4 Stars for Falling Down by Eli Easton

Review by Cia

Family isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be for many people, and sometimes the world isn’t all that kind. Homeless, just eighteen, Josh has reached the end of his ability to withstand the knocks life keeps throwing at him. Losing his mom was traumatic, but he has a way to be close to her again. First he has to get to New England to see the leaves change for her.

Then he’ll just let go.

Mark’s alone, not because he has to be, but because he needs to be. He’s scarred, mentally far more than physically, by his experiences as a soldier. He’s not the man his family thinks he is, and he needs some space. An isolated cabin just big enough for him, a business using his hands… and he’s satisfied with his life, if not happy.

But the dead look he sees in a man’s eyes strikes him hard, and when that same man appears under a bridge across the lake, he can’t help but reach out. Falling Down is a story about the challenges these men face and how they cope. Each with their own strengths and weaknesses, the story Mark and Josh take a reader on is one that tugs at the heart and makes the book impossible to put down. Eli Easton is a master at crafting characters who feel so real you ache for their pain and cheer for their joy, and Falling Down is no different. Five stars all the way.

Highly recommended: Beatitude by Larry Closs!

Length: 276 pages

Reviewed by: Timncalifornia

Harry Charity is a lover – a lover of words, books, and reading.  The prose, poems, and lives of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and the early beat writers are the guides and signposts for Harry’s own approach to life.  They are the idyll to which he aspires and while he’s not trying to re-create the early beat generation in mid ‘90s Manhattan, he certainly embraces the beatnik philosophy as a way- the way- to live.

When Jay Bishop joins the staff at the pop-culture magazine where Harry works, he discovers  a fellow fan of the beats, a prolific (though unpublished) poet, and a fast friend. In other words, Harry’s ideal man is now working down the hall from him.  The problem for Harry?  Jay has a girlfriend.  Harry is a year out from a hard break-up from a guy who didn’t love Harry as deeply as Harry had loved him.  He has spent a year in solitude, nursing his self-esteem back to health, and he’s determined not repeat history with Jay.

I found myself strongly drawn to the character of Harry Charity and his gentle, meaningful, thoughtful engagement with life.  It shows in all his interactions – with his boss, his co-workers, Jay’s girlfriend, even one-off encounters with merchants.  Harry has an innocence that is inviolable and has nothing to do with naiveté or unworldliness.  Jay is a decent, likeable person – entirely worthy of Harry – and sympathetic to our hero.  Jay’s girlfriend is likewise kind and thoughtful.  There’s no evil character to cast as an enemy in Beatitude.

In Harry Charity, Larry Closs has written a character who yearns not just for love but to understand love and the place it has in his life.  This story is a romance and not a romance.  Love, true and forever love, can take forms other than romantic.  As the story progresses, the reader will be able to see Harry more clearly than Harry sees himself, will recognize his strengths sooner and will want to shake some sense into him for his blind spots.

The story is interlaced with references to the beatnik oeuvre but it’s not necessary to like or even be familiar with that literary school.  I only have a passing familiarity with the beats and had a neutral reaction to that which I have read.  However, I could relate to Harry’s and Jay’s passion for the beats because I’ve had my own fanboy experiences.  I’ve envied and wondered at the tightknit, tumultuous friendships of bandmates and musicians, have thrilled to the lyrics of a song that put words to what I thought I, alone, felt.  While I didn’t come away from Beatitude wanting to delve into beatnik literature, I did come away with a deeper appreciation for why others are drawn to it.

Five stars for this excellent, well-written story.  Let’s all hope Closs has another book in the works.

Buy it now: Rebel Satori Press or at Amazon 

Free GA Fiction: About Carl by Diogenes

About Carl

by Diogenes

Reviewer: Timothy M.
Length: 52,147

One day, being a gay man in the closet will hopefully be a thing of the past, and love will be accepted as a gift to be cherished no matter who you’re attracted to. In the same way, being gay won’t be detrimental to your career, or mar your relationship with family and friends. That day, stories like About Carl will become historical fiction; there to remind us of the anguish and struggle in store for the main character Mark when he falls for Carl, a man not only in the closet but also in denial – most of the time. The story takes you on the sad, but also beautiful and believable journey through Mark’s life to a future where we hope he’ll finally find happiness, with or without Carl.

Story Quote:

We hugged each other in the dark, tossed the empty wine bottle into the lake, and wandered back to my place in silence through the darkened streets.

I made up the bed on the foldout sofa for him, and said goodnight. Before I left him, he took my hand in his, and said, “I know this is going to change our relationship, but I need you, and I don’t want us to drift apart.”

Free Online Fiction: Husband for the Holidays by Project_Amy

Husband for the Holidays by Project_Amy

The ice and cold locking up most of the United States, including my home, had me in the mood for a holiday story even though Christmas and New Years have passed. Considering this is a re-read story I’ve enjoyed online several times, regardless of the actual time of year, I thought it’d be a great story to share. Project_Amy’s has five original stories on Adult-Fanfiction.org, and my favorite has to be Husband for the Holidays.

Preston is a wholesome, clean cut college guy… with a job as a server at an upscale gentlemen’s club. His boss, Carter Jamison, is a handsome man with a reputation. Preston has always flirted–that’s part of his job–but with his boss? No matter how much he’d love to climb into the man’s lap and stare deep into those dark eyes, he wouldn’t dare! But when Preston rushes in to work one day to announce he has to quit, Carter shocks the hell out of him with a proposal.

A tragedy in Preston’s family has left him with two young nephews he desperately wants to give a home, but his life just isn’t acceptable for the system. From his apartment to his job, he’s got to make changes… but he doesn’t have the means. Carter does, however, and he instantly proposes. Literally.

Carter gets the server he’s lusted after since he started working, Preston gets a swank apartment and the means to get custody of his nephews. It seems like that’s all that the offer is between them, but unspoken depths to both their feelings simmer as their new life sweeps them both up into a whirlwind of dreams and diapers.

This story captured me from the beginning. I liked the characters, and while I don’t usually like miscommunication as a problem between the characters, in this story it adds a tension without becoming unrealistic or too tedious to read. Both characters are holding back because of the nature of the proposal being all business… even if it’s anything but. Don’t hold back from reading this story, though, because you really don’t want to miss it!

 

In Retrospect

How many books have you read in your life where there’s a hidden subtext featuring the LGBT community in some way? Chances are… more than you think! Take one of my favorite series from my youth: Dragonriders of Pern

Yep! Anne McCaffrey snuck that right in! I always remember reading the series and thinking that growing up in the Holds must have been stifling, and if I could–beyond the fact there were dragons–I’d skedaddle to a Weyr in a heartbeat. I never wanted one of the gold dragons. I wanted a green. Sleek, fast, not too serious, and they could flame Thread out of the sky with the best of them. And they were female, unlike the rest aside from the Queens.

But all the green dragonriders in the series were guys. Of course, so were the blues, the browns, and the bronzes too. The subtext that shows up in a lot of the series didn’t strike me until much later. Greens go into heat just like the gold dragons, even if they’re sterile from chewing phosphine rock, and the impending flight made the green riders “proddy”. LOL

Suddenly the Holders hidebound attitude toward the licentious nature of the Weyr’s inhabitants become clear. And it’s very much an echo of time the series began, back in 1967 with its free love, acceptance, and peace even in the face of impending danger. And that’s why I think I subconsciously loved the series. If you like your scifi with a fantasy-esque setting, if you’re a fan of dragons and danger, then you really should read these classics!

Alan Semrow’s Briefs Receives 4 Stars!

This week’s review comes just in time for the holiday with all its demands on our time. Surely you can squeeze in a few minutes for reading, especially once you read this review of Alan Semrow’s Briefs.

briefs

Review by Timncalifornia

Here’s a perfect book for someone who’s short on time for reading but craving a quick creative escape.  Alan Semrow’s Briefs is a collection of over 50 short stories, truly brief stories as most are only 2-3 pages in length.  They are perfect for that short, crowded commute on the train or someone looking to grab a few moments to themselves during the holiday rush.  In story after story Semrow offers a little slice of life with characters who are noble and flawed, relatable and incomprehensible.  Whether we are in the therapist office with a teen-age boy who may or may not be suicidal or listening in on the pre-nuptial conversation of two men or witness to the despairing patience and hope of a man coping with his wife’s mental illness, each story is a substantial morsel of life whether poignant or humorous.  Even the stories that bring into relief life’s mundane and downright boring days are never themselves boring. I appreciate that Semrow never trifles with the emotions of his character or the reader.  There is economy and balance in the writing that is just perfect for a collection such as this.

Semrow has a gift for showing us what’s humane in humanity and he does so through the eyes of those from many life experiences, different cultural backgrounds, ages, genders, and orientations.  I’m looking forward to reading more from the fertile pen of Alan Semrow.

4 Stars

Re-read Worthy Free eBook: Lazy Sundays by K-lee Klein

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by K-lee Klein

Review by: Alicia Nordwell

While I have a lot of eBooks in my library as well as the vast amount of free fiction available online, there’s just something about free eBooks I really love. I was first introduced to K-lee Klein’s book with a free read event through the MM Romance group’s 2012 Love is Always Write series based prompts with both a written idea and an accompanying picture. I have to say I really like the cover for the eBook, however, because there’s just something peaceful about it. The image definitely matches the sweet vibe in the story.

And that’s just what a reader will find when they crack open this story. Scott’s a geek. Not the convention-going, pointy-ear wearing, flying wizard party type… but a man who likes jazz, a smooth drink, and a predictable order to life. And lists. A lot of lists. Now, maybe that’s boring to some people but I really found a connection with the main character, Scott. I could understand him.

That meant I wasn’t quite as skeptical of why the hotter than hot tattooed McHottie, Devon, could possibly be attracted to someone who is more comfortable curling up on the couch than dancing in a crowd. But there’s an inherent imbalance in the relationship that just doesn’t work for Scott. Sure, opposites attract… but why? For how long? And just what is it that they’re doing week after week when Devon shows up at Scott’s house? How long could it possibly last?

I don’t usually go for stories where a lack of communication really feeds the tension in the plot, but for this story, it really worked. Plus, since the story is only 82 pages long, the drama isn’t dragged out, so it wasn’t  unbelievable or annoying. All in all, Lazy Sundays is a sweet, hot read with realistic and likable characters who click against all the odds. And, as an added bonus, K-lee wrote a follow up short story to Lazy Sundays titled Lazy Valentines that I enjoyed just as much–and also wished could be longer.

4 Stars

 

Fish Stick Fridays by Rhys Ford

This time of year the focus often turns to family. For this week’s review, I wanted to share one of my favorite family stories simply because they’re nothing at all like a traditional family… but that only makes them stronger. Even better, the second book in the Half Moon Bay Mystery series is out in just a few weeks!

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Purchase at: Dreamspinner Press  Amazon  All Romance eBooks

Review by: Cia

From page one in Fish Stick Fridays we’re introduced to my favorite character in the story, Zig. Our first introduction to her is that she has a ‘poodle snore’ and that the night-light is nonnegotiable. Then we get the gut-wrenching truth that she was in the foster system and is now with Deacon, the story’s main character, who was once in the system himself. See, Deacon’s sister died and Zig has no one else but Deacon who has decided, no matter what his life was like before or how unlikely he deserves to be her guardian, that he will do right by his niece and make her a home.

In order to do that, he needs a fresh start. That’s a new mechanic shop he’s purchased in a strip mall in Half Moon Bay. The small town just might be their salvation. We’re quickly introduced to a fellow business owner, Lang, who has a bookstore just across the lot from the shop. He’s a far, far different type than the men Deacon has gotten involved with before. He’s a steamed trout with asparagus man while Deacon and Zig are fish stick Friday people. But something pulls them together against all the reasons why a relationship, no matter how casual, would be a bad idea.

Then mayhem ensues. The trouble Deacon feared just might have followed him. He has to deal with cops, and social workers, all while trying to figure out just what the hell is going on in his life as he tries to raise a little girl in a tutu and combat boots whose real name is Bobo–but you better not call her that!

This cast of main characters pulls you in with their very distinct backgrounds and personalities–a bookworm, tutu-wearing, mouth of a sailor eight-year-old, a tattooed hottie with grease under his nails and a heart of gold, and a buttoned up, loafer wearing, fluffy cat owning, well-to-do business owner. And that cat is definitely a character in his own right, alongside other secondary characters like Eli and Abe, Yvonne, and Officer Maddox.

This ragtag group of basically strangers are thrown together in the struggle to make sense of life and, hopefully, make it better. Banishing the loneliness and fear might be easier than escaping their pasts, though. What I love about this story is the hope that they all have. Sure, it’s wrapped up in fears from mistakes of the past, let downs, and insecurity, but it’s there. That tentative hope made me root for the characters to find a happily ever after and kept me glued to my Kindle as danger threatened them.

Fish Stick Fridays is a five-star read with characters who take you along as they struggle to overcome all that life throws at them.

5 Stars

Not the Sun serial by Cassie Q.

October isn’t the only month where the tree limbs rustle in the chill wind at night, so this review is still very applicable to November. Please enjoy TimNCalifornia’s review of GayAuthors.org author, Cassie Q, and her three-part serial, Not the Sun!

cassie-q-banner

October seemed like a good month for reading supernatural fiction and I knew just where to go looking.  Author CassieQ gets excellent reviews on the stories she posts at the GA Stories site.  I’ve read some of her shorter fiction and was looking forward to delving into her three part serial, Not the Sun.  I wasn’t disappointed.  The story starts out strong by introducing us to high school senior, Brandon, a likeable, artsy teenager.  He develops an interest in the new kid at school, Justin – an interest he initially perceives as artistic.  After all, Justin is part of the perfect clique of untouchables, far from Brandon’s circle of goth friends where the guys have longer hair and more eye liner than the girls.  How could the interest be anything more than purely aesthetic?  Justin is no more than another sketch in Brandon’s overflowing sketchpad.

Brandon soon learns that his connection to Justin is far deeper and destined to be more complex than he could imagine.  Meanwhile, Justin’s interest in and curiosity about Brandon is pointed and explicit.  Justin is an Enabler and Brandon is about to learn that he himself is a Creator. Working as a psychic team, they are able to shift objects between parallel realms and realities.   It is quickly apparent that they aren’t the only Enabler/Creator team around, and despite their reservations about one another, they are going to need to work together to reverse the havoc caused in their world by a psychic team more practiced, if not more powerful, than themselves.

The young men find themselves contending not only with their newfound psychic abilities, they also are facing up to their emerging sexual interest in one another all whilst dealing with the daily hassle of family and school life as an American teen.  The conflicts running through the series are multi-layered and it takes a series the length of Not the Sun to properly develop and support these different elements driving the story forward.  CassieQ has a fertile imagination and as the series progresses, we move more and more into a complex, fantastical nexus world.  Even as the external conflict intensifies with the psychic teams in the alternate worlds, the internal conflict and character development of Brandon and Justin continues apace.

Book 1, the eponymous Not the Sun, focuses on the early stages of the relationship between Brandon and Justin.  In Book 2, aptly titled The In Between, the boys are learning how tightly woven alternate realities are with our own.  If you like Stephen King, you’ll like Book 2 of the series which takes place in our own world, but there are strange and threatening forces afoot.  Even the sunniest days have a dark shadow lurking.  Brandon and Justin are partners in multiple senses of the word but they are learning how to support one another and how to maintain their individuality even as their psychic bond tightens.  In Book 3, Jabberwocky, the setting is entirely in and other “nexus” world.  Brandon and Justin’s intimacy, psychic and otherwise, has intensified but this intensification in itself challenges them even as it brings them closer.

Overall the pace of the story is lively and there is a good amount of action, particularly in Books 2 and 3.  The only quibble I had in the story was the continued personal anguish that set up repeated hurt/comfort scenarios in Jabberwocky.  For me, it detracted from the really interesting action happening with the Creator/Enabler teams at that point of the series.  That is probably more a function of my personal preference for adventure over angst. Other readers might find the balance more rewarding.

This was a five star read for me though I will qualify that it’s a five star read in the context of its publication format.  GA Stories is a home for amateur authors developing their craft. The story has not been professionally edited, and there are places where the structure could benefit from just such a high-level touch.  The writing, though, is high quality as is the story telling.  I encourage anyone to check out CassieQ’s collection of stories on GA.  You’re sure to find something to like.

5 Stars

Two Natures Gets Four Stars from Timncalifornia

two-natures

Review by Timncalifornia

I picked up Two Natures because the summary on the jacket referenced the spiritual struggle of the central character as one of the story’s main conflicts. I’ve been searching for gay themed literature outside the romance/coming out genres.  Julian Selkirk is a young man pursuing a career as a fashion photographer in New York City in the 1990s.  We meet this southern transplant as he completes his last year of college at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and follow his life and career for the next four years.

Julian is out of the closet in that way men were out of the closet in the early ‘90s – he wasn’t actively lying (except for a short-lived charade when his parents visit), but he wasn’t waving the rainbow flag either.  He mostly kept himself to himself when it came to his sexuality and let people draw their own conclusions.  It’s the height of the AIDS epidemic and even the more liberal constituency in the U.S. was leery of openly supporting a marginalized population who were largely thought to have unleashed a highly contagious plague.  As the story moves from year to year, Julian is more comfortably out and we sense that the U.S., in its urban centers at least, is closer to understanding the gay experience as normal.  This increasing openness and acceptance is never explicitly addressed in the book but the author, Jendi Reiter, reels out the story so that we see this evolution of gay acceptance that picked up speed at the end of the millennium.

Reiter’s writing is smart, witty and flows smoothly through the whole of this 400 page book.   From a quick jab at a Schwarzenegger film –

“We went to see “True Lies” after dinner because Phil was looking for a movie “where nobody cries or learns anything.”’

To a lyrical passage on an ecstasy-fueled night at a club-

“The lights would soften to a lavender cloud, the steam of the dancers’ bodies would enfold me like an ocean, all stupid jokes would seem pathetically sweet as a child’s crayon drawing, and pretty soon I’d be telling my life story to the Caterpillar and the Red Queen while the Rabbit stuck a teapot up my ass.”

Reiter skillfully weaves humor and pathos. The story is never bogged down by the writing and, indeed, the writing saves the story in places.

I was expecting more of an existential struggle, an internal questioning of morality and existence and purpose.  Instead, most of Julian’s spiritual and moral conflicts seemed fleeting and rushed, very much only grazing the surface, the exceptions being when real threat of death loomed.  This is either a failure of the book or its brilliantly subtle message.

My take away is that the telling of Julian’s story is very true to real life.  As new adults, we are focused on survival – starting a career, building a reputation, forming relationships,building a circle of friends. In the midst of keeping ourselves afloat, there is little time or energy left for the friend who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, for the homeless guy with the cardboard sign we pass daily in the subway, for tackling global warming – no matter how moved we were by a film about it.

This is doubly true for gay men and women whose families have rejected them.  Their survival depends entirely on themselves and they are making an adjustment to the social norms of whatever gay or lesbian center or enclave in which they find themselves.  It is interesting to note that the one character in the book who has devoted himself to social work and helping the less fortunate lives at home with two intellectual, financially comfortable parents who are not just tolerant but outright supportive of their gay son.  The contrast between his life and that of Julian and some of the other characters is evident.

What moved this book from a five star read to four are the rampant verbal anachronisms and literary presentisms.  No one was ordering a “grande mocha skim latte” in 1992.  The “grande” sizing (and mainstreaming of “mocha skim lattes”) would have arrived in 1994 when Starbucks opened its first store in New York City.  Likewise, there was no “Miss Cleo’s psychic hotline” in 1993.  People weren’t wearing “hipster” eyeglasses in 1996 or eating “artisanal fucking cheeses” or engaging in “slashfic cosplay.”

These out-of-time references are benign and while noticeable to someone who lived through the ‘90s and would have been contemporaries of Julian and the others, they don’t change the story in a meaningful way.  Much more troubling is the literary presentism evident in some of the language used by the characters.

In 1994 we are presented with models who are “too ethnic”, in 1995 the concept of “white privilege” and in 1996 “multiracial” foster kids.  None of these words enjoyed mainstream use in that context at that time.  Yes, models who were black or otherwise dark-skinned struggled in the fashion industry at that time and yes, white people enjoyed privileges in society simply from being white and yes, people descended from parents of different color and races.  Yes, that all happened in the ‘90s but we weren’t using those words to describe those situations yet.

Does it matter?  They’re just words, after all, that illuminate social circumstances that did exist at the time just as they exist today where we are using those phrases.  And terms like “white privilege” were in use in academia.  I think it does matter.  It matters because the mainstreaming of “white privilege”, “multiracial”, and “ethnic” represents the raised consciousness of society, and specifically in these cases the raised consciousness of white people like myself. That raised consciousness didn’t just happen.  It was the result of work by black academics and activists and politicians who dedicated themselves to communicating their experience of the world so that the world could change and be improved.  Those terms have given us a language, given us words, to discuss experiences that can be personal and around which there are heightened sensitivities that make discussion more difficult.  We needed these words, but it took effort and sacrifice for them to emerge into the mainstream.  That effort and sacrifice is erased when they’re dropped into a time period where they were not yet in use.

For many readers, I suspect the anachronistic language won’t even be noticeable and it doesn’t sink the book by any means.  Two Natures is a book I would easily recommend and I would absolutely pick up another book by Jendi Reiter, whose descriptions and humor keep reading a pleasure.

4 Stars

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