Monthly Archives: July 2014

BOYSTOWN, Season One (Jake Biondi)

BOYSTOWN, Season One

by

JAKE BIONDI

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GENRE: Erotic fiction, contemporary gay lit, gay romance

THE BLURB:

One of the most diverse and lively neighborhoods in the country, Chicago’s BOYSTOWN has something for everyone. So it’s no wonder that Jesse Morgan and Cole O’Brien chose to live there upon graduating from college. Ready to begin the next phase of their lives in an exciting new city, Jesse and Cole quickly find themselves at the center of a new group of friends.

Joyelle and Derek Mancini have been happily married for years, but Derek is harboring a secret that could tear them apart. Derek’s brother Emmett is about to discover that his boyfriend Keith Colgan has a past that will haunt them both. Long time couple Logan Pryce and Max Taylor must face a crisis that neither of them expected. And, before they realize it, Jesse and Cole find themselves at the center of it all in the adult playground known as BOYSTOWN.

THE REVIEW:

Let’s skip the synopsis for a moment and talk about BOYSTOWN from the perspective of a television producer looking for a hot new vehicle for a budding Gay Cable Channel. And let’s say that producer is moi. I scan through the first couple of chapters, and I’m immediately gripped by a potential cast of characters who bring eroticism, angst, brio, èlan, attitude, insecurity, infidelity and over-the-top hotness that on a good day would rival mainstream Dallas, Brothers and Sisters, Revenge, etc. And today is a very good day.

I think you can see what’s coming. BOYSTOWN has a unique narrative form: a cross between a traditional screenplay with 95% dialog and minimalist set design and direction, and a sparse narrative flow that has a distinct linear quality, but again, heavy on dialog and with just enough detail that set directors could easily re-imagine the few locations where the bulk of the action occurs (condos, coffee shop, office, etc).

Another clue that you, the reader, might have wandered into uncharted territory is how the author labels each “chapter” as an episode. And each “episode” carries a theme set up by the first paragraph or two, then reiterated in the last couple of sentences, bookending a series of acts within a miniplay. The bridges between acts are of the “meanwhile, back at the condo” variety, and it turns out it’s a very effective way to redirect the reader from one scene to the next (or sometimes one cliffie to the next).

Beginning with a scene of infidelity, you will recognize this might not be a typical romance, and that the stable—or in most cases, pseudo-stable—relationships walk a knife-edge of unresolved conflict, self-absorption, narcissism, and all those other delightful character traits that make for jaw-dropping drama and shouts of “you’ve got to be kidding me!” (no Kindle was harmed in the reading of BOYSTOWN).

The cast of characters is a dream-come-true for my favorite game: Casting Couch. The pairings of note are Derek and wife Joyelle, Cole and Jess (college roomies), Emmett and Keith (boyfriends), Logan and Max (partners), loose cannons Ben and Nick and honorable mentions to family members (mostly moms). Whew, hope I didn’t forget anyone. And yes, at chapter/episode one I was scratching my head, wondering if maybe there were too many characters, introduced too soon, but never fear, it gets sorted.

The overarching plot is simple: put every character in a drum and shake violently, then tip over and see what falls out. Yes, sounds random. Trust me, it’s not, and you can and will keep up. Subplots effectively add to and drive the basic relationship dramas played out on small, intimate sets.

You’ll take sides, you’ll see some things coming from a mile away, others will have your eyeballs bulging at the sheer audacity… And then there’s the final scene and all hell literally breaks loose and you go to click the page and… And… Wait, no, yo!

You have GOT to be kidding me! No matter how many swipes, that was it, finis, get your tush to Amazon and download Season 2, like… right now. (And I lied about the Kindle, it required a towel-down after that frantic bit of finger flicking.)

Points said finger upwards: those are all the woohoo bits that make this a loved-it-five-stars worth.

But there were a few things I think could have been done better if we look at this from a standard narrative treatment, aka a novel. First and foremost, the characters needed fleshing out: descriptions of physical characteristics, a clear idea of the ages of cast members (other than the college guys), occupations (as is common with these drama-driven vehicles, everybody has way too much time to obsess over themselves and their love lives), social status, etc.

A director and the producers will have a clear idea of who will fill which part based on a variety of factors, none of which really pertain to the novel reader. In a word, I wanted more. Derek did not act in an age-appropriate manner most times, Cole and Jesse were suitably naïve at some points, but not at others, some characters seemed to flip-flop in character traits which made keeping track a bit of a challenge. Motivations got muddied (yes, I watch True Blood but Vampire Bill and Eric in the novels are different from their counterparts on the small screen).

A quick note about the dialog: there were quite a few spots where a parsimonious treatment (less is more) would have been better. Not everyone needs to say hello, how are you, can I take your coat… In a “real” screenplay, you might see that, but in a novel, it causes the action to slow down.

Now, let’s look at scenes of affection. This is erotic romance, make no mistake. It’s graphic M/M and M/F, something for everyone. It’s frequent, sometimes recurring in scenes one after the other (meanwhile back against the wall with his tongue down…), and after a while it turned repetitive. One excellent way to discriminate one gay character from another is how and why they do what they do on the couch, over the kitchen counter, in bed, in the shower… When the act becomes so linear that it goes from throat to chest with a stopover, a quick one, at the nips, then thighs, suck a toe, maybe run back up and do an armpit, then a condom and let the fun begin—it’s hard, it’s deep, it’s … well, it’s pretty much the same thing, scene after scene. (Where is Alan Ball when you need him?).

The first half dozen are hot, the rest… not so much. I know, I know… first world problems. But to qualify as truly scorching, this reader wants and demands variety, consequences, and a reasonable recovery period for guys who ain’t twenty and haven’t been for a long time. These scenes needed a healthy dose of affect to make them pop.

Those are my quibbles. Not a deal breaker by any means.

This was a unique, driving, entertaining, annoying, aggravating, scream at the screen kind of read. Whether you want to or not, you will be invested in a character or two or three—hate ’em, love ’em, one thing you won’t do is dismiss them.

An unequivocal FIVE STARS for the best guilty pleasure I’ve come across in a very long time.

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Hot Head (Damon Suede)

HOT HEAD

by

DAMON SUEDE

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Genre: Contemporary gay lit, M/M romance

The Blurb:

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire…

Since 9/11, Brooklyn firefighter Griff Muir has wrestled with impossible feelings for his best friend and partner at Ladder 181, Dante Anastagio. Unfortunately, Dante is strictly a ladies’ man, and the FDNY isn’t exactly gay-friendly. For ten years, Griff has hidden his heart in a half-life of public heroics and private anguish.

Griff’s caution and Dante’s cockiness make them an unbeatable team. To protect his buddy, there’s nothing Griff wouldn’t do… until a nearly bankrupt Dante proposes the worst possible solution: HotHead.com, a gay porn website where uniformed hunks get down and dirty. And Dante wants them to appear there—together. Griff may have to guard his heart and live out his darkest fantasies on camera. Can he rescue the man he loves without wrecking their careers, their families, or their friendship?

The Review:

Hot Head operates on a multi-level story arc: partly a homage to the courage and sacrifice of first responders on 9-11, partly an action-adventure tale focusing on the terrible risks and bravery of men who choose to run into the bowels of hell to save lives, but mostly it’s a buddy story of friendship and love and loyalty.

And it is most definitely a romance, beginning with unrequited love on the part of Griff Muir for his best friend Dante Anastagio. Griif’s effectively been raised by the Anastagio family. He and Dante are inseparable, sharing danger, sharing women, and even sharing secrets. But there’s one secret Griff cannot and will not share: his feelings for Dante that exceed the boundaries of even deep-seated friendship.

When Dante finds himself in over his head keeping up an old house that’s taking a huge bite out of his resources, he puts his lusty nature to good use by joining up with HotHeat.com—a gay porn website. He scores big with the viewers but to earn serious cash he needs to up the ante and provide cutting edge content. For that he solicits Griff to join him—it’s the kind of offer Griff cannot refuse.

When practice and performance raise mixed messages, it’s not just careers and the respect of their fellow firemen on the line. When it gets down and dirty, it’s Griff’s heart that takes the heavy hit.

Damon Suede gives us much to like with Hot Head. Griff is, far and away, the more likeable character (for this reader), but even Dante’s cocky attitude rarely grates for long. This is a mature author, in command of the subject matter, the details well-researched and bringing a measure of authenticity you don’t normally find with a M/M (or any other type) romance.

I especially enjoyed the authentic dialog—it rang true on just about every measure: urban, middle and working class, male Brooklynese. It had that rhythm and cadence that appealed to the inner ear and made each of the characters unique.

With heart stopping action, heart-stopping scenes of affection and a sigh worthy denouement, Hot Head delivers, in spades.

It’s a delight to find such a well-crafted story, a page-turner written with care and attention to detail, well-edited and worthy of a permanent spot on the shelf.

Five stars for an excellent read.

Buy Link:

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A Little Too Broken (Brad Vance)

A LITTLE TOO BROKEN

by

BRAD VANCE

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Genre: M/M contemporary gay romance

The Blurb:

When Jamie walks through the door of the Humane Society, it’s not just an animal who needs rescuing that day. Tom is there to adopt another service dog into the Canine Comrade Corps, but it’s Jamie his heart goes out to. But each man turns away, walks away, from the potential pain, the rejection, the knowledge that it’ll all end in tears…

Jamie knows damn well that the HIV he contracted from an unfaithful lover has put him out of the dating game forever in the small town of Santa Vera. Tom lost his legs in Afghanistan, and got new ones, yeah, but with a side order of PTSD to go, he thought grimly. The real problem is that only now does he realize he’s gay, now that the revelation would be just one too many things to put his family through, after everything else they’ve had to deal with.

So both men grin and bear the loneliness, put their feelings on a shelf, even as Jamie’s volunteer stint at CCC turns into friendship and, despite their resolve, something more…

The Review:

A Little Too Broken chronicles the journeys of two men stutter-starting on the path of social and emotional isolation. Tom is a veteran who lost his legs in Afghanistan. He suffers from PTSD, a condition he combats by giving back to similar sufferers through involvement with the Canine Comrade Corps. Jamie is HIV positive, contracted via poor life choices that involved unsafe sex, drugs and an inability to recognize abusive behavior until it was almost too late.

When they meet, there is interest that cannot be sustained because each man only sees rejection and heartbreak, casting themselves as victims that borders on a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The story is told in two parts: each man’s misfortunes, their history, their journey into hell and back, the help they receive along the way, the recovery and the consequences of not committing fully to it.

There is a lot of interesting detail about the CCC, the good it does, how the dogs are chosen, what to look for. Similar detail is presented about being HIV positive, including both social and medical consequences. Unfortunately, this level of detail does little to forward the plot or character development. Rather than helping to integrate our understanding and engage our sympathies, this acts as an info dump pulling us out of the story. We lose focus on who these men are in favor of a political/social statement about how society has failed its most vulnerable. I’m not suggesting this isn’t the case, for clearly it is, but in terms of story-as-romance it does not fulfill that mandate.

There are also problems with shifting point of view, sometimes swapping out within paragraphs. It made the writing choppy, and discerning who was saying/thinking what, when, became frustrating for this reader.

When Jamie and Tom finally do take those tentative first steps, the novel becomes what it should have been all along: a sigh-worthy romance where you cheer them on, want to slap them upside the head at times for being dolts, where you marvel at the level of understanding each has for the other’s disability—turning that mindset into “able”, not “disable.”

The scenes of affection are realistic and include glimpses into the emotional state of each man.

Despite the lack of integration of individual storylines, despite the shifting POV and extended info dumps, despite a slightly unrealistic (too pat, too neat) denouement vis a vis Tom’s family’s acceptance when he comes out to them… Despite all that, I enjoyed the book. When I finished, I wished there’d been more of Jamie and Tom as a couple, working toward that future that looks a lot brighter with them together instead of apart.

A Little Too Broken has enough “aw” moments to satisfy a romance junkie. The characters are sympathetic, especially Tom. It will leave you feeling optimistic, wanting more. This could have been a wonderful book but it fails in execution. This is where a good editor could have made all the difference.

For that reason it’s a 3.5* read, rounding to 4* because I’m still harboring that “aw” feeling of satisfaction.

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The Art of the Heart (Dan Skinner)

THE ART OF THE HEART

by

DAN SKINNER

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GENRE: Gay literature, coming of age, short story

THE BLURB:

The heartland of America in 1965 feels like the end of the road for seventeen-year-old Zac Weston. After all, there’s nowhere to go when you’re shy, gay, and a virgin. A natural artist, inspiration strikes in the form of neighbor boy Rory, and Zac’s fantasies spill onto the pages of his notebook. When Zac’s secret is discovered, it might take more than wishes to magically make his world right.

THE REVIEW:

This is a book that quite literally had me enthralled from the first sentence. The prose is elegantly simple, straightforward, evocative, sensual and riveting. The story unfolds in omniscient third, which I will admit, after reading genre fiction, was a stretch to readjust my reader perspective.

This story beautifully captures a time and place, tapping directly into my consciousness, awakening memories, touching all my senses.

It is a coming of age tale, a homage to first love—that very first awareness and the consequences when you are a young boy, a virgin in every sense of the word. It is also a tale of small town America, back when acceptance meant overlooking differences to the point where it breached understanding, slipping into blindness to a boy’s inner turmoil.

Zac was that boy who found refuge from those things he did not understand: why he felt the way he did, the narrowness of his milieu that restricted his choices, and the final inspiration to record his journey, his fantasies, using the graphics arts as his medium for living out his inner landscape.

When Zac’s talent, and his recording of his alternate reality, is discovered, it is his object of obsession and affection, Rory, who recognizes but does not judge.  Zac is proud, terrified, ashamed, hopeful… and what he most wants is something he’s dreamt of for years. But wishing and dreaming, when you live your life with pencil and paper, is nothing like the reality. Zac has no frame of reference until, during the height of a storm, he learns how to turn fantasy into hope.

This is the first work by Dan Skinner that I’ve read. It won’t be the last.

Five stars. Highly recommended read.

BUY LINK: KINDLE

 

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