Book Review: Michael’s Secrets by Milton Stern

I was recently invited to do a review for STARBooks Press, a gay erotica publisher that I contribute short stories to. I had the pleasure of reading Michael’s Secrets by Milton Stern. Though not a novel of erotica, there are a few erotic scenes. However, the novel tells the story of…oh, let me just give you the blurb and then my review to follow.

Blurb:
Just when things are looking up for Hollywood television and screen writer, Michael Bern, his TV show is cancelled, his best friend dies face first into her birthday cake, and his dog decides to take an eternal nap in her favorite chair. To escape the unending drama of Tinsel Town, he accepts an offer to move to Washington, DC, and co-write a screenplay with his friend, Sharon. But, anyone who knows Michael knows that drama just follows him everywhere, and it is usually of his own making.

He meets and falls in love with Steve, a narcissistic “leather queen in a sash,” as his friend Mark calls him. The sex is hot, but it is followed by the emotional game of push-pull. Just when Michael extricates himself from this relationship, he finds out the darkest secret from his childhood, and emotionally raw, he allows himself to be pulled back into Steve’s world only to fall harder than ever. But, there is someone else – Sam, a nice Jewish actor, who would be perfect for Michael, yet it’s the oldest story in the book. He liked a man he never loved and loved a man he never liked.

At least Rona and Doreen, the surviving girls from his mother’s Tuesday night Mah Jongg game, are there to add much needed humor to Michael’s oh-so-dramatic life in DC. Now living together, Rona and Doreen reveal secrets from Michael’s past that explain his attraction to men who use him then discard him.

If it all sounds dreary and depressing, it isn’t because MILTON STERN’s wit and style entertain us once more as he finds humor in everything, and in MICHAEL’S SECRETS, he does not fail to deliver.

My review:

Michael’s Secrets by Milton Stern is a beautifully written story with well-drawn, vivid characters. The protagonist, Michael Bern, is a delightfully sympathetic character. I enjoyed journeying with him into his world of romantic heartaches and self-discovery, always facing whatever darkness his life presented with humor and the desire to retain his personal integrity and goodness no matter how much he’s been mistreated. The fact that Michael also stands firm and faces deep pains from his childhood and teenage years at the hands of his truly awful mother and her husbands only adds to his likeability.

The supporting cast of characters, too, is wonderfully drawn, especially of course, the elderly Jewish women who’d cared for Michael since he was born. Their humor was so hysterical I was laughing out loud and there is one line in particular that is one of the funniest lines I’ve ever read in a book. (You’ll have to read it to find out which one I mean.) And even though these characters and others are introduced in Stern’s other novel, On Tuesdays They Played Mah Jong, Stern does such a good job of constructing this story and the emotional situations, that Michael’s Secrets can be read completely stand alone. Although, the humor is so engaging, you’ll probably want to read the first one as well if you already haven’t.

That said, I really only had one complaint about the book. The ending was, I felt, disappointing. I reflected for a long time on exactly what was bothering me about an otherwise funny, sweet and engaging story and came to understand it was this: A story like this needs to end on a note that uplifts the reader, that makes him or her feel a certain hope about the possibilities of the human heart and spirit. The body of the novel does just this. However, in spite of the fact that Michael does grow and learn and change to some degree througout the course of the story, the very last scene felt like a watered down conclusion to everything Michael had endured in his life, the romantic heartbreaks, the abuse, the betrayals as well as the joys, love and humor (all rich and touching to say the least). Not that an ending has to be happily ever after in order to be fulfilling. I don’t mean this. I just felt that Stern fell short of bringing the depth of Michael’s rich experience into the very end. He seemed to draw a fatalistic conclusion about relationship that said, “oh well,” instead of showing that he was going to continue forth in his life, drawing on the wellspring of self-love he’d gained during the course of the story. I felt let down in this regard. If the rest of the book hadn’t been so wonderful, I’d just say, “oh well,” myself and chalk it down to the fact that it was a poorly written book. But Stern is clearly a talented writer with a sensitive approach to life. I just felt that with a little tweaking at the end, this work could have touched upon that depth.

In spite of this, I would recommend Michael’s Secrets to anyone who enjoys a read filled with humor and the journey of a person who cares about people and who wants a better life for himself and those he loves.

This book is intended for adult audiences.

245 Pages (Print)

ISBN-10: 1-934187-46-1
ISBN-13: 978-1-934187-46-3

Purchase Michael’s Secrets at STARBooks Press!

I did it!

Even though I still feel like crap with a cold that is hanging on and dogging me, I managed to have a couple of spurts of creative energy that enabled me to finish writing Barely Covered. Whew! Now I’m exhausted! But I just sent it off to my editor.

Now I can relax a bit and finish the wonderful murder mystery I’m reading, A Case of Two Cities, an Inspector Chen novel by Qiu Xiaolong. I’ve read almost all of the books in the series so far and have enjoyed them so much even though I read them very much out of order. It doesn’t matter though, because the characters are so alive to me after getting to know them that even when it’s out of order, my mind can fill in the blanks.

What’s my next project? I hope finally after about two years, to tackle Fantasy Thief. It’s one I’ve been stuck on, probably because I’ve gotten distracted by the White Tigers series I’ve loved working on so much. Now that the series is basically finished (there are a couple of other tales to write but they can wait for the moment), I can focus some attention on Fantasy Thief which I HOPE to send to Harlequin Blaze. Wish me luck!!

Blue…

I don’t have much to say today. I’ve had a cold since last week and even though it’s not been one of those horrible nasty colds where I feel like utter crap for weeks, I’m tired enough not to have the energy to work.

I’m so close to finishing Barely Covered but the two scenes I have left to write require a certain kind of energy I just don’t have. I COULD sit and edit if I needed to, something that’s already been written and doesn’t require the same kind of creative force. I’m waiting on edits for Men of Tokyo: Sudden Heat but I haven’t received them yet. The law of averages, or Murphy’s Law (one of those) would dictate that while I’m sitting around with not much to do, the edits won’t come in. As soon as I’m better and have a million things to do, the edits will be in my inbox. I speak from experience.

However, in spite of that, I must admit that things have a way of working out. While waiting for these edits, I’ve hit upon some important character developement that would not have been added had I gone through edits sooner. It’s just that I have too much time to worry about it. Feeling under the weather combined with the horrible drugs that are put in cough syrup are affecting my thinking process and making me feel depressed in a way that I usually don’t. I should probably heed my boyfriend’s advice and just stick to the hot water, lemon and honey. It works almost as well without the disturbing side effects.

Well, I guess I had more to say than I thought I did.

Oy! So many different opinions!

I’ve had a couple of reviews of Danny’s Dragon so far, and am happy that the book is generally being well received. However, today I laughed out loud while reading a review, not because of the review itself but because of the absolutely opposite opinions that each reviewer had. You know that old maxim, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison,” is so true! Which is why I’m learning to feel good about good reviews, take bad ones with a grain of salt and see if there are any criticisms within that might help my writing and then move on.

Here, I’ll show you an example of what I’m talking about:

At the beginning of each chapter, I included a poem by Lao Tzu, the Taoist philosopher from ancient China. One reviewer said this about that inclusion:

“I have to say one of the things I truly enjoyed about this book was the works of Lao-Tzu that preceded each chapter… The author did a wonderful job of choosing the works that best fit each chapter.”

Then, another reviewer said this about the same thing:

“I was a bit put off with some of the philosophizing that happened on a regular basis. Having studied Chinese medicine in school, I was familiar with the concepts and terms used; but I felt that the Lao Tzu quotations to start each chapter were too long and put me off from the plot.”

Then, the reviewer who didn’t like having the poems in the book said this about the character of Dave:

“Dave Pearce, the Irish cop, who is attracted to Danny was a wonderful character. I liked that his difficult background is so relevant to who he is yet doesn’t get solved in such an easy simple way. He was rough, tender, and striving to deal with the bad hand life had dealt him ~ how could you not like a guy like that?”

The reviewer who liked Lao Tzu, said this about Dave:

“I was bit ambivalent towards Dave, he was loving and kind and very protective of Danny, but annoying and whiney, I guess is the word I want or maybe for lack of a accurate one, that is the one I will use.

At first Dave seems to the strong of the two, but the further you get into the book, you realize that Dave really is the more damaged and the more he tries to be strong, the more annoying he became to me and after a while and I felt that overshadowed his better qualities.”

So, even though both reviewers liked the book overall and both wrote inteillgently and gave the book what I consider a fair hearing, it shows me how very subjective reviews are. Unfortunately, the downside is that these subjective reviews can often influence whether people buy a book or not. I’ve had sales of a particular plummet because of one bad review. As a writer, all I can do is keep working on my craft and write the kinds of books I, myself, enjoy reading. That said, I’m off to finish Barely Covered which is almost all written except for filling in those couple of sex scenes…

Hot new cover!! (And other things)

I’m really excited about this latest cover by Lyn Taylor! She did an incredible job! The guy in the forefront couldn’t be more how I envisioned Quan Chan. I also love that his skin is wet in this photo. Very hot!! I hope you like it too.

I haven’t been posting much lately only because I’ve been so busy, first, writing Barely Covered. I’m almost to 25k and busy writing. Also I made my first book trailer, having stumbled across the video making software in my computer. The trailer is for the White Tigers series, complete with all book covers, music by Gackt (“Love Song”) and rolling credits at the end. I wanted to share it here on my blog but I haven’t yet figured out how to embed the file into the text. It seems Word Press has updated their format and in my humble opinion, have made it more difficult to add media to the blog. In any case, I have plans to upload the trailer to Youtube and to make another attempt to post it here. I’m excited about it and want to share it even though it’s probably very amateurish-looking. lol

Coming along

Hard at work on Barely Covered. I’m really enjoying writing a murder mystery and well, I also am in love with my characters, Kaz and Damien. I just hope it all works out. I’m finally feeling inspired again after a difficult period. For a writer, it can be daunting to go through times when you just don’t feel up to the task of doing something that usually comes so naturally.