QUILTBAG...all genres

MY TRIP DOWN THE PINK CARPET
LESLIE JORDAN
Gallery Books (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$12.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3.9* of five

The Publisher Says: A hilarious romp from small-town USA to the pink carpet of Hollywood with the beloved Emmy-winning actor, playwright, and gay icon

Leslie Jordan is a small man with a giant propensity for scene stealing. Best known for his bravura recurring role as Karen's nemesis, Beverley Leslie, on Will & Grace (for which he won a Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy in 2006), he has also made memorable appearances on Ally McBeal, Boston Public, Monk, and Murphy Brown.

Raised in a conservative family in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Leslie—who describes himself as "the gayest man I know"—boarded a Greyhound bus bound for LA with $1,200 sewn into his underpants and never looked back. His pocket-sized physique and inescapable talent for high camp paved the way to a lucrative and varied career in commercials and on television. Along the way he immersed himself in writing for the stage, and his one-man testimonials have become cult off-Broadway hits. But with success came dangerous temptations: a self-proclaimed former substance abuser and sexaholic, Leslie has spent time in jail and struggled to overcome his addictions and self-loathing.

My Trip Down the Pink Carpet is a rollicking, fast-paced collection of stories, served up with wit, panache, and plenty of biting asides. Filled with comically overwrought childhood agonies, offbeat observations, and revealing celebrity encounters -- from Boy George to George Clooney -- it delivers a fresh, laugh-out-loud take on Hollywood, fame, addiction, gay culture, and learning to love oneself.

My Review: Beats there heart so dead to love and laughter that it hasn't rejoiced to the sight of Will & Grace's Beverley Leslie and Karen Walker having a bitch-fight? I know mine does even yet. Leslie Jordan is my hero for that role, and for the fearless and wonderful job he does as Brother Boy, the Tammy Wynette-tribute drag queen in Sordid Lives: The Series, whose tragic seemingly permanent hiatus causes me great spiritual pain.

He is also my hero anew for this line: "I write to keep the conduit open so the light can shine through me." Now, keep in mind: This is a 4'11" fey-as-hell Southern Babdiss of a Certain Age, renowned for hilariously being gay as a May morning, mildly famous for writing HILARIOUS one-Leslie shows and delivering them with verve and gusto, talking about being a conduit for universal love.

This is the moment for you to reel back in startled, impressed respect. Men like Leslie Jordan used to kill themselves before they would have a chance to get famous and write a book. And very tragically, the boys these men once were are still killing themselves thanks to the hate-filled "teachings" of the predominant religious strain in their world.

Yet here he is, folks, all of him such as it is, a morsel of protoplasm that's jumping up and down and hollering loud as he can: "It's all about love, it's only about love, can't we agree to see, it's all LOVE!"

Yes sir, Mr. Jordan, you are correct. That is all that it is about, whatever "it" is the subject of conversation. Thank you for saying it, clearly and forcefully, with examples of what hate and fear have done to you personally before this blindingly simple truth smacked into you.

So why should you read this book? For that message? Hell no! Read it because *this* little queen has ogled the packages of Luke Perry, Dean Cain, Billy Bob Thornton, on and on! In Person!! And he tells of his adventures in Hollywood, surprisingly, without cattiness or prurience. His sense of comedic timing is flawless, flawless, flawless, and he knows when to leave an anecdote instead of letting it drag on into anecdotage.

Why, then, have I given it a chary 3.9 stars? Because it's not perfect, as what can be; but its narrative flaw is that it's scattershot. It's not quite focused enough to be a real autobiography, and it's not as gauzily self-exculpatory or brutally self-excoriative as a memoir needs to be in this marketplace.

It's a reflective essay, a pulling-together of his life's strings and strands, with little obvious attempt to match the colors up. Flawed or no, it's colorful and fun and, if you care to see it, quite uplifting.

It's a Victoria's Secret bra of a book.

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LIESMITH
ALIS FRANKLIN

Self-published (non-affiliate Amazon link)
99¢ Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3* of five

The Publisher Says: At the intersection of the magical and the mundane, Alis Franklin’s thrilling debut novel reimagines mythology for a modern world—where gods and mortals walk side by side.

Working in low-level IT support for a company that’s the toast of the tech world, Sigmund Sussman finds himself content, if not particularly inspired. As compensation for telling people to restart their computer a few times a day, Sigmund earns enough disposable income to gorge on comics and has plenty of free time to devote to his gaming group.

Then in walks the new guy with the unpronounceable last name who immediately becomes IT’s most popular team member. Lain Laufeyjarson is charming and good-looking, with a story for any occasion; shy, awkward Sigmund is none of those things, which is why he finds it odd when Lain flirts with him. But Lain seems cool, even if he’s a little different—though Sigmund never suspects just how different he could be. After all, who would expect a Norse god to be doing server reboots?

As Sigmund gets to know his mysterious new boyfriend, fate—in the form of an ancient force known as the Wyrd—begins to reveal the threads that weave their lives together. Sigmund doesn’t have the first clue where this adventure will take him, but as Lain says, only fools mess with the Wyrd. Why? Because the Wyrd messes back.

My Burgoine Review: I'm on record as a fan of the Kiwi fantasy/sitcom hybrid The Almighty Johnsons, a treat when I discovered it and a loss when the Netflix folk gave up the rights...it's back now on IMDb TV, follow the link. I've also warbled in the past about the delights of Thorne Smith's absurd gods-walk-among-us books (eg, The Night Life of the Gods), written in the waning days of Prohibition and suited to that time's slightly hallucinatory entertainments. (Watch any of the Broadway Melody flicks...no one can tell me peyote was unknown to these men!)

I was hoping that, given those tastes and the specific aiming of Cupid's Dart at a mortal man's heart for a specific Asgardian, I'd be over the moon about this read. I was quite pleased instead. As a purchase will set one back 99¢, I think you're good to go if you want a pleasant diversion that doesn't quite know if it wants to be doom-y or dream-y. I chuckled, but I doubt I'll seek the next one out.

Some Very Funny Lines
“Wait. Stephen Fry is gay?”
“Ohmigod, how are you alive?”
“I thought he was just British!”
–and–
“Everything is true, especially the lies. That’s the trick.”


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THE EDWIN DROOD MURDERS
CHRISTOPHER LORD
(The Dickens Junction Mysteries #2)
Harrison Thurman Books
$3.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: The Droodists have arrived in Dickens Junction. Local bookstore owner Simon Alastair has his hands full in his role as co-chair for the latest convention honoring Charles Dickens's uncompleted novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. A movie star, a pesky blogger, dueling scholars, a stage hypnotist, and an old family friend (among others) all have claims on Simon's time. In addition, some Droodists are clearly more-or less-than they appear, including a mysterious young man by the improbable name of Edwin Drood. When a priceless ring and a rare Dickensian artifact go missing, Simon and his reporter-partner Zach Benjamin learn that someone will do anything-including murder-to obtain an object of desire. The Edwin Drood Murders is the new entry in the Dickens Junction mystery series that began with The Christmas Carol Murders, a book that New York Times thriller writer Chelsea Cain called "a love letter to both Dickens and to the small town amateur detectives who've kept the peace in hamlets from River Heights to Cabot Cove."

My Review: As in all series books, there's an element of "been there, done that" to this volume. It's simultaneously the point and the bane of a series' life and longevity. Look at Camilleri, Salvo Montalbano goin' strong by adhering to the formula; look also at Miss Silver, Hercule Poirot, Kinsey Millhone...it can be done! It should be done! It was done a bit better in book one!

That said, it's a very very difficult proposition for the author. S/he must deliver the expected points and actions, come up with high-stakes ways to get the sleuth into the story, and still have novelty to spare in the details. I rated this book a bit lower than the last one because there were elements of the tale that seemed to get away from Mr. Lord. A full and groaning smorgasbord of details and interrelationships, each jot and tittle important enough to introduce by not quite enough to stay "in play," mars this good and even exciting tale. The accustomed errors of a self-published novel are all here, too...one more book with these self-same errors in it and I'll have to reconsider the time commitment I'm willing to make to Simon and Zach's life together. (If he publishes book 3, of course...no sign of it in almost ten years since this one appeared!)

And that would be a shame.

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A CITY COMES OUT: How Celebrities Made Palm Springs a Gay and Lesbian Paradise
COL. DAVID WALLACE

Barricade Books (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$8.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 2.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Today, Palm Springs' gay-owned businesses are flourishing, and even the Palm Springs Art Museum cashes in by hosting gay fundraising events. Quite a change from the 1960s, when a local pastor was run out of town when it was discovered that he was gay. But one thing is still missing from Palm Springs—a history of the city's transformation from a winter family resort town into a year-round, world-famous gay destination.

My Review: Oh my dear sweet goddesses. ANOTHER gossipy tell-not-so-much entry in the evergreen (apparently) "Was THAT ONE queer, too?" celebrity book genre.

I don't really care that much who is/was/will be disporting him/erself in what fashion, or with whom. I don't like the idea of invading someone's privacy, unless they've asked me to (eg, porn, magazine interview). So why did I procure this little marvy? Because it was a buck.

It's not poorly written, for the genre. It's not awful, it's not wonderful, it's just...dreary. Some of the celebrities Wallace profiles need defining for audiences younger than Wallace, so he does...which ends up making me feel older than dirt. (I mean, Tab Hunter? Janet Gaynor? Y'all've never heard of THEM?!)

What I hoped for when I got the book was a spiced-up treatment of Palm Springs's social changes and what they mean to QUILTBAGgers of all ages. What I got was a dulled-down version of a smutty tell-all. Recommend it? To whom? And why?

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I MARRIED AN EARTHLING
ALVIN ORLOFF

Manic D Press (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$13.95 paperback, available now

Rating: 2* of five

The Publisher Says: In this rollicking send-up of traditional science fiction, Earth Studies professor Norvex 7 from the planet Zeeron decides to increase his university status by visiting Earth. Part Jacqueline Susann romantasy, part cheesy Lost in Space episode, this gay comedy will delight any fan of pop culture literature.

My Review: I took a few hours to read I Married An Earthling by Alvin Orloff. Don't make my mistake. I would have snorted derisively at you had you told me, prior to my consumption of this book, that it was possible to plod giddily, or to careen enervatingly.

It is, but it's not a pretty sight.

Gay Goth teen boy with a few extra pounds meets, entrances, and marries fabulous, muscular space alien. Not entirely unpromising as a premise. Execution is ghastly. "Veeba 22" and "Norvex 7" are the aliens, from Zeeron, the galactic hotbed of pansexual fabulousness. Chester (!) is a frumpy teen boy whose younger brother is a child TV star and whose parents are my worst nightmare: Unrealized stereotypes, ooof. I mean, use the stereotype if you must, but use it! Don't simply expect the reader to fill in the gaps! Jeeez!

I don't want to relive the stupid plot, so if you don't heed my warning and decide to read this claptrap, you'll have to look it up. But really, truly...don't.

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THE GRYPHON KING'S CONSORT
JENN BURKE
(Golden Kingdom #1)
99¢ on Kindle (non-affiliate Amazon link)

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Love takes flight.

The sudden death of the Gryphon King throws the kingdom of Mythos into uncertainty, and Crown Prince Luca rushes both his coronation and an arranged marriage to a man he’s never met. Eirian is young and idealistic, and while they both want what’s best for their people, their philosophies couldn’t be more different. While Luca believes in honoring tradition, Eirian is determined to infuse modern values into their kingdom of magical creatures. When given the choice between loyalty to his husband and his own crusade, Eirian makes a decision that might doom their marriage.

Still, Luca is committed to making their union work, and that means forgiving his brash consort. But when Eirian becomes the target of a deadly conspiracy, Luca must act fast—or forever lose the chance to explore their burgeoning love.

My Review: Many things are good, a few confusing, but on balance it's a win.

Author Burke, of the Chaos Station SF series, has a lot of leeway with me. I put aside concerns because I trust her judgment. I was let down in one area, so her batting average is around .850. The issue not adequately addressed by the end of the story was the state of bond brothers, their function and meaning in this Urban Fantasy landscape, which doesn't seem to be all that important...a kind of extra-special bestie?...until it is. It becomes hugely important at a fairly early moment but doesn't get adequate explication. Without spoiling the story, I can say I needed more information about how, why, where this institution arose and how it is practiced.

Overall, though, the relationship aspects of this new Mythos ethos are tantalizingly sketched in and made very high stakes early. I will read v2 with eagerness. The sex scenes are not going to keep you awake at night. They're more relationship scenes not passionate fuck sessions. It suits this story and probably this series. Emotions are to the fore, so there's little crude bodily description happening. This again suited my reading needs at the moment, so I wasn't missing detailed anatomical dealings. Be aware, though, that they aren't prevalent in case your need varies from mine!

Enjoyable and involving and very positive. Perfectly suited my COVID-19 mood, and I suspect it will many others' as well.

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A VIKING FOR YULE
JAMIE FESSENDEN

Self published (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$2.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: AFTER SAM'S GRANDFATHER nearly died in a blizzard one year ago, Sam has panic attacks in snow storms. So where does his friend Jackie propose they spend the holidays, as the last stop on their trip around the world?

Iceland. Of course.

But there's more in Iceland than snow. When Arnar, a handsome Icelandic man, offers to escort Sam on a several-day tour of the beautiful countryside, they soon find themselves drawn to each other. But Arnar is firmly rooted in his native soil, and Sam has to return to the US in a week to care for his ailing grandfather.

Suddenly, Yule can’t last nearly long enough.

NOTE: Though this novel includes characters from A Cop for Christmas, it is a standalone adventure. It isn’t necessary to read A Cop for Christmas first.

My Review: So sweet little (he's like 5'4") punkin Sam, a bit player in Author Fessenden's prior book A Cop for Christmas, gets his own love story! Jackie, the series (loose, but still counts) non-resident Auntie Mame, whisks Sam away on a world tour after some terrifying stuff happens to him (revealing what is a spoiler for the first book). True to Auntie-form, she hurls him at any number of eligible gay men in the various countries they visit. His timidity and inexperience with the world's many ways of being are, by the time the pair wash up on Iceland's shores for Yuletide, worn into a certain facility if not comfort with the strangeness he's now expecting and encountering.

But there at the international airport is Arnar. Long blond hair, studly muscles, surly attitude...even towards his "Aunt Jackie," whom he's known most of his life. And, if Sam's sharpening gaydar is any guide, a Friend of Dorothy's. Lovely! In every sense. Well, except the whole surly part.

Arnar, for his own part, is mourning the end of his relationship with Stefan (never met but despised by all Arnar's friends). He's hurting but he's a man, so he Notices Sam, being utterly charmed by his ears (of all things)...just not ready to let go of his sadz over the jerk Stefan.

The usual hijinks ensue, as they must in category romances. The Icelandic countryside and December weather play huge roles in the action. The elements are a big part of Arnar and Sam's falling in love with each other. The adventure that, as is ordinary for men, serves to bond them to each other, is largely dependent on weather. It is December in Iceland, after all. And the trope of hero-faces-down-fears is very much present.

But here we come to the crux of my problem with this lovely little bagatelle: By the numbers-ness. I don't believe for a second that, in this book's first draft, these men were the ages they're presented as being, ie thirtyish. They act like early-to-middle twentysomethings. They have packs of friends, just like early-to-middle twenties folk do; they have sullen fits, which frankly know no age but are usually less prevalent in the thirtyish bracket. They Have Adventures, not planning to do things that'll put them at risk like one does in the earlier twenties; they make HUGE life decisions on a whim, and that my dears is a dead give-away that they're nowhere near thirty. Sam has his sole remaining family member, ill and frail Grampy, to care for and about. He has also gone on an around-the-world trip for pretty much a year, at Jackie's behest and on her dime. I don't know about y'all, but that would make me wonder about the sanity of a thirtyish man; not a hair turned in a, say, twenty-five-year-old's case.

And the ending. Hm. While we need the de rigueur HEA, this one strikes me as...forced. It'd be a great last scene in a film. There's an epilogue that contextualizes it, but that's just it...it needs context.

Still! I can't say I read these books for their monumental and earth-shattering insights into character or innovations with the style-book. I read them for fun, and because I can tick off the trope boxes, I don't need to work at comprehending what I'm reading. This is a huge help to me while I'm in the process of getting this miserable apnea problem handled.

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LAKE ON THE MOUNTAIN
JEFFREY ROUND
(Dan Sharp #1)
Dundurn (non-affiliate Amazon link; Canadian publisher's site won't allow one to purchase this title)
$8.99 ebook editions, available now

Rating: 3.9* of five

The Publisher Says: Dan Sharp, a gay father and missing persons investigator, accepts an invitation to a wedding on a yacht in Ontario's Prince Edward County. It seems just the thing to bring Dan closer to his noncommittal partner, Bill, a respected medical professional with a penchant for sleazy after-hours clubs, cheap drugs, and rough sex. But the event doesn't go exactly as planned.

When a member of the wedding party is swept overboard, a case of mistaken identity leads to confusion as the wrong person is reported missing. The hunt for a possible killer leads Dan deeper into the troubled waters and private lives of a family of rich WASPs and their secret world of privilege.

No sooner is that case resolved when a second one ends up on Dan's desk. Dan is hired by an anonymous source to investigate the disappearance 20 years earlier of the groom's father. The only clues are a missing bicycle and six horses mysteriously poisoned.

My Review: Well, that's fine so far as it goes. The "mistaken identity" is more like a con game's perp being discovered in a lie; the secret world of privilege part is heavily focused on the heteronormative christian right wing's assertion that it alone defines right and wrong.

So it's about perfectly cut out to suit my prejudices!

Round writes a deeply damaged and badly wounded noir hero in Dan Sharp, and gives him a drinking problem, a miserable proletarian past, and a penchant for dating screwed-up straight rich boys. Dan's not pretty. His appeal to the pretty men he lusts after is in his anger, his endowment, and his complete willingness to cut and run when he damned well feels like it. Means it will all be over and no lingering emotional ties need be fretted over.

Take out "proletarian" and it's me. So again, score one for Round in the designed-to-appeal-to-me sweepstakes.

The actual murder mystery bit comes with two adjunct plots, one missing person case that Dan is going to solve or die in the trying, and one complex self-realization plot:

Dan put the receiver down and stared at the wall. The room had shrunk over the last few minutes. He tried to ignore the nameless sorrow under his skin, the gnawing doubts that mocked his hope that life could be a fine thing or that happiness was possible. An acid loneliness came pouring in—the same loneliness that enticed him to drink and told him he had no friends except the one on the table in front of him.

Well, yeah.

The resolution of the missing person case, when it happens, makes Dan go on a hard journey into his bitterness about the past. His family life was, um, rough and turbulent. His missing person was under the same sort of spell that Dan was himself, and then *click* a light goes on that illuminates for Dan the murder's shape which had eluded him (and the police) until now:

Grief. It was a powerful word beginning with a soft utterance and ending in a feather's caress. There's no way to say it without beginning and ending in a sibilant whisper. Intake of breath or out, it's still the same—like a verbal palindrome. {The victim} had felt its pull, soft and seductive enough to make him sacrifice himself. He'd given in to its drowning embrace, giving up what he wanted most—his freedom—for what he couldn't live without: his boys. In doing so, he'd lost both. There wasn't a prayer or lamentation or elegy in the world that could convey, in words or music, the tragedy that this had brought about. There was nothing that could revoke or undo the senseless horror of what had happened to him....

Losing his sons was a threat the victim couldn't endure. Dan, being a deeply loving dad despite his screwed up self, figures out the identity of the culprit, the reason for the crime, and the whole point of his own involvement in the missing person case from the blinding flash of insight that grief is at the heart of all the troubles in all these cases.

This is the way I like my noir. Dark, bitter, and with a chaser of sadder-but-wiser. I'll read the next book, and that's sayin' something for an overbooked and underlifed biblioholic.

So why not a full four stars? Because the novel, while first in a series, is far from Round's first book. There are pacing and bloat issues. About fifty pages of the book could go and no one would suffer, while the story would gain. Some scenes...notably the resolution of the first death...were rushed and not fully interwoven into the narrative, while others, notably the set-up of Dan's crappy relationship with a man destined to shuffle out of his life in short order, were longer than dramatically necessary to introduce the character flaws in Dan that we need to know about. So a small bit knocked off there, and a bit more for the curiously unnecessary and stunted relationship between Dan's son and the son's best friend, which felt completely grafted on and was unnecessary given how it ended in the book.

But I go back to this fact: I will read the next one. I'm looking forward to it, as a matter of fact.

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AMUSE BOUCHE
ANTHONY BIDULKA
(Russell Quant #1)
Insomniac Press (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$7.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: A gay wedding gone bad. A missing groom. An unsullied reputation at risk. Enter Russell Quant—cute, gay, and a rookie private detective. With a nose for good wine and bad lies, Quant is off to France on his first big case. From the smudgy streets of Paris, he cajoles and sleuths his way to the pastel-colored promenade of Sanary-sur-Mer.

Back in Saskatoon, Quant comes face-to-face with a client who may be the bad guy, a quarry who turns up in the most unexpected place, and a cast of colourful suspects: the vile sister, the best friend, the colleague, the ex-lover, the lawyer, the priest, the snoopy neighbour—are they involved? Or is someone else lurking in the shadows?

As he works through his case, Quant juggles his detective gig with the responsibilities of a personal life full of captivating personalities. Taking a cue from the style and humor of Robert B. Parker, and evoking Armistead Maupin with his wit and warmth, Anthony Bidulka's Amuse Bouche is a rich, saucy, and engaging read.

My Review: Harold Chevell, an A-list Saskatoonian gay man, has decided to marry his lover Tom in a private ceremony at their beautiful McMansion near the South Saskatchewan River. Trouble is, Tom's disappeared, and no one who knows the couple can resist speculating as to why. Enter gay ex-Saskatoon cop Russell Quant, whose late uncle left him a legacy that has enabled him to start his own PI business.

Harold's instructions to Russell are specific and vague: Find Tom. Find out what happened. Go wherever you need to go. Money doesn't matter, Tom does. And Russell, being no one's fool, takes the job, the money, and the next flight out of small-prairie-city Saskatoon to the fleshpots of Paris!

Russell chases lead after lead, goes to the many and various places that Harold and Tom were to have gone on their honeymoon, and in the end, solves the mystery, though no one can claim to be happy about that.

Well well well! What have we here? A sexy-but-doesn't-know-it PI who is a) gay and 2) financially stable plus c) a dog-lover?! Sign me up! I'll be getting married just as soon as I can figure out how to liberate him from being fictional.

This is a first novel, and there are things that show that fact up. I don't think any of them, like small plot points that don't add up, or characters developed but not used much, are fatal to the pleasure of reading the book. The small Canadian prairie city of Saskatoon was, until this book hit my eyes, merely a snicker-inducing name on a map. Thanks to Bidulka's very amusing Irish-Ukrainian Russell, I now want to book a trip there (in the fall, winter sounds too cold and I hate summer no matter where I am) to view the fleshpots of Saskatchewan's second city. (There's a sentence I'd've bet you money I'd never have cause to write.)

What's next? A series of mysteries set in Skookumchuk, British Columbia? I hope not...I need *some* hilarious names to giggle at, and that's one of my all-time favorites.

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THE DREYFUS AFFAIR: A Love Story 
PETER LEFCOURT 
$2.99 Kindle edition, available now 

Rating: 3* of five 

The Publisher Says: Consider the possibilities: In the middle of a pennant race, a team’s shortstop falls in love with his second baseman. Which is exactly what happens to Randy Dreyfus, the best-hitting, best-fielding, best-looking, and most happily married young shortstop in the major leagues. The Dreyfus Affair combines romance, comedy social satire, and some of the finest baseball writing in years. The result is a rollicking, provocative odyssey through on unforgettable World Series championship. 

I BORROWED THIS BOOK FROM MY LOCAL LIBRARY. SUPPORT YOUR LIBRARIES, FOLKS! 

My Review: The eponymous Dreyfus, baseball star Randy, is an All-American Guy with a wife and two daughters. We meet him with that family as he opens a strip mall named for him near his suburban California home. Randy is a man with a problem, however: He's coming to know, at age 28, that he is really a gay man living a straight man's dream life. He's fallen in love with D.J. Pickett, second baseman to his pitcher (the joke here will become obvious in the review), despite the existence of a perfect wife, blonde and beautiful and hot for him. Not only is D.J. a man, he's a BLACK man! The scandal, the shock, the general all-around kerfuffle that ensues when the two men are caught in a clearly sexual situation! But true to Mr. Lefcourt's Hollywood writing pedigree, there is A Happy Ending. No, not *that* kind of happy ending, get your mind out of the gutter! This isn't a romance novel, it's A Love Story. Even the subtitle says so. 

I'd love to live in the America of the ending of this book. In fact, what with some more adventurous sports stars like Ben Cohen starting to come out as against bullying and homophobia as cultural forces, it might *be* this world soon. Why, he's even started a foundation to combat these pernicious, ancient evils! Good on him, and his wife, and his two kids! But he was released from his international rugby-playing job after he started talking about these matters, despite being the MVP for his team. Plus he's over 30, which in rugby as in football means headin' for the barn. Still, bravo for doing it. Now, the reaction to this in the rugby-playing world has been muted because of his superstar status, but I note a singular quietude among teams in his former league. 

Pro sports is not gonna welcome or acknowledge gay players if they're not even gonna let a gay-FRIENDLY guy work to change his childrens' world while working for them. So I find the Hollywood ending of the book, with the two men walking onto the field together to play a World Series game, poignantly amusing if improbable to the point of alternate-Universe-ness. 

But the trip to get there is, well, amusing and improbable: the soon-to-be-ex-wife is all sympathy and understanding, a thing no woman of my acquaintance is when she's being left for someone else, and I mean *not*one*of*them* who've had it happen, the two daughters not being shown to be bullied mercilessly for having a fag-daddy (ha!), and the Salty Old Sports Columnist coming out (oops) in their favor...! Oh the glories of Lefcourt's imagination! Let this world come into being, and soon, if you please o kind and beneficent God! (Another improbable-to-the-point-of-humor concept.) 

And then there are the odd choices, like making D.J. a black man who's the bottom and Randy a white top who plays *pitcher*! Top and bottom (pitcher and catcher, get it?), for the straight, are the sexual positions of the parties. They are also the source of stress and tension in the gay mating market, because logically two men having sex can't BOTH do the same thing at the same time, and a great big stigma attaches to the bottom (I hope I don't need to explain the source of these names...that would be too depressing...although Randy, our hero with the porn name {srsly, RANDY?!}, is specifically revealed to be clueless about how to satisfy his lust for D.J. until a specific moment in his 28 years of life!), as it does to the effiminate man. In other words, homophobia among the homos is alive and well. And Lefcourt chose an ethnic minority for his secondary character that has historically been completely, utterly, and often violently unsupportive of gay life. I have to wonder why he did that. Oh, but never fear: We're not given any actual sex to wince over, straight people. It's all implied. Honest and truly. 

And baseball is, I mourn to report, an ever-more-marginal sport. In Murrika today, the uber-violent and pointless and boring football (which involves feet only tangentially, so far as I can see) is the dominant sport. Why pick on poor, fading baseball? Although the venality, the coarseness, and the criminality of the management are played against that sport's backdrop, I feel very sure that the same behaviors, attitudes, and law-breakings would happen in any of the professional sports. They're handling a LOT of money here. No way in hell does that not attraacy, if not breed, criminality. It simply can't help but do so. 

So why'd I read it? And why would I recommend it? Because it's upbeat and it's nicely plotted and it's got its moments of trenchant commentary. Everybody needs a fairy tale every now and then. In baseball season, let this be yours.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

FELIX AND THE PRINCE (Forever Wilde #2)
LUCY LENNOX
Self-published (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$4.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Felix

Things I expect to find at Gadleigh Castle:
- Rare stained glass, the subject of my dissertation.
- Peace and quiet, to finish said dissertation.
- An escape from the paparazzi swarming around my starlet mother’s latest blockbuster release.

Things I don’t expect to find:
- A hidden door leading to a secret room.
- The most gorgeous man I’ve ever set eyes on.
- Love.

Lio

Things I know are expected of me in life:
- One day soon I will become the King of Liorland.
- I will marry a nice woman who will become queen.
- I will provide heirs to my family’s monarchy.

Reasons that might be difficult
- I’m gay.
- I’m falling in love with Felix Wilde.
- He has no idea I’m royal.

While it can definitely be read on its own, Felix and the Prince is the second novel in the new Forever Wilde series about the huge Wilde family from Hobie, Texas, whose patriarchs aren’t above a little meddling if that’s what it takes to help their grandkids find true love. Beware: nekkid man parts touch. Let's just say, Felix gets royally screwed in the very best way.

My Review: I read this on its own, and without any background on the characters; it was just fine read that way. It was, at some point, a Kindle freebie and I snagged it.

I'm always unhappy with muddled geography. Is Liorland (!) contiguous to, coextensive with, or just a renamed Monaco? The royals are Grimaldis, the actual family name of the Monegasque princes. And, at one point, Lio(r) whose given names don't include Lior as it is the customary regnal name is flying back from an island in the North Sea (not a lot of islands in the North Sea) which is somehow or another part of his family's holdings, heading for the Netherlands but also the borders of Northern Liorland are between the Netherlands and Denmark...? Heaven knows Europe in the 14th century, when the Genoese adventurers called Grimaldi were crankin' up the conquest machine, was chaotic and a political marriage with a Danish princess might have been made...but what? Huh?

That's nothing, however, compared to the spiritual torment, the angst, inflicted on me by 13 (thirteen) separate and distinct uses of the goddamned awful lazy dumb-sounding w-bomb.

The good parts of the book include the delights of Felix Wilde's grandfathers, a gay couple resident in small-town North Texas. Now, there are gay folks all over Texas, as I have personal reason to know; and there are *out* gay folks in many a small town everywhere. But the family of Wildes and their appropriately spottily presented history make for such wonderful reading, such hopeful reading in this time of division and despair.

Also delightful is Felix's chosen career in glass art and history. I loved Gadleigh Island's geological anomaly (to exist in the North Sea, it'd have to be the tallest mountain in Doggerland, and that geology would help explain its sands being freaky), and the hidden history of Gadleigh's Great Glassmaker. In fact, I'd've stinted a bit on Hen's drama and seen/heard more about Felix's presentation at the Louvre Conference and its repercussions. But no matter what, Author Lennox made Felix's love of art come alive for me.

The love affair between two skittish men, with much the same issue of being press-shy, is also the best use of the hoary old "I've got a secret" trope. No one doubts that a royal person is going to be pretty darned cagey about their identity in hooking up; no one doubts that a Hollywood star's kids are hip to the use of the stalking horse gambit to get fresh dirt on the famous parent. And put the two together? Two, two, two secrets in one! Well done, Author Lennox.

I'm not a grumbler about insta-love, which this pretty much is, because in this instance it's very clearly baked into the pie. These men are on a remote island, fleeing highly pressurized circumstances, during a major holiday. Vacation love affairs don't get better tinder (!) than this. What's less likely is discovering your fling is Mr. Right instead of Mr. Right Now. However, the reasons each falls in love with the other are clear, and spelled out, and make sense within the framework of the island-escape-"I've got a secret"-major pressure in life plot trifecta. Their uberhawtness is an artifact of the romance genre. Why fantasize about schlubs? Likely you are one, and got one; fantasy is about escaping reality. Jiggling Big Daddy's belly while you're, erm, involved in carnality is plenty fun, but why deny yourself a little variety in reading about washboard abs and round, bouncy sitzfleisch, too? Just like the rest of consumer entertainment, it's all about what isn't (but could be). Used in moderation, sauces like this spice up the meatloaf of reality in the most delightful way.

So, over all, I'm pleased that I took this Kindle freebie whenever it was free, and will strongly consider reading more in the series. Author Lennox did a creditable job of using the tropes of this genre in frameworks that made them a great deal more than merely palatable.

That is high praise coming from a grouchy old reader like me.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


WHEN YOU WERE PIXELS (Syntax, #0.1)
JULIO-ALEXI GENAO
Romance Group
Free downloadable short story

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Author Says: An assassin has come to Tower Oh-Seven-Two, and no one can keep him from his target.

Only minutes from escape, he suffers a violent seizure, collapsing in a service corridor.

A lonely surveillance operator becomes the only person in the building to see him fall. Antho is no murderer, but in watching the killer stumble he recognizes something that links the two of them together.

When he rescues the assassin in secret, he finds the monster on his screen is only a young man, cursed with the effects of a trauma as outsized as his deadly skill—and somehow linked to the stirring of a terrifying power. Unable to walk away, Antho makes a choice that could cost them both their lives.

He takes the assassin home.

My Review: TERRIBLE! Just AWFUL! I hated it, hated it, hated it!

Because it's not long enough. Because I want to know more about Antho, about the Undertown, about the world of Syntax. Because this lovely evocation of the power of longing, the majesty of giving yourself to longing and need, made me want to immerse myself more deeply in its bittersweet satiny-smooth sweetness.

Because it's a goddamned PDF, I can't quote the passage on p22, about the smell of fabric and warm skin, that made me gasp. But trust me, I'm a tough room, and Genao sold me, made me completely buy in to the dreaming desperation of longing and the titanic power of need.

This is a gay male Fifty First Dates set in the Bladerunner dystopia and made as powerfully sexy as it's possible for a story to be. There is a sex scene, but it's very sensual and it's very sweet...a lovemaking scene, really, not a sex scene in the oof-grunt-thrust sense. How lovely it is.

This one's a keeper, ma.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


MURDER AT THE RESORT
NATHAN GRANT
Kindle Original (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$2.25, 68pp, available now

Rating: Two IRRITATED stars of five

The (Self-)Publisher Says: Jake Grayson and Chris Barrington were together for over two decades when suddenly Chris found himself alone as Jake had fallen for a younger man, ending their long term relationship. Two years later the financial and emotional dust had finally settled when Loretta Bryce, Chris's young aunt and best friend proposes a business venture; a run-down resort just north of Sedona Arizona.

Loretta and Chris viewed many properties together, with Chris returning from the Bay Area when the perfect deal was finalized. While briefly at the resort he met Loretta's other business partner and dear friend dark and brooding Cal Hudson; the unstoppable attraction was instant and soon the sexual sparks began to fly between Chris and the muscular sexy man. Just before Chris left to say goodbye to his life in Northern California, Cal stole a tender kiss and the stage was set for Cal to steal his heart.

Months later when Chris returned to start the new chapter in his life north of Sedona, he learned his former partner Jake was due to arrive soon along with his young lover Kim Shore.

Over the past several months Jake had badgered Chris with emails and references to their past relationship much to Chris's dismay, and now hinted at the possibility of an unwanted reconciliation, at least on Chris's part.

Not wishing to have a scene but not willing to reconcile with Jake, Chris has a confrontation with Kim and storms out of the resort's bar going for a walk to cool off. Still too upset to join the others he visits his newly renovated home to view the changes and instead finds a vicious murder; soon realizing he may be next.

My Review: This is a decent first draft of a charming romantic mystery. An editor and a copyeditor badly, nay desperately, need to work it over. But the reason I give it two stars, a mingy total, is simple: PUNCTUATION. CAPITALIZATION. They have rules. Learn and follow them. Slavishly.

And what a pity it is to write that. There is a really, really sweet and yet still exciting story in here. The writing can definitely use assistance, but the basics are there, and the storytelling eye simply needs a bit of direction.

I fear the day when the art and craft of editing have died.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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