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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SAPPHO SINGS by Peggy Ullman Bell Sunday, Jun 14 2009 

Sappho Sings

SAPPHO SINGS
Peggy Ullman Bell
Publisher: CreateSpace
ISBN-10: 1438214316
ISBN-13: 978-1438214313

Sappho Sings. And so does Peggy Ullman Bell in her lyrical, painstakingly researched, emotionally involving novel about the Poetess of Lesbos.

Will Durant in his “Life of Greece” is quoted as saying that Sappho “called herself Psappha, in her soft Aeolian accent” and Psappha is the name by which she is known through this wondrous novel. Because the title uses the more familiar name “Sappho”, that is the name I shall use.

Many people have heard the name of Sappho but not many know who she was, what she did, or what she was famous for. There is, however, a sadly amusing idea in certain quarters that Sappho was “the founder of Lesbians,” to quote someone of my acquaintance. (I didn’t know Lesbians were “founded” but I guess that’s a different issue.) At any rate, she is associated in modern thought with Lesbians (in the sexual sense, that is, not as in “citizens of Lesbos”) and nothing else. Many people don’t even know that the Island of Lesbos, in the Aegean Sea, actually exists and is not some mythic legend like Atlantis. I did actually know it existed, but that’s the extent of what I knew until I read Sappho Sings.

Though Sappho was a prolific writer of poetry only a few original fragments of her work remain in existence, and it is with these fragments that Bell weaves the mesmerizing tale of an accomplished, passionate woman as real and flawed as any woman alive today.

Bell’s vision of Sappho begins with her as a fatherless, feisty teenage girl, small in stature but a lion in spirit, who defies a tyrant and pays for it by being banished from her beloved island home and the adored little brother whose birth took her mother’s life. On the miserable journey from Lesbos to Syracuse, Sappho loses her lifelong friend and betrothed, Alkaios, in a storm. She is rescued and “captured”—at least that’s her view of it—by Kerkolos, a sea-going, wealthy merchant, who takes her to his home in Syracuse.

He treats her with utmost respect that eventually calms her fears of becoming a slave or concubine, and his gentle ways, so at odds with his appearance, win her over to friendship. They wed, and Sappho gives birth to his daughter. She feels great fondness for him, if not passion, and is grief-stricken and frightened when she finds herself suddenly widowed and at the mercy of her truly horrible mother-in-law.

Eventually Sappho initiated in the rites of the Sisterhood of Iphis and discovers that, though she is capable of physical passion with men, her heart is taken by women. The cast is large; some of the names are vaguely familiar from Ancient History in High School many years ago. I didn’t find them very interesting back then. Now they certainly are!

The characters are unforgettable, especially Praxinoa, the nurse and lifelong friend; Lycos, the elegant and somewhat effeminate man whose loving friendship also lasts throughout the book, and the tall, Nubian queen, Gongyla, the love of Sappho’s life, a woman who sold herself into slavery to save her people from a similar fate. I will never forget these people who have been my companions for many days.

Bell’s knowledge of society and of place seems encyclopedic and yet not overwhelming. The language is just archaic enough in structure that it keeps you grounded in the ancient world but not enough so that it seems overdone. Names are pronounced in footnotes, which is very helpful. Sappho Sings is also the most sensuous book I have ever read: the lush descriptions of place, the elegantly expressed passion of depicted intimacy are poetic without crossing the line into the ludicrous, as sometimes happens when less gifted authors attempt it.

It is simply a wonderful book. It is not a quick and easy read, and it’s certainly not a genre romance although love of many kinds permeates the pages. Part of that is the author’s love of her subject.

This book should be winning awards. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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.