Saturday, March 28, 2009

Speak Its Name: Trilogy 111 by Charlie Cochrane, Lee Rowan, & Erastes

Review by Mark R. Probst

Speak Its Name is a wonderful collection of three historical gay romances set in England that are very different from one another and yet complement each other quite well. The first, Aftermath by Charlie Cochrane is set in Cramner College in 1920 and features the alternating viewpoint of two students – the popular and higher class Hugo Lamont and the socially awkward Edward Easterby. An unfortunate incident involving shoes being spoiled brings them together and while they both are enamored with one another, neither has the courage to act upon his feelings. Hugo had a past encounter with a gigolo that caused him such guilt and shame that he fears to pursue a romantic liaison with Edward would end in the same result. Edward on the other hand is an innocent and sees only purity in the love he feels.

The story is a simple one with very little in the way of plot, but rather a character study of the complications of a burgeoning romance in a repressed time. Of the three stories it is the most chaste in its depiction of sex.

The second story, Gentleman’s Gentleman by Lee Rowan is a delightful escapade of an English Lord and his Valet. There is a prologue set in a military conflict in Afghanistan with Major Robert Scoville and Sergeant Jack Darling during which Scoville proposes employment for Darling if they should make it out of this war alive. Darling accepts the offer and then proceeds to save the Major’s life when he is almost killed. The story then jumps ahead 11 years as Lord Scoville and Jack Darling, now his valet, have been living comfortably on his estate. Scoville’s dalliances with temporary male lovers is accepted by Jack who carries on a few clandestine affairs of his own but manages to fool his employer into thinking that he’s a ladies man. Both men are attracted to one another but Scoville wouldn’t dream of imposing his desires upon a subordinate and Jack is convinced his affections toward Scoville are not mutual. During a secret mission for the government in which Scoville is to retrieve secret papers involving plans of the Germans, things get a little complicated and in the chaos the two men finally reveal their true feelings for one another, but find that they have to complete the mission before they can sort out what to do about their future. There is also a very short epilog that shows what became of them 27 years later.

The nice thing about Rowan’s story is that it really is an exciting adventure and the romantic feelings between the two leads were always just below the surface creating dramatic tension, because the reader feels that the truth could erupt at any moment.

The third story, Hard and Fast by Erastes is the crown jewel of the three. The somewhat feckless Geoffrey Chaloner, having returned from serving in the Napoleonic War, is a pawn in his father’s plans to match him with a Miss Pelham, who has no money but does carry a title which would be of benefit to the Chaloner family. Miss Pelham’s cousin, Adam Heyward, is in charge of her welfare, and is the one from whom Geoffrey must gain acceptance in order to court Miss Pelham. Adam is an enigma. He’s scathing and yet he also manipulates Geoffrey into doing what he wants. It would be impossible for me to adequately describe the plot as it is somewhat complicated. Suffice it to say, Geoffrey and Adam have a torrid encounter and Geoffrey has to make some radical decisions about the direction he chooses for the future.

Written in the first-person, the story has a style that is sumptuous and precise. The formality and structure of the language are spot-on in reflecting the rigid, polite society of the upper-class in the early nineteenth Century. The dry humor and the subtle digs that Geoffrey makes toward his father and society in general are deliciously rich. This is first-class writing and I predict that in the very near future, the name Erastes will be much wider known in the literary industry.

Authors’ websites:

The Jade Owl by Edward C. Patterson

Reviewed by Ellen George

A magnificent start of a literary legacy

China, present day and past, is still so mysterious and inviting. Sinologist Edward C. Patterson has written a masterful epic in The Jade Owl that will not only have you glued to this 595 page book, but have you before you are half way through the book, ordering book 2 of this series, The Third Peregrination!

Patterson's masterful story deals with an amazing 'work of art' The Jade Owl, commissioned by Empress Wu, and with its charmer/creator, became the stuff legends are made of from the Middle Kingdom on in China's impressive legends. It is not only a magnificent piece of art, but a metaphysical power that can enchant and destroy. A group of Sinologists from San Francisco become part of The Jade Owl's destiny, including Dr. Rowden Gray, and Nick Battle, son of Grey's former mentor. Nick takes Dr. Gray to Chinatown - the ancient relic The Jade Owl still exists! Battle takes Gray to a club and Gray meets Nick's love, Simone DeLefleurry, or Simon as some may call him. So starts the beginnings of great friendships that encompass continents. The China Hands that were born to find the stuff of legends and must right the laws of ch'i before the Jade Owl and its destructive power literally change life as we know it.

Patterson is a well known sinologist who has taken the legends of China and breathed life into them in a non-stop Indiana Jones meets the Great Wall of China type of adventure. It is an amazing trek into the world of China and its people and history, and a series of love stories.

As a fledgling writer, I am always amazed the brilliance of someone's writing where a complex story is not only told with beauty, but each sentence seems touched by a poetic gleam.
The Jade Owl, like Gary Val Tenuta's The Ezekiel Code, is riveting and unforgettable. Mr. Patterson is a prolific writer, and those works I have been honored to read so far have been told with grace and power.

May The Jade Owl hoot in your ear and have you ordering your copy. The book, the Chinese mythology, the friendships are all truly magical. You will be recommending Edward C. Patterson's books to anyone asking if you happen to know any good books to read - Patterson is a literary force to be reckoned with - much like his metaphysical forces - ethereal as the wind, yet as powerful.

If I Were A Lady… by Bryl Tyne

Reviewed by Mykola (Mick) Dementiuk

An exquisite well-crafted first novella fused from the imaginative pen of Bryl Tyne, which has me eagerly anticipating her full-length works to come.

“If I Were A Lady…” is the story of Kendra Wright, fifth grade English teacher who loves being a teacher and her little charges until one day a new principal, Val Riche, is assigned to her school and that sets the story in motion. But does anyone know Kendra may or may not be what she seems?

Since ancient times transvestites or trans-sexuals have had shamanic qualities they carried with them, an other-worldly appearance seeming to set them apart from all others, even living alone in the tribe and either dressed-up or not dressed, passing or not passing, looking and making one uncomfortable in their presence. Not so Kendra; she fits in perfectly. And her common-sense heart tells her to deny Val’s closeness but she can’t help but fall into his arms as easily with each move he makes…until the near chaotic end when we think we’ll see her fall apart in Val’s strong holding arms…But fate has other answers.

Because of the exquisite writing I found this novel very capturing and fast moving, till at the end I wished Bryl Tyne had taken us deeper into the relationship between Kendra and Val, not to mention the slime bag Stephen, or Star, who pops in and pops out, bringing the novella to a close. Good thing I know that Bryl Tyne is now working on a bigger and longer novel. She certainly has this reader, and others, impatiently awaiting her next release…a much bigger book.

Get to work Bryl, entertain us…please…

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Deadly Nightshade by Victor Banis

Reviewed by Robert Buck

Victor J. Banis is not only one of the more prolific writers today, he is also one of the more talented and versatile writers. So it was exciting news to me to learn awhile back that Mr. Banis was going to be doing a series of books in the mystery genre – which happens to be my favorite genre fiction.

The first book in the series, titled Deadly Nightshade, introduces us to two San Francisco policemen, Tom Danzel who is a very experienced, straight and masculine homicide detective, and Stanley Korski who is a slightly built, gay, and very much a rookie cop. The only reason Stanley is teamed up with Tom is that there is what appears to be a drag queen, killing men in San Francisco, and Stanley, being openly gay, was chosen to assist Tom in an area where Tom has no expertise.

One small caveat should be given here however. If a reader is looking for a crime driven police procedural this might not be the book the reader is seeking. While there are some very interesting twists that take place as the pair go about solving the crime, by far the strength of the book is about inter-personal relationships - not only between Tom and Stanely, but also between Stanley and his estranged father, and between other characters as well. The reader is almost certain to be drawn instantly to Stanley but it might take a little time for the reader to warm up to Tom, though it is almost certain the reader eventually will.

If a reader is looking for a well-crafted, quickly paced romantic novel by a master writer, this is definitely the right book. Among Banis’ many talents is that he is a master of witty dialogue and wicked humor and that is never more evident in his writing than in Deadly Nightshade (The Man From C.A.M.P. Notwithstanding). For those old enough to remember some of the old movies, the banter between Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn comes to mind.

I highly recommend Deadly Nightshade and have only one minor quibble with it. I would have preferred if Stanley and Tom had taken just a bit longer to reach the boiling point. However, I understand the reason for that is that this was projected to be a three book series. I surely hope, however, that reader’s can prevail on Mr. Banis to keep the Stanley and Tom series going past the initial three books as he has a winning combination here.

False Colors by Alex Beecroft

Reviewed by Erastes

When I was in fandom there were certain writers who had the capacity to make me want to smash my keyboard into tiny pieces and not write again. When I finished Alex Beecroft’s new book, False Colors, I had that feeling this morning.

There are a very few books on my list of “essential reads” for anyone interested in Gay Historical Fiction. The Charioteer, At Swim Two Boys, As Meat Loves Salt and now False Colors.
Yes, it’s that good. If you are interested in the genre at all, or are planning to write the genre in future I hold up False Colors and say “this is how it should be done.”

To say that FC isn’t a romance would be doing it an injustice because it is—in the modern and the old-fashioned sense of the word. But Beecroft takes that mixes it up with adventure to die for (literally) moral dilemmas popping up like mushrooms, earthy realistic 18th century figures and heart stopping action—and of course romance.

At the core it’s about two young men who struggle with their places in life and have to weigh up those places, and their reputations– and ruin thereof–against their duty. Many authors would take a book about gay sailors and have most of it having the protagonists either shagging like bunnies or leaning attractively on the quarter-deck pining for the colour of his love’s eyes but Beecroft knows the navy and the men within. She knows despite how much tumescence is going on in the fine linen of a sailor’s drawers sailors need to work the ship, take watches, men need to be fed, watered, entertained, repel boarders, fight the enemy. If they tend to forget their lover’s fine eyes while they are fighting for their lives, one has to forgive them. This is after all a historical novel and quite aside from the wonderful story of John and Alfie, it is a a book that reeks of the sea – and one that would grace any naval enthusiast’s shelves.

Ms Beecroft, as anyone who has read Captain’s Surrender will know, does not shy from the realism of her chosen era. The bodycount in this book could rival any Hollywood blockbuster and she doesn’t spare the reader the details of the horrors that life in His Majesty’s navy can bring, not in sight or sound or taste or smell. Scurvy and yellowjack, torture and shipwreck, the details are always crisp, and convincing. This is what raises her work above the heads of her peers and what makes this great gay romantic fiction.

If I have any quibbles with this very fine piece of work—quite the best Ms Beecroft has produced—it’s perhaps that the first sixty pages are so crammed with action (making it utterly unputdownable) that it’s the tiniest bit jumpy. This doesn’t do any detriment to the story though, other than perhaps to take the shine off one of the big fat shiny five stars this book very deservedly gets from me.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Self Preservation by Ethan Day

Reviewed by Scandalous Minx at Literary Nymphs Reviews Only

Living a life in a house of cards constructed of past moments with his first love has Preservationist Davis Andrews hoping they will find a way back into each other’s lives and arms. However, one phone call changes all of that. Jack Monroe has moved on, found a new love and has invited Davis to his wedding. With the help of his best friend, Deseree, Davis travels to Chicago with plans on getting back the only man he has ever loved. Unfortunately, it won’t be easy when the fiancĂ© is successful, attractive and set on keeping Jack for himself. Then add a British playboy by the name of Alex Parker to the list of players, and it’s no wonder Davis will have to hope for a bit of Self Preservation for his heart, his mind, and if Alex has anything to do with it, his body.

Ethan Day knows how to put a reader on an emotional roller coaster ride and by the end of the book, have you not caring that you left your heart at the top of a loop. The characters are fantastic. Davis is sweet, funny, and handsome. Jack is talented and loving. Tadd, Jack’s fiancĂ©, is everything you would hate for you ex to find in the next man, he’s bloody perfect. Then there is Alex, a man who runs from the word “commitment” faster than any sprinter I’ve ever seen on a track. Deseree is a peach, and Jack’s mom is the type of mom every gay man would wish for his own. Honestly, each character completes this story and brings it life. There were moments where I wanted to bundle Davis up and protect his heart, but I knew the road he traveled down was important and would be life-altering. The trip gave Davis exactly what he wanted but very little of what he expected. I’m looking forward to reading more of Mr. Day’s novels. The humor, setting and complexity of the relationships are entertaining and grasp your attention until the final sentence. If I’m fortunate, Mr. Day will have a short story about Deseree in the near future. One could only hope.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Deadly Wrong by Victor J. Banis

Review by Matthew for Rainbow Reviews

BOOK BLURB: The police say "involuntary manslaughter," but a tragic accident turns out instead to be murder, plain and simple. And San Francisco Homicide Inspector Stanley Korski, on leave from the force and his unrequited love for fellow detective Tom Danzel, walks right into a murderer's web of treachery. Wrong, Stanley. Deadly wrong.

BOOK REVIEW: “Deadly Wrong” by Victor J. Banis is a wonderful story, full of great characters, a riveting mystery, and sizzling hot sex.

Stanley is a reluctant Detective with the San Francisco Police Department. We first met him in the previous book “Deadly Nightshade.” He is a very interesting character. He is described as flamboyantly gay, yet I never really got that impression. He never came across as overly feminine or exaggeratedly affected; rather he had a brilliant sense of humor, self-acknowledged pettiness, that plays as funny rather than prissy, and a preference for being a top. Stanley’s an attractive, intriguing character.

Also, in the previous book, we met Tom, Stanley’s reluctant police partner. He is a ‘man’s man’, all rough around the edges, testosterone-spewing, masculine kind of man. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he is gorgeous.

There are several secondary characters that are well drawn and add depth. Although the story takes place in a small town, the author wisely avoided too many stereotypes. There are the usual rednecks, crazy lady, and a small-minded, big ego sheriff, among others, but they are more interesting than they first seem and don’t always behave in the typical manner.

The plot is a good mystery and moves at a satisfying pace. There are plenty of suspects, just as many motives and the clues are subtle but present. I have to admit I figured some of the things out before Stanley, the Detective, did, but, then he was reluctant to be a detective in the first place and probably hasn’t read as many mysteries as I have. So, I figured out ‘who’ but never ‘why’ until the ending, where all is revealed.

It should be mentioned that the sex is really, really hot. What makes it so good is the emotion behind the actions, the passion ~ not that the actions weren’t enjoyable too! Not only were the scenes well written, but also the sex was a part of the whole fabric of the story rather than a part unto itself.

Technically, this is the second book in this series, but “Deadly Wrong” completely stands on its own. I am always reluctant to read a book if I haven’t read the first one. I worry that I’ll be lost or not know who people are or I’ll have missed out on things. There is no need to worry about any of that. While reading the first one will add some depth to things, it is definitely not necessary! This is a great mystery-romance tale and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

Orientation by Rick R. Reed

Reviewed by jessewave

THE BLURB: Christmas, 1983: A young man, Robert, tends to his soul mate, Keith, who is dying from AIDS. Robert tries valiantly to make this a special Christmas for his lover, but loses the fight late Christmas night. Christmas, 2007: Robert ventures out late Christmas night and finds a young girl about to fling herself into the unforgiving waters of Lake Michigan. He rescues her, and the two form a bond forged from an odd feeling they share of familiarity, and even love. Neither understands it, since Jess is a lesbian and Robert has never been attracted to women. But there’s more...Jess begins having strange dreams, reliving key moments she couldn’t know about in Keith and Robert’s life and courtship. Robert and Jess begin to wonder if their inexplicable feelings might be rooted in something much more mystical than a savior/victim relationship.

As the two move toward and pull away from each other, Ethan, Robert’s younger lover, plots the unthinkable. His crystal meth-addled mind becomes convinced there’s only one way to save himself, and that is through Robert’s destruction. Christmas 2007 spirals downward to a shattering climax in which both love and lives hang in the balance.

There’s a murder attempt...salvation...redemption...And a new love is born.

THE REVIEW: Rick Reed is a prolific writer whose books include many genres and I'm just starting my journey into the incredibly complex mind of this artist as he arranges his paints on a palette and paints pictures that let the readers into his imaginary world. This is a love story but it's not your typical love story because for Rick Reed there is always a twist as his stories are unusual, and even if you feel that they are too incredible for words you can't help but be caught up in his evil and inventive mind.

Orientation begins Christmas Day 1983 when we meet Robert whose lover Keith is dying of AIDS. As he takes care of Keith, perhaps for the last time, Robert tries to make Christmas a day to remember because he knows it would be Keith's last. What really touched and saddened me about this scene is the picture of Robert scurrying around to make elaborate preparations, knowing that no one else will see them or eat the food.

We flash forward 24 years later and there's a new man in Robert's life, Ethan, one of his many lovers over almost two and a half decades, but he knows that this last relationship has ended although he can't quite bring himself to throw him out because he's afraid of confrontation. As Ethan goes out Christmas night on yet another unexplained tryst, Robert decides to take a walk along the shores of Lake Michigan to figure out what to do, and it is there that he sees Jess as she is about to kill herself. He saves her, after convincing her that suicide is not the answer to her problems, and brings her home. This is the start of a new phase in Robert's life when he realizes shortly after, that inexplicably Jess is reliving his and Keith's life when they first met. There is no logical explanation other than somehow Jess has a part of Keith's soul inside her.

I really love Orientation which is exactly the kind of story one expects from Rick Reed - engrossing, mind blowing, emotional, eerie and any other word that you wish to choose but personally I wanted more of the story devoted to Jess and Robert in the same space, including an exploration of their symbiotic relationship with Keith, Robert's former lover. However, that was not the story that the author wanted to write and this one is quite riveting in parts, and in some ways touching, as we journey into Ethan's befuddled mind that's gradually losing its grip on reality. Turns out that Ethan has a major drug problem that's killing him and he's in a hole that he can't get out of; his unabated desire for the drug and risky sex with strangers is now pushing him to the point of contemplating murder. It's clear that the author did a lot of research into the world of crystal meth. and its victims and he gives us a graphic picture of how dependency destroys human beings in a short space of time and changes their orientation.

Orientation is an incredible piece of writing, from the strange and unexplained loving relationship between a gay man and a lesbian to the descent into hell which is what Ethan 's life became with his dependency on Miss Tina as he calls his drug of choice when he smokes, slams, and snorts his new mistress. The story also gives the reader an excellent portrayal of Robert's character as he is incapable of facing the truth of Ethan's addiction, the signs of which are quite clear, and he can't make the decision to kick him out, until it's almost too late.

The book is a gem and you won't find characters like these anywhere else. It's a compliment to Reed's writing that I stayed up all night to find out what would happen when the worlds in his story collided, and the ending is as unusual as those of the other stories I have read by this author. This is not a light read but if you're looking for an intricate plot and multifaceted characters who bring an array of complex human emotions to their story, then look no further. The characters will move you -- to anger, pity and a whole range of other reactions. The love story here is Robert's and Keith's as it plays out in the background like a wonderful melody, because even though Keith is long gone Robert keeps his memory alive through his love for the man who will forever hold his heart . We get to experience Robert's evolution from his early twenties, in the throes of his first love affair, to a middle aged man hanging on to a young lover who is slipping through his grasp. The plot is compelling and the characterizations are superb - there are no perfect people in this book - each character is flawed, some more than others, but in the end there is redemption.

Looking for a totally different book with all the elements that will keep you on the edge of your seat? Try Orientation.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Mexican Heat by Laura Baumbach & Josh Lanyon

Reviewed by Pat Brown

Word of advice: handle this book with asbestos gloves.

Gabriel Sandalini is an uncover San Francisco Detective working to stop a Mexican drug cartel bent on gaining control of the drug supply in the Americas. He has been undercover for a long time and has worked his way high up in the hierarchy of the Botelli regime. Ricco Botelli is the West Coast Crime boss who wants to expand his empire with Don Sanchez, a Mexican drug king whose second lieutenant is Miguel Ortega. Botelli plans to do this through the marriage of his beloved daughter, the spoiled and willful Gina Botelli to Sanchez. But while Gina wants the power and wealth the marriage will bring her, she is infatuated with Gabriel, who she knows as Giovanni Contadino. Now he has to maintain his cover in the face of the needy Gina and her desires that could very well get him killed.

Seriously this book should come with a warning on the cover: may spontaneously combust. The chemistry between Gabriel and Miguel is incendiary. It begins the minute the two meet in a Mexican bar almost on the first page where Gabriel muses on the truth of his lonely existence. He doesn't need or want entanglements. Or so he tries to convince himself. What follows is an intense roller coaster ride through the underbelly of the Mexican drug world. Will Gabriel and Miguel, on opposite sides of the law, survive and will they reconcile their differences? Can they? One is good, one bad. Or will the heat burn out and leave them in ashes?

This is the first time Laura Baumbach and Josh Lanyon have paired as a writing team. I don't know if they plan to do it again any time soon, but if they do, I'll be in line to read the results, with a bottle of tequila on the table and a dozen limes...