Thursday, March 28, 2013

Her Turn by Tom Tame (REVIEW)

Using the finely honed skills of an accomplished hypnotherapist, Christine employs brain washing and mind control techniques to turn Tom, at least in his own mind, into the person he always wanted to be.

Not since the movie, “The Manchurian Candidate,” has this reader observed such a thorough invasion and implantation of thoughts into the human mind. “Her Turn” is an ingenious, expertly writte, and extremely sexy story about a deal gone out of control . . . or perhaps Tom and Christine got exactly what they wanted after all.

For our two protagonists this begs the question, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears, does it make a sound?” In other words, did this all really happen if post-hypnotic suggestions wipe out all memory of past events, and what does it all mean, anyway? Perhaps we’ll find out in the subsequent chapters promised by this very fine author.


[Reviewed by Samuel]

Friday, March 22, 2013

Princess of the Desert by M.N. Thomas (REVIEW)

While Princess of the Desert is not a perfect book, M.N. Thomas is guaranteed to hold your interest. After reading the author's Stolen Innocence and loving it, I just finished Princess of the Desert, and also enjoyed it very much, although there were some editing difficulties that appeared to be probably caused by scanning errors and a cursory proofreading job afterwards.

The story was ingenious, exciting, and it contained just the transgender element of romance that I had sought. It is also a tale of self-acceptance against all odds and triumph over prejudice. Unfortunately, though, I made the mistake of looking ahead in anticipation of next reading the continuation novel, Tears of the Princess, and noticed that the description of that particular book contained a serious spoiler for the book I was reading, which I was by then about 75% finished. That really upset me and wrecked my entire reading experience. I won't say what it was of course, but I wrote to the author, whose email address appears after the conclusion, suggesting that she might seriously want to consider revising the book description.

In any case, if you read this book, DO NOT LOOK AT THE DESCRIPTION OF "TEARS OF THE PRINCESS" until after you are done. :)

Note, the author has just written to me and plans to correct this. Very gracious.

[Reviewed by Samuel]

Friday, March 15, 2013

Candid Confessions: My Life, My Words and My Journey by Mona M Rios Monroe (REVIEW)

Candid Confessions is an often interesting, fast-moving and extremely raw memoir, written in the language of the streets. Although this book is riddled with grammatical errors, sometimes repeats descriptions of the same events, and could be better edited, I enjoyed it immensely for what it was, a memoir of the violence-filled and drug-addled life of a gender variant individual and her struggles to overcome her inner demons. Although Mona M Rios Monroe has a serious criminal past and can perhaps be considered sociopathic, her upbringing was so dysfunctional that it engenders a certain amount of sympathy, as she is a person whose code of conduct was initially modelled on the stormy, addictive, abusive and often criminal activities of her parents.

As years passed by and with the onset of more advanced life skills honed from working the seamy streets of downtown Los Angeles as a sex worker and polysubstance, drug-seeking addict, she used others while others in turn used her, as she journeyed down to the bottom rungs of our social structure. It would be a grave understatement to say that the writer didn't always make the best decisions. In fact, she made such poor choices and hurt so many innocent and not-so-innocent victims she served extensive time locked away in California county jails and state prisons for her criminal activity. Some of her crimes concerned substance abuse violations while others were of a more violent and horrible nature of the type that make headlines in the tabloids and cause the reader to gasp in disbelief. We know that someone is doing these things and here she is!

In the author's journey, she has long struggled to come to terms with her poor upbringing, co-dependent nature, habitual drug taking, alcoholism and criminal recidivism. She acknowledges that she married the wrong person for all the wrong reasons. However, she does not seem to cop to the fact that she brought an innocent child into the world and subjected her to the same raging life issues she, herself encountered as a child. In search of escape, love and a solution to her incessant and recurrent problems, the author got involved in a religious cult and eventually immersed herself in the porn industry, all to no avail in search of deliverance from her background and the drug and gender demons with which she struggled.

At the conclusion, although the author appears to have finally become involved in a successful relationship and ostensibly is clean and sober, one wonders when the demons will again strike. But where this book really falls short is that the author, though acknowledging some of her mistakes of the past, does not seem deeply repentant for them. I don't experience that she takes full responsibility for the horror she caused others. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that although she talks much about her daughter, she completely leaves out any acknowledgement that the pain and suffering she caused this little girl was clearly horrible child abuse, just as it was in her own upbringing.

By and large the author continuously presents herself as a victim of circumstances who has finally gotten her life into balance, albeit possibly quite precarious and illusory, given that she does not appear to have ever sought or gotten the professional help she needs. Given that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour  we see a new life built on a very flimsy foundation indeed. That said, I wish the author all the best for future success and thought this memoir to be a very entertaining read.

[Reviewed by Samuel]

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Stuck in the Middle with You by Jennifer Finney Boylan (REVIEW)

Nearly 5 years and a pair of young adult fantasy novels later, Jennifer Finney Boylan makes a triumphant return to the subject of gender. Having previously written about her own transition in She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders, and having revisited her childhood home (and memories) in I'm Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted, she takes a step back this time and reflects on her role in nurturing the next generation.

Anybody who has ever given it even a moment’s passing thought knows that it is not easy to step outside the so-called ‘norm’ and embrace a gender identity or expression that lies beyond the traditional gender binary. There’s a world full of fear and prejudice out there, and the sad truth is we all too often have to accept the loss of friends and family in order to find peace and happiness within ourselves.

When there are children involved, however, the situation gets even more complex. Fortunately, Stuck in the Middle with You does a wonderful job of exploring the role that gender (and gender change) plays in parenting, and demonstrates that the health and happiness of one’s self and one’s children can coexist peacefully. That’s not to say it’s all fluff and laughter – there are some deep thoughts and some painful tears involved, but time, love, and caring heal most wounds.

As a second-time parent, going though the infant/toddler stage all over again, I was really struck by her doubts and fears regarding what secrets her boys might be hiding. I do wish we could have heard more from her children, and learned more about their rough edges. Maybe it’s a matter of being blinded by love, or just being protective of her family, but Boylan does paint an almost too-perfect picture of her children. Even the best-behaved children will lash out in establishing their individuality and challenging authority. Glossing over those episodes creates more of a problem than it solves, especially with readers who are coping with adolescent rebellion, and who are looking for comfort that it’s not their fault.

Overall, however, it’s comforting to know that our children can take after us, and can learn from us, without actually becoming us. Like Boylan, nothing could ever make me love my children less, but I would give almost anything for them not to have to face the emotional and psychological pain I dealt with in my own youth.

At first I wasn’t sure what to think of the ‘Time Out’ Conversations that take place between chapters. It felt like she was trying to force the issue a bit, to really drive home the point that this was a story about parenting first, and gender second. Before long, however, I began to see how their placement enhanced the story, adding a new perspective to things. The more we heard from other parents, the more it becomes clear that so many parenting experiences are universal, and not unique to any gender.

What’s more, she doesn’t play it safe or censor the discussions. Alternately touching, amusing, inspiring, and even confrontational, they provide those rough edges that were missing from the stories of Boylan’s own children. Furthermore, she takes the bold step of concluding the book with an interview of her partner and herself, conducted by novelist Anna Quindlen. Jennifer and Deirdre talk about stereotypes and secrets, about Maddy versus Daddy, and even answer a few difficult questions. It is Boylan, of course, who gets in the last word, but not before her partner has a chance to pull all the threads together in a family portrait that’s not much different from any other.

While not as ground-breaking as her first two novels, Stuck in the Middle with You is a welcome addition to the shelves upon shelves of parenting books out there, and one that offers a unique perspective for all genders.

[Reviewed by Sally]

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Stolen Innocence by M.N. Thomas (REVIEW)

Stolen Innocence conjures up some of the darkest fantasies and most primal fears of the human psyche. This is a book destined to become a cult classic in several genres, addressing areas of child abduction, sexual slavery, child pornography, forced feminizing of a minor and the transgender experience. It is a book that quickly becomes mesmerizing and one in which the material and subject matter, while at times extremely disturbing, difficult and uncomfortable to read, is exceptionally well presented.

The story itself is quite unique and the character development so exceptionally realistic, it is difficult to put down and harder to forget. In a way, the novel impacts the reader more by what it omits of the graphic nature of the sexual material, perhaps out of deference to the central character, whom as you can guess is a child. The violence, on the other hand, although not gratuitous, is at times quite vivid.

Some of the characters are clearly sociopathic demonstrating wanton, exploitative and nihilistic behavior that is on a par with the experiments of infamous Nazi scientist, Dr. Josef Mengele. This book is also an ingenious detective story, emphasizing how different branches of the criminal justice and law enforcement systems can put the pieces of the puzzle together and work cooperatively for the greater good.

Through it all, Stolen Innocence emphasizes the strength and survival of the human spirit against all odds and fosters the idea that we, as human beings, are so much more than what we appear on the outside. It is a hopeful novel, offering an often romantic, deeply spiritual and moving story espousing the idea that all of us have a destiny and a purpose to our lives and everything happens for a reason. Lastly, it is a story about loss, but through loss there is discovery or rediscovery of life's purpose and there is redemption of the soul.

[Reviewed by Samuel]

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Return of Ka-Ron the Knight by Donald Allen Kirch (REVIEW)

Making a triumphant return to the world of his Nown World ChroniclesDonald Allen Kirch brings us The Return of Ka-Ron the Knight.

In many ways, this third volume brings the entire tale full-circle, both in terms of narrative and world history. After a relatively straight (no pun intended) forward entry, in which genders remained fixed, even if they were sometimes disguised, Kirch makes Jatel victim of the same gender-bending curse as the man to whom he was once squire, and then husband, and now wife. It's interesting to see how he adapts to things, especially having been forewarned by Ka-Ron/Karen's experience, but I won't spoil the surprise.

At the same time, Count Voslow makes a rather surprising return, revealing the truth about his origins, his vampiric nature, and his role in world events. I really wasn't expecting to see him again after the middle volume, but I should have known a good vampire never rests for long. The way in which the world has evolved however, and the way the new settlements surrounding his castle have developed, both add some interesting depth to his role in the story.

Of course, once cannot talk about Count Voslow without mentioning the Nown. Mysterious figures from history, who have attained the status of legend, it turns out that Voslow is the only man left alive to remember who they are, where they came from, and where they left. Their return adds a significant science-fiction element to the saga, bringing the concept of alien invasion to a fantasy world. With no weapons of mass destruction, heavy duty armour, or any of the other scientific developments that usually see humanity triumphant in contemporary tales, Kirch's world is at a serious disadvantage.

Or, they would be, were it not for magic!

Just as much fun as the first two volumes, with a little more of the first book's erotic elements, but a serious increase in the level of excitement, The Return of Ka-Ron the Knight brings the story of Ka-Ron, Jatel, Keeth, and all the rest to a satisfying close.

[Reviewed by Sally]

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Gigs From Hell by Melanie Tushmore (GUEST POST)

We've all been there. The gig from hell. Maybe you've only been attending: your car broke down or public transport failed. You forgot your ticket, you couldn't find the venue, some twat spilt beer all over you, ruined your hair, and you can't even see the stage.

Now take all that, times it by a hundred, and imagine you're the band playing.

Now take it all, times it by a thousand, and imagine you're in charge of this catastrophe.

Yep, you're in hell. Being a promoter and a manager was easily the most stressful time of my life, not least because I had van-loads of grown men complaining or panicking about things I had no power over, but also because my income would be decided on how many people could be bothered to turn up for a show.

Sometimes, not many at all. Yep, the music biz can suck. I think the gig we turned up for where literally no one else was there was one of the worst. The gig had been cancelled, except no one bothered to tell us. The only fan who turned up was a really cute Finnish groupie, and at least she enjoyed herself.

The venue was run by this weird little guy we ended up calling 'the rock hobbit', whose politic opinions were just plain scary, and whose chat-up lines were even worse.


Rock Hobbit: Want to come upstairs and play video games?
Finnish groupie: Er...
Rock Hobbit: Go on. I'll let you win.
(The rest of us try not to laugh.)

The other gig that sticks out in my mind as the most comical, was that gig at The Underworld. The promoter must have closed his eyes and gone 'eeny meeny miny mo' when picking the bands, because it was a right old mish mash. We turned up; my then-boyfriend's band was a three piece of fast and loud punk rock. The other bands were a new wave band, a ska band (complete with full brass section), and the headliners were a cyber-pop goth outfit.

It was utterly ridiculous, and yet the show was pretty packed.

The cyber-goths were four men who were easily pushing forty, chubby around the edges, and shoe-horned into tight PVC. It wasn't a pretty sight. These guys spent nearly an hour sound-checking, and yet they weren't even playing their instruments; they played to a backing track. It was comical.

The pièce de résistance was their groupie / go-go dancer.

At the time, my band consisted of Chris, Sparky, and the bassist we called Zoolander (because he really was that much of an idiot). I was out in the venue with Zoolander's girlfriend. The boys had gone backstage only minutes before, and then all suddenly came hurrying back out, looking shocked.

"There's a girl getting naked backstage," Sparky announced.

Surprised, I asked, "And you're not there because...?"

Chris explained, "Because she has a face like a squashed potato, and I thought I was going to catch a venereal disease just from being in the same room as her."

Chris was always colourful with his language, so I assumed he'd been exaggerating. Lo and behold, when this girl came onstage with the goth band, I could see what he meant. She was a bit skanky, yes, and she did rather resemble a pale, dumpy potato. (Her head was mostly shaved, which probably didn't help matters.) She gyrated around as they mimed their songs, and then she got her floppy tits out and wibbled them around, much to the audience's shock.

It was one of the rare times the boys didn't want to see a pair of boobs.

Combined with the band's bizarre songs about 'date-rape lovers', suicide bombers (their political message) and cyber sluts, it was comedy of epic proportions. We hid at the back of the venue with the ska band, and tried not to piss ourselves laughing.

Apparently the goth singer was a pro-wrestler in his spare time. He told the boys so. (Why they believed him, I don't know.)

Another colourful jaunt we had was at one of the many Purple Turtle gigs we did in Camden. It was around 2005, and the lads kept getting lumped into this neo-glam genre which was doing the rounds, even though their band was punkier and more aggressive. The bikers loved them, the posers in leopard print did not.

At one of these neo-glam-fests, the lads abandoned backstage because they said the other bands were being annoying. Even Sparky'd had enough. Apparently, conversation between 'musicians' that night went like this:

"I prefer leopard print tights, but the zebra print ones are thinner so I don't get as hot onstage," said the knob-end guitarist, while other men stared at him in horror.

So the lads stayed out in the venue with us, while we watched some singer wiggle his leopard-clad arse onstage, and a pitful of bikers look on in distaste. Then local legend and entertainer, Captain Howdy, gets up to do some flesh hanging installation. Sparky, who was barely twenty at the time, couldn't stand to watch, and had to brave the backstage again.

Between flesh hanging and discussions on tights, the tights won, hands down.

I can't remember if it was that same gig, or another one, where the girly wet t-shirt competition was cancelled because health and safety said 'no'. So instead, Captain Howdy gets up again, and lets band members throw darts at his bare back. He held a poster tube over his spine to protect the vital parts.

Why this went on at a rock show, I don't know. I was squirming whilst watching from the balcony. Luckily for him, most people were drunk and couldn't aim that well. I believe we braved the British weather outside, and hung out with the older, hairier bands who weren't talking about tights, but were talking about Twisted Sister.

(See, everyone loves Twisted Sister!)

Speaking of British weather, outside venues are even worse. The last tour I sent the boys on in Scotland, I telephoned them to find they were stuck in a water-logged field somewhere, unable to move. (My poor van!) Once the rain had stopped enough, the lads had to move their heavy equipment to the band site. Across fields, fences, and car parks. They said it was "like an episode of The Krypton Factor."

[Krypton Factor: UK game show where contestants face gruelling physical ordeals.]

Well, that'll teach 'em to play electrical instruments, won't it. They even had Gaz with them, who can usually lift one bass cab with his little finger, but in that environment, he kept sinking into the mud.

I'm still not sure if Gaz has forgiven me for sending him on that tour. The Zoolander bassist couldn't go (but no one liked him anyway), so I took matters into my own hands and hired Gaz instead. He learned the set in two days, and went on the road on day three.

One day, Gaz and I are going to write down his memoirs. For now, the stories in Crucifox are my homage to this era. [Chuckle.]

Crucifox #1: The Green-Eyed Monster is now available from Storm Moon Press for just $7.99 (ebook)! Go get your copy for some true rockstar fiction!

Sky Somers is an ex-traveller; the son of a folk musician and a new age hippy. Sky's form of rebellion is electric guitars, and he wants his own band. His desire is to set the world to rights through music. Brandon Cruikshank is new to London, recently arrived from Glasgow. Charismatic, charming; a natural born performer. Brandon is openly bisexual, with a penchant for dressing in women's clothes. His desire is to be adored.

From the moment Sky meets Brandon, he knows he has to have him. Brandon, in turn, wants Sky. But that's when it becomes clear they both have very different desires in mind. Brandon wants Sky as a lover, yet Sky only wants Brandon as a singer in his band. Misunderstanding set aside—or apparently so—Brandon and Sky become firm friends. To escape equally troubled pasts and families, they change their names. Now, Brandon Fox and Sky St. Clair are ready to take over the world.

As the years roll on, Brandon's desire for Sky still simmers, waiting. Then a chance night sharing a hotel room sparks the desire between them, and this time, Brandon wants it all. Sky has never explored his desires before. Now, the passion and jealousy Brandon has unleashed in him threatens to shake the whole band apart.

Author links

Twitter: @melanietushmore

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Boulevard Girls by David Kaye (REVIEW)

Boulevard Girls is an absolutely riveting murder mystery within the transgender genre. This well-written novel, which kept me on the edge of my seat, is filled with all the exciting elements I enjoy, including powerful and sardonic humour and violence, reminiscent of a dark Quentin Tarantino tale.

In a methamphetamine fuelled world, a trans* girl of questionable moral persuasion meets a young man who is struggling with his own gender identity issues, and his place in the world. Together, they forge a strong, loving, and very sexual bond. When he inherits millions, their relationship continues to grow, but their lives are impacted and expanded by the introduction of a number of strange and interesting characters.

Along the way, David Kaye provides a scathing look into the practices, corruption and cynicism of the legal and criminal justice systems. This is a coming of age story about transitions, not only of the gender variety, but about the growth and individuation of the central characters. With many ingenious twists and turns along the way, "Boulevard Girls" races to an exciting, nail biting and inexorable conclusion.

[Reviewed by Samuel]