michael Gregg Michaud's new biography offers a penetrating, account of a life that has struck more than one early reader as film-worthy.

My Review:  Today, if you say Rebel Without A Cause, chances are the first name that will cross anyone's lips is James Dean.  If you're lucky, one might first say Natalie Wood, but without a doubt, it is Dean that everyone remembers.  People tend not to remember Sal Mineo's name.  But when you mention the character of Plato, people will generally go "Oh, yeah, that kid. He was great."  But no one remembers the actor behind the performance. Hopefully, Michael Gregg Michaud's new biography of Mineo (and James Franco's forthcoming bio-pic based upon it) will rectify that situation and put the spotlight back on an outstanding actor who died just as tragically as Dean and Wood, albeit, long after he had fallen from the spotlight.

Now, far from perfect, Michaud's book is a first and foremost a loving tribute to Mineo, an amazing actor who was twice nominated for an Academy Award (Rebel Without a Cause and Exodus). Relying on vintage interviews, letters, and news reports, Michaud builds Mineo's early life, depicting a driven young kid from the Bronx who one day discovers acting.  Michaud paints out the dynamics of Mineo's family life before his ascent to fame resulting in an almost stereotypical New York-Italian family: tight-knit, loving, poor.  But as Mineo begins to experience some success on the stage (and later television), the book focuses primarily of Sal's relationship with his mother: of her initial protectiveness of Sal and his career, to her misguided attempt to make certain that Sal felt no more special than her other kids by spending Sal's money on them as well.  It's an interesting dynamic and I have to give Michaud props for doing it well.  As the book continues into "Mineo Mania" (after Rebel, fan reaction to Mineo was on a par with the later Beatles phenom), we slowly and subtly see the relationship morph into one which will clearly influence Sal's almost desperate need for control later in life.  It would have been easy to paint Mrs. Mineo as a villain, a harpy stage mother who took advantage of her son's fame and finances.  But Michaud doesn't do that.  He doesn't paint her black or white. He lets her develop. 


With so much attention paid to Mrs. Mineo, the rest of Sal's family takes a major backseat.  Although Michaud tells us how important Sal's father was to him, Mr. Mineo is hardly present in the book...almost a non-character; so it is really difficult to see how Sal's devotion and near reverence of him takes root.  Other than occasional references to his brothers Mike (who gets the most attention) and Vic (who gets almost none) and sister, his siblings are likewise non-existent.  The world of early Sal is clearly Sal and his mother.  Now, whether this was a choice Michaud made to help explain Sal's later life or whether he simply didn't have the material available to flesh out the rest of the family is not clear and--in my opinion--a flaw.


Now, one of the earliest criticisms I saw of this book was that the time spent on Sal's relationship with James Dean and the filming of Rebel is a relatively small part of the book. And this is true.  Those going into this book expecting salacious details of that time or some implication that Dean and Mineo were lovers will be greatly disheartened.  Yes, the Rebel section is fairly minor in the grand scheme of this book.  But that's not a flaw here.  Rebel was the beginning of Sal's career and I again have to give kudos to Michaud for not making it Rebel heavy to satisfy Dean fans.  It is, after all, a biography of Mineo and while pivotal and important in Sal's life, it was just the beginning. And Michaud does this period of Sal's life proud.  The time spent of Rebel is done so masterfully, the relationship between Dean and Mineo deftly drawn...as strong and as intensely homoerotic as the relationship between Jim Stark and Plato, their respective characters in the film.


The mid-section of the book--where Sal's post-Rebel success propels him and his career forward--is where we first see Mineo struggling with control...the need to take charge of his own life and career.  Immediately typecast as as juvie, Sal struggles to break free of that image even as his mother (acting as his manager) keeps selecting such roles for him, and producers can't seem to offer him any roles beyond what he had already played.  He is awash in fame and adulation.  Girls scream and chase him. His records sell like hot cakes.  Yet, the roles he is offered just don't seem to correspond.  It's an odd point in his life.  Massive success without forward movement and Mineo gets lost in it.

It is here where Mineo begins his relationship Jill Haworth, his 14 year old co-star in Exodus, and perhaps the greatest female love of his life.  At first lovers (they even became engaged at one point), they would remain friends for the rest of Sal's life, and the later part of the book relies heavily on Haworth's recollections of those days. After losing the Oscar for Exodus, we see Mineo once again typecast, albeit in a different type.  One would think the second Oscar nomination would have led to more opportunities, but Hollywood once again could not see him any other way.  This is part testament to Mineo's talent and the curse of it.  

The descent of Sal's star is contrasted with the rising of Haworth's, who would go on to create the role of Sally Bowles in the Broadway production of Cabaret.  There was clearly great love between the two, but the relationship between Mineo and Haworth is a complex one.  In their meeting is perhaps the first sight of how Mineo begins to rely upon sex as a means of control and manipulation.  Mineo begins to realize that his looks and his magnetism give him a measure of control in his personal life that he is so missing in his professional one.  In that respect, Mineo uses Haworth as both beard and pawn.  But, to Michaud's credit, you also never doubt his honest love for her.

As Mineo's star falls even harder, we see him valiantly trying to create opportunities for himself.  Yet, each attempt seems to fall apart in his hands, and we find him focusing on others, trying to help create new stars.  But there is a darkness behind it, Mineo's use of sex almost disturbing and possessive.  And, in fact, it is when Mineo fixates on a young Bobby Sherman that his and Haworth's relationship hits a rough patch that will take years to repair.


The later part of the book also relies heavily on the recollections of the male love-of-his-life, Courtney Burr.  Through Burr's eyes (and, through the eyes of Haworth with whom Mineo ultimately reconciled), we learn of the final years of Sal's life and his valiant efforts to rebuild something of a career for himself.  It is also here that we get to see some of the less attractive sides of people who orbited the later years of Sal's life.  Roddy McDowell comes off particularly heinous and Bobby Sherman fares no better.  Though not as badly portrayed as the former two, Don Johnson comes off as a sycophantic opportunist. (David Cassidy, on the other hand, comes off extremely well).  In this section of the book, it is Burr who seems to ground Mineo and who becomes not only his lover, but a sort of protector.  His influence is a good one.  But, on the cusp of resurrecting his career and embarking on an exciting new life with Burr, Mineo is cut down tragically outside of his apartment in West Hollywood.


In the end, this biography is fascinating.  Michaud shows us all sides of Mineo, the good and the petty and ugly side.  But because he makes us love Sal in the beginning of the book, we tend to be more forgiving of him by the time we face the not-so-attractive side of him.  Still, there are a few things it is hard to overlook about the man, in particular his apparent predilection for underage lovers.  But even in that we see a man desperately searching for control and for the childhood he never seemed to have had.  Michaud doesn't make us forgive him of that, but he does let us understand it a little bit.

My major qualm with the book is that it relies so heavily on the recollections of Haworth and Burr, two people who clearly loved him deeply.  In fact, no one, it seems, didn't like Sal.  And that, frankly, calls into question the objectivity of the author. It comes off a bit one-sided.  It would have been nice to have heard from people who didn't recall Mineo so fondly.  And this also calls into question the biting remarks about McDowell, Johnson and Sherman.  Granted, McDowell is gone and could not participate (even if he would have wanted to, which is doubtful given he remained closeted until the day he died), but Sherman and Johnson are still around.  It would have been interesting to have heard their perspectives and, frankly, it would have been nice to give them a little rebuttal time given their portrayals in the book.  Of course, the author might have pursued interviews, but this can't be known for certain.

Still, the bio is incredibly entertaining.  Michaud will make you fall in love with Mineo, painting a vivid portrait of fascinating man.  And, perhaps more importantly, he will help to shine the light on an incredibly talented, powerful actor who is largely forgotten...but shouldn't be.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Tea House by Paul Elwork

Title: The Tea House
Author: Paul Elwork
Genre: Literary Fiction, historical, coming of age
URL:  Out of Print
Price: Out of Print
Other Information/warnings: None

Summary (from the publisher): Emily Stewart has a secret. So does her brother, Michael. 

Thirteen years old, precocious and privileged, the Stewart twins are just beginning to learn the power of secrets. But what starts as a game among their small circle of friends soon grows out of control; Emily and Michael’s secret spills into the adult world, where secrets can be deadly.

The Tea House is a richly evocative tale of coming of age in early 20th century America. With period detail and deep compassion, Paul Elwork delivers a suspenseful novel that delves into the intricate truths lying at the very heart of families.


My Review:  Like the titular edifice, The Tea House is a bit of a mystery, a solid debut by Paul Elwork which, in some respects, defies description or categorization. It is a novel that goes down easily, with evocative prose and an unparalleled sense of time and place, but it is also a story that haunts your memory long after you’ve finished it, even though–and perhaps because–you are only given a quick glance inside, a moment in time to find all the lives and secrets hovering in its darkened corners.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Living One by Lewis Gannett

Title:  The Living One
Author:  Lewis Gannett
Genre:  Horror, Coming of Age
URL:  Amazon
Price:  Varies by 3rd party seller - Out of Print


Summary (from Library Journal):  After a ten-year estrangement, Malcolm Spoor wishes to spend a few months with his teenaged son Torrance and invites him to live at the estate he has purchased in New England. Malcolm's reason is bizarre: he claims that he is the victim of a family curse and that he will go insane and die before he reaches the age of 50. Good-natured Torrance thinks this is a ruse to gain sympathy; he agrees to the visit but soon suspects his father may be losing his mind. Torrance sees him spending most of his time locked away in his office, screaming and raging at people who never answer, and learns with horror and anger that Malcolm is using hidden cameras to record Torrance's every move. Something is indeed very wrong at the Spoor estate, but it is Torrance, not Malcolm, who is slated for death--or something even worse.

My Review:  It has been a massive number of years since I read this book the last time, but it is one which despite a very muddled ending, has always remained in my mind. The younger Spoor--standing on the cusp of manhood--contrasted with the image of his his father Malcolm Spoor who is falling into madness is a really interesting dynamic and a rather fresh way at looking at vampirism.

This is an epistolary novel, done as homage to Stoker's Dracula, and for the most part it works, switching from the perspective of the younger Spoor to his teacher. Gannet manages the multiple POVs well and even delves into issues of coming out, growing up, strained familial relationships and less than honest and forthright teachers.

The characters are all very well rounded and the author manages to maintain a creepy almost voyeuristic tone to the novel that fits it well. Not so many scares in this one, but it is a really interesting character study and though it is not a YA novel in any respect, I think for young people it deals pretty honestly with the issues of growing up awkward, being a bit of an outcast, and having parents you just can't understand.

Only near the end does it get muddled, but for me, the story was enough for me to forgive the sloppiness at the end.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

On Wings, Rising (Encounters #1) by Ann Somerville

Title:  On Wings, Rising (Encounters #1)
Author:  Ann Somerville
Genre: Sci-Fi/Speculative, LGBT Fiction
URL:  Samhain Publishing
Price:  US$ 4.50
Summary (from the publisher):   Dinun can’t fly—but he could be the answer to an Angel’s prayer. Barely tolerated by his own kind, Dinun is a self-reliant soul who scratches out a living from the great, empty lands of Quarn. Always looking for unexpected treasure, he never dreams of finding an injured Angel.

Moon belongs to a race of telepathic winged humanoids. Exquisitely beautiful, sexually playful, Angels have always fascinated humans. Dinun’s feelings for Moon take flight as they become lovers, but a planetary invasion could destroy their future together.

Centuries ago, humans on Quarn saved their race from destruction by joining their DNA with that of the Angels. Now full-blood humans are stealing Angel children—including Moon’s son—for barbaric experiments. The full-bloods are prepared to slaughter anyone who gets in their way.

Thrust into a desperate race against time to save the infants, Dinun and Moon must battle against a people with weapons far beyond anything the Angels—or their human friends—can hope to defeat. Dinun brings to the fight his bravery and a determination to be true to himself. Will that be enough to save the children, and win the Angel he’s come to love?



My Review:  One of the things I’ve come to expect in reading Ann Somerville’s works is that as an author she never goes for the obvious, for the stereotypes of character and plot that plague any genre, not just the m/m romance genre. I am happy to say that Somerville once again takes us on an enjoyable journey down the road less often taken with the charming, touching and completely entertaining On Wings, Rising.

On the world of Quarn, we are introduced to Dinun, an everyman who is, perhaps, a little less ordinary than he actually believes. Somewhat of an outsider in his village because of his choice of lifestyle, Dinun is content with his life as a fossicker, his relationship with his “wife” and his playful relationship with his “little tax reliefs,” the children he and his wife have had to avoid the crushing taxes placed upon the unmarried. The marriage is one of convenience for both parties, one that is very business like, and while Dinun would prefer sex and a relationship with a another man, he never broods about it, accepting his life as it is and supplementing with the occasional secret encounter with other men in the village, men who are open to using him but give little back in return. In short, Dinun is an even tempered man who is not dissatisfied with his life, but knows that there is something—that special connection—missing.

Going Down by Ann Somerville

Title: Going Down
Author: Ann Somerville
Genre: Sci-Fi/Speculative fiction, LGBT Fiction 
URL:  Smashwords
Price:  US$ 2.99 ebook

Summary (from the publisher):  For 15 years Derzo rescued others from fires, floods and natural disasters. In the aftermath of a horrific event, he’s left unable to help anyone, not even himself, his empathy now more of a curse. Running from his demons, he finds refuge in a big city, discovering an underclass of people even worse off than him. In saving one more person, will he find his own salvation?

My Review:  Set in the author’s world of Periter – a world like our own save for the fact that some of the people living there have a genetic predisposition toward paranormal abilities – this 30,000 word novella is an entertaining and excellently crafted story about the power of pain, healing, friendship, and faith, deftly told with a light and loving touch. While a familiarity with the author’s other works set in the Periter universe would most likely augment the story, such prior knowledge isn’t required as the piece stands beautifully on its own, never assuming the reader has taken the other journeys. If you’re familiar with the other works, this likely is a welcome addition to the group. If you’re not familiar with the Periter universe (as was the case with this reviewer), you will discover an amazingly detailed world populated with rich, full characters. You’ll be left wanting to read more, and isn’t that what good story telling is all about?

The focus of the story is Einan, an empath and a trained medic who was once part of a respected military Corps, first responders in all manner of disasters. Following an especially horrific Op, Einan finds himself overwhelmed by the emotions of others and physically drained, his empathic abilities becoming a devastating curse rather than a blessing. Diagnosed with empathic overload and unable to handle the cure of a year’s isolation from all mankind, Einan has left the Corps and landed himself a job working at a little diner in the town of Kundo, an economically depressed city that is drawn with remarkable detail. As Einan, unable to sleep for the pain and memories swarming inside him, traverses the city on one of his nightly walks, we as readers see the world he has found himself in, we can breathe in the oily scents and feel the desperation of not only the neighborhood, but of the man himself.