Monthly Archives: January 2011

Christmas Eve at the Powers That Be Café – Xavier Axelson (Silver Publishing)

Buy it now at Amazon.com – Christmas Eve at The Powers That Be Cafe
 

The story is set in 1943 at The Powers the Be Café. The
owner, Nat tries to do what he can for the families of soldiers who are waiting
for the train that will take them off to war. It’s Christmas Eve, and Nat finds
a soldier in the alley behind his café. Nat invites him into the back office of
the café for some food, warmth and companionship before Kent must board the
train.

This is Xavier Axelson’s first story, and I must admit I was
pleasantly surprised. The story is only twenty-one pages, but the characters
are so well crafted and the story so well written that the size doesn’t matter.
And how often are you going to hear a gay man say that. The sex scene between
Nat and Kent is wonderfully done combining tender, nervous moments with a hot
erotic charge.

Xavier has created an interesting character in Nat. At first
I wasn’t sure if I liked him. He seemed a bit self-loathing, which contradicted
his outwardly caring nature, but as the story progresses you begin to see him
in a new light, especially when he meets Kent.

The only thing I can say that I didn’t like about the story is
that it wasn’t long enough. I would have loved to find out more about Kent, and
who he is. I felt that there was more to this wonderfully written character
that I didn’t get to know. I would have also loved for the story to continue
past the point it does, to see the relationship build between the two men. I
understand why Xavier ended it when he did, but I just wasn’t ready for their
story to be over.

Christmas Eve at The Powers That Be Café is a quick and
wonderful read. I’m anxious to see what else Xavier has up his sleeves or
elsewhere for that matter.

Reviewed by William Holden

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Three Wrong Turns in the Desert – Neil Plakcy (Loose Id)

Buy it direct from Loose ID  or from our Amazon.com store – Three Wrong Turns in the Desert
 

For me, it all starts with the title. A bad one can make or
break a purchase for me as a consumer. As a writer, I can’t even begin unless I
have the right one. And with Three Wrong Turns in the Desert, Neil
Plakcy has a title guaranteed to generate interest. Luckily, the book follows
through on the promise.

Dumped by his boyfriend in Philly, Aiden Greene escapes to
Tunisia, where he has a teaching job lined up. He winds up in a seedy bar
staring out the window at an apartment across the alley where he sees former
SEAL Liam McCullough taking a shower. He goes back the next day for a repeat
showing and finds Liam at a table. After some banter, they head off to Aiden’s
place but are interrupted by a man named Carlucci who is shot to death in front
of them by a thug on a motorcycle. Thus begins a desert chase cum
romance complete with spies, traitors, camels, Swiss bank accounts, anthrax
and—oh yes, sex in the dunes. Lots of sex in the dunes.

Plakcy takes full advantage of his locale, providing a
strong sense of place and some powerful descriptive passages, but he never lets
either the locale or the sex slow the pace. The plot moves as quickly as a
caravan with an oasis in sight. That doesn’t mean the characters are slighted,
however. Both Aiden and Liam grow as the mystery unravels, and they end up
being interesting, multi-dimensional people instead of the cardboard cutouts
that populate many romance novels.

The only misstep I can find—and it’s a small one—is the
not-well-motivated return of Aiden’s Philly boyfriend at the end of the book.
Nothing Aiden has told us about him during the course of the novel would
indicate that he cared enough to track his ex down, let alone buy a ticket to
Tunisia and try to drag him back home. Granted, it does give Liam a chance to
show his love for Aiden, but the whole episode seemed jarring to me and didn’t
fit in well with an otherwise seamless piece. But, as I said, it’s a small
issue easily overlooked.

So, if the cold January weather puts you in the mood for
sunnier climes, let Neil Plakcy lead you through Three Wrong Turns in the
Desert

You might just be tan by March. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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{Between} Boyfriends – Michael Salvatore (Kensington Press)

Buy it now from TLAgay.com or from our Amazon.com store – Between Boyfriends
 

I finished this book less than a day ago but still had to
look up the main character’s name to write this review. My incipient dementia
notwithstanding, that’s not a good sign. There are other equally disturbing
harbingers here—a plot as thin as a Walmart quilt, overwrought overwriting and
the typical cast of Chelsea queen stereotypes. Oh, and a kooky mother. They’re
usually Jewish, but this one’s Sicilian.

Steven Bartholomew Ferrante, producer of the daytime soap If
Tomorrow Never Comes
has been recovering from a disastrous relationship for
four years, aided by Starbucks and a gaggle of gay geese that includes Lindsay,
winner of a pewter Olympic medal for figure skating, HIV positive Flynn and slutty
Sebastian among others. But this isn’t enough for Steven. He wants love. Will
it be Brian? Frank? Or perhaps his secret admirer? You won’t know until the
very last chapter.

Actually, that’s not true. If you’re an astute reader,
you’ll be able to tell by page 11. It’s not that this is a particularly bad
book, it’s just that you’ve read it before. From the cute ‘n’ clever
conversations over coffee to Mom’s witty retiree wisdom to continual references
to the gay cultural touchstones of disco, divas and drag, there’s a
disconcerting feeling that we’ve been here, done it, bought the t-shirt and
sent the postcard.

That’s not to say that Salvatore doesn’t have bouts with
originality. When his soap opera male lead, Lucas, comes out on the Daytime
Emmy show, the moment is both powerful and empowering. Sadly, however, those
moments are sucker-punched by their surroundings and wind up on the canvas,
down for the count despite their efforts.

“But,” I hear its supporters cry, “it’s just a light, fun
read. It’s not supposed to be anything but entertaining.” Sigh. As I’ve
done for years, I maintain it’s possible to have a light, fun, entertaining
read that has interesting characters moving through an original plot and
speaking dialogue that sounds like actual conversation instead of a Bruce
Vilanch routine. It’s an old rant, but I keep reciting it in the vain hope I
might win another convert or two.

{Between} Boyfriends isn’t an awful book, nor is it a
wonderful one. It’s simply one that bears more than a slight resemblance to
other mediocre beach reads. If that’s what you’re looking for, this will fill
the bill nicely.

But don’t settle unless you have to. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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The Uncommon Sense of the Immortal Mullah Nasruddin – Ron Suresha (Lethe Press)

Buy it now from Giovanni’s Room or from our Amazon.com store –The Uncommon Sense of the Immortal Mullah Nasruddin: Stories, Jests, and Donkey Tales of the Beloved Persian Folk Hero
 

I don’t know where I’ve been
for the last few thousand years, but I had never heard of the incomparable
Mullah Nasruddin until last summer when I was discussing this project with Ron
Suresha. The deliciously filthy anecdotes he shared with me do not appear in The
Uncommon Sense of the Immortal Mullah Nasruddin
, but in the introduction,
Suresha promises an unexpurgated volume will follow. I certainly hope so.

For those unfamiliar with
the great man, Nasruddin is a Persian folk hero with the “wise fool”
characteristics carried down in the oral traditions of other cultures
throughout the centuries. Suresha does a terrific job of tracing down
Nasruddin’s pedigree in his highly readable introduction, but the real meat of
the book is in the stories themselves, traditionally read in groups of seven.

Staunch traditionalist that
I am, that’s exactly how I read them. Mullah Nasruddin emerges from these tales
as a scholar, a wit, a fool, a counselor, a teacher and a lawyer—with many
other roles in between. His wisdom is funny, universal and pointed, and there
is much to be learned from the great Mullah. If, at times, some of the stories
remind one of old vaudeville jokes, it’s important to remember that these tales
are their antecedents.

 

                        “Young Nasruddin decided to learn a
musical instrument, so

                        he called upon a music instructor. ‘How much
do you charge for

                        private lute lessons?’ asked the boy. ‘The
lute is not an easy

                        instrument to learn,’ answered the teacher.
‘I charge three silver

                        coins for the first month and one silver
piece for each month after

                        that.’ ‘Fine,’ agreed Nasruddin, ‘I’ll start
with the second month.’”

Rim shot, please.

But this is only one facet
of a truly multi-faced character. His exchanges with the despotic Tamerlane are
barbed and intelligent, and punchlines such as the one above are mere
punctuation in the larger scope of the work. Suresha has also done a wonderful
job of updating the language and cultural references but retaining the Old
World flavor. Although there are no long, descriptive passages of the time or
place, Suresha’s detailing is so precise that by the middle of the book, you
can see the town of Aksehir as if it were right outside your window.

Is this a queer book? Er, uh
cough… no. But Suresha is a pillar of the gay/bi/bear lit community,
and his projects always have diversity shining through their pages. So, take a
break from the usual romances, vampires, angst and coming out stories and climb
up beside Nasruddin riding his donkey—facing backwards, of course.

You just might get a whole
new perspective.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler 

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The Perils of Praline – Marshall Thornton (MLR Press)

Buy it now direct from MLR Press or from our Amazon.com store – The Perils of Praline
 

Despite its title, this is not a post-holiday diet/workout
book. It’s not even a heart-smart warning against the evils of Paula Deen
cuisine. Instead, The Perils of Praline is a short, sweet, sexy satire
by Marshall Thornton that will have you smiling even in your worst moods.

Peter “Praline” Palmetier is a young man who moves from
Lumpkinville, Georgia to Hollywood in search of his lifelong love, Dave
G—better known as Contestant Number Five on the reality TV show, “House Bound.”
Praline, of course, has not yet met Dave G, but that’s a mere formality. He
comes out to his pot-dealing mother, packs his “Eat a Peach” t-shirt and sets
out for the big city, where he finds adventure, sex, danger, sex, love and more
sex.

Thornton has his tongue firmly planted in his cheek and his
finger on the pop culture pulse. The targets he skewers are easy but well worth
his attention—the closeted anchorman from Box News in particular—and he never
lets the action flag. His Palmetier is a cute, innocent sap just savvy enough
to be interesting, and his humor springs from situation and character, never
stooping to the cheap laugh … most of the time. But I mean that in the nicest
way.

There is even a love story here between Praline and his
by-default-roommate Jason, who sticks by Praline through jealous boyfriends,
internet infamy, unwitting prostitution and a casting couch session with the
aforementioned Dave G. When their rocky road brings them together at the
end—which you knew it would—it gives Praline’s trials and tribulations a
substance they otherwise wouldn’t have had. The Perils of Praline is a
light, buttery read that leaves no sugary aftertaste.

Just the thing to whet your appetite for the challenges of
the New Year.  

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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Tented: Gay Erotic Tales From Under the Big Top – Jerry L. Wheeler, ed. (Lethe Press)

Reviewed by Jeff Mann

Buy it now from TLAgay.com or from our Amazon.com store – Tented: Gay Erotic Tales from under the Big Top
 

I contemplated writing a story to submit
to this anthology, but I’ve never been to a circus, and from what I’ve seen of
them in movies and on television, I wouldn’t like them. I’m a confirmed
introvert who cherishes solitude and silence. All those damned children, the
bustling crowds, the freakishly painted clowns (which always remind me of the
sinister saw-toothed monster Tim Curry played in It)…Ugh. I couldn’t
imagine a circus being erotic in any way. When I was asked to review the book,
I was juberous (Appalachian for “dubious”).

Well, we read to widen our imaginations,
and so Tented has very effectively changed my attitudes towards
circuses. Though I can still live without the noisy brats and I still find
clowns sleazy and sinister, I can now add circus contortionists, trapeze
artists, and strongmen to my list of fantasized lovers.

This anthology is remarkable in its range
of plots and styles, and it gathers together a goodly number of fine fiction
writers whose work I’ve encountered before and whose company I’ve enjoyed at
the annual Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans. It’s one of the
most original and inventive collections I’ve encountered in a while, so, at the
risk of being over-long, I have a little something to say about every story in
the book.

But first the foreword by editor Jerry L.
Wheeler. I got my first glimpse of how erotic the circus setting could be when
Wheeler described one of his “earliest erectile experiences” as a child, when
he glimpsed the tightly clad body of a trapeze artist, complete with muscular
ass and impressive crotch-package (which even bore a wet spot). Ah, already the
book was looking up.

Dale Chase has a very distinctive style,
especially in her tasty Westerns. Reading “Roustabout,” set in
nineteenth-century California, I could hear her voice clearly, having attended
several of her readings at Saints and Sinners, so clearly that she could almost
be reading it out loud to me. She captures relaxed frontier vernacular very
well, as well as desire that moves quickly from casual lust to painful longing.
There’s a down-to-earth yet lyrical romanticism here that I relish.
 

Tom Cardamone is known for his eerie
magical realism and surrealism, and “Winter Quarters,” with its fantastic use
of cotton candy, vividly displays his talents for the dreamlike. It almost
made me want to incorporate cotton candy in my next bondage scene, though I
think I’ll stick to honey and cream of coconut.

Hank Edwards’ “Charlie Does the Big Top”
is as funny as it is hot. Funny—Charlie is adorably maladroit, the dialogue
sometimes side-splitting, the evil-queen director spot-on. Hot—Charlie is an
enthusiastic fluffer and the men he fluffs yummy. Yummy, in particular, is
Ivan, the contortionist Charlie ravishes at story’s end in an amazing manner.

“Horse’s Ass,” by Ralph Seligman, makes
fine use of setting—a sweltering trailer near San Juan, a humming fan, the
addition of a blindfold. That nasty white grease paint that clowns use serves a
memorable and very handy function.

William Holden’s “The Midnight Barker”
builds beautifully, moving from mysterious to increasingly sinister. His
supernatural shadow-protagonist is slithery and creepy (and also funny: “You’re
not so cute yourself, you little bitch,” he growls at a rude child), and his
hairy-chested prey had me licking my chops with the same predatory fascination
evinced by the hungry narrator.

“Aiming to Please” is author ‘Nathan
Burgoine’s first published erotic story, according to the author notes at the
end of the book. Hard to believe, considering how adept this piece is. The
erotic connection between the protagonist, Paul, and the Russian knife-thrower,
the Amazing Yuri, is gracefully delineated, and by the time yearning moves into
consummation (as it does, praise the gods, in most erotica but much less
frequently in perpetually disappointing Real Life), well, I was savoring every
thrust.

I’ve admired Sean Meriwether’s fiction for
years, in particular his collection The Silent Hustler, so I was very
curious to see what he’d do with the circus. “Circus Maximus” is, in terms of
sheer originality of plot, the most notable in the book. It’s set in a future
world where clowns rule—truly a shuddery thought for us clown-phobes—and where
two brothers, who share a love both emotional and carnal, must literally take
to the hills to escape the clowns’ malice.
 

Jay Neal and R. Jackson are both writers
whose work I’ve found especially tasty in the past (probably because they are
both as much fans of the bearish and hirsute as I am). Their story, “Oggie
Joins the Circus,” has two of the most memorable visuals in the book: Big Top,
a sexually dominant, hugely hung little person, and Melvin the Magnificent, a
muscle-man clairvoyant whose body is half “hairy as a goat” and half smooth and
covered with tattoos. The latter reminds me of some of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s
allegorical figures.

“Magic,” by Matt Kailey, displays a quiet
literary surface, a moving depiction of longing and loneliness (the protagonist
aches for the beautiful men he sees but is entirely ignored by them—can’t most
of us relate?), and a transformative, mysterious ending.

Equally as literary is Steve Berman’s
“Tell Me What You Love, and I’ll Tell You What You Are.” This story’s style is
as notable as Meriwether’s plot. It’s divided in half: a vertical line down the
middle of the page, two stories, different but related, on either side.
Ingenious, really. The editor calls it “meta-fiction,” and so it is, but it
seems almost like a lyric essay to me. Longing and loneliness characterize this
piece as well, and that combination mixed with the erotic is heady, a more than
natural mingling, an inevitable trio. Loneliness, after all, causes a longing
for the erotic, and the absence of erotic outlet exacerbates longing and hones
the edge of loneliness.

Garland’s “Circus Wagon Love,” set in
France, takes a bit of research to fully appreciate. Google Freaks,
directed by Tod Browning. Google “Johnny Eck.” Not being a circus enthusiast, I
had heard of neither, till this story encouraged me to search online. The
contrast between the enthusiastic sexual connections of the characters and the
looming presence of war adds poignancy to this one.
 

I had briefly met Gavin Atlas at Saints
and Sinners, and I had eyed his collection, The Boy Can’t Help It, which
is described in this anthology’s author notes as focusing “on the joys of young
bottoms,” which sounds entirely up this Daddy Bear’s alley, since, really, what
is more delicious than a beautiful submissive? Involved in my own writing and
research, however, I had not made time for the book. Now, however, I will. Not
only is “Il Circo Dei Fiori” stylistically immaculate and the plot and setting
gripping, but the scene between the trapeze artist Emil and the two strongmen,
Bulgarian brothers Andon and Grigor, is the most arousing in the book. Would
that hungry Tops always had boys like Emil at hand.

Years ago, I enjoyed Daniel M. Jaffe’s
novel The Limits of Pleasure and was glad to hear that Bear Bones Books,
a Lethe Press imprint, had reissued it, so I was pleased to encounter Jaffe’s
work again. “The Great Masturbator” is another piece entirely original, with a
sexually frustrated narrator, a strong element of the weird and sinister, and a
building sense of mystery. This story too has an allegorical quality that
smacks of Hawthorne.

Cage Thunder’s “The Worker” will be
devoured by wrestling enthusiasts. Its narrator, a college boy who sharply
hankers after Big Steve Starr, a professional wrestler at a county fair, after
the match is brave enough to introduce himself to his hero, and a few sweaty
dreams come true. One of the reasons we read erotica, right? To savor dreams
come true in a world that does not so often allow the same.

The last offering is Dusty Taylor’s “The
Twenty-Four Hour Man.” This story too possesses literary flair. It follows the
age-old pattern of a small, static town, an innocent but eager young narrator,
and a mysterious stranger who comes and goes, changing everything. It’s an
intense and haunting way to end this creative collection. Jerry L. Wheeler has
proven himself to be a fine editor, and I’m eager to see what he comes up with
next.



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A Twist of Grimm – William Holden (Lethe Press)

Reviewed by Ron Suresha

Queer as folktales

To purchase the e-book version click here, for a paperback copy you can purchase it through TLAgay.com or from our Amazon.com store – A Twist of Grimm: Erotic Fairy Tales for Gay Men.

In A Twist of Grimm, William Holden’s enchanting new
collection of traditional Grimm Brothers’ folktale reworkings from GLBTQ
publisher Lethe Press, there’s much about these erotically endowed versions
that is fresh and queer. The author accomplishes this by presenting strong
story choices, thoroughly and nearly seamlessly injected with a fabulist,
queer, kinky, sometimes violent sensuality that makes for stimulating masculine
reading.

Elves, fairies, trolls, giants, and other folk populate these
stories because they represent queer, transformative aspects of the hero’s
fantastic world, pervaded by a fabulous perversity. In the hero’s world of the
traditional fairy tale, human sexual desires are usually represented by animals
or humanlike beings with supernatural powers; in Mr Holden’s thirteen stories,
however, the characters are free to explore and express their randiest desires
through sexual magic.

The classic gay fairy tales come to us from master storyteller
Oscar Wilde, who wrote numerous such stories filled with his uniquely queer wit
and wisdom. Contemporary feminist fairy tales appeared in the 1986 anthology Don’t
Bet on the Prince
by Jack Zipes, and in Barbara Walker’s brilliant 1996 Feminist
Fairy Tales.

In casting traditional tales forward into time, there is always
the risk that the resulting prose will be anachronistic or culturally misfit.
Both of Peter Cashorali’s charming collections, Fairy Tales: Traditional
Stories Retold for Gay Men
(1997, HarperOne) and Gay Fairy & Folk
Tales
(1997, Faber & Faber), while providing same-gender renderings of
old folktales, occasionally lapsed in this regard, where the hero acts and
speaks more like a dejected WeHo clubkid than a subjugated prince of yore. In
Lethe Press publisher Steve Berman’s excellent 2007 collection, So Fey:
Queer Fairy Tales,
traditional story lines are also queered in more
contemporary idiom.

Folk and fairy tales express aspects of human existence that
endure through the ages because they contain timeless lessons. Any fairy tale
will involve: unusual or pathetic subjection of the hero; wisdom imparted to
the hero that provides release from significant difficulties or obstacles; and
finally, the hero’s release must be transcendent and include compensation that
compels the hero’s return to a human existence greatly enhanced. The heroes in
Mr Holden’s Twist explore masculine worlds freed from sex taboos and
gender concepts, which makes for splendid reading that is as psychologically
satisfying as it is erotically charged.

True to its title, A Twist of Grimm endows traditional
tales with kinky erotic action, and the sex does get hot and heavy at times,
yet its flame gives off at least as much light as heat, in the sense that the
sexual episodes of various familiar acts and fetishes always convey some
deeper, darker symbolism. I found myself most engaged (and engorged) when a
story takes a magical, kinky turn, such as in “Wicked Little Tongues,” which involves
a naked hairy shoemaker and his wife, a handsome customer in a skirt, a
storeful of leather, and copious amounts of elf semen.

If only the Grimm Bros. had been free to depict such horny elves
with “bodies … covered in a fine white hair that trailed all the way down
their tiny legs. Their pricks stood erect and glistened with dampness in the
candlelight.” What a different childhood we all might have experienced reading
these old folktales.

My favorites include “The Flaccid Cock that Sang,” based on “The
Singing Bones,” in which an unresponsive member betrays its owner. I also loved
“Joshua and His Many Men,” involving a “giant whose body was covered with hair
and muscles” and Joshua, whose doom is assured after he attempts to fellate
Death, then insults the Grim Reaper’s endowment as “too small to be any use to
me anyway.” You just know that this jackass’s fate will inevitably be one
wicked “twist of grim.”

Like most of the collections cited here, I had hoped for some
verse in some of these stories. When characters sing, chant, or recite poetry
in fairy tales, often a special magic is released, and these lyrics can become
the most memorable part of the story. That said, the prose is sometimes
lyrical, often droll, always sharp and sexy, and overall highly readable. A
Twist of Grimm
is a well-crafted, compelling compilation of queeroticized
tales that fans of folklore, mythology, and fairies of all colors and hues will
appreciate, and I highly recommend it. 

Ron Suresha’s new collection of Turkish folktales,
The Uncommon Sense of the Immortal Mullah Nasruddin, is out this month from
Lethe: www.MullahNasruddin.com.



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