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.

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

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!

The Filly–Historical Novel, American West, Gay Romance Tuesday, May 20 2008 

  • The Filly

    Mark R. Probst

    Cheyenne Publishing

    978-0-9797773-0-1

    $15.99

     

    Reading THE FILLY brought a wave of nostalgia. As a young person some of my favorite books and movies were Westerns. I read every horse story in our public library, and still remember whole scenes from My Friend Flicka, Smoky the Cowhorse, The Red Pony, and The Tiger Roan. I never missed the Western matinee movies on Saturday afternoon (two movies, newsreel, cartoon, superhero serial, singalong, and previews for twenty-five cents!). The film “Red River” made a huge and lasting impression on me; it was and still is one of the best. And, of course, as an adult I never missed an episode of “Rawhide” on tv.

     

    Mark Probst’s THE FILLY has a lot of things in common with Red River. They are both built around a cattle drive of hundreds of miles, they both have dust, raging storms, collapsing cattle, hardship, exhausted men, fights, threats, and death along the trail. Both “Red River” and THE FILLY have protagonists– in this case two of them, Ethan and Travis–who are brave yet sensitive, not violent by nature but willing and able to fight when necessary. The big difference is in “Red River” Montgomery Clift and John Wayne beat the daylights out of each other, and in THE FILLY Ethan and Travis fall in love.

     

    Seventeen-year-old Ethan is a dreamer and a bookworm who wants more than anything in the world to own his own horse, a filly he can raise and train. He has no sexual experience and is rocked by his inexplicable attraction to the new cowboy in town, 22-year-old Travis.  Travis, on the other hand, is attracted to Ethan but he knows the score and decides to do something about it. He convinces Ethan to join the cattle drive. Over the months and the miles Ethan and Travis became friends long before they explore either their feelings or their physical need. The explicitness of the sex scenes in The Filly is just right for my taste. Finally, with the cattle drive ended and money in hand, they are free to begin their new life. Suddenly harsh reality and violence from an unexpected source stop them dead in their tracks.

     

    I have only two very small niggles with the book, and they’re small ones which certainly don’t affect my rating. The first is that, for his age and the era, Travis is a little too calmly self-understanding in his acceptance and explanation of his own homosexuality, giving a very slight feel of being off-kilter historically. The other relates to a time gap at the end, which I won’t detail because I don’t want to write a spoiler. This is Mark Probst’s first novel, and that’s how writers learn. I’m very much looking forward to another book from him… perhaps a sequel?

     

    Those two very small niggles aside, this is a book that could be given without a qualm to anyone open to a love story between men, but especially to a gay teen. The cover, incidentally, is very attractive and well done. Is it just me or does the man on the cover remind anyone else of Rick Schroeder?

     

    Highly recommended!

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.