What An Amazing Week in LGBTQ History and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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Rainbow Empire State BuildingLast week was such an amazing week for the LGBTQ community.  SCOTUS ruled on DOMA and Proposition 8, declaring DOMA unconstitutional and returning Prop 8 to the lower courts, essentially removing the opposition to gay marriages in California, marriages which resumed almost immediately following the decision.  Celebrations were countrywide, loud and joyous.  Even the President phoned to offer his congratulations on the ruling to the couple named in the suit.   True, the opposition has vowed to continue to fight equality, but that tide is turned and their efforts will ultimately be futile ones.   Some people will always continue to be clueless (see Paula Deen) about history lessons. No putting the genie back in the bottle or ushering people to the back of the bus once they have tasted equality.  To be adult about it, nuhuh, ain’t goin’ to happen, folks, so just deal! Woohooo, what a week.

In the FYI portion of the blog, I found Fynn’s F*&k You Scarf Pattern from Missouri Dalton’s The Night Shift.  You can find the pattern here, courtesy of Ravelry and Missouri Dalton.  Really, this pattern is too hysterical for words and looks great too.  Winston is doing great in his adjustment to the household and other dogs, almost seamless.  He is a joy for all of us.  New books are arriving in the Bellingham Mysteries series from Nicole Kimberling (Loose id) and the Recon Diaries series by Kendall McKenna, so look for book giveaways soon.

It’s been a soggy, humid week around here, with fireworks going off willy nilly it seems at local jurisdictions seemed to have planned Fourth of July celebrations anywhere but on the fourth.  Let me tell you, my dogs are  not happy about that! Sigh.

So here is the week ahead in reviews:

Monday, July 1:                      Scattered Thoughts June Book Review Summary

Tuesday, July 2:                     The Curtis Reincarnation by Zathyn Priest

Wed., July 3:                           Birds of a Feather by Nicole Kimberling

Thursday, July 4:                   Son of a Gun by A.M. Riley

Friday, July 5:                         Bully for You by Catt Ford

Sat, July 6:                               Pickup Men by L.C. Chase

American Flag CocktailAnd here is a Fourth of July cocktail recipe for you to enjoy.  Happy Fourth of July in advance!

American Flag Cocktail:

American Flag drink recipe made with Blue Curacao,Creme de Cacao,Grenadine,. How to make a American Flag with all the instructions and ingredients.
Recipe Rating: 4.6 stars based on 13 votes
Ingredients to use:
0.33 oz Blue Curacao
0.33 oz Creme de Cacao
0.33 oz Grenadine
Directions:
Mix together with crushed ice in a glass and garnish with mint leaves

For more Fourth of July cocktail recipes, visit this site.

Review: Hobbled by John Inman

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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

HobbledEighteen year old Danny Shay should be having the time of his life, but its not working out like that. Now living with his dad in San Diego, Danny should be enjoying the summer but his own lack of judgement and outrage over his boss’s shorting his paycheck led to his current predicament.  He is under house arrest, hobbled by an ankle monitor courtesy of the San Diego PD and a cast on his leg, the last being his fault at throwing a tantrum at work and destroying an ice machine.  So now he is bored and lonely since his dad is out of town on business. Danny is also horny as only a gay 18 year old virgin can be by himself in the house, unable to leave.

But then the house next door is sold and a young man, a young cute man, is moving in with his father and dog and things start to look up.  Now if only he could figure out how to meet him without setting off his ankle monitor.  Plus there is a serial killer loose in the neighborhood  targeting young men, two fourth grade boys lurking around Danny’s house determined to be the next Hardy boys and the scene is set for riotous goings on.  When the killer targets Danny and his new neighbor, it will take all their wiles and help from unexpected sources to stay alive.

Hobbled is my third book that I have read by John Inman and it cements his place in my “must read” company of authors whose works I grab up immediately with nary a glance at a publishers blurb or jacket cover.  John Inman must either have vivid memories of his experiences as a 18 year old gay teenager or is able to channel his inner teenager because I can’t think of any author whose recent stories brought to life what it means to be 18 as realistically as the author did in Hobbled.  I just enjoyed this story so much that my usual quibbles with consistency and instalove are easily put aside.

If you know  teenagers, then every part of this story will speak to you, from the first feelings of lust and love (oh, the drama of a first love) to the unspeakable eating habits that seem normal as a teenager yet make you shudder as an adult.   Inman gets their dialog right too.  And it’s not just  Danny and Luke, his new neighbor, but two eleven year olds, (“that’s fourth grade”, mind you , they tell people in an instant), Bradley and DeVon.  Those two kids almost steal the book away from Danny and Luke.  Bradley and DeVon are Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and the Hardy Boys all rolled into the two most intrepid, fearless kids you will want to meet, and then just maybe strangle when you stop laughing.  But back to  teenage eating habits:

Here is a sample of Danny and Luke chowing down at Danny’s house:

Wet like that, it was really red, Danny noticed. Much more so than it was when it was dry. Danny watched as Luke swung a bare leg over the back of the kitchen chair and plopped himself down. He arranged his silverware neatly beside his plate, since Danny had just sort of tossed it on the table, not caring where it all went. Then while Danny still stood there watching him, Luke reached across the table and arranged Danny’s silverware too.

When he was finished, Luke motioned to the opposite chair. “Sit,” he said. “Eat. I’m starved.”

And Danny finally expelled the breath of air he had been holding for the longest time. He sank into the chair, happy to get off his wobbly legs, and they both started loading their plates with all kinds of stuff. Potato salad, ham, pickles, bread, coleslaw, cold pizza left over from a couple of days ago, cold green beans that had been in the fridge for God knows how long but didn’t stink yet so they must be okay. They ate as eighteen-year-olds always eat. With tons of enthusiasm and not a speck of conversation.

.If you have ever watched teenagers eat, then you must be nodding your head in acknowledgement of the accuracy of that moment.  I know I did. In scene after scene, Inman writes realistic, goofy, brave, scared wonderful teenage boys These characters are funny, earnest, heartbreaking and always believable.  And I think that’s why their case of instant love is not only acceptable but in keeping with their teenage years as well. During those years, you fall hard and fast.  Love at first sight?  Absolutely.  A forever love found in under 5 minutes flat? You bet.  Its special that first love, its mind blowing and heart pounding, it’s everything, a moment and a person people always remember.  And for some, it does last forever.  That’s the magic of it, when you are young everything is possible and Inman gets that too.

And on top of being under house arrest, being new in San Diego and living with his dad, Danny is also trying to come to grips with the fact that he is gay.  Danny wants to tell his father that he is gay but like any other LGBTQ youth, Danny is having trouble saying it.  He is pretty sure that his father will still love him, but that small uncertainty is holding him back.  When hearing Danny’s inner monologue as he tries to summon the courage to come out to his father, you realize just how momentous this decision is and just how high the ramifications might be.  One more realistic component in an already marvelous book of self realization and coming out at a young age.

True, there are some aspects of Hobbled that normally would have me rolling my eyes as the events stretch the bounds of believability (especially later on with Danny’s father).  But all the good will and affection the book has built up just steamrollers over those sections, so that if you do find yourself making an eye roll or two (yeah, yeah I know), than it will be with smiles instead of incredulity.  I love this book and fell hard for Danny, Luke, DeVon and Bradley and even Mrs. Trumball.  I think you will too.  So grab a pizza, a stick of Cover Up, a Coke, and your memories of your teenage years, buy this book and settle in for a wonderful story of young love, coming out, and oh yeah,a criminal on the loose.

Cover art by Paul Richmond is perfect for Hobbled in every way.

Book Details:

ebook, 246 pages
Published June 10th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1623808561 (ISBN13: 9781623808563)
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com

Review: When Dachshunds Ruled the Serengeti by Michael Murphy

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Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

When Wiener Dogs Rule coverIt is the first day of Jose’s collegiate life and he’s terrified.  The older of nine children, Jose Lopez is the son of migrant workers, born in California and familiar only with the states his family worked through and the transitory life that comes with being part of a large migrant farm workers.  Jose has dreamed of escaping the drudgery and poverty of his parents and being able to provide a path to a better life for his brothers and sisters.  Brown University is his ticket to a education and better life but brown skinned Jose feels as out of place among the white upper echelon as a burrito at a black tie dinner.  Then his roommate arrives, and the comparison between them enlarges the cultural divide already apparent.

Phillip comes from a wealthy New York family and is entering Brown just as his father and his father’s father before him.  A child of privilege, Phillip can’t begin to understand the true depth of how Jose’s upbringing and background have affected him.  All Phillip sees is an attractive boy, shy, and welcoming.  True, their first meeting is awkward as Phillip’s mother mistakes Jose for a porter for Phillip’s bags but Jose is used to people’s perceptions of him as the help instead of a possible equal.

Soon the boys discover common ground between them, and Phillip helps Jose with all things new to him , including tv, electronics and cultural passages of youth.  Slowly a friendship builds and then turns into love despite the many differences between them.  But obstacles made of their divergent backgrounds rise up when Jose’s siblings are left to his care when his parents are stuck in Mexico with visa issues.  Can Jose and Phillip overcome the barriers raised by a clash of cultures or will the cultural divide keep them forever apart?

Many things got me excited about this book.  One, the title.  When Dachshunds Ruled the Serengeti.  So serendipitous and  playful, then you add in that adorable cover by Paul Richmond, and I would have said that it was a slam dunk.  I fully expected a light hearted tale of two cultures colliding in college and living HEA.  And I sort of got that, minus the light hearted aspect as that is completely lacking. And that’s a shame because  given the title and cover art there is such a disconnect between the reader’s expectations and the actual story that I am not sure the story itself recovers the good will the reader starts out with.

Paul Richmond’s cover comes from one of the more delightful sections of this story. Lacking the chance to attend school, the migrant farmers children are left to the adults around them for education.  Another worker had appointed herself teacher and was trying to get across a lesson on geography and Africa.  When the children were unable to grasp what a wildebeest was, Jose invented a story using a local farm dog migrating on the Serengeti.  The charm and whimsy of the section of the book only serves to highlight what went wrong with the rest of the story.  As I read about Jose and the children, I was completely drawn into the story.  I felt I was sitting beside the youngest, so enthralled in the vision of thousands of dachshunds roaming the Serengeti, charmed by the characters, the setting, and so aware of the joy that even poverty and deprivation can’t keep down.  It’s amazing and so beautifully written.

In fact, Jose is the best and most realistic thing about this story.  Michael Murphy really gets into the head of Jose and the disparity between his background and the privileged young men and women he finds himself among.  Jose is really the most likable of the two main characters.  Murphy does a good job in giving both young men realistic and well rounded personalities.  We truly understand just how frightening a new world Brown University represents and how ill prepared Jose is to enter it.  He lacks not only the material belongings necessary but the cultural  markers that all the other students take for granted.  The author seems to understand how lonely it must be not to see another person of the same color and history reflected back at him.  Over and over, we see through Jose’s eyes how society looks at the fastest growing population in the US, hispanics of Mexican, South American, and Puerto Rican backgrounds.  Here is Jose looking at the precious few belongings on his bed on his first day in the dorm:

His entire life José had always been on the move with his parents and his many, many brothers and sisters. His family moved constantly, not to evade something, but to find something. His family moved with the crop cycles. They were migrant workers who might be in South Carolina one day picking peaches only to leave to move to Florida to plant strawberries. From there they might go farther south in Dade County to plant tomatoes. Then they might move back north by a few hours to weed some other field of some other crop before heading to Texas to pick pecans or Arizona to pick oranges.

In the course of a single year, the family van could clock an untold number of miles in the constant move from one location to another. The number was untold simply because the odometer in the old van they used had broken many years ago, so no one had any idea how many miles they had actually covered. Living on the move was their life, so none of them gave it much thought. It was all José and his siblings had ever known.

And then he meets Phillip and his family for the first time, and cultural reality sets in:

When he glanced toward the doorway in response to the knock, José saw a blond guy about his age, taller than him, who looked tentatively into the room.

“Is this 201?” he asked hesitantly.

“Sure is,” José answered with a smile.

The guy smiled back. “Home sweet home,” he said as he gave the place an appraising look. José, as a student of people, of humanity, watched the play of emotions on the guy’s face. It didn’t take an expert to know that the guy did not like what he was seeing. His brow was furrowed, and his face took on the appearance of displeasure.

“Kind of small,” the guy said. “And old. My dad warned me that the dorms here were like tenements, but I thought he was joking. I guess he wasn’t.”

“I set my bag over here,” José said, gesturing to his left, “but if you want that side, that’s fine with me. I’m not particular.”

“No. That’s no problem. I’m just trying to figure where I’m supposed to put everything.” Before they could continue their conversation, José saw an older version of his roommate come into view outside the door. “You found it!” he said. “I guess,” the guy responded to the man José assumed was his father. For a man of his age, the guy was in pretty good shape. He didn’t have that middle-aged spread in his center that happened to so many men. He had a full head of hair. He was attractive. And he was dressed in clothes that cost more than José’s dad had paid for the van they lived out of most of the year. Beside the man stopped a smiling woman, also well dressed in what were obviously expensive clothes, even if they were casual in appearance. “Our baby’s new home,” she said with a smile.

“Mom,” the guy said, obviously embarrassed at being called her “baby.”

“Oh, good,” the woman said, “you’ve found the porter to help us move things.” The woman seemed to assume that someone who appeared Mexican and was dressed poorly was obviously not a student but was only there to lift and carry for others. The guy standing beside José looked sharply at his mother and then turned back to José. “I’m Phillip,” he said, introducing himself and sticking out his hand in the universal greeting.

“José,” he said with a smile, “your new roomie.”

And that is just the beginning of the embarrassments and offending statements that lie in wait for Jose on the college campus.  I think Michael Murphy is a great job with Jose and his experiences on the campus so alien to his upbringing and background.  Then there is Phillip and family.

Sigh.  I think that Phillip is where most of the problems with this story originate.  I found him to be a self centered, culturally isolated young man.  And in some instances, I am sure that there are plenty of real Phillips out there.  He is quick to accept Jose, quick to come to his aid, and just as quick to judge and remove himself from Jose when cultural issues rise up between them.  Yes, they are both extremely young but somehow, the manner in which Murphy has created Phillip leaves him lacking in ways that would connect the reader to his character.  We understand Jose and his actions absolutely.  We also understand Phillip’s given his wealthy, insulated background but the author never really makes the reader sympathize with Phillip in the same way we do Jose.

When the rest of Jose’s siblings arrive on scene, then the best and the worst of this story reveal themselves.  Jose and his interactions with his brothers and sisters are not only believable, but they capture all of the charm and love this story has to give.  It makes Phillip’s mother an endearing character and does the same thing for his father.  We experience the close bond that only siblings who have spent their entire lives in one room, one car, depending only upon each other can have.  This is where the storytelling comes in, as well as the power of familial love.  It is also where the reader will start to pull away from Phillip.  The rest of the book unfortunately removes Jose almost completely from the story to its detriment.   And once they reconnect, it is almost too late to recapture the feelings brought about by the first section of the story.

The author adds a character called Steven in the second half of the book who furthers the separation between reader and Phillip.  I just don’t understand the necessity of his inclusion.  If you take the strange turn of events in the second half, the addition of an unnecessary character, and an abrupt ending, you can see why the reader will walk away from this book, rueing the lost promise of When Dachsunds Ruled the Serengeti while remembering with fondness Jose and his siblings,  thinking of thousands of dachshunds migrating through Africa.  Really it is Jose and family that raise this story up towards a 4 star rating and Phillip that pulls it down.  But oh that cover, and that title…….

Cover art by Paul Richmond.  Entrancing and whimsical.  I loved it.  One of my favorite’s of his to be sure.

Book Details:

ebook, 226 pages
Published May 24th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1623805821 (ISBN13: 9781623805821)
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3819

Review: Stonewall by Martin Duberman

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Stonewall2 new coverIt’s June 28, 1969. At a gay bar called Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village, NY City’s finest, the NYPD carried out a raid on the bar that should have been routine.  After all the police had been raiding and harassing gay bars and establishments for years, so one more raid should have been nothing out of the ordinary.  But in the early morning hours at Stonewall Inn, all of the intimidation, the constant harassment, was finally too much and in response to this raid the gay customers rioted.  As the size and power of the demonstration grew, word that gays were fighting back spread throughout the city.  Soon more men and women came and joined in the demonstration.  Rocks were thrown at the police and shouts of “gay power” could be heard.   Eventually, the NY Police Department sent enough reinforcements to quell the riot for the evening.  But the next night brought a new uprising with the crowds swelling to well over 1,000 people.  NYCPD Riot Squads were called in to stop the demonstrations but over the next four days, more protests continued throughout the city sparking intense discussions on gay civil rights and, the formation of gay activist groups determined to change the laws and societal outlook that looked at homosexuality as something to be outlawed and perverted in nature.

On the first anniversary of Stonewall, the first gay pride parade was held in throughout the U.S. in New York City near Stonewall Inn, Los Angeles, Chicago,  and San Francisco.  Stonewall cemented itself as the spark that set off a gay revolution, the effects of which are still being felt today when the Supreme Court’s decisions on the issue of DOMA and Prop 8 made history.

Martin Duberman uses 6 people whose lives began prior to Stonewall to chart the affect of the Stonewall riots on their lives and the community around them. The six key LGBT activists (Craig Rodwell, Yvonne Flowers, Karla Jay, Sylvia Ray Rivera, Jim Fouratt, and Foster Gunnison, Jr) are followed from their childhoods through their adult participation in the riots and the resulting  civil rights actions.

On June 28, 2013, we mark the 44th anniversary of Stonewall Inn riots and the beginning of the LGBTQ civil rights movement, and yestrerday the Supreme Court of the United States struck down DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and Proposition 8 in California declaring it unconstitutional.  So it is fitting that today’s review is Martin Duberman’s Stonewall, a history of the riot that set off the gay civil rights movement.

Martin Duberman is the professor emeritus of history at the Graduate Center of the City University (CUNY), where he founded the Center for  Lesbian and Gay Studies, the first university in the United States to have a LGBT university based research center.  An author of over 20 books and an politically active gay man, I would expect a detailed and revelatory account  from Duberman of the events leading up to Stonewall. And that is what we were given in Stonewall.  Martin Duberman states that he wanted to place Stonewall along a timeline of events instead of the Stonewall Inn demonstrations being the launching point of gay civil rights history.  According to the blurb from the publisher:

Duberman does all this within a narrative framework of novelistic immediacy. Stonewall unfolds through the stories of six lives, and those individual lives broaden out into the larger historical canvas.

However, in trying to place the events at Stonewall within the context of GLBTQ history, Martin Duberman strays too far from the actual historic event and its ramifications, especially in a book titled Stonewall.  Instead the author starts off with a cast of 6 individuals: Craig Rodwell who figured largely in the Mattachine Society and opened the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookstore, Yvonne Flowers who started the Salsa Soul Sisters, Karla Jay who was a member of the feminist collective the Redstockings and the Gay Liberation Front, Sylvia (Ray)  Rivera the founder of STAR, the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, Jim Fouratt a hipster and major spokesperson for the Yippie Movement, and Foster Gunnison, Jr, who helped plan the first Christopher Street Liberation March along with Craig Rodwell.

Given this cast of remarkable men and women, I was expecting a narrative equal in intensity and emotion to the lives of the people it was following.  Unfortunately, Duberman’s years as a history professor prove to be the guiding touch of the narrative rather than a moving account of the events revealed.  Divided into seven parts, each section relates a chapter in the lives of the people chosen.  Part One Growing Up is exactly that, the early years of each person.  And while I appreciated their struggles, the dry tone and “as told to” narrative dampens any emotion the reader might feel when coming across such events as Craig Rodwell’s abandonment by his mother or Ray’s abusive upbringing after his mother tried to poison him and then committed suicide.  Each one of these individuals lives are made up of startling and often dramatic occurrences that breaking them up into sections succeeds in only removing  some of the intensity. Also the interrupted flow of their backstory makes it hard to follow their lives in a fluid manner, something I would have preferred.

What makes this  book fascinating and worth the price is the last three chapters.  The first sections make interesting reading but the last sections bring vividly home the tumultuous times. That would be Part Six 1969 Part Seven Post-Stonewall 1969-1970 and Epilogue 1992.  As the book heads into the 60’s, the emotions and political upheaval of the times arrives in the narrative and the reader starts to really feel the events that came together that sparks off the riots of Stonewall rather than just understand them intellectually.  I was especially enthralled by the early accounts of the people (the Mob) behind the operations at Stonewall Inn, the crime boss characters, the Drag Queens, just a remarkable group of people to gather under one roof.  I wish I could quote the opening sections here but the DRM prevents me from doing so.  But this is where Martin Duberman shines as a author as he walks you through the front door of Stonewall Inn. Here you learn about Fat Tony and Maggie Jiggs, the famous queen who worked the bar along with her lover Tommy Long, Maggie was the main supplier of the drugs her customers were so fond of. blonde, outspoken, and gregarious. Here is a short passage:

If you got the okay at the door–and for underage kids that was always problematic–you moved a few steps to a table, usually covered by members of what one wag called the Junior Achievement Mafia team.  That could mean, on different nights, Zucchi,; Mario; Ernie Sgroi who always wore a suit and tie and whose father started the famed Bon Soir on Eighth Street; “Vito” , who was on salary directly from Fat Tony, was hughly proud of his personal collection of S.S. uniforms and Nazi flags, and made bombs on the side; or “Tony the sniff” Verra who had a legendary nose for no-goods and kept a baseball bat behind the door to deal with them. At the table you had to plunk down three dollars (one dollar on weekdays), for which you got two tickets that could be exchanged for two watered-down drinks. (According to Chuck Shaheen. all drinks were watered, even those carrying the fanciest labels.)  You then signed your name in a book kept to prove, should the question arise in court, that Stonewall was indeed a private “bottle club”.  People rarely signed their real names. “Judy Garland”, “Donald Duck”, and “Elizabeth Taylor” were popular favorites.

And that is just the beginning of the real heart of the book, Stonewall Inn and its many and varied denizens.  I found myself going back and rereading portions of these chapters where the people became real and the emotions behind the political activity felt as alive and new as those I saw on the steps of the Supreme Court yesterday as the decisions were announced that saw the end of DOMA and Prop 8.

For those born after Stonewall, this is an important window into the beginnings of the gay civil rights movement and the people who helped ignite it.  For those children of the 60’s and 70’s, this will bring back memories of a time in our lives where everything was possible, and the times were “a changing”.   I found this to be a timely and compelling read and highly  recommend it.  Pick up your copy now.

Book Details:

Paperback, 352 pages
Published May 1st 1994 by Plume (first published 1993)
ISBN 0452272068 (ISBN13: 9780452272064)
edition languageEnglish
original titleStonewall

A Day To Celebrate!

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SCOTUS Decision Day

Today is a day to celebrate.  SCOTUS struck down Prop 8 and DOMA this morning in two historic decisions.  The tide has turned and is rising to cover the nation.  Watch the live feed from San Francisco and have a glass of champayne to  celebrate these historic victories.

 

 

 

 

Supreme Court Strikes Down Defense of Marriage Act On Merits

Full story here: http://www.queerty.com/supreme-court-strikes-down-defense-of-marriage-act-on-merits-20130626/#ixzz2XKqVgPhS

Supreme Court Strikes Down Prop 8 On Legal Standing

Full story here: http://www.queerty.com/supreme-court-strikes-down-prop-8-on-legal-standing-20130626/#ixzz2XKqz0HrO

Review: A Casual Weekend Thing by A.J. Thomas

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

A Casual Weekend ThingDoug Heavy Runner is the only member of the Baker County Sheriff’s Department that is also a member of the volunteer search and rescue team operating in his section of Montana.  So it is no surprise when a 911 call results in Doug hanging over the edge of a cliff, hauling up a body caught on ropes below him. The man is an apparent suicide but his suicide note and death will draw his younger brother to town, along with complications and clues that point to a criminal operating in town, something Doug Heavy Runner left Miami PD to get away from.  Doug lived an out lifestyle in Miami, but the undercover work and an abusive boyfriend sent him home to Elkin and life as a small town deputy and closeted gay.  Now one death may unravel Doug’s new life.

San Diego PD Detective Christopher Hayes is still trying to recover from a devastating gunshot wound that threatens to end his career when he gets a call from a small town coroner in Montana.  His older brother has committed suicide and Chris needs to identify the body and see to his brother’s estate.  The problem is that Chris hasn’t seen his brother in over 20 years by choice as his brother was a convicted pedophile who Chris thought was still in jail.

On the way to Elkin to attend to his brother’s remains, Chris stops in to a local gay bar,  hooks up with a Native American cop and a hot weekend of sex ensues.  Imagine both mens surprise when the suicide’s brother turns out to be Chris and the deputy in charge of the case is none other than his weekend hookup, Doug Heavy Runner.  When Chris’ brother’s house is burned to the ground and the cause is arson, all clues lead to another pedophile operating in the area.  The deeper they probe into the brother’s life, the wider the scope of the investigation.  Soon the FBI is involved and Chris’ partner from San Diego shows up, and everyone is second guessing themselves and each other as the case folds back to Elkin and its citizens. And all the while, Chris and Doug’s casual fling deepens and turns into something neither expects or can accept – love.

I was not expecting a book as complex and moving from the title, A Casual Weekend Thing.  A.J. Thomas has written a book with so many layers to it that I was continually amazed with each reveal and new element  she added to the overall picture.  This book is a police mystery, a cop romance, a character study, and just a grand read.

At the core of A Casual Weekend Thing are two damaged men, each a gay police officer whose back history has made them who they are today, two driven individuals who run from commitment and any relationship other than friendship or casual hookups.  Each is a runner, one by name and one by emotional need, a clever turn by the author.  Christopher Hayes is an ultrarunner, a rare breed of runner who pit their endurance against distances from 50 to 100 mile runs in extreme weather conditions.  Chris was told by his abusive brother to run for his life when he was 12 and run he did, never looking back.  Chris is still running, from his past, from his tenuous future on the force, and from all relationships, never fully trusting anyone.  In Christopher Hayes, Thomas has created an emotionally damaged man, who thinks he has coped with his past but in reality is in denial.  It is a wonderful characterization, multidimensional and realistic in every respect.

Doug Heavy Runner is Chris’ equal in complexity and pain.  In Doug, Thomas gives the reader a man who ran from his culture, that of a Salish-Kootenai Indian on a reservation where crime, poverty, and despair rule and very few escape.  Doug fled to Miami, to become a police officer and live an openly gay lifestyle, passing as a latino.  But the undercover work and abusive boyfriend combined to break him down until his path led him home to the reservation and the small town nearby.  Doug is running just like Chris, too afraid to trust himself in a relationship or to come out to the community.  Thomas balances these two men against each other’s past history even as the author starts them on the investigation that will hit close to home for both men.  Thomas manages to create not two but multiple realistic characters, including Chris’ partner, Ray, a man who was supposedly “straight” until he wasn’t, to Chris’ surprise.  Not once did I feel that any of these characters strayed into a less than authentic portrayal of a real person.  Some were repulsive, some sympathetic, and others incompetent, but always real.

Great characters were certainly a necessity given the complex, and densely layered plots that play out in this story.  Thomas takes the time to set up the situations for the events that follow.  It is a slow build that pulls in element after element, revealed to Chris, Doug and the reader in small increments.  As more facts are unearthed, a feeling of unease sets in.  Then we discover the truth of Chris’ relationship with his late brother, and the horror arrives.  That he treats it so unemotionally makes it worse.  The more clues are discovered, the more horrific and wider the investigation becomes, pulling in the FBI and Chris’ partner.  Thomas does a superlative job in creating a monstrous psychopath who eludes identification until close to the end.  And intertwined with this investigation, is the romance between Chris and Doug, a tenuous thing given each man’s trust issues and past history.

I have to admit I came so close to giving this story 5 stars.  I really wanted to.  But there were a few minor issues with police procedure as well as some actions on the part of Chris that had me shaking my head in incredulity.  I just don’t think a police officer of his experience and background would have committed the errors he did, given the clues he had at his finger tips.  I can’t say any more but when you read the book, you will recognize the areas I am talking about.  That, combined with a little rough transition at the beginning, kept A Casual Weekend Thing from being perfect.  But it sure came close.  It hooked me right from the beginning and keep me on the edge of the bed (so to speak) until the last page.

The end leaves us with a very realistic HFN and I think it needed it.  A HEA for Doug and Chris, considering the events they just emerged from would be just implausible and not in keeping with the characters Thomas was so careful in creating.  I can hope, however, that this will set them up to return in a future novel with another case to solve together.  Now that would be perfection.  Consider this book highly recommended.  I can’t wait to see what A.J. Thomas has for us next.

Cover Art by Brooke Albrecht.  I applaud the cover artist’s choice of model, although he looks far more Indian than Native American.  Also the woods below aren’t really in keeping with the landscape around that area of Montana.  I know, that’s really getting picky, isn’t it.  But they get the tone of the book right.

Book Details:

ebook, 310 pages
Published May 13th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1623804876 (ISBN13: 9781623804879)
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3806

Review: Heart of the Race by Mary Calmes

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Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

Heart of the RaceBrian Christie has loved Varro Dacien since he was 9 and saw him for the first time out the window of his foster home.  Varro and his brother Nico were getting ready to jump a go cart off his family’s rooftop.  That day saw Varro in the hospital yet again and Brian moved into the Dacien home as a newly minted member of the family.  The two boys proved inseparable, right up until Brian realized he was both gay and in love with his foster brother.  Varro, a lover of all things fast, decides to be a professional motorcycle racer even as Brian heads off to college, unable to stand the pain of being near the man he can never have.

But without Brian at his side, Varro becomes reckless and heedless of others words of caution.  Racing around on tough courses at hell bent speeds, Varro is crashing more than he is winning and he is sure it is because Brian is missing from his life.  Brian is still trying to move on but his love for Varro is keeping him firmly moored unable to go forward with someone else.  When Varro finally wakes up to the fact that he loves Brian not as a brother but a lover,  will it be too late for Brian to accept his change of heart?

Heart of the Race is another sweet and sexy story of two men deeply in love , exactly we have come to expect from Mary Calmes.  At 86 pages, it is shorter than most of the stories I have read of hers but the characters, their issues and slow build to a loving relationship all have the Mary Calmes hallmarks that make her stories a comfort read for all her fans, of which I am one.

I loved the manner in which the boys meet.  That  delightful and charming window into their childhoods really set the tone of the story for me.  It was funny, it felt real, and had its moments of heartbreaking clarity with regard to Brian’s neglected life as a foster child.  In fact I enjoyed this section of the story so much that I wanted to see more of Brian and Varro’s childhood and their close friendship growing up.  It was one of my quibbles with this story that I wanted a firmer foundation for their background history because the few glimpses given just wetted my appetite for more. The author does such a wonderful job of setting the framework of the story that it just cries out for a larger book to do it justice.

Brian and Varro fall beautifully into the Mary Calmes pantheon of main characters. A foster child shifting from home to home, Brian’s need for stability and his love for Varro come through perfectly as his driving motivations for his actions.  Varro’s character is in need of  more substantive layering.  My issues with Varro come from the fact that he is portrayed as a man slut, three and four women a night, so his jump to homosexuality is abrupt and not quite believable.   Gay for you stories need a realistic platform in order for the switch to seem authentic and I had problems believing that of Varro.  I think that the shorter length hurt the story in several ways, including making Varro’s walk to the gay side believable.  I wish that we had been given more of Varro’s viewpoint during the year he was racing without Brian so we could see what Brian’s absence had on him and what, if any, changes he made to his sexually voracious lifestyle.

I thought Mary Calmes did a good job with the aspects of life as a motorcycle racer, something I was not familiar with,  it was a perfect profession for Varro but I did miss descriptions of what it must feel like to race a bike on such a course, and how it felt for Brian to be a part of that life for a year.  We get a bit of insight here and there but again, a longer book could have included that aspect of their time together and it would have highlighted the pain each felt while they were apart.

I did enjoy Heart of the Race.  It was fast and sexy, just like the motorcycle races Varro rode in.  If I came away feeling a little less satiated, I think that a longer book and a little more back history would have taken care of that.  If you want a short tale of love and sex in the fast lane, pick this one up and have a great time.

I love that cover by Catt Ford.  Just outstanding in every way.

Book Details:

ebook, 86 pages
Published June 1st 2013 by Dreamspinner Press

It’s Raining and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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Once again it’s raining here in Maryland, formerly known as The Temperate State.  Before today our rain total was 6.11 inches this month.  I think its safe to say we will be adding several more inches to that total just on today’s rainfall alone.  Hard to believe we are looking at July just over the horizon.  My lavender is looking a little soggy and I have lost several herbs to the dampness.  The only ones happy are the hosta and the frogs.

I have some wonderful books on the review schedule this week including a history of the riots at Stonewall Inn by Martin Duberman.  I will be posting that on Friday to mark the 44th anniversary of the Stonewall demonstrations that sparked the gay civil rights movement.  Yesterday I posted several Youtube videos on the topic.  If you have a chance, check them out, especially the one on the Stonewall survivors.  The vid and the people it focused on are just remarkable.  As we wind down gay pride month and look towards the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage, take a moment to remember all those LGBTQ youth in need of shelter and a hand.  Organizations in need of donations can be found here and at the GLBT National Help Center.

Now about this week’s books, there are some terrific stories to be had this week.  All fall within the m/m contemporary fiction range with the exception of Stonewall (non-fiction), but within that category you will find a variety of stories from the whimsically titled When Dachshunds Ruled the Serengeti by Michael Murphy to A Casual Weekend Thing by A.J. Thomas, a police mystery.

Monday, June 24:         Heart of the Race by Mary Calmes

Tuesday, June 25:        A Casual Weekend Thing by A.J. Thomas

Wed., June 26:              Hobbled by John Inman

Thursday, June 27:      When Dachshunds Rule the Serengeti by Michael Murphy

Friday, June 28:           Stonewall by Martin Duberman

Saturday, June 29:       The Curtis Reincarnation by Zathyn Priest

Yesterday, I had the best Cosmo I have ever tasted at Ricciuti’s in Olney.  If you are local, and never had a meal or drink there, remedy that fact right away.  Housed in historic Olney House, Ricciuti’s outsources all its food, fine and beer locally. It believes in using only seasonal and local produce and it shows. It has stone ovens, great staff and now the best Cosmo ever.  It’s raining, a fine day to head over and taste some of the best food our local farms, wineries, and breweries have to offer.  I might even see you there.

Stonewall Inn Recollections

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In five days, it will be the 44th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprisings.  It was the spark that set off the gay revolution to equality, civil stonewall-innrights, and acceptance.  I am going to delay my review of Martin Duberman’s Stonewall until Friday, June 28th, the anniversary date.  Until that time, here are some youtube videos on the importance of Stonewall Inn and recollections from those who were there.

With the Supreme Court about to  vote on marriage equality and more states voting to give equal rights to gay couples who want to marry, remembering the past has never been more important.  And while the public opinion is swelling towards acceptance and equality, there are still those who wish to push the clock back, mired in homophobia and intolerance.  To them, Stonewall is both the wall between today and yesterday as well as a reminder that freedom to be who you are and equality, once experienced, is not something that can or will be repressed.

Before Stonewall (1984 Documentary) by Charley Hullah

Stonewall Profiles of Pride – Stonewall Veterans

After Stonewall (1999 Documentary) by Charley Hullah

Proud (40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots) by theKeith1980

Review: Mighty Casey by Willa Okati

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Rating:  5 stars out of 5

Mighty Casey coverCasey Sprague has a job he adores as a wedding planner and a wonderful committed relationship with a man he loves deeply, Nate Rule. Casey knows the man he loves is a man of many passions, and while Casey may take the top spot in Nate’s life, baseball comes in a very close second.  Casey has never shared Nate’s love of baseball, primarily due to his name and a certain much quoted poem about the Mudville Nine.  Casey has long come to terms with the irony that while Casey may plan others weddings, he will not be planning his own.  Nate has a thing about getting married and Casey has come to accept that won’t be in their future, after all relationships are all about compromise and Nate has accepted Casey’s feelings towards baseball.  Or so Casey thought.

When Casey loses a strip poker bet to Nate, his forfeit is to spend the day watching Nate’s team play a day of tournament games, all in the name of charity.  But Nate has an ulterior motive for getting Casey to the game and as the day wears on and the games continue, surprises await both Nate and Casey, ones that will have lasting impact on them and their relationship.

This is the reason why I love Willa Okati.  She has the ability to write long, angst filled stories of complicated men and their journey to love, slightly dark and full of heartbreak.  And then Okati can write a story like Mighty Casey. I loved Mighty Casey.  I finished it (it’s not long) and turned around and read it again. Why?  Because it’s joyous, it’s fun, and it’s so full of life and the best things about being in a loving committed relationship, that’s why. When I picked it up, I thought cute premise and couldn’t wait to see what Willa Okati did with it.  But oh, what a mighty swing and home run the author accomplished here (yes, expect baseball metaphors to follow).

First off the bat is Okati’s characters.  I loved each and every one, not just the main characters of Casey and Nate, but the rest of the team like Mimi (a star in her own right) and Kenneth, and the various players from the other teams. Casey and Nate’s each are such realistic characters.  They talk and feel like a couple who has been together for years and find themselves even more deeply in love after having made the necessary adjustments and compromises a long term relationship requires.  You can feel the mutual respect and love that flows between them.  Not once was there a missed ball by the author in terms of their personalities and the depth of their commitment.  Obviously, Okati knows a thing or two about relationships and that knowledge underlies every scene and dialog between them.  Just a perfect pitch every time.  And the rest of the team? As I already mentioned, you couldn’t ask for a better line up, especially Mimi.  Oh, she made a place in my heart right from the start.  Sparkly, outsized personality, she is everywhere in the story, running in the outfield, making all the necessary plays that Nate asks from her (and not all of them include the game).  Trust me, this is an all star line up.

Second at bat is the plot.  At first glance, just a normal romcom situation (think minor league) but Okati takes it and elevates it into the owner’s box seats and beyond.  She gives us one day in the life of Casey and Nate, but a very important one.  She starts it off as the alarm goes off and carries us through to the end of the day and the last of the charity tournaments games.  I won’t give away any spoilers but as Casey sits and watches Nate’s team progress through day, winning game after game, we see, through his interaction with Nate, Nate’s team, and the other players from competing teams, just how well these two are matched. We see the joy and contentment they find with each other, the sizzle and desire that bubbles just under the surface, and the manner in which they can still surprise each other after all the years together.  You will find yourself laughing out loud, pleased as can be, as the day and the tournament unfolds before you.  And to fully bring you to the edge of your seat in anticipation, Okati makes sure you (and Casey) know that Nate has something special planned for the end of the day.  I thought I had it figured out, but the author gave me another little surprise here too that I loved.  Great job, great game plan, perfect follow through, and another runner is on the base.

Third at bat? The heat between Casey and Nate.  They love each other and are so familiar with each other’s bodies and sexual desires.  In one funny and hot scene after another, Casey and Nate have little sexy interludes between games that speak of their love, their desire and their knowledge of each other.  It is a great way to demonstrate the authenticity of their relationship and heat up the story at the same time.  Now all these  bases are loaded.

And here comes the home run to bring everyone over home plate and win the game.  That would be the Epilogue.  It’s the final resolution and it finishes off the story with all the glee, all the triumph, and gratification that comes from seeing a perfect game and acknowledging just how special they are.  That is Mighty Casey all together.  A perfect game of a novella.  I cannot recommend this story enough.  Grab it up, along with some Caramel Poppernutter Crunch, and settle in for a pleasure filled day of baseball and love.

Cover Artist: Mina Carter.  It’s a fun cover but the models are far too young for the men in the story. Surely there are older models out there that could fit the bill and make the cover more in tune with the story.  Plus where is the Poppernutter Crunch? Sigh.

Book Details:

Novella, ebook

Published May 28th 2013 by Loose-ID
ISBN139781623003180
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.willaokati.com/