Sunday, Nov 15 2009 

Required Disclosure: All Books reviewed herein were either bought by Ruth Sims or the guest reviewer or borrowed from a public library. No free galley, ARC or finished book was given in exchange for a favorable review or for a review of any kind.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Wild Man
By
Patricia Nell Warren
Author of The Front Runner
9781889135052 Paperback
Publisher: Wildcat Press
Available in both Spanish and English

Spain. 1960’s.
Look into the heart of aristocratic torero Antonio Escudero. At 29 he knows he is getting too old to remain in the ring and no longer has the passion for killing bulls. His body is scarred from the horns of the mighty creatures; his soul is scarred from loneliness. His dreams lie in another direction: saving the land and wildlife of Spain, ravaged by many years of civil war and oppression by Franco’s vicious fascist regime. In Franco’s Spain men like Antonio, whose desire is for other men, are only imprisoned—if they’re lucky. Those without money, a noble name, or property are tortured and killed without trial. Antonio thinks often of the great Spanish poet and homosexual, Federico Lorca, who was murdered by Fascists, his body never found.

Antonio’s physical need sometimes drives him to male prostitutes, especially while on tour in other countries where it is safer; He has never known what it is to love another man and does not even consider it a possibility. One day a young worker saves him from unexpected danger in the street. The stranger is Juan Diano, a blond peasant from the mountains, a few years younger than Antonio. It is a rescue that will change the lives of many people forever. Juan is barely educated, but his heart is filled with the same passion for the land and animals that Antonio has. Their lives become intertwined, though often shaken by distrust and pride and class differences as well as the ever-present threat from the Catholic Church’s strict moral laws and members of the corrupt government.

With The Wild Man, Patricia Nell Warren, in her guise as the journalist called Paty, relates the story of the aristocrat and the peasant, as Antonio Escudero tells it to her. It’s the story of love, and persecution, jealousy and political hatred of one brother for another. It’s the story of two men who love each other through persecution and exile, often battling themselves and each other. It’s also the story of two women who love each other, one of them Anthonio’s twin sister. It’s the story of four young people living bitterly amusing corkscrew lives because they are forced to hide who and what they are. It’s the story of Antonio, who has much but is willing to give it all away to save Juan from certain torture and death. And overarching it all is the menacing power of the fascist state in tandem with a spirit-crushing state church. It’s the story of people who love their country but must live in exile in a foreign land. Not until the last word is the reader sure that Antonio and Juan are completely are at peace with each other.

This is not a cupcake book. The writing is as tough, passionate, and compassionate as the lives Warren portrays. It is obvious that Warren knows and loves Spain, and that she knows and understands the dangers of living under both fascism and a government theocracy.

The arrangement of The Wild Man is that of “bookends,” with the journalist, Paty, telling in the “Author’s Prologue” how she comes to meet Antonio Escudero as a man in his 60’s, living as an exile in California.

The bulk of the story is told in Antonio’s words. An “Author’s Postlogue” brings the story of Antonio and Juan, his sister and her partner up to the mid-90’s, 25 years after their escape to America. I was especially glad that Warren went a step farther, with a section of “Notes and Acknowledgments” which is interesting and informative.

I truly love this book. If ever a book cried out, “Make me into a film!” it’s The Wild Man. Also available in Spanish as El Hombre Bravo.

Thai Died--print

Print book from Green Candy Press

ThaiDied e-book

E-Book from MLR Press

THAI DIED
By
William Maltese
Publisher: Green Candy Press (January 24, 2003)
IBN-10: 1931160139
ISBN-13: 978-1931160131
Also available from MLR Press as an E-Book
ISBN#978-1-60820-051-1 (ebook)

Reviewer: Ruth Sims

Is he or isn’t he? Gay, that is. Or bi. Does anyone know for certain? Does Stud Draqual, himself, know? Does he even care?

All we know for certain is that Stud is his real name, he is a world-traveling silk merchant, a self-described “famous designer of silken underwear for wealthy women,” a gorgeous man who attracts danger and excitement the way a dog attracts fleas. Within hours of his arrival in Thailand—a place he knows well—he has been shot at and, by virtue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, been nearly blown to smithereens. Not even recovered from that, he finds himself in a sanctuary with a bugged phone, and before you can blink, he’s face down in the back of a taxi with a smelly blanket covering him, on the way to … he doesn’t know where. And that’s just in the first sixty pages!

Nor are danger and intrigue all that follows the aptly named Stud; men and women, all equally beautiful and dangerous, throw themselves in his path and Stud seldom sees a reason to step aside or avert his eyes. When he does manage to step aside or avert his eyes another portion of his anatomy tends to pay attention.

If you like books that are sexy, violent, exotic, fascinating, and funny, and where the brisk dialogue, ironic asides, and pithy observations never flag, you’ll love Thai Died.

Maltese is a master of his craft, whether he’s describing Thailand’s gorgeous buildings and beautiful people, its squalor and filth, or the shocking murder of an exotic dancer in a private BDSM club, during a performance, in full view of the audience.

As with many of Maltese’s books, there is a lot of explicit sex. Chances are your granny, your third grade teacher, and your preacher would be horrified (or not. How well do you know them, anyway?) Although Maltese has recently written Young Adult fiction, this ain’t it. I’m not particularly a fan of explicit sex in fiction, but when it’s done with style and panache, and the scenes are an integral part of the story rather than something thrown in to get the reader’s rocks off, I’m okay with it.

The number of books bearing the name of William Maltese just keeps growing… and growing … and growing, as does his popularity.

Recommended – but for over 18 only.
ure:

STILL DANCING by Jameson Currier Tuesday, Nov 10 2009 

still dancing

STILL DANCING
By
Jameson Currier
Publisher: Lethe Press (December 1, 2008)
ISBN-10: 1590210484
ISBN-13: 978-1590210482

One of life’s pleasures, as any book lover can testify, is falling in love with a new author. Or, rather, the work of an author new to you. I recently discovered Jameson Currier and am head over heels in love with his writing. I have so far read only one book of his, Still Dancing, but have two others, Where the Rainbow Ends and Haunted Heart, waiting their turn. (I have so many good books waiting their turn I wish I were twins.)

There are twenty stories here, written over a time span of about 30 years. Not just any 30 years, but the three decades beginning with the mysterious and agonizing deaths of gay men in the mid-80’s to the present. Yes, these are AIDS stories. And yes, AIDS stories aren’t particularly popular now with either readers or writers. I suppose that’s because the average person thinks of AIDS as something in the past or something that is better ignored. Or perhaps in tough times maybe people just want escapism. I don’t know. But what I do know is that no one with a heart could read this collection and come away unmoved.

Jameson Currier is a master at the difficult art form of short fiction. Within the space of a few hundred or a few thousand words he can take out your heart and break it. I do not suggest that these are maudlin, pity-poor-us stories. Not at all. If they tell of death and dying, they tell equally of family, friends, lovers past and present, dead and living. The stories are gritty and honest, as real as IV tubes and funerals. Some also have a subtle meaning that doesn’t hit the reader until later. Currier’s stories don’t whitewash the physical ugliness of AIDS, or the pain, the fear, or the grief. Nor does he elevate the friends and caregivers to the status of saints who are never angry or impatient or resentful. The stories are elegant in their simplicity, and sublimely humane.

As I read the stories my favorites kept changing. “Still Dancing” was my favorite. No, “Ghosts” was my favorite. “Everybody is Always Somebody Else” was my favorite. Impossible choices. But I know I have to pick just a couple to draw attention to, so I chose “What They Carried” and “Winter Coats.”

“What They Carried” is deceptive. In less skilled hands it could have been a dreary laundry list of things taken to comfort a dying man: flowers, pajamas, books, etc. But because even the most mundane object carried to the fragile, beloved, and sometimes cantankerous Adam, are symbols not only of caring but also of helplessness, the story is unforgettable. The people in the story are not only carrying tokens of love to someone they are about to lose, but some of them wonder if they carry within their own bodies the deadly virus that will soon make of them objects of caring rather than givers. And some of them know.

“Winter Coats” is nothing short of charming, and that’s because Dennis, friend of the narrator, is charming. Dennis is handsome, talented, a dancer and actor, graceful, humorous, kind, and the embodiment of Je ne sais quoi. Shortly after burying his lover, for whom he was the devoted caregiver, Dennis, too, is losing his life to the virus. The narrator is Dennis’ friend of many years, and he is as much bemused by Dennis as anything else. At the end of the story, as if flipping the bird to frailty and his own mortality, Dennis can still spin a graceful, perfect double pirouette on a cold New York City street.

Jameson Currier is, simply, a remarkable writer who deserves to be read.

MURDER ON CAMAC by Joseph R.G. DeMarco Tuesday, Sep 22 2009 

Murder on Camac

Murder on Camac
By
Joseph R. G. DeMarco

Publisher: Lethe Press (August 22, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1590212134
ISBN-13: 978-1590212134

Murder on Camac is a P.I. novel so believable even I, who have not read many such books, was totally pulled into the story.

Marco Fontana, our hero, is a gorgeous Italian-American Private Investigator. He’s wary and a little cynical, as you would expect of a P.I. He’s also highly intelligent and sensitive-not the weeping kind of sensitivity but the kind that makes him aware of what makes people tick, how they think, and he’s a pretty wicked judge of character. Nor is he your average fictional P.I.; on the side Marco also owns a troupe of male strippers (with class and a whole lot more!). He is, in fact, good-looking enough to dance in a G-string himself – if he loses a particular bet with a friend.

The book has a cast of colorful characters, from a many-times-widowed Russian secretary to a stunningly handsome Catholic Monsignor, from a teenage hit man to a heartbroken stripper, and many more in between. DeMarco presents even the supporting cast perfectly; if he had gone a shade further with the characterizations some of them would have become stereotypes and the story would have been ruined for me, but with precision artistry he shows just enough but not too much.

Helmut Brandt, a youngish, successful author, is shot and killed on Camac Street in Philadelphia one night. The police dismiss it as a mugging gone bad, but Brandt’s much older lover believes it was murder, and he hires Marco to get at the truth. Brandt, you see, had rattled quite a few cages with his first book that levied broad hints that Albino Luciani – known to the world for four short weeks in 1978 as Pope John Paul I – had been murdered. Brandt had promised that his second book, nearing completion at the time of his death, would prove that men high up in the church were responsible, possibly including members of a shadowy organization called P2. But where – and what – was the proof? Brandt was dead, and not even his lover knew where he had hidden his manuscript and research notes. And why, since decades had passed and most of the principals were dead, would anyone think it necessary to murder Brandt? Or could he have been murdered for more mundane reasons, such as jealousy? Or could the one behind Brandt’s murder be the twitchy rival author who wanted to stop his competition dead in his tracks? Or could it actually be what the police said: simply a mugging?

Marco gets to the bottom of it all and unearths the guilty party, as of course he would. Before he reaches that point, though, he is threatened, nearly run down by a car, cracked on the head and hospitalized with a concussion, and, worst of all, he’s completely baffled. But he is Marco Fontana and you know he’ll get his man. Red herrings and MacGuffins abound, and I was often tempted to peek at the ending. But I didn’t. And I was glad I behaved myself.

Murder on Camac
is a fast, entertaining read. I expect we will be seeing more of Marco Fontana in the future, with or without the G-string. I give it five Sherlocks and a Watson.

Saturday, Aug 22 2009 

False Colors
FALSE COLORS
By
Alex Beecroft
Publisher: Running Press (April 13, 2009)
ISBN-10: 0762436581
ISBN-13: 978-0762436583
Paperback & Electronic

From the back cover: “1662. For his first command, John Cavendish is given both a ship and a crew in need of repair. … He hopes the well liked Lieutenant “Alfie” Donwell will stand by his side as he leads his new crew into battle: stopping the slave trade off the coast of Algiers.”

A damned, diabolical book, is this, by a damned, diabolical writer who captures you like a pirate and will not let go. Her author photos show a gentle, red-haired Englishwoman, but she is actually the reincarnation of Britain’s Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson. If she isn’t, she’s channeling him. First came the Age of Sail gay romance, Captain’s Surrender. And now, in a novel that shows how she has grown in her craft, comes False Colors.

False Colors is a novel that’s half a poignant story of ships-passing-in-the-night male love, and half rip-roaring, swashbuckling, cannon-exploding, pirate fighting, iceberg-ramming Age of Sail adventure. Beecroft puts her characters through physical torture—literally—with stomach-turning details, and through psychological torture just as excruciating. This is one female author who can write convincingly of men at sea and men in lust and love.

The erotic scenes are well done, and worked seamlessly into the story. But the characters of John Cavendish and Alfie Donwell are finely drawn and the story so compelling that the sex scenes could be taken out and I wouldn’t miss them. The heart and the sinews of this book are not in scenes of physical sex but in the tormented souls of two young naval officers drawn inexorably to each other in a time when such love could put them both on a gallows. John and Alfie are separated through much of the book, but are never far from one another’s thoughts, though often the thoughts are bitter. And when they are together, they are at cross purposes caused by misunderstandings. The last chapter is one of the most truly erotic scenes I’ve ever seen, because it has everything—physical sensation, humor, tenderness, impatience—the works.

Beecroft’s research, as always, has been exhaustive; every sentence throbs with authenticity. She immerses you in research and detail so neatly that you don’t even think about it. You don’t read about bloody decks, splintered masts, and pirates burning men alive; you experience them. You can feel the manacles tear John’s wrists down to the bone. You can smell the roasting flesh and hear the screams. You feel the unbearable cold of the Arctic ice and feel the fear of every man aboard, knowing a certain death waits as their ship fills with icy water as the deadly beauty of an iceberg towers over them.

Beecroft’s skills have advanced amazingly since Captain’s Surrender. I can only wonder what she has in store for us next.

Want a great story with romance and pulse-racing sea adventure? Get this one!

THE SEA HAWK by Brenda Adcock Saturday, Jun 6 2009 

the sea hawk

THE SEA HAWK
Brenda Adcock
Published by Yellow Rose Books
ISBN-10: 1935053108
ISBN-13: 978-1935053101

The tall, lean captain of the privateer strides the bloody deck of Le Faucon de Mer – Falcon of the Sea, cutlass in hand, short black hair whipped by the breeze, a striking figure in white shirt, tight breeches and boots, a ruthless figure that brooks no disobedience. The captain’s cutlass is as quick to enforce discipline among the crew as it is to cut down a British officer.

But that’s not the beginning of the story. The beginning lies not in the past but 150 years in the future, and it does not begin with the ruthless captain of a privateer but with a marine archaeologist named Julia Blanchard. With her personal life in shambles, Dr. Blanchard has turned her every thought to the newly discovered sunken vessel off the Georgia coast, which she has lovingly named The Georgia Peach. While she is foolishly diving alone, with a storm threatening, her boat is stolen by 21st century pirates. She manages to get on board unseen to take an extra air tank but is discovered. She escapes the threat of a brutal rape by diving back into the sea. But in escaping one fate, she finds herself facing another. Barely clinging to life, buffeted by the sea and fried by the sun, she drifts on the uncaring sea until she loses consciousness.

And thereby hangs the tale.

Julia Blanchard, burned, dehydrated, unable to speak, wakes up in 1814, on board a British frigate, rescued from the sea and certain death. Not long after her rescue, as she recovers her health due to her youth and strength, the frigate is captured by Le Faucon de Mer. It is then that Julia sees the captain of the privateer—a woman, by name Simone Moreau, called “Faucon”. (I picture a young Sigourney Weaver starring in the film).

Yes, Gentle Reader, this is a time traveling, f/f romance, if one must label books with a genre. But even if you have never read a book of this kind, I hope that you’ll give this one a try. It is an accurately depicted, meticulously researched “age of sail” historical novels with strong female characters who take no guff from anyone of either gender. It’s a swashbuckling adventure complete with decks slippery with blood, the deafening boom of cannon fire; with old Andrew Jackson and elegant Jean Lafitte; with a love triangle, violent jealousy, and enough sexual tension to sink Le Faucon de Mer. It ends with a satisfactory twist that you know will become a happily-ever-after, as a good romance should.

If you think you would feel uneasy reading f/f sex scenes, you can skip them; there are not many and they are brief, nor are they overly graphic. Please don’t use them as a reason not to read The Sea Hawk. I really believe you’d enjoy it. I haven’t read very many f/f novels, but the few I have read have been very good. I enthusiastically add The Sea Hawk to that number and recommend it highly.

The author has a really great video trailer at her website www.brenda-adcock.com

THE ANGEL SINGERS (A Dick Hardesty Mystery) by Dorien Grey Sunday, Apr 19 2009 

angel-singers

The Angel Singers
By Dorien Grey
Publisher: Zumaya Publications, LLC
ISBN-10: 1934841064
ISBN-13: 978-1934841068

To paraphrase Sally Field’s famous Oscar speech, “I like him. I really like him!” Him who? P.I. Dick Hardesty, that’s who, the Private Investigator protagonist of Angel Singers.

Many, many, many years ago when I was young, I picked up my first private eye novel. I recall only that I hated it, it was by Mickey Spillane and it started out with a gal who was naked under her raincoat/ trench coat. I didn’t like the snarky hero, didn’t like the book, didn’t like the writing and did not plan to read another of the genre. Then recently I read one of Richard Stevenson’s Donald Strachey novels (Ice Blues)and one of Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English novels (The Hell You Say), and discovered P.I. stories I actually liked. A lot. And now—one of Dorien Grey’s Dick Hardesty novels.

Angel Singers is the latest in the series. There is a complete list of titles in the series at the end of the review.

The title intrigued me because I love anything to do with music. When I learned that Dick Hardesty’s life partner, Jonathan Quinlan, loves to sing and has joined a men’s chorus, I was hooked before I ever got to the mystery. The director of the chorus is quoted as saying to his singers, “When you talk, you’re human. When you sing, you’re angels.”

Because the chorus is made up of human beings, there are often bruised egos, jealousies, rivalries, and the other side of the coin, firm friendships. And then into this band of angel singers comes Lucifer, in the form of Grant Jefferson who is young, beautiful, talented—and a manipulative, selfish egoist without a shred of conscience. To say he wreaks havoc among the chorus is like saying the bull in the china shop caused a little damage. His evil even extends to running down one of the chorus members, nearly killing him. Grant Jefferson ends up dead, blown to bloody shards by a car bomb. But whodunit?

When a murder victim has gone out of his way to infuriate most of the people he came in contact with, as Grant Jefferson did, there is a small army of suspects with means, motive, and opportunity. Is it the obvious suspect: the rich sugar-daddy Grant Jefferson was playing like a violin while tricking on the side? Is it the bitter son of a man whose career Grant Jefferson ruined, causing his death from a heart attack? Or could it be an earlier sugar-daddy who didn’t like being dumped for someone richer? Could it even be the jealous partner of a chorus member whose long-term relationship was ruined by the late unlamented Lucifer wannabe? Or is it an as-yet-unknown man whose life was malevolently marked by the deceased? It’s up to Hardesty to find out. And of course he does because, after all, he is the hero of the series. That he will find the killer is the only unsurprising thing about this tale. The killer was one I did not even suspect!

One of the things I like most about this book is that Dick Hardesty and Jonathan Quinlan have a believable and almost enviable relationship. They’re good parents (Uncle Dick, and Uncle Jonathan) to five-year old Joshua. In fact, my only quibble is that it wasn’t explained, though I’m sure it was in an earlier story, who Joshua’s parents were, what happened to them, and how Hardesty-Quinlan came to be his dads. Joshua adds a pixie quality to a murder mystery; he’s a typical five-year-old who is by turns endearing and a pint-sized tyrant. In other words, Hardesty-Quinlan are complete human beings and their being gay is only part of their identity. An adult reader knows from that the two men are a couple and that they have sex, but it’s not explicit and isn’t shown in any detail whatsoever. Even someone who would be uneasy with even a small amount of gay sex in a book could read this and not wince.

Highly recommended for everyone who doesn’t get apoplectic at the thought of committed gay couples with children!

Once I get down farther in my stack of TBR books, I fully intend to read some more of this series, as well as more Richard Stevenson and Josh Lanyon.

The series titles in order of appearance, are: The Butcher’s Son, The Ninth Man, The Bar Watcher, The Hired Man, The Good Cop, The Bottle Ghosts, The Dirt Peddler, The Role Players, The Popsicle Tree, The Paper Mirror, The Dream Ender, and The Angel Singers.
They are all available in or on order from any bookstore or on-line bookseller.

http://www.doriengrey.blogspot.com
www.zumayapublications.com

Whistling in the Dark by Tamara Allen Monday, Apr 6 2009 

whistlingWhistling in the Dark
Tamara Allen
Publisher: Lethe Press
ISBN-10 1590210492
ISBN-13 978-1590210499
see publisher’s website for buy links lethepressbooks.com
Available in print & electronic

I’m a sucker for any book about music and musicians, and a sucker for a well-written book about gay men, and a sucker for anything in the era 1890-1930. And Whistling in the Dark gave me all three. Tamara Allen made a convincing New York on the cusp of Prohibition, and has created characters the reader comes to know and care about.

Jack Bailey is cynical, unapologetically homosexual, smart-assed, a little bit flamboyant at times, quick-tempered, prone to drinking and gambling and borrowing money from questionable sources. And beneath the bluster and the Attitude, he has been wounded psychologically by double tragedies: service in France in WWI and the influenza death of his beloved parents before he returns home. If the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder had been invented then, it would certainly apply to Jack. Jack isn’t a musician, except in a ham-handed sort of way, but he believes with his whole heart in the future of technology, in his case in the magic of wire and tubes called radio. He is determined to keep his parents’ business going, a mom-and-pop store of oddities and imports, (including a live crocodile named Woodrow) but has no head for business. What he has a head for is getting into trouble with the law, loan sharks, and potential bootleggers.

Sutton Albright is also a young veteran damaged by life. He had it all: good looks, wealth, adoring and indulgent parents and he grew up in the Midwest, far from the corruption of the Big City. A gifted concert pianist with a brilliant future, a war injury took away. He lights in New York, rootless, futureless, unable to go home. On first returning home he enrolled in a university only to become involved with a male teacher and finding himself expelled. He has no way of explaining that to his parents, no way of explaining that he is a “pervert.” (The word “gay” has not, at this time, gained common usage in that context.

Sutton is mistakenly caught up in a police sweep of a public park and jailed over night. There he first meets Jack. Friendship eventually becomes more, and that, plus Jack’s devotion to developing radio and Suttons’ hesitant resumption of playing the piano, combine to make this a compelling story. Rather than go further with a plot synopsis (I’m awful at them), let me just tell that you will enjoy this book if you enjoy stories of “opposites attracted” to each other. Here are two damaged young men who find each other, sometimes irritated and a little quarrelsome, sometimes tender and loving. Eventually comes the time when Jack has to face an unhappy choice that could lead to a new life for Sutton.

The supporting characters are very well done, individualistic without being overpowering, and most of them are Jack’s friends, eventually becoming Sutton’s friends as well. I especially liked Ox, who was big, and shy, and often mistaken for being slow. I felt there might be just the tiniest bit of stereotyping in some of Jack’s gay club friends; they reminded me a little of the “bitchy queens” in the film “The Boys In the Band.” But the characters in Whistling in the Dark aren’t as annoying.

It’s an outstanding debut novel and I’m sure Allen has many more just waiting to be written. Highly recommended.

Angel Land by Victor J. Banis Sunday, Mar 22 2009 

angel-land

Angel Land
By
Victor J. Banis
Publisher: Quest
ISBN-13 978-1935053057
224 pages
Available: Print & Amazon Kindle
Because there are so many wonderful books and authors, I intended to review no more than one book by each author just to be fair, but sometimes a book comes along that just has to be talked about. So I guess I have to rescind my original decision.

Angel Land by Victor Banis will keep you off balance like nothing you’ve ever read before. It switches not only p.o.v., sometimes within the same chapter, but switches voice as well, from the first person narrative of the escapee, Harvey Milk Walton, to the third person thoughts of other characters. Only a master like Banis could pull this off without driving the reader crazy.

Angel Land is sly, sardonic, and funny. It’s also frightening and will make your scalp crawl with the feeling that Banis is channeling George Orwell and you’re reading the next 1984.

Angel Land is a tale set a century or so in the future, after the global society has been devastated by wars and pandemics, all the things we see now, carried to their ultimate end. It was an end that came “not with a bang but a whimper”, to quote T.S. Eliot. Among the other curses of the 20th and 21st centuries, the HIV virus has mutated repeatedly until reaching the always fatal HIV-VII, known as Sept, a virus so virulent it does not even require human contact. And there is a soul-chilling reason for the mutation, one that will make you gasp.

Into this vacuum of power came The Reverend Elihu Gaston, founder of The Fundamental Christian Church. Is he the antichrist? Though such a thing isn’t suggested in the book, as one who read the Bible many times when I was younger I couldn’t help thinking that he certainly fit the requirements. The other churches were swallowed up by Gaston’s new church; everyone not a believer in Gaston was suspect, especially Jews, Baptists, and Catholics; though free in theory they are severely restricted in every way . Supposedly as a way to deal with AIDS/HIV, Gaston divided much of the nation into Fundamental Christian Territories, of which Angel Land was the first. There, tourists can “See—close up—the Bridge of the Golden Gate, once crossed by motor cars,” and the walls of the ghetto that, in the dim past, been known as the Castro, that is Angel Land’s Zone of Perversion. Officially sanctioned violence and murder of gays makes some of the inhabitants of the ghetto believe it might not be such a bad thing after all: if the walls keep them in, they can also keep the brutes out. It doesn’t always work that way.

Angel Land has a twisted plot about marginalized people in a disintegrating world run by a rabid demagogue aided by a committee of equally rabid demagogues, a world in which the European Middle Ages seem to reoccurring with a dark helping of Hitler and Stalin at their worst, stirred in. It’s a society where books are banned, knowledge by any but the rulers is illegal, freedoms are virtually unknown except for the few; a society where a form of slavery is perpetuated, particularly upon the young, and gays leave their ghetto at the risk of their lives.

The characters in this book are vintage Banis: brave with the courage of the mythic Stonewall drag queens; defiantly smart and smart-ass like the first Harvey Milk; able to sometimes find love in spite of the danger; daring to flip the bird to deprivation and hatred.

Our hero is, perhaps, an unlikely one: Harvey Milk Walton, a skinny kid who’s not particularly beautiful (imagine that, in a gay novel!), a slave who has accidentally killed his master and fled for his life. In the ghetto Harvey finds friendship, love, sanctuary, his courage, and a purpose that transcends and transforms his life. There is Dell, the blustering, blunt, and brave lesbian and Sarah, the abused, feral child she adopts. The endlessly quotable “Auntie” Tom, present in spirit if not in flesh. The elderly Manager, a man of age, wisdom, and quiet defiance. Chip, Harvey’s friend. And many more wonderful characters worked in true Banis fashion.

Is every gay character brave and admirable? Not at all. Banis would never create such an unrealistic cast. And that’s one of the things you can count on with a Banis book: the situations and plots may be unusual; the people are always believable.

When Harvey, to his amazement, finds love it is with a tormented soul named Aram; more than that I’m not going to tell you; you’ll have to read it for yourself. The Bad Guys are bad to the bone, some of them, like the jack-booted, taser-armed Lay Workers, are overtly bad. Others wouldn’t lift a finger to crush a bug and who mouth scripture and platitudes…but who are the Ultimate Evil because they are the creators and maintainers of the evil.

Books of froth and fun have their place and sometimes even I like them. But as you undoubtedly surmised, Angel Land isn’t a froth-and-fun tale. It’s full of grim, black humor and it’s a book that gets the thought processes whirring, a book that grips you by the gut. It’s a book that would make certain people froth at the mouth from indignation if they dared to read it. My kind of book.

Because I find Banis’ language usage so engaging, I can’t end this without quoting a sampling of my favorite lines. The Sept. virus: “A dish, a fork, a spoon, probably a cow jumping over the moon, almost anything could be the instrument of infection, almost anyone the messenger of death.” Legendary things called automobiles: “Of all the jewels of antiquity, none fascinated me more than those, the automobiles, songs of freedom sculpted into metal.” The suppression of other faiths: “One by one the lesser fishies succumbed to the great black shark in the sea of religion.”

I know you won’t be surprised when I say Angel Land is highly recommended.

A Face Without a Heart by Rick R. Reed Thursday, Mar 12 2009 

face-without-a-heart
A Face Without A Heart: A Modern-day Version of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray
By Rick R. Reed
Paperback: Backinprint ISBN: 0595399169
Amazon Kindle: Bristlecone Press
Author’s website: http://www.rickrreed.com
Image above is the Kindle cover

I first read “The Picture of Dorian Gray” when I was around 13 and really had no idea what kind of debauchery he was getting into (this was the 50’s!), but it nonetheless filled me with creepy, delicious horror. I read it many times in succeeding years and each time I read it, Dorian’s wickedness was clearer. It has remained one of my favorites (the book, not the wickedness).

All too often, when classics are rewritten into a contemporary setting, the result is depressingly unsatisfactory. Happily, award-winning author Rick R. Reed succeeds in recreating the greed and decadence hidden behind the beautiful face of the ageless Dorian who keeps pushing the envelope of evil until he finally goes too far and the devil literally gets his due. Reed achieves the delicate balancing act of being true to Wilde’s tale while putting a patina of his own shivery vision over it, enhancing but never obscuring the original.

His anti-hero is Gary Adrion, an anagram of Dorian Gray, and the cynical Lord Harry Wotten (who was actually my favorite character in Wilde’s book) is transformed into a cynical black drag queen named Lady Henrietta Wotten. Decadent London of the 1890’s becomes decadent Chicago of 2006+. One of the most inventive devices in the book is that of making the painting of Dorian Gray a living, changeable hologram of Gary Adrion. (Wilde would be enchanted by the idea.) The shock at the end when Gary comes face to face with the hideous, evil thing he has become is more stunning than Wilde’s scene in which Dorian saw the painting.

At 196 pages it is proof that Rick Reed doesn’t waste words, that every syllable of every word has a purpose and works toward an effect. He is a gifted, prolific writer, a master of horror and, I expect, would be successful in any genre he chose to put his hand to. Someday soon I hope to read his “Orientation,” which recently won the Eppie Award for Best GLBT Novel of 2008.

Witch’s Boy by Alex Beecroft Monday, Jan 5 2009 

witchs-boy
Witch’s Boy
By
Alex Beecroft
Website: http://www.alexbeecroft.com/

Since reviewers are not supposed to gush and are supposed to find something to criticize, I’ll do that and get it out of the way before I get to the Good Stuff. There is an occasional wrong word and once in a long while there is a misspelled word. The layout is much like that for an ebook, with a space between every paragraph, which is a little off-putting. And … well, there’s no ‘and’. Honestly, those are all the negatives I have to offer. So if anyone sees this as a “gushing” review, then so be it.

Witch’s Boy is the first book I’ve read in eons that almost left me speechless.

It is self-published through Lulu—and, incidentally, has a beautiful cover, something all too often missing in self-published and small-press books. I don’t know if the author submitted it to mainstream publisher, but she should have. It’s a dark masterpiece of raw emotion, vivid color, violence in thought and deed, convoluted plotting, unforgettable characters and descriptions. Maybe Tolkienistas will consider this to be sacrilege, but Witch’s Boy is a modern Lord of the Rings in one volume.

Although thirty years ago I read The Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings, I’ve never been much of a fantasy reader so I can’t really compare it to others of the genre,. More recently I have read two others which I enjoyed and have reviewed on this site (Orphan’s Quest and Immortal Journey.) One thing I especially liked about Witch’s Boy was that, although it’s a fantasy, the setting felt very medieval European or perhaps Russian, with people and place names that felt familiar enough they didn’t bring me up short. There were serfs, castles, familiar plants, mountains and trees, ravens and fish, white wolves and horses. In short, the setting made it all very believable and familiar, and to someone who likes realistic books that’s a definite plus.

It is as full of Good vs. Evil as is the Bible. Witches (who are not at ALL of the stereotypical “boil-boil-toil-and-trouble” or “Bewitched” variety!) are primary. The first witch we meet is a peasant child, Oswy, who has been sold into slavery, or so he believes, and who is unaware he was born with the powers of witchcraft. The second one we meet is Tancred, the embodiment of evil, a creature who is guilty of every vile act in the book, though we first meet him in another guise—a man of just ordinary evil rather than metaphysical evil. The third is Sulien FitzGuimar who, at first, also seems evil. When we come to know him we realize that he is a tragic and noble figure, and every moment of his life is a struggle not to become like his mentor, Tancred.

There is a subplot which, at times, seems puzzlingly disconnected from the main story, but such is Beecroft’s gifted plotting that it all comes together and we realize that Adela’s story is spectacularly crucial. When we meet Adela she is a young Lady set to become a nun, whose all-concealing black garment, a grima, hides not only her face and form but a rebellious heart. She literally escapes from a forced marriage with an unscrupulous and wicked man and puts her life in peril by doing so. Along the way to her sanctuary she meets both magical creatures in the form of elfish shape shifters, and beyond-horrible demons and a beyond-exquisite angel. I love it that Adela’s reaction to the beauty and mystery of elves and angels is just as confused and frightened and yet intrigued as any of us would be.

One of the best supporting characters is Leofwine, the kind of man Knights of legend were meant to be – brave to a fault, kind, generous, and loyal unto death.

Violence, horror, and the insatiable thirst for revenge permeate the book. Some acts carried out by Tancred, demons, and other forces of sickly evil are often breathtakingly cruel; one is perpetrated by the child-witch, Oswy, while he is possessed by Tancred.

Beecroft’s descriptions are music in print. If you’ve ever listened to “Night on Bald Mountain” by Rimsky-Korsakov, based on themes by Mussorgsky, then you have an auditory idea of the descriptions in this book. I’m not a very visual writer, myself, and am tremendously impressed with those who are—and I am in awe of the visuals in this book. I’m going to pick a handful of very brief ones at random.

“…the squabbling of rooks and crows as they fought over a dead hare, its soil-brown fur appearing and disappearing among the clot of black.” (page 147)

“…moorland swept up in billowing rises to a higher hill, and then to a sharp peak crowned with a tumble of gray boulders and another thicket of thorn. … The bare hills shone like a child’s face scrubbed for a festival.” (page 205)

“A wind sprang up—silver edged, glittering—and streamed around her. Her hair unraveling from its braids, lifted and floated behind her—showering crystal bells onto the earth. … and behind her, green as every kind of leaf, each feather edged with sunshine, her great wings unfurled in a fan of spendor.” (page 232)

“Like writhing black slime they came creeping out of the arrowslits, oozing head-downward over the walls. …The presences which lurk unseen in nightmares were made visible, the beings who haunt night’s shadows were coming down over the battlements with heavy reptilian purpose.” (282)

Dang! That’s addictive. If I don’t stop now I’ll wind up typing the entire book!

OK, here’s the short review: if you like dense, dark, intelligent, action-packed, beautifully written books Buy It! Urge your local library to buy it also.

The Witch’s Boy
By Alex Beecroft
Paperback: 316 pages
Publisher: Lulu.com (May 7, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1847537294
ISBN-13: 978-1847537294
Available on Amazon.com

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