Tag Archives: gay lit

Rural Liberties – Neal Drinnan (Signal 8 Press)

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Rural Liberties begins with the death of Rebecca Moore, the most beautiful and talented girl in Moralla, New South Wales, Australia—“jewel of the Sapphire Coast”—a fading seaside town of 3500 people, 350 km south of Sydney, 550 km northeast of Melbourne, “somewhere on the way to someplace else.” The questions surrounding her death—why was she on the Princes Highway in the pouring rain at 4 AM, all but naked, with drugs in her system, and traces of semen on her?—are never answered to the satisfaction of her fellow townsfolk: instead, they provide the catalyst for everyone’s subsequent downward spiral into debauchery and enlightenment.

Before her untimely death, Rebecca had nursed dreams of leaving Moralla by starring on Aussie Diva, singing “Don’t Cry Out Loud” by Melissa Manchester. After Rebecca’s death, it falls to Briannah Saunders (the second most beautiful and talented girl in Moralla) to audition for Hot Sista, Australia’s longest running reality TV show, and thus place Moralla on the map. Briannah’s quest to accomplish this objective (working with and against Reece Martin, the creator of the Hot Sista franchise) is one of the major narratives of this novel.

Meanwhile, Tasmin Day and Guy Martin (Reece’s brother) arrive in Moralla and buy the property where Rebecca was gang-banged before her death (their real estate agent being Briannah’s mother Maxine), intent on turning it into a retreat center (the eponymous `Rural Liberties’) for relationship workshops and personal development. Naturally, once the property is developed and operational, it takes almost no time at all before rumors of orgies and Satanic rituals begin to circulate throughout Moralla; the town’s reactions to an eco-resort that provides workshops on Tantric sex provide the other major narrative of Rural Liberties.

Entwined in these two major strands are numerous other sub-plots, which are much more serious in nature, even if presented in a humorous fashion. Andrew Pritchard, consumed by guilt for his role in Rebecca’s death, spends his time building memorials to Rebecca and haunting OutoHere.com, a website devoted to people trying to kill themselves. Fifteen-year old Saul (Briannah’s younger brother and Maxine’s son) grapples with his sexual identity in episodes that are simultaneously cringe-worthy and laugh-out-loud funny. Summer Rae (arguably the most mature and self-actualized individual in the novel, but then she isn’t from Moralla) joins the staff at Rural Liberties and puts Tasmin and Guy (and their teachings) to test. Reading to the end is the only way to find out who finally ends up on top. So to speak.

Despite its beginning, Rural Liberties is no mystery, but rather a biting send-up of TV pop culture and its promise of instant fame, small-town gossip, baby boomer/Gen X/millennial (take your pick) entitlement, and 21st-century morality (or lack thereof). With its short chapters, satiric wit, and sensational story, it is the perfect summer beach read.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

© 2017, Keith John Glaeske

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Skyscraper – Scott Alexander Hess (Unzipped/Lethe Press)

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From its brevity to its cover, which I like to think depicts the view from the  floor of the book’s prominently-featured puppy cage, Scott Alexander Hess’s short erotic novel about BDSM, architecture, and rebirth revels in its own apparent simplicity. It’s less than a hundred and thirty pages. The cover is light and spare, the buildings surrounding the title transformed into wire and white space. One word title. Author name. Barely anchored into place. This is not a book that encourages frivolity or anything less than essential. It’s a potent distillation and a great read.

Atticus is a Manhattan architect badly in need of a creative renaissance. He won his current job with his first few successes in the industry but has been coasting for a while. Atticus meets Tad, a dom top with a Fight Club jones, at a leather bar. In between bouts, Tad leads Atticus deeper into the BDSM world. In this sexual awakening, Atticus finds his skills returning and soon wins an important new design project at work. Working closely with his client, Victor, Atticus discovers some disquieting rumors about a past relationship Victor had with Tad and has to find out whether or not they’re true.

Skyscraper could have been a torturously complicated book, brimming with metaphor and pretentious literary devices, with much room for rumination and a sub-plot or three. But part of its charm is that it simplifies the whole subject of midlife–or at least midcareer–crisis to a bare bones, nearly transparent narrative everyone can identify with as it hints at the individual complexities beneath.

The prose isn’t flat, but by the same token, it doesn’t go out of its way to set a scene. Similarly, the tone is dispassionate and reserved, Atticus telling us about his white hot passion instead of letting us get too close to it. That would normally come across as passive, but Hess’s choice of detail and constant ear on his voice prevent the character from slipping in that direction.

Being fond of and accustomed to the work of Jeff Mann, I thought the BDSM was a bit mild. That puzzled me at first. Hot, yes, but I expected more explicit sex and longer passages (yes, that was intended). However, the more I considered the author’s choice, the more sense it made. It’s certainly in keeping with the dispassionate tone, and the domestic breeziness of leaving casual notes for Atticus as to what kinky position Tad should find him in when he got home rather than addressing him directly adds yet another layer of removal. With all its inherent dispassion, however, it’s not a distant read. Atticus has a distinctive voice, and his willingness to plum the depths of whatever relationship he can have with Tad is well told.

Skyscraper is a little wonder of a book that packs a great deal into a small package, and it will leave you thinking about the relationship between success and failure.

JW

© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler

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‘Nathan’s Audio Corner: An Asian Minor: The True Story of Ganymede – Felice Picano (Lethe Press/Audible – performed by Jason Frazier)

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 When you listen to audiobooks on a regular basis, as a listener you start to find performers you love. Before you know it, when you’re looking at the lists of audiobooks, you’re searching the listings not by title or author, but by who performs the audiobook, and then reading the blurbs of the books they’ve done. Finding a new and awesome performer is like finding a new author, and in fact absolutely leads to just that: finding new authors through the performer.

I have a trio of performers like that. Barbara Rosenblatt, Jane Entwhistle, and Jason Frazier. Every time I go looking for a new audiobook, I quickly search the three out to see if they’ve got anything new, and when they do, it jumps to the top of the list for consideration.

So, you can imagine my joy at finding a new Jason Frazier. In and of itself, that was a fine, fine thing. He doesn’t narrate, he acts. His voice acting is so great I’ve twice now purchased audiobooks for which I have already read the books physically, and listened to them as a second read-through. To be clear: I nearly never re-read. But Jason Frazier doing Steve Berman’s Vintage? And Gavin Atlas’s The Full Ride?  There was no resisting, and it was a joy to revisit.

Now, add to that the realization that this new book narrated by one of my favorites is a novella from Felice Picano, and all hesitation was gone. I’d clicked before I’d even read the description. I had it queued up for the next dog walk, and in the space of two days I was done.

An Asian Minor: The True Story of Ganymede is a very small class of narratives: mythology retold with a clever and consistent voice. Quite a few times while I was listening to the story, I caught myself thinking of Mark Merlis’s An Arrow’s Flight, but where Merlis crafted a unique contemporary hybrid of the myth and a modern world, Picano instead does stick to the time period in question as Ganymede tells his story, but it is told now, by the immortal in the present day, with all the colloquialisms and long-view wisdom the eternal and immortal young man has gathered since.

That conversational voice, written so cleverly by Picano and given such charm and insouciance through Frazier’s performance, is magic in a bottle. Or, well, an earbud.

As Ganymede sets us straight on what really went down from the time he was born, receiving a troublesome destiny, this breezy tone delights with amusing asides and clarifications of many a mistake in the retelling of the modern myth: most centrally, Ganymede insists, the notion he was somehow some innocent doe-eyed youth with no idea of the powers at play around him. Picano’s Ganymede is nobody’s fool, and indeed knows that when one has a destiny writ large, the best way to play it is to try to turn large into huge.

It’s also telling that in Picano’s prose, and with Frazier’s voice, this story puts Ganymede on an even playing field with the gods who would tempt and curry favor of him. Yes, he’s a youth, but he’s no fool. And these are, after all, the Greek gods who are by no means infallible themselves. As everyone around Ganymede starts to see perfection in the beauty of his form, Ganymede refuses to give up trying to keep what control he might have. This is a Ganymede in search of as grand a destiny as he can cram into one vague prophecy. He’s smart, and wily, and willing to go toe to toe with multiple gods as he entertains offers, and then risks and gambles for the next—hopefully better—thing to come along. Matching wits with multiple gods, the story of how Ganymede came to be the chosen of Zeus is told with a delightful twist or three along the way.

An Asian Minor: The True Story of Ganymede isn’t a long audiobook, but the energy and talent packed into the piece grabs attention. The recollections of his smart and sexy immortal had me laughing multiple times, and in Frazier’s capable hands the words simply sprang to life.

If you’re looking for a short, engrossing, and not-just-a-little-bit sexy audiobook about the foundation of the ultimate Sugar Daddy relationship, look no further. Ganymede awaits.

Reviewed by ‘Nathan Burgoine

© 2017, ‘Nathan Burgoine

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Wallaconia – David Pratt (Beautiful Dreamers Press)

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Please look at the cover to the left and note the cedilla, which WordPress cannot accommodate, in the title. The somewhat exotic pronunciation of the pictured Massachusetts salt marsh makes the location sound like an independent and separate country populated by its namesake, one Jim Wallace, the protagonist of David Pratt’s (Bob the Book, Looking After Joey) latest novel.

On the verge of turning eighteen, Jim Wallace is looking forward to losing his virginity to longtime girlfriend Liz, hoping this will somehow “fix” him. Before those repairs can be completed, however, Jim finds himself helping neighbor Pat Baxter out in Baxter’s bookstore. In addition to finding an unexpected friend and ally in out and proud Baxter, Wallace also encounters a fellow student he bullied years ago, who had left the area and returned to visit, helping Pat in the bookstore as well. Jim faces the choice between living his truth or not.

I suppose because of the age of its protagonist, this needs to be labeled and marketed as a “young adult” book. Not, as Jerry Seinfeld points out, that there’s anything wrong with that. The realities of the marketplace are what they are, but I hope that won’t prevent other audiences from picking this up because it has lessons and observations germane to other age groups. A coming out story? Well, that’s part of it–but the book runs deeper than that.

The relationship between Pat and Jim is interesting, even idyllic–an essential component of the imagined country in which Jim lives. Not every gay man finds a mentor so willing or generous with his time and insights. Equally as serendipitous is the outcome of his meeting up with Nate Flederbaum, the boy Jim had previously bullied for being gay. I can’t say more without being a spoiler, but lessons are learned all around and all is forgiven. Even Jim’s parents take the news with little heartbreak. The one exception to this is Jim’s girlfriend, Liz.

Having given her virginity to Jim, she has more than a small stake in their burgeoning relationship. She endures his confession with more restraint than may seem reasonable to some, but she’s clearly devastated. And while they gamely try to remain friends, both know it’s useless. Her reactions are emotional but not as histrionic as I’d imagine. Less than idyllic, maybe, but still an easier row to hoe than not. Which leads me to wonder if this version of Jim’s coming out may be part of Wallaconia itself, an imagined outcome masking a not-so-perfect emergence.

Okay, okay–way meta, right?

I’m reading far too much into it, and I’ve got no time to go back and re-read for something that may or may not be there, but the more I think about the book, I wonder if the cracks between Wallaconia and a harsher reality might not be a bit more apparent the second time around. Something to consider as you read. Because you should read this book. I’ve enjoyed Pratt’s work ever since I came across Bob the Book, and I’ve never been disappointed once in his characters or his well-turned prose. And I wouldn’t put it past him to sneak some sort of meta-metaphor in a “young adult” coming out story.

That’s just the kind of author he is.

JW

© 2017 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Light – ‘Nathan Burgoine (Bold Strokes Books)

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Wheeler’s Law of Reasonable Expectations dictates that if an author is well-known for his bittersweet romantic stories, his novels will follow along the same lines. ‘Nathan Burgoine’s Light, however, obliterates that law. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, there is little, if anything, bad about this stunning debut, which makes my job as a reviewer both easier and more difficult at the same time.

Kieran Quinn is a gay massage therapist, but that’s where the stereotype ends. He also has telekinetic powers, which is good for our side. Bad for our side is that the enemy, embodied by Stigmatic Jack (leader of the Church of the Testifying Prophet) also has a telekinetic it can use for its nefarious purposes. During one eventful Pride week, Kieran and Jack square off for some monumental battles. Who wins? And what of Kieran’s lust for a hot leatherman named Sebastien? How about Kieran’s brother’s lust for Karen, his boss at the spa? And who is the Miracle Woman?

Burgoine answers these questions and more in a stylistic tour de force that is as much superhero story as it is a light romance (which, at its core, Light is–complete with HEA). What’s stunning about this debut is its assurance. In terms of character, plot, voice, and narrative skill, Burgoine knocks it out of the park as if this was his tenth book instead of his first. He, along with Tom Cardamone, has the considerable gift of being able to ground the extraordinary in the ordinary so that it becomes just an extension of everyday life.  Kieran Quinn is, indeed, a superhero (despite the fact that he hates the names the public gives him–Rainbow Man, Light, Disco?), but he’s a superhero who loves his cat, who blithers in the presence of handsome men, and who goes on failed blind dates.

Knowing Burgoine’s short fiction as well as I do, I was floored to discover his facility with action sequences. There are four encounters with the villain, each increasing in complexity and scope to the climactic final one, and all four were totally engaging and had me on the edge of my figurative seat. I was more confident in predicting the romance, which is written in a clever, light ‘n’ breezy manner with an undercurrent of danger. Burgoine’s dialogue , especially between Kieran and Sebastien, shines. It’s banter-ish without sounding forced–the kind of dialogue I always imagined happened in Jean Kerr’s house. Or maybe even Erma Bombeck’s. And Kieran’s voice is totally entertaining–that of a genuinely nice guy with just enough smart ass to give his observations some punch.

Burgoine’s prose is clean and focused, his characters are sharply defined, and his plot runs a fairly straight line–with one neat little twist–to its conclusion, which is immensely satisfying. What more could you ask from a debut? This is the difficult part of my job, where I’m supposed to come up with a negative or two to counter all the strokes. And I really can’t think of anything worth mentioning. Perhaps four or five books in, when he starts taking chances that don’t work , there’ll be something to point at…wait, maybe I found one: He could have written it so that it was easier to put down.

As far as negatives, that’ll have to do.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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Sensual Travels – Michael Luongo, ed. (Bruno Gmunder)

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For me, one of the most basic enjoyments of the travel experience is the sampling of the sexual landscape. It ranks right up there with food, architecture, and natural wonders. At times, it’s all three rolled into one. And like good sex (or sex of any kind, really), travel is ephemeral. It’s only alive for the moment you’re there. Once you’re gone, it’s gone; the pictures and journals can only bring back an echo of the experience. But thankfully, Michael Luongo has brought together some of the finest gay and bi writers to echo their journeys for you in Sensual Travels.

As Luongo states in his introduction, the sex in this book is almost “Clintonian,” not as much about the old in and out as it is ancillary acts–nuance and possibility–which is only fitting given the sexually repressive atmospheres some of these stories take place in. But no matter the quotient of sexual heat, these tales manage to convey the excitement and sense of discovery that accompanies playing away from home.

That quotient is high in Lawrence Schimel’s “Water Taxi,” which sees a voyeuristic Spanish encounter taking place on the a dock in front of a gaggle of men gathered for Gay Pride and also pretty hot in Jeff Mann’s “Bondage Tape in Budapest,” which has appeared in another collection of Mann’s essays. These two stories are also related by the fact that the protagonists’ partners are also along for the ride. Schimel’s experience is more positive, but Mann’s carries a hint of problem, thereby increasing the danger and, perhaps, the allure of his interlude with Tibor. Simon Sheppard’s Ecuadorian romp, “The Last Bus to Riobamba” also features his long term partner, but this sex is all fantasy and no reality. Still, Sheppard both educates and titillates while retaining that air of mystery.

The aforementioned danger is not far behind in many other entries here. Trebor Healey’s brilliant “The Cervantino Baby,” featuring an affair with a Mexican boy that gets Healey tossed out of the household he’s staying at to improve his Spanish. His frankness about desire, reprisal, and consequence is personal and universal, and his musings are wholly in line with the expectations raised by Healey’s other work. This was one of my favorite pieces here, as was Felice Picano’s “A Gaijin in Gay Japan,” where Picano and his traveling companion, Dr. Charles Silverstein, undertake a publicity tour of Japan. Insightful in terms of Japanese culture as well as its sexual mores, this is Picano at his finest.

Any sex travel book worth its salt has to feature a trip to Thailand, and Alan Hahn does the honors here in “The Sodom and Gomorrah Show: How Not to be a Sex Tourist in Bangkok,” which is not only witty and engaging, but also deals–however tangentially–with the aftermath of vacation and facing one’s daily routine. Asian culture is also central to David C. Muller’s “You Want, I Come,” which contains a missing ATM card and a very willing guide to the city.

But no matter if it’s the Croatian men in Dominic Ambrose’s “Croatian Heat,” the Aussie beach escapade of Dallas Angguish’s “Sleep,” or Jim Nawrocki’s Parisian escapade in “The City of a Thousand Steeples,” you’ll find something in this collection that will send you scurrying to Travelocity.com to plan your next vacation. Or rescheduling the one currently on the horizon.

Happy traveling!

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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