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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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.

ISLAND SONG by Alan Chin Thursday, Jul 16 2009 

Island Song

ISLAND SONG by Alan Chin

Publisher: Zumaya Publications, LLC (September 8, 2008)
ISBN-10: 1934841021
ISBN-13: 978-1934841020

Alan Chin’s Island Song is many things: exotic, spiritual, lyrical, and lovely. The author’s visual touch when he word-paints a scene in Hawaii is so lush as to almost overwhelm the senses. I have a soft spot for books that are beautifully written but which do more than entertain; they actually teach the reader something. Island Song does this. And does it in such a way that it’s unobtrusive, as when Song, the beautiful young Hawaiian, explains to Garrett the interconnectedness of all life.

The first chapter is one of the most evocative I have read for a long time. An old man chants a plea to the island gods, and as he does the young man with him sees something eerie and frightening, something that may not be there, and he feels brushed by an all-encompassing Power. The old man is called Grandfather by all, and is the spiritual leader of the island. The young man is Songoree, destined for and being trained to walk the same path Grandfather has taken, to take his place eventually. In the same way other faiths have waited for promised leaders, they are waiting the being called the Speaker. He is to be what St. Paul was to Christians. Who he is, where he may come from, whether he is young or old, no one knows. Grandfather just knows that he will come.

In the meantime, Garrett Davidson, a Californian who has never recovered emotionally from the AIDS-related death of Marc, his life-partner, is seeking a place where he can be alone with his grief and the depression that has led to chronic, severe pain in his head. His goal is to write about Marc and their life together. The story of Island Song is one of the physical, mental, and emotional recovery of this man, and his awakening to new love and spirituality. A large part of his recovery is the unexpected and unwanted love he comes to feel for the exuberantly innocent and alive Songoree, beloved by the islanders, and called Song. Never has a character had a more apt name, because his whole being is a song of existence.

However, the author is not one to let the reader rest peacefully on the flow of his prose. Several times, when least expected, something startling bursts to the surface: homophobia, which runs like an undercurrent beneath the story; a startling backstory trip to a San Francisco gay bathhouse; a stunning suicide; a violent bar fight. Chin’s facility with description is faultless, whether he is writing about the exquisite beauty to be found below the surface of the sea or relating the grit of life.

I also very much like the way Chin handled the scenes of making love. They were very well done; they were graphic without being gross; they came at the proper place in the story; and they were never thrown in just to be titillating. And best of all they were, truly, scenes of physical love in the fullest sense of the word.

Characterization is mixed. Garrett, Song, and Grandfather are as beautifully realized as figures in a Renaissance painting. You come to know them intimately and they are unforgettable. I wish the character of Audrey had been fleshed out a little bit more, and three of the characters—Owen, his lover Micah the rebellious preacher’s son, and Micah’s father the homophobic preacher—are close to being stereotypes. Owen and Micah, though likable, seem to always to be scampering holding hands. (They don’t, actually, but that’s the impression I was left with.)

The only real quibbles are more “quibs” than “quibbles,” things that personally put me off a tad. First was the style, which was present verb tense. I have never liked books written in the present tense, but because Island Song is so well done I was able to ignore the tense…until the first flashback. Because the flashbacks were also in present tense, I then became distractingly aware of the tense. The other issue more than likely bothered me because of the “I wouldn’t have written it that way” syndrome common to novelists who write reviews. The final two chapters, while pleasant, felt tacked on like an afterthought, and read more like the first two chapters of a sequel. (I hope there is one!) I felt that the last words in the book should have been the end of Chapter 30: “All things begin within the density of silence.” That is so profound and so in keeping with the general feeling of the story, it (to me) just seems more apt.

At the risk of repeating myself, Island Song is a wonderful debut novel. I have never left the Midwest, but with his artistry Alan Chin took my heart and mind to Hawaii. Island Song is very highly recommended.

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I invite you to go to the “Conversations With Authors” page, and sit down with Alan Chin and me for a conversation about the book and his life. This is the first of a series of conversations I will be doing with authors.

CAPTAIN’S SURRENDER — Historical Fiction, Age of Sail Monday, May 19 2008 

Captain’s Surrender

By Alex Beecroft

Publisher: Linden Bay Romance

ISBN: 1602020892

 Kenyon and Andrews Under Full Sail!

 

I must say right off that I have always lived smack-dab in the middle of corn-and-soybean country in the US. I have never seen, smelled, or heard the sea except in films and I’m scared to death of water and I’ve never been a particular fan of adventure stories. Plus I’m addicted to long, fat books. So why am I am enamored of this little book (less than 200 pages) filled with raging seas, heaving decks, booming cannon, salt spray and decks awash in blood?

 

Mostly because it’s a really terrific read. For another, the protagonists, 20-year-old red-haired Josh Andrews and Lt. Peter Kenyon, are well-drawn, intelligent, and sympathetic young men who just happen to be hotter than a cannon barrel at Trafalgar. And each has a secret that could get him hanged in the King’s Navy. The author has a facility for description that lets you taste the salt air, feel the pain of a flogging, hear the wind screaming through the lines in a storm, feel the deck, slippery with blood, lurch beneath your feet. Either Beecroft’s research has been incredibly thorough or else we have a two-hundred-year-old author in our midst.

 

Under the best of circumstances life was brutal in the closed-in, isolated world of a ship at sea. And when the captain is a vicious man who enjoys blood sport—especially if the blood is that of one of his men—it’s unbearable. (That captain, by the way, is not the surrendering captain of the title!) On the first page a young sailor is hanged for being a “sodomite.” So it is that from the opening sentence we know what kind of captain Andrews and Kenyon are sailing under. And when red-haired Joshua is nearly undone by his fierce attraction to the lieutenant, Peter Kenyon, we know what potentially deadly secret he carries.

 

This is a book packed full of excitement; when Josh and Peter finally get together the sex scenes are graphic without being overwhelming the story. The course of love does not run smooth, especially with a potential bride thrown into the mix. And as a bonus you’ll probably learn a great deal about sailing vessels. For instance, I didn’t know that after a battle the blood literally poured down the sides of the vessel from channels created for that purpose. See what I mean about the research?

 

It’s not fair, I suppose, to pick on the cover because authors almost never get anything to say about it. But the cover is the only thing I didn’t care for. With its ho-hum six-pack abs it’s a tad cheesy. This book deserves better, not to mention you’d want to hide it from your mother and maiden aunt.

 

The story is highly recommended and I’m looking forward to Beecroft’s next book. And after you read it, if you find yourself suddenly addicted to movies like Mutiny on the Bounty, Master and Commander, Moby Dick, etc., you can blame Alex Beecroft.

 

 

 

 

STANDISH– Historical Fiction/Gay Romance Monday, May 19 2008 

Standish

By Erastes

Publisher: P.D. Publishing, Inc.

ISBN: 1933720093

 

Superb Storytelling

One of the characters in Standish does nothing—doesn’t move, doesn’t speak, doesn’t think. And yet this character controls emotions and actions and passions just by existing. It is a house called Standish. Like the Rochester mansion in “Jane Eyre” or the cliffs in “Wuthering Heights” Standish is a place so important to the story that it almost takes on life.

 

Standish is the vanished patrimony of Ambrose Standish, impoverished grandson of the man who lost the place to Gordian Goshawk in a gambling game and lost his life in a duel soon after. Ambrose is studious, intelligent, and bitter at a fate which has him toiling as a tutor to support himself and his two spinster sisters.  The house, Standish, is his obsession, his dream, his torment.

 

When Rafe Goshawk, who inherited Standish from his father, returns from many years abroad to take up residence there his life is set on a collision course with Ambrose. The Goshawk family’s reputation is that of “venal, predatory raptors” and Rafe himself is a cold-eyed man, as bitter as Ambrose but for a different reason. He was born in Paris, raised as an aristocrat, and was a young boy when the Terror sent his mother to the guillotine, destroyed his world, and sent him and his father fleeing to England.

.

Ambrose hates the Goshawks without ever having seen one of the infamous breed who ruined his family. And then through circumstances or fate, he finds himself hired as tutor for Rafe’s son; for the first time he sees the house he has obsessed about, up close. It is everything he dreamed it would be. It’s a given that Rafe and Ambrose will end up in each other’s arms but if you expect roses and violins and a predictable ending…surprise!

 

I won’t go further with the story because it has so many twists and turns and I don’t want to write a spoiler. The writing—descriptions, dialogue, everything about it—feels real and authentic. Erastes is an author who must research and research and research. And yet the research never overwhelms the story. It never intrudes. The author handles violence and sex with equal ease and knows the fine line at which to stop.

 

It’s superb, well-crafted storytelling at its best.