Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Monkfest in Chang Mai

On the first day we came to Chang Mai we visited our favorite temple, Wat Pra Singh. It was clear at the time they were preparing for something big. There was much building going on – one sculpture three stories tall and several sitting areas for hundreds of chairs.

Slowly the building took shape, and each day we revisited, more monks seem to be milling about. The place was clearly gearing up for something. Then, after weeks of preparation, what Herman and I are calling a Monk-fest began, complete with live music, lots of ceremonies, plenty of praying, and a nightly session where an aged monk climbed on to a dais, and droned on in Thai, while several hundred monks and spectators prayed.

After two days, of witnessing these events, an English-speaking monk informed us that the
aged monk speaking nightly was the President of all monks in Thailand, and monks from all over Asia had traveled here to hear his lectures on the Dharma. As it turned out, this festival was a five-day advanced training session for monks which also included the cremation of another venerable monk (we have no idea who).

Indeed, I have never seen so many monks gathered in one place in all my travels. Unfortunately, we were not able to understand any of his teaching because we only speak a few words of Thai. It was, however, fascinating simply to sit in the background and watch the various ceremonies and listen to the chanting. On the last night, the three story structure they had build was burned to the ground, accompanied by fireworks and loud music. It turned out that it was the venerable monk’s funeral pyre.

You can view all the pictures of this on http://hermanandalan.blogspot.com

Happy New Year to All.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Book Review: The 38 Million Dollar Smile, a Donald Strachey Mystery by Richard Stevenson

When the heir to a steel fortune vanishes in Thailand with 38 million dollars, private eye Donald Strachey and his lover, Tim, are hired to find the missing person. At first the job seems like a dream come true – more like a much-needed vacation in an exotic location rather than a job – but trying to piece together a puzzle while dealing with an unfamiliar culture and an alarmingly corrupt criminal justice system proves to be both costly and dangerous. Donald is forced to rely on the help of Bangkok private eye, Rufus Pugh, who guides Strachey through the maze of sights, politics, religion, customs, and pleasures unique to Thailand.
They do, of course, eventually find the missing heir, but find themselves neck deep in a totally different and much more dangerous situation. Strachey has to use all his considerable wit to figure a way to keep himself, his lover, and his client out of harms way.

This is the first Donald Starchey mystery that I have read, and even though I am not a fan of mystery novels, I came to this book with high expectations, having heard much praise of previous Richard Stevenson books. I must say that I walked away from this story with mixed feelings.

One the positive side, the story is fast paced and interesting. It has enough twists and turns to keep one guessing, which makes it a page-turner. Also, it’s clear the author did his homework on Thai culture, and gives accurate details of Thai customs and of Bangkok street-life. I’ve lived almost two years in Thailand, and I enjoyed the author’s descriptions of Bangkok and Thai society. And surprisingly, the main characters in this story have emotional arches (they grow from their experiences), which is all too often missing in mystery novels that I’ve read.

On the not so positive side, the plot twists were fun, but too far-fetched to be believable, ending in a situation that for this reader was unsatisfying. There was a huge buildup, and then I felt it fizzled, as if the author was in a hurry to wrap things up, or worse, not sure of how to end it. Also, I felt that there were several key plot elements that were blatantly obvious, telling where the story was heading. I wanted to be surprised at then end, but that didn’t happen.

Still, it was an enjoyable read, even for a reader who seldom likes mysteries. Stevenson fans will no doubt enjoy the trademark plot intricacies, unique characters and lush descriptions of Thai culture. Indeed, I can recommend this book without hesitation.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I'm blogging at Speak Its Name today.

Hi everyone,

Season's greetings. I'm blogging about the inspiration for my new novel, The Lonely War, today at Speak Its Name. Please jump on over and find out about where the story came from and enjoy a short excerpt.

Also, leave a comment and you'll be entered in a drawing for a free ebook of The Lonely War. You can enjoy the blog entry at: http://speakitsname.com/2009/12/22/1711/

BTW: there is a confusing typo in the second paragraph. It says, " I wanted to make a statement about dad." and it should say, "I wanted to make a statement about dadt." Although my father is one of the characters, the story doesn't make any kind of statement about him. : )

Holiday blessings to all,
alan chin

Friday, December 18, 2009

Short Story Review: This Christmas by J.M. Snyder

Ned Matthews is all alone this Christmas. All the other students, save one, have gone home for the holidays. But Ned’s parents are vacationing on a Caribbean cruise to escape the snow and sleet. The only other man left on campus is Bobby Cratchett, the boy Ned had a crush on all during high school, and who is even sexier now that they’re both in college.

Ned doesn’t mind missing Christmas with his parents, but the knife twisting in his gut is that his recent breakup with Jake, his now ex-boyfriend, has left him with nobody – no lover, no friends, no prospects, and no desire to get tied down with another loser. Hurt and bitter, Ned retreats into his hard, thick, protective shell and refuses to let anyone near, not even if they are sexy as hell and the only other man on campus.

Alone and feeling sorry for himself, Ned falls into a troubled sleep where he has a dream of Christmas past, reliving life with Jake-the-flake. He barely has time to shake off those memories before he has another dream of Christmas present, where he envisions how it could be with Bobby Cratchett.

Moments after waking he has Jake on the phone begging for a second chance, and Bobby at the door inviting him to come to his apartment for the night. What to do? How will Ned’s Christmas future unfold?

This is a smart, funny, sexy, poignant short story that often touches brilliance. It packs so much story and emotion into a meager thirty pages that I was left admiring the author’s exceptional skill.

This story is a gifted study in how to introduce a not-too-likable protagonist, and by the end of the story have the reader totally engaged and pulling for him. The characters and emotions are real. Anyone who has ever suffered a broken heart will identify with this main character. Indeed it sparked memories of bitterness long buried in me. I was touched.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read. It has a marvelous voice that is lean on description and fast paced. The author expertly nails the voice of a college-aged student.

I highly recommend this read. In fact, This Christmas is one of eight stories featured in J. M. Snyder’s So In Love, an anthology of contemporary stories celebrating gay love in its many forms. My only complaint about reading This Christmas is that I didn’t get to read the other seven stories in So In Love. But I can assure you, I will purchase the anthology and read them all. Bravo!!

Learn more about This Christmas at http://www.jmsnyder.net

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Starting To Feel Human Again

Two day ago I began feeling stomach cramps shortly after enjoying a spicy lunch at one of my favorite cheap restaurants here in Chang Mai, Thailand. Normally I have no issues dealing with Thai food, even the burn-your-lips-off spicy stuff. But those cramps grew worse through the afternoon, followed by a headache and other unsavory symptoms. By night time I lay in a cold sweat and couldn’t sleep.

You guessed it, food poisoning. Pepto didn’t help, gallons of water didn’t flush it away. Normally poisoning only lasts 24 hours but this little bugger was tenacious, and hung on an extra day.

I was able to sleep through the night and am now feeling human again. I forget who said: “If you’ve got good health, you’re a wealthy man. Everything else is gravy!” But one dose of food poisoning is all it takes to make me a believer.

While I was laid up in bed, my husband found the time to update our travel blog with pictures from our latest adventure in Southern China. If you are at all interested in village life in China, these pictures are a must-see. You can view them at: http://hermanandalan.blogspot.com

So I will be out and about Chang Mai today, taking it slow. Perhaps I’ll walk to the park and read. I’m currently reading Drew Banks’s Able Was I. It’s not what I’d call gripping but it’s well written and keeps me turning pages. I’ll post a review soon.

I’m wishing good health to everyone this holiday season.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Book Review: Marengo by Carey Parrish

Reviewed by Alan Chin

Rob Brent and Jeff Schrader, two gay American journalist living in the UK for a year, take a flat at Mrs. Rose Mary Shugart’s townhouse in a posh section of London. They congratulate themselves on their fantastic luck at finding something inexpensive in such a wonderful neighborhood. Of course, they have no idea what delights and dilemmas await them.

There are five flats in the townhouse, including Mrs. Shugart’s, and each one houses someone a bit off-kilter. They are quirky and funny and lovable, and perhaps a little dangerous. There is Mrs. Shugart herself, a grandmotherly snoop with a tidy pension but rents flats for the social interaction with interesting people. There is Mr. Humbolt, the elderly queen who sells diamonds for Warwickes, and is more of a busybody than Mrs. Shugart. There is Rob and Jeff, two men who seem like a gay couple but never do anything in public to confirm everyone’s suspicions. On the top floor resides Miss Bullivant, a middle-aged woman who is attractive for her age but slightly desperate for romance. Across the hall from her is another new tenant, Richard Lawrence, a rather handsome man who keeps to himself and goes out of his way to keep his business private. Mr. Lawrence, is not all what he seems; he hides a secret that could prove perilous to everyone at Mrs. Shugart’s townhouse.

The charm of the characters at Mrs. Shugart’s townhouse pulled me in and kept me turning pages. This story has a delightful tone, but it is agonizingly slow to heat up. For half of the book it seems to wander aimlessly along without regard to plot or purpose. What I didn’t realize was the author was laying a foundation that would pay off in the latter half of the book. When one of the tenants suddenly dies, the story takes a sharp turn and things begin to simmer. And even though I could tell where the plot was headed, I was kept interested to see how it played out. I hoped for a surprise at the end, and was not disappointed.

This was an excellent story by author Carey Parrish. Still, I came away with three minor complaints. One is I felt that the author, particularly in the beginning, over-wrote the descriptions. I wanted the pace to be faster, and felt like taking a red pen to his wordy prose to speed things along (it’s an issue I sometimes find with my own writing.)
The second issue was that the author head-hops, that is, the point of view shifts from person to person in mid-paragraph. Although I never had any problem following who’s pov I was reading from, it occasionally felt awkward.
The last issue happened in the last thirty pages, when the author spent twenty pages recapping everything I had already figured out for myself. It was simply twenty unneeded pages when I was anxious to read the ending – much like a speed-bump when I’m in a hurry.

Those minor issues aside, I very much enjoyed this read, and have no reservations about recommending it to all reading audiences. Bravo!

To read more about Marengo press here.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New Movie Every Romantic Must See

I took Herman to the movies last night, something we rarely do because there are so few good movies made these days. We knew nothing about this movie other than the title: New York - I Love You. We were in the mood for entertainment, and it was the only non-Thai movie playing at the local theater here in Chang Mai.

The movie turned out to be a dozen or more love vignettes, all taking place in New York, all quirky with strong characters, and all had an enjoyable twist at the end. Each vignette was written by a different writer and directed by a different director.

IT WAS FABULOUS! A great cast, strong characters, interesting situations, and the twist at the end of each short was wonderfully brilliant. Most were clever, some were touching, some made me examine my own life. This is a movie I will buy and have in my collection so that I can watch it often. I thought the writing was brilliant, the acting superb, the stories totally engaging.

There were two movies this year that I loved. One was New York - I Love You. The other was Julie&Julia.

If you're the romantic type, or just want to take your special friend to a date movie, don't miss this, and don't wait for the DVD.

my $0.02

Friday, December 11, 2009

Book Review: Strange Fortune by Josh Lanyon

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Publisher: Blind Eye Books
ISBN 978-1-935560-00-5

Valentine Strange is delighted to accept a job from the Holy Order to find and retrieve an antique diadem of the Goddess Purya from somewhere in the distant White Mountains. Although the mountains are filled with bandits and scoundrels, this soldier of fortune has little fear of anything short of not being paid for his services. But when the Holy Order insists that Master Aleister Grimshaw, a witch with a history of insanity, join the expedition, Strange realizes there is more at stake than the retrieval of a relic.

As the small band begins their search, Strange and Grimshaw forge a tenuous friendship. But they are followed, step by step, not only by bandits, but by a demonic power more powerful than anyone could imagine. When the stakes are raised well beyond the danger level and they are betrayed at every turn, they are forced to rely on each other for survival. Finding the diadem could spell doom for Strange and Grimshaw, or could it be their only hope of survival?

Strange Fortune is a rollicking good read – interesting characters, fast paced, rich descriptions, and action that kept me turning pages. It’s a fun read. Adventurous and romantic. Lanyon has created a wonderful world of magic and spirits and spells and romance. It is a winner.

I stumbled over a few issues that I felt kept this marvelous story from being a great one. A minor annoyance was it held a dozen more misspellings and missing words than I’m used to seeing. The book could certainly use a more careful copyeditor.

A more troublesome issue was the story’s time setting. Although the author clearly created a unique setting, the physical setting seems to be taken from early twentieth century India, yet the customs and beliefs of the characters seems to indicate ancient times, when Holy Orders ruled, witches were common and people worshiped demons. For me, it seemed to disconnect. One minute they were worshiping idols, the next Grimshaw was checking the time on his wrist-watch or firing his rife. And the language the characters often used – such as “the bottom line is” – is really quite modern. I just kept getting the impression, that if the author had paid closer attention to keep the language and the physical setting in ancient times (bows and arrows instead of rifles) this would have been a great read, rather than a very good read.

Still, my few minor issues aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this story and highly recommend it to everyone.

For more information about Strange Fortune press here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Island Song made V. Banis's all-time tops list.

Yesterday I was thrilled to find that Victor Banis, an author I respect and admire, included Island Song on his all-time top 7 favorite gay romances. I was listed beside Mary Renault, Annie Proulx, Ruth Sims, E.H. Kahn, Somerset Maugham, and, of course, Victor himself.

Here's what he had to say about Island Song:

This is such a beautiful book. Yes, the author has a few mis-steps in this, his debut novel. Yes, it goes on a few pages longer than it should. Doesn’t matter. If you’ve got any trace of romance in you, you have to swoon over this tale of love and loss and redemption. It is a love story, but so far outside the boundaries of what that label suggests as to render that designation pointless. And, yes, some of the love is shared by men, but some of it too is the love between friends, and family, and love of nature and the mystical, even the love of a dog for his human partner.

The prose is magical and can turn from light to dark in a single heartbeat: “Scanning the clear water, he sees only the massive shadowy shapes of whales circling the boat…He spots Songoree above him, swimming beside a seven ton monster, performing an acrobatic dance that captivates him. With outstretched limbs and his long hair billowing outward from his head, Songoree moves through shafts of purple light filtering down from above. Awed, Garrett slowly ascends while enjoying the performance. Songoree is truly a creature of the sea. He seems as delicate as a seahorse and as graceful as a manta ray…Garrett’s lungs begin to burn, and he is still fifteen feet from the surface. Now he feels it…In a flash, the universe transforms. It comes straight up from the dark water below at horrifying speed. An immense shadow slides just below him…”

Alan has set his story in Hawaii, but in essence he is writing of the island within the heart of each of us, and it is there, like our wounded protagonists in his moving story, where one finds healing and peace. This is its song, and it’s a lovely one indeed.

That's high praise indeed, and I'm very grateful to Victor.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Book Review: Safe As Houses by Alex Jeffers

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Publisher: Lethe Press.

Allen Pasztory was raised by Hungarian immigrant parents who were both deaf. Even though he hears, he was brought up talking with his hands and facial expressions. He meets Jeremy while working at an advertizing agency in San Francisco. The two begin a rocky relationship until Allen finds out Jeremy is raising a son, Toby. The idea of being a family, of raising a child, is all that’s needed for Allen to commit to a long-term relationship. The three of them setup house in San Francisco and all seems to move along without a care, except that it’s the 80s and many of their friends are dying of AIDS.

Out of the blue, Allen takes a new job as an admissions officer at a prep school in Rhode Island, and it’s clear the move is because death is inching too close for comfort in the gay Mecca. Yes, Allen is HIV positive, and the move is him distancing himself from the dying.

While making a new life for himself and his small family (by this time Toby is a teenager), Allen’s nephew, Kit, comes to live with them as well. Together, as a loving family, they deal with Allen’s failing health in a touching and dignified way.

This is a story of family and love – the consuming love that grows from a family on the outskirts struggling with a vital disability – told from two different family’s viewpoints, Allen’s parents and Allen’s new family. It is a tapestry woven in vibrant detail with beautiful language.

I often felt that the children were the glue that held Allen and Jeremy together because so often Allen seemed to show more affection for Toby and eventually Kit. Allen’s relationship with each of the characters, including his parents, was sensitive and touching. It becomes a clear example that “alternative families” can be every bit as nurturing and loving as “traditional families”, even though they have different issues to contend with. Safe as Houses is a triumph in the gay parenting cause, and indeed, living with any disability.

What struck me most was that this family was able to create such a loving, cohesive unit in a world that refused to acknowledge their right to exist – somewhat reminiscent of an exquisite lily growing out of a muddy bog.

Safe as Houses is a book not to be rushed through. It must be read at one’s leisure, to wallow in the pleasure of glimpsing into this loving family. But read it one should, a delicate story that is superbly written.

Safe as House combined with his other novel, I Remember Tulum, has made Alex Jeffers one of my favorite authors, and I can’t wait to read more from this extraordinary talent.

For more information press here.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Recent Letters from Readers

I recently received some feedback from fans, and I wanted to share. This first one was from Susie, who had requested a free story from my website. I sent her a story about a character named Simple. Here's what she said:

Wow. Just Wow. Simple is an amazing character. What you wrote was beautiful and moving and made me think. I love that in a book. I am going to purchase both of your books next week when I get my paycheck. I can hardly wait.
Thank you so very much for the story.

Another fan, Tish, read my newly released novel, The Lonely War, and wrote to tell me:

This book sounds like it should be read as a paperback not an ebook. I have a terrible time with books about Changi.
 A) I was born in Singapore, my father was Royal Navy and mum is of Indian decent from Malaya (KL). 
B) My mum lived through WW2 with the Japanese invasion of Malaya and still speaks of that time with great clarity. Both her father and grandfather were tortured (several times) by the Japanese at Changi for helping the British and Australian soldiers. My great grand father was tortured to death. My grandfather watched his father die yet he never held a grudge. Believing in forgiveness instead.

This book has made it to number 3 on my all time best m/m list. It was so well written and so engrossing I forgot that I was sitting bundled up on the sofa with cold icy winter rain falling, but I was back in Singapore listening to my nanny tell me of the time the Japanese came to her island. Andrew’s (this is his story) cadence throughout this whole experience set a tone and pace that never faltered. Even though the subject matter in some instances was beyond imaginable, Andrew kept the soul of himself in perfect balance. He was well written and so were the supporting characters, so much so I wanted to know what happens to them all. 
Mr. Chin did a bang up job of taking a horrible, heartbreaking time and weaving a believable love story into it. For me the love story isn’t about the men but about life. And I love bittersweet love stories about life.

Hope you enjoy these. I received both on the same day and was thrilled. I love when readers take the time to contact me to let me know their impressions of my work.

Thank you Susie and Tish.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Book Review: A Report From Winter a memoir by Wayne Courtois

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Lethe Press

In the dead of winter, after a ten-year absence, Wayne Courtois journeys back to his family home in Maine to attend to his dying mother. He is soon assaulted by three facts: the bitter cold winters in Maine are much more brutal than he remembered, his mother’s cancer is much further along than he anticipated, and his emotionally distant brother will be of no help in caring for their mother or attending to funeral arrangements.
Too weak to move, eat or speak, Wayne’s mother can only moan. The morphine drip is her sole comfort. Wayne can only hold her hand while reliving childhood memories of a dysfunctional family life that seems woven into the harsh realities of the bitter cold weather. Sinking into emotional turmoil, Wayne calls on Ralph, his longtime partner, to help him through this distressing ordeal.

Wayne Courtois has created one of the most touching, brave, and beautiful books I’ve read in a very long time. It is unpretentiously funny, grippingly sad, and wisely perceptive. I was so often reminded of the emotions that I felt while dealing with my father’s cancer and eventual death that I went through emotional turmoil myself. But what I walked away with was a beautiful portrait of the caring relationship between Wayne and his lover, Ralph. That, in my estimation, is what this story is about, a relationship that is caring and nurturing, that’s long on love and seems to glow in an uncaring world.

The writing is vivid and lyrical. Wayne Courtois is a new and, already, a commanding voice on the literary stage. He explores difficult subjects with grace and dignity. I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed this read. I would recommend this book to everyone – gay or straight, young or old – because, for me, it is universally about caring relationships, and the beauty and many solaces they provide.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Jessewave.com Is Having A Drawing To Win A Copy of My New Novel

Wave, over at www.jessewave.com, was gracious to post an interview with your's truly, and also a wonderfully insightful review of my new release, The Lonely War. It is the first review of my new novel and I was sweating bullets.

While you're there reading the review, be sure and leave a comment, which will automatically enter you in a contest to win a free e-copy of The Lonely War.

You can read both at:

Thanks, alan

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Fat-burning time in Chang Mai

Herman and I just spent the last couple of weeks with some of his family, along with a group of Chin relatives from the Bay Area, visiting Herman's father's village in Southern China. Herman's parents made the trip along with his oldest brother and both his sisters. We were guests of honor at a grand celebration in the village for the dedication of a new building which we helped pay to have built. The celebration was full of fanfare and color with lion dancers, fireworks, and a 15 course meal for over a thousand people (yes, we paid for that too). I've never eaten so much or so well. It was a fabulous time.
We're recovering in Thailand, just arriving in Chiang Mai today, and will be here through the holidays. Then we've rented a house on the southern tip of Phuket for five weeks. We'll spend three weeks in Vietnam, then to Hong Kong for a few days before returning home in mid March.

One bad side about our time in China: because we traveled with several older relatives who couldn't walk far, we were bused everywhere and spent most of our time stuffing ourselves with rich banquet food. I gained ten pounds. I was already fifteen pounds heavier than I like to be, and for the first time in my life I'm feeling really fat. So I'm now eating lean with no red meat, and I'm walking several miles per day. The weight is coming off, very slowly, but it is a painful process. Dieting is for the birds, but so is carrying all that extra weight.

I'm trying to look at it as an interesting challenge, but it's hard to get past the body aches and headaches. My fault for abusing my stomach.