Take the Lead

Title: Take the Lead
Author: Johnny Diaz
Cover Art: Catt Ford
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Buy Link Take the Lead
Genre: Contemporary M/M Romance-lite
Length: 234 pages
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5 stars

A Guest Review by Raine

Summary Review: An in-depth interview with an Hispanic professor rather than hot romance.

Blurb: Popular college professor Gabriel Galan has a job he adores in Boston, a hot young lover, and a buddy who goes along on pub crawls and Star Trek nights alike. But Gabriel wants more.

When Gabriel’s stubbornly independent father needs help managing his Parkinson’s disease, Gabriel takes on more than he bargained for, and his smooth-cruising life is about to take a sharp turn as he teeters on the edge of a new crush on Adam, his father’s physical therapy dance class instructor.

Gabriel has always yearned for a co-pilot on his journey through life, but first he needs to take the lead and navigate the troubled waters of his own heart.


This book is not a drama-fest of romantic love. It is very down-to-earth and detailed, with a life in a day quality, that reveals Johnny Diaz’s journalistic roots. From his Wikipedia biography I would guess he is clearly writing what he knows about.

Gabriel is a Cuban-American originally from Florida, where his family still lives. Having been a newspaper reporter in Fort Lauderdale, he is now enjoying life as a professor concentrating on teaching journalism and creative writing at the Thomas Jefferson College in Boston. There is a lot of biographical detail about Gabriel; we learn about his big fears and problems, predominantly his father’s deteriorating condition of Parkinson’s Disease, as well as sharing his small worries about hair loss, and being a gay man in his thirties.

There is a lot of detail in this book: family, history, geography, medical and social. The locations in the story are all solidly described, with almost Googlemap intensity. Gabriel’s father Guillermo’s illness and the effect in his family is dealt with compassion and a thoughtful informative practicality. There is also an interesting concentration on Hispanic identity and the diversity of Gabriel’s social circle. His best friend, Nick, is Portuguese-Irish, and we visit his family for a warm happy Thanksgiving.

Gabriel’s relationships are also explored, but for me they are almost overwhelmed by the weight of the other elements. The sex is discreet and almost always under-written. The story arc is unconventional for a romantic novel with the main relationship coming very late on in the book. Consequently I never really connected with Adam. I was aware of Gabriel as a professor, a gay man, a good friend and a very loving son, but not so much as a romantic lead. Gabriel’s relationship with college senior Craig does obviously bring some emotional intensity to the book, but even that was slightly underwhelming, as problems had been emphatically foreshadowed.

Ultimately it became quickly apparent that is not my kind of book — no flights of extravagant fancy and even its dancing shoes are somehow pragmatic. However the very qualities I fail to appreciate — the realism, the tight, detailed writing, and layers of information — are clearly going to appeal to a different reader, who I am sure will get pleasure from Gabriel’s life.


  • All right, I made a heroic effort and finished it. What can I say? You nailed it Raine IMO. And it is not even the subject that bored me so, I totally enjoyed the *idea* of exploring father and son’s relationship in depth, considering father’s illness, etc, etc. I would not have minded secondary romance, I thought his relationship with Adam was sweet. But OMG the oversharing. OMG. One example, I would not have minded mentioning character’s issues with his hair *once* or *twice*, because I totally get how it shows his worries about aging, and how he may turn into his father. But seriously, do I need to know that besides using Rogaine he also takes a pill for his hair growth? Talk about too much information IMO. Do I need to know that when he showers he also applies the moisturiser? No, really why do I need to know that? How does it move the story forward? As I said, it is not the idea of character having issues with his hair, which I get how it shows character’s more general issues, it is not even the writing per se, which I certainly found very competent, it is sharing SO MUCH detail, about every event in the character’s life. And I mean, every event. Like do I need to know that the company flew him for interview in Boston? Do I? He established that he loves teaching, why did I need to know that company flew him in? I was bored and tired. Sorry. Awesome review Raine.

  • Raine
    Wonderful review of a book that you could not relate to. It would probably be the same for me because it sounds as if the author were writing a text book – not very interesting. However, as you said, there will be many readers who will love this book for the same reasons that you didn’t.

  • I started this one, enjoyed it, then set it down to read something else and haven’t picked it back up again. I think this review helps give me a better understanding of what to expect, which will hopefully help me pick it back up at the right time. Thanks!

    Feliz, sure looks the same to me! Have you told Chris?

    • When I read this for a second time for the review there were things I enjoyed more, as I knew where it was going. Hope the right moment comes…… 🙂

      Thanks jeayci.

  • P.S. I just read that gay mystery author Mark Richard Zubro, who used to be published in Hardcover by St. Martin’s Press and is a Lambda Award Winner, has his next book being published by MLR Press. I guess I’m probably the last to know that so many gay authors have either chosen or been forced to switch to the electronic presses.

    • Hi Raine,

      Sorry I thanked Sirius instead of you for your helpful review (although I am also eternally grateful to Sirius for her excellent work here!).

      I haven’t read any Lucius Parhelion, I will seek out the books. Have you read Marcus Aphelion? Her work has no details, is entirely fantastic, and full of over-written sex scenes! 😉


      • LOL Stuart, you are funny. But seriously, if you like historicals, you may like Lucius Parhelion a lot and he/she writes great setting, characters and plot, but sex is either very understated, or fades to black completely. I do not want to give an impression that I exclude the books with explicit sex from my reading. Its just (and I am sure I mentioned it in the prior discussions on this topic), sex scenes for me are icing on the cake and characters, and plot are the cake. If the only thing that writer can do is icing, I kind of feel nautious and fast. If writer can do great cake AND icing it is fine by me and some writers can for sure.

        Anyway, I fully admit on missing the joke, because I thought you were recommending the real writer too :). Do tell please, is Marcus Aphelion a word play on Marc Avrelius or indeed a real writer whom I just could not find on Amazon 🙂

        Oh and I just wanted to thank you Stuart for reminding me about Catch trap sometime ago, started it today and really enjoying it so far.

    • Stuart

      I guess I’m probably the last to know that so many gay authors have either chosen or been forced to switch to the electronic presses.

      Until recently MLR Press only published print books so I’m not sure that writers who publish with MLR are “being forced to switch to ebooks.” BTW all of their novels are still available in print.

  • Hi Sirius,

    Thanks for the review and the helpful description! To show that it takes all kinds: Everything you dislike about the book makes it sound good to me. I love underwritten sex, lots of details and pragmatic realism.

    I wonder if Johnny Diaz, who authored 3 mid-list, mainstream gay novels, had to go to Dreamspinner because the changes in the “mainstream” publishing world sent him to an electronic press. (I’ve wondered similar things about Greg Herren, Josh Lanyon, and Neil Placky.) Because, from your description, this sounds more like a novel than a MM Romance novel.


    • Hey Stuart, just to clarify, Raine wrote this review, not me :). I actually really like what you described as well, especially underwritten sex lol. Seriously, of course there are exceptions to any rule, but my most favorite stories in this genre have what I perceive as great plot, excellent characterization, a lot of romantic *tension* between the characters, but not that much of actual sex and sometimes all sex fades to black.

      The thing is though, if you like something in general, unfortunately it is not a guarantee that you will like it in the specific book :(. I cannot judge the book as a whole yet, since so far I have only read two chapters in it… Three times. And I had to put the book down. Something in the writing style just does not appeal to me.

      And of course gay fiction novel for me does not have to be a romance novel in order for me to like it. Have you read ” A ten stories for Adam” by Alex Jeffers which I have reviewed on the site maybe couple of weeks ago? This is an excellent example of the novel, where romance is non existant, I mean protagonist tells the story of his life to his beloved. However his beloved is mostly off page, he gets a tiny tiny amount of page time, almost nothing. What this book is mostly is the story of narrator’s life. I was never bored when I was reading it. A bit stressed, which was mostly my doing, but never ever bored.

      As to coming into genre, I wonder actually. I think you have to know how at least write some kind of love story if you are coming to this genre, no matter how good of a writer you are. I mean, if you want to write romantic mystery, not just mainstream mystery. JMO of course.

      And I thought “Comfort and Joy” by Jim Grimsley was awesome (I do not mean to make you read my reviews I swear, just seem like good examples) and he just wrote a great gay romance and many people love and read him.

      Anyway, I just wanted to clarify, but I do have that tendency to ramble 🙂

      • Thanks Sirius, you are much wider read than I am so really pleased you commented here.

        I must have missed more of your reviews, I need to check back on site for Comfort and Joy.

        • Thank you Raine, however something tells me that you are doing very well in the ‘widely read’ department :).

          You do not have to read my review, but I highly recommend checking out “Comfort and joy”, it may be very worth your time.

    • Hey Stuart

      while I have to confess that personally I am easily seduced by the world well lost for love kind of book, I have learnt- mainly from doing reviews here- that there are indeed very differing views on books! Which is why I knew that this book while not to my taste would have it’s own fans.

      I have to thank Sirius for putting this so well,

      ” I think you have to know how at least write some kind of love story if you are coming to this genre, no matter how good of a writer you are.”

      There is a love story here but – for me – it was overwhelmed by everything else which although informative and interesting wasn’t enough to get me excited by the words.

      Have you read any Lucius Parhelion, cos there is a writer who I feel meets those criteria you mentioned you particularly like?
      ‘Faster than the Speed of Light’ is absolutely outstanding.

      Thanks for your comments. 🙂

    • It looks like the same guys in the same pose……just hadn’t registered with me at all……and I love the Lanyon guys.

      Fan moment…..read City Falcon…..loved Hunter so much, had moments of being so annoyed with Mark……thanks Feliz I enjoyed the emotions very much!

        • Hi Feliz,

          I read City Falcon and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, I hope you’ll forgive me 1 criticism.

          To establish my bona fides: I have the good fortune to be married to an NYPD narcotics detective. He started on the job in 1990, so he was working early in his career at the same time as Mark. His uncle is Port Authority.

          The criticism: I’ve never met a cop who speaks like Mark. If you had a cop help you out with the editing of City Falcon, he’s not like any cop I’ve met.

          For an idea of how cops usually talk, there’s a HORRIBLE HORRIBLE HORRIBLE website (it can be offensively racist, sexist, and homophobic) theerant.yuku.com/ where New York cops post about everything. I only recommend it because the cops write like they speak and I imagine it could be a good linguistic resource for writing New York Cops.

          Hope you didn’t mind the criticism. You’re a good author!


  • A pity there is no more romance in this book 🙁
    I know it´s not fair or rational 😯 but feeling the cover “too familiar” I skipped checking it up anyway :computer:
    Thank you for your review 😎

    • There are two romances, which is an odd balance, but even then they are not enough to carry the book for me.

      Oh Helena I’m really bad about books and covers these days too. It leads me astray usually, but Yakuza Pride is my exception…..thank goodness.

  • Wanted to add that I actually do love realism and tight writing, so that makes me think that so far I find this one a tad boring. But I will keep trying 🙂

    • This one wasn’t a great hit with me, as I may have mentioned to you :grin:, but I do think other people may enjoy it…….not sure its ever going to be your thing!

  • LOL Raine, I loved the summary and review too of course. I am struggling to get through this one myself. Maybe one day. Thank you.


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