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.

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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:

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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

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.

Gus the Great & other circus stories I enjoy Friday, Oct 17 2008 

Gus the Great by Thomas W. Duncan, a historical novel about a circus, is one of my favorite books of all time. I see that there are used copies available, most of them pretty cheap, on Amazon. It’s been long out of print, but it’s well worth the time and trouble to find it:

I first read Gus the Great more than 40 years ago. I have since read it many, many times. It sits on my shelf with age-tanned paper, a ragged cover, and a broken spine. I handle it reverently. The character of Gus is unforgettable–with his fast-talking flim-flam, his bulk, his complete and utter belief in himself and his PT Barnum outlook. Gus breaks hearts and swindles men with equal aplomb and yet there is something poignantly lovable about Gus. Through it all there is the circus, like a character in itself. Every character is vivid, and when the big cat trainer meets his appointed end you feel it was justly deserved. I was delighted to see this book available on Amazon. I would like to see many people fall in love with this book the way I did. Anyone who likes Water For Elephants or circus books in general, will love Gus the Great. It would make a great film.

Another circus book still available is The Catch Trap by Marion Zimmer Bradley. It’s the love story of two male trapeze artists, Tommy and Mario, in the 1940’s and ’50’s. Beautifully written, as are all of Bradley’s books, it’s also exciting, compassionate, and vivid.

A third one, also available inexpensively on Amazon, is a little self-published book called Circus Buffoon by Danny Chapman. The book is set in the more modern-day circus. The writing itself is naively amateurish, almost endearingly so, and the plot is rather “Greatest-Show-On-Earth”-ish, but because the author is a former circus clown in real life he brings wonderful reality to the details. It would be neat if a real editor and publisher would work with him and republish it professionally. There are used copies available cheap on Amazon.

I hope if any of you read any of these books you’ll let me know your thoughts on them.

P.S. — I’d like to add that my own book, The Phoenix, has a section in the last half wherein the main character joins the circus. It’s not a long part of the story but it’s fun.

VIENNA DOLOROSA by Mykola Dementiuk–Porn or Brilliance? Monday, Sep 8 2008 

Vienna Dolorosa

By Mykola Dementiuk

Synergy Press 2007

256 pages including Cast of Characters and Glossary

 

I’ve lived all my life in Tornado Alley. Hundreds of times I’ve felt the heavy oppression of motionless air, watched greenish-black clouds pile up on the horizon, and known that something terrible, beyond my control, was developing. Vienna Dolorosa levied the same sense of foreboding.

 

The story takes place in a single day in 1938, at various locations in Vienna on the last day before the Nazi takeover.  The majority of the action occurs in the Hotel Redl, a down-at-heels hotel saved from complete failure by the advent of an intriguing, intelligent creature named Friska Bielinska. But Friska is not quite what she appears to be, and neither is the Hotel Redl. The Redl has tourist rooms but it also has a secret: it’s a brothel for men who like boys dressed as girls.

 

The story is told through the denizens of the hotel/brothel. These people include a brown-shirted Nazi official who becomes the victim of the most hideously vicious attack you will ever read, something for which I was as unprepared as he was. There is a street urchin named Petya who is a survivor of poverty and abuse, who sells himself to live. Petya is clever, tough, and surprisingly sweet. Another is a buxom hotel maid who likes women though she delights in teasing men. Others are: the owner of the hotel, an aging dandy, and a Jewish tourist couple. Most of all there is Friska.

 

Friska is slim, attractive, and feminine in her manners and attire. Adversity in her own life has made her compassionate, someone who cares about people, whether they are customers or her boy/girls. And she is a he. Friska is referred to throughout as “she” because, as we would say today, she identifies as a woman. If the story had been set in the 21st century instead of 1938 I suspect the author would have made her transgendered instead of a transvestite.

 

Most of the action is appallingly brutal, and much of it is carried out either by Nazis or with the approval of Nazi officials, including the arrest and horrific punishment of one of their own caught with another man. The villains are monstrous but identifiably human—the policemen carrying out punishments, the SS, the soldiers, the citizens who turn upon anyone who is or appears to be different, or who simply has angered them for some reason. The major players are complex, especially the noble-spirited Friska, and Petya, whom you want to rescue and protect. 

 

Vienna Dolorosa has been denounced as pornographic, but pornography is intended to titillate and arouse; anybody who gets aroused by the events in Vienna Dolorosa has a serious problem. It’s true there is an overwhelming amount of graphic sex and graphic violence of every description but each incident builds the story brick by horrifying brick. It is said that truth is in the eye of the beholder; the author puts faces on the faceless victims of violence and forces you to behold. There are no funny, fat, stupid Sgt. Schultzes among Dementiuk’s Nazis, and no happy endings.

 

The narration is very good, written with a wonderful eye for detail. Sometimes it is intrusive and takes the reader out of the moment (on the other hand, perhaps that is a kindness!)  However, except for the intrusiveness, I find the historic narration to be a clear and passionate commentary on one momentous 24-hour period and what led to it.

 

I have only a few quibbles, which are as follow.

 

The characters of the incestuous father and pregnant teenage daughter are extraneous. They didn’t really add anything to the story that I could see, and they clogged an already large cast.

 

Two situations struck a jarring chord. The gang-raped woman has orgasms with each rapist and her reaction and movements afterward are unrealistic. The same applies to the young girl who gives birth. Though the birth and death of her baby are dreadful in its graphicness, the follow-up is unrealistic and unconvincing. Rape is traumatic, physically and mentally. Childbirth is painful for grown women, let alone a simpleminded young girl who doesn’t understand what is happening. Yet other than superficially, neither the young woman who was raped nor the victimized girl seem to be much affected once it’s over.

 

I also feel that Kurt’s ultimate fate, about halfway through the story, goes way over the line of gratuitous violence. In my opinion the horror could have been effectively stopped with the surgical scene, which was sickening enough. The story didn’t need the additional assault, which stopped my reading for several days. (I won’t detail more than that because I don’t want to create a spoiler.)

 

I recommend Vienna Dolorosa with the following caveats. DON’T read this book if you have a weak stomach, are faint of heart, or are offended by ‘alternate lifestyles’. DON’T read it if you are looking for escapism because there is no escape in this book, not for the characters and not for the reader. On the other hand, if you can read historical accounts of hatred, genocide, and atrocities, if you want to read a brilliant and extremely disturbing book, you should read Vienna Dolorosa.  Just take it in short doses.

 

To buy the book go to www.ViennaDolorosa.com 

Vienna Dolorosa will soon be available on Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Spirits: A Story of Life With the Navajo Sunday, Aug 24 2008 

TWO SPIRITS
Walter L. Williams & Toby Johnson
Publisher: Lethe Press
ISBN: 1-59021-060-2
Award winning novel: Prize for Historical Fiction/Arch & Bruce Brown Foundation

Two Spirits combines a moving love story with a dark part of American history. Most American know, and choose to ignore, the historic treatment of the peoples who “were here first,” the broken treaties, the broken promises, the broken hearts and lives. It would be silly to pretend that the Indians (if I may use that non-p.c. term) didn’t war among themselves because they did. But they didn’t have machine guns and railroad trains and the belief that God gave them all the land from coast to coast, a.k.a. “manifest destiny.” Two Spirits is about one small group caught on the dark side of that manifest destiny: the people Americans called Navajo, but who called themselves Diné.

In 1864 the Diné were forced to walk 325 miles in winter from their green, fertile homeland in what we call Northeast Arizona, Canyon de Chelly, to what was actually a concentration camp at Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner. At least 3,000 of their number died on the way. This was General James Carlton’s version of “pacifying” the natives. Carlton, by the way, was a real person. The U.S. Government allocated what probably was sufficient money for the displaced Diné to feed, clothe, and house them, but the money found its way into Carlton’s private coffers. Not only were the Diné starving and unable to grow crops in the inhospitable land, living in substandard shacks, and dying from illnesses, Mexican bandits regularly struck from what became New Mexico, carrying the Diné children to be sold into slavery. Carlton did nothing to protect his charges.

Into this living hell comes a shy, uncertain and untrained Indian Agent named William Lee from Virginia, a young man kicked out by his father for loving another man. Young Will is truly tested by many fires—both from within and without. He’s puzzled why he’s fascinated and attracted to the beautiful healer and wise woman, Hasbaá, a loved and revered member of the tribe. A near-tragedy reveals Hasbaá’s physical strength and Will soon learns that the beautiful, spiritual, strong woman is really a man—a two-spirit. Far from being shunned, as she would have been in white society, Hasbaá is considered blessed. Will and Hasbaá fall deeply in love and are joined in a union by the customs of the tribe.

There is plenty of action and danger in this book, as Will, the Diné, and Hasbaá face persecution and annihilation when Will uncovers Carlton’s corruption and evil. He delves deeply into the life and spirituality of the Diné and his beloved Hasbaá.

As an incurable reader of forewords, afterwords, and footnotes, I especially appreciated the commentaries at the end. “About the Historical Accuracy of This Novel” is as interesting as the book itself, explaining as it does about, among other things, the use of peyote, some of the mystical references, and the acceptance of two-spirit people. This is followed by “A Commentary” by Wesley K. Thomas, a member of the Diné. These brief extras are the cherry on top of the sundae.

Highly recommended!

SNOW MOON RISING — Historical, Holocaust Fiction Wednesday, May 28 2008 

My apologies for the funky appearance of this and a couple of other posts. There is a bug somewhere and I’m a bit frustrated. As soon as I get the bugs worked out there will be more reviews from myself and special contributors. Meanwhile…enjoy the post and have a giggle at my formatting.

SNOW MOON RISING

By Lori L. Lake

Publisher: Regal Crest Enterprises

ISBN 1932300503

With SNOW MOON RISING author Lori L. Lake has created something rare: a boldly written, meticulously researched book that will take your soul, wring it dry, make you cry, and make you think. 

SNOW MOON RISING covers seventy years in the life of Mischka Gallo, a Polish Roma (Gypsy), from the free but hard life of the traveling caravan through the manmade hell of a Nazi work camp, to life as a refugee in New York without even a name that is her own, to coming together with her one true love in middle age.
SNOW MOON RISING is masterful, a word I do not use lightly. The story recreates the world of the Roma, who were among the forgotten victims of the Holocaust.

The author has structured the book in a “bookend” style, which goes back and forth between 1989 and the years between and during the two world wars. The “bookend” structure diminishes some of the suspense, but it lets the reader make it through the horrible things that happen because you know that Mischka survives.


The book begins with Mischka, at eighty, talking to fifteen-year-old Tobar, her grandson in every way except biologically. Tobar is a typical American teenager who is unhappy about his life and hates his name. Then Mischka draws him into the story about his name and his heritage. It is a story Tobar–and the reader–will never forget.

Though Lori Lake is well known among readers of Lesbian books for her “Gun” series, this story of human vitality and courage will win her a legion of new fans.