“Listening to Dust” by Brandon Shire [TPG Books, 2012] is not a book to tackle if you’re feeling depressed. It is both raw and uncompromising, and it is sure to evoke a gut response from most readers. Nevertheless, it is a thought provoking read and well worth the investment.
The story focuses on a chance meeting between two men with complex and troubled backgrounds, and who find solace in a similarly complex relationship. There is nothing particularly romantic about this affair, and yet it is entirely credible. Relationships do not run smooth, especially same-sex relationships when the public decides to get involved (directly or indirectly), and particularly if that public happens to be the closed minds of a backwater town.
Shire delves into all these aspects with an unrelenting frankness that defies political correctness, i.e. a “drunk” for a father, a “druggy” for a mother, and a “dummy” brother. Yet any other language would have seemed pale in context.
I liked the character development of Stephen and Dusty, and the unexpected twists in their tenuous relationship. On the other hand, I wasn’t quite convinced with Robbie’s character (his language, I think), and there were a few times when I got lost by the changing narration. But, otherwise this is a well-written exploration of human nature, both the good and the profane. Four bees.(less)
Until I came across "Eromenos" by Melanie McDonald [Seriously Good Books, 2011] I had never before heard of Antinous of Bithynia, or his legendary affair with the Emperor Hadrian. Just how I could have missed such a charming page in history (referred to as the “real life version of Zeus and Ganymede”) I don’t know, but I am certainly grateful to Ms McDonald for introducing me to it in such an entertaining way.
Antinous was born in the town of Bithynion-Claudiopolis, in the Greek province of Bithynia, and the story is told in his voice as a recollection. At about 12 years Antinous is sent to Nikomedia for his education, and it is there that he catches the eye of Hadrian on one of his many tours. With a ready eye for beautiful young boys, Hadrian invites him to join his imperial retinue as a page.
This is fairly heady stuff for a farm lad from one of the Greek provinces, but even more honours were to follow when Hadrian asked him to be his personal attendant on a hunting trip, and eventually into his bed.
As one might expect, however, being the catamite of a living god had its ups and downs, as Antinous would soon discover, for Hadrian was by profession a general as well as emperor, and thereby firmly in command of everyone around him. Nonetheless, Antinous somehow learned to cope with the vagaries of both the emperor and the imperial court for some seven years.
Nevertheless, as he approached manhood (around 19) he began to realize the he could no longer be Hadrian’s lover because of public opinion and because Hadrian preferred younger boys; therefore, Antinous decided to sacrifice himself to the gods and the man he loved. At least that is how the story goes, for no one really knows for certain.
One researcher has put it this way:
“One may well wonder why a young and vibrant man would sacrifice himself for his Emperor and for Rome. There is the obvious answer that people often do strange and illogical things for love. Antinous may well have believed that he would win immortality in the waters of the Nile and hence may not have seen his death as an end to his life. And, although there is no direct evidence that Antinous was suffering from a depression, he had to have realized that he was passing the age of eromenos. Within a year or two at most Antinous would either have to give up his position as royal favorite or accustom himself to the condemnation, “pathetic.” Whatever would become of Antinous after his decline from favorite could only be a lessening of position and if he truly loved Hadrian he would undoubtedly be alarmed at the prospect of ending their relationship not only for reasons of status, but for reasons of the heart. Or, perhaps, Antinous had simply grown to feel shame at his position and was driven into the waters with a sense of helplessness and lack of self worth that could scarcely be considered rare in teenagers of any time period.” http://ladyhedgehog.hedgie.com/antino....
The days following Antinous’s death brought great emotional upheaval and strain to the emperor. Trudging through a despair and sense of guilt, Hadrian’s first impulse was to follow his beloved into the otherworld. However, Hadrian was emperor and his life was not really his to give, and so in compensation he declared Antinous a god.
For whatever reason Antinous entered the waters of the Nile, therefore, he did obtain a form of immortality. Had he passed quietly from his role as favourite he may well have disappeared from history, but with his death and Hadrian’s response to it, he was assured a place in future remembrance—such as this book.
This novel is a textbook example of how historical fact and fiction should meet in a seamless, agreeable balance, so that one does not outweigh the other. Moreover the characters are well developed, and as far as I could determine, historically accurate. I rate is fairly-well faultless. Five bees.
Note: I note the Seriously Good Books is a new publisher with a worthy mission. i.e. “SERIOUSLY GOOD BOOKS hopes to survive and thrive as a small, independent press publishing historical fiction of lasting quality. Here you will find solid historical fiction that enlightens as well as entertains. From time to time, SG Books may select a work of literary fiction, a notable thriller, or some other surprise, so be sure to bookmark and visit these pages frequently.” See: http://www.seriouslygoodbooks.net/#!_...(less)
Eric Arvin is a ‘friend’ on my Facebook page, and I frequently delight in his off-the-wall-type, ribald wit, and so I was pleased to see it present in Galley Proof [Dreamspinner Press, 2012], his latest in quite a long list of titles.
The topic–writers and writing—is a natural for any author, but it is not without its risks. It’s like ‘talking shop’ to someone who is not in the field, and readers of course are not. There is a twinge of this in talking about ‘writer’s block’—which I personally believe doesn’t exist—but Eric rather skilfully avoids this by focussing on the personalities and their interactions.
The main character, Logan Brandish, is surprisingly conservative for a writer, with his ‘suburilicious’ cat and equally conservative boyfriend, Curtis. But since nothing ever remains constant for long, enter the rakishly handsome Brock who—like most alpha males—instinctively wants to dominate Logan ‘because he can.’ The methodology is fairly typical, as well; i.e. by attacking Logan’s self-confidence through his creation—most writer’s Achilles’ heel.
Logan’s reaction is fairly typical as well, almost trite, for he dumps Curtis and succumbs to this hunk’s manipulation like smitten spinster; eventually ending up in his bed. However, I hasten to add that it is Eric’s skill and wit as a writer that makes this seems fresh and above all entertaining.
It is not without its insights, either, and like his witticisms these are embedded like bonbons throughout; asides and observations that either make you smile or think.
It is the first of Eric’s novels that I have read, but I hope to be able to get around to others in the future. Four and one-half bees.(less)
Unfortunately this is the first Dorien Grey novel I have read. I say “unfortunately” because reading The Peripheral Son [Zumaya Boundless, 2011] has made it clear just what pleasure I have missed.
It is in fact the fourteenth in the Dick Hardesty Series that Dorien Grey has developed, but I didn’t find this an impediment to enjoying the story—other than wanting to go back to see how the characters developed along the way.
The story blurb provides an outline of the plot, as have other reviewers, and so I will concentrate on what I found the be particularly enjoyable about Dorien Grey’s work.
Right from the start the author’s skill in bringing the characters to life is apparent. Almost text book examples, in fact. Victor Koseva’s peculiarities as a fastidious, gay, hardnosed investigative reporter, sets the stage and even the rationale for his murder. Moreover, his status as the ‘peripheral son’ is a stark contrast to quiet domesticity of Dick Hardesty, his lover Jonathon, and adopted son Joshua.
Likewise, the supporting cast—both good guys and bad—are all interesting while contributing to and enlivening the plot.
[I will also include in this category an editorial note: I am so pleased that the author chose to emphasize the ‘happy’ side of gay life; as apposed to what I have come to term “the persecution complex.” Yes, persecution has been, and still is, a very real part of the gay experience, but it doesn’t rank the predominance that some writers give it.]
The plot, particularly the mystery elements, demonstrates the same understanding of progressive form that guides—not drives—the story from beginning to end. Indeed, it is the subtle laying out of clues (and possibilities) that tempts the reader onward—as every good mystery should do.
The story also moves along at a nice pace—necessary, I think, for a thinking-mystery—and the narrative is sophisticated and stumble-free; almost a given for writing of this calibre.
I also like the nostalgic bits sprinkled like bonbons throughout the plot, i.e. Sony-Walkmans, etc.
Altogether it was a very satisfying read, but may I suggest a nice cognac and a rendition Jean-Joseph Mouret ‘s “First Suite in D” (the theme tune of Masterpiece Theatre) to go with it. Five bees.(less)
The name Mary Renault is almost iconic in my past, for her Nature of Alexander (1975) was the first book that dealt with homosexuality I had ever found, and as such it was like finding the Holy Grail. This was quickly followed by Fire From Heaven (1969) and The Persian Boy (1972), and just about anything I could get my hands on that had Mary Renault’s name on it.
The King Must Die [Vintage, 1988 (originally published by Pantheon Books, 1958)] was somewhere in there, so re-reading this classic was like a pilgrimage back in time.
It is probably the most main-stream of Renault’s books, at least the ones I have read. Like most classical Greek characters Theseus is capable of deep love for his comrades, but unlike most it doesn’t extend to sex. Given the tenor of the times, however, this is quite understandable if it was to be published at all.
The story more-or-less follows Theseus’ heroic rescue of the enslaved Greek youths from Crete and the mythical Minotaur, but Renault has avoided a mere repetition by adhering to what could be archaeologically supported. Nonetheless, it still retains the marvellously exotic and colourful nuances of the myth by its inclusion of gods, goddesses and witches.
Moreover, by humanizing the mythical elements—his acquiring the bona fide kingship of Eleusis, becoming identified as the son and heir of the king of Athens, and especially the humanizing of the Minotaur as Asterion, the sinister and power-hungry son of Minos (king of Crete)—she has made it all seem plausible.
As a writer of historical fiction myself, I believe the two things I admire most about Renault’s writing is her character development, and the way she weaves the various elements together into a seamless whole. For example, this story takes Perseus from his childhood through five stages of his life, each a complex story in itself, and yet it never loses the central thread from beginning to end. That is the signature of a masterful writer, and which made Renault a legend in her own time.
This novel is not for those who are looking for explicitly gay content, and certainly not erotica of any kind, but if you admire a well-told story in the classical-style, this tale is for you. Five bees. (less)
“Symbiota Sapiens” [Amazon Digital Services, 2011] is the epic debut novel of author P.T. Dean. It is an ambitious work to cut one’s teeth on, but Dean does a remarkable job of just that with only a few exceptions.
The story line is a complex one, almost as if the author was challenging himself, but I never had a problem following it throughout. He also uses some literary devices I have never come across before, i.e. the use of italics, bold face and regular type, to differentiate between the various voices. It is an unorthodox method—at least it is to me—but it worked.
The premise is that Jeremy has been chosen by a mysterious clan of ‘immortals’, survivors of the lost city of Atlantis, who style themselves “Guardians.” It is never made quite clear why Jeremy is chosen, but this is only a minor issue. Jeremy is then told that he must divest himself from all mortal connections, including his orphaned step-brother, Julian. However, having been Julian’s de facto guardian for several years, Jeremy refuses to do this and they both run away to New York.
The Guardians also have counterparts, known as the “Fallen”, who possess the same powers as the Guardians but use it for cross purposes. Jeremy and Julian find this out when they encounter the leader of this faction, a smooth-talking but sinister character by the name of Damion, and only escape with the help of the Guardians. However, they are then pursued by Damion’s minions, zombie-like characters called “autonoids”, who are trying to get at Jeremy through Julian.
P.T. Dean also unfolds a fantasmagorical array of technological gadgetry, including a super computer known as an “A1” that operates both internally and externally inside Jeremy’s head. It is also assisted by a veritable host of microscopic “caretakers” known as “Esserons”, that can cure any ailment or injury that befalls him.
In that regard, this story challenges the 1970s all-time zany “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. However, while Hitchhiker’s Guide was written as a spoof, “Symbiota Sapiens is a serious adventure and love story with zany overtones.
Journalistically the writing is solid throughout, and Dean’s handling of some very complex scenarios is masterful. However, there are some continuity problems. For example, in one scene Julian is kidnapped by a pair of autonoids using a stun gun. At the time Julian had been using his laptop computer in a cyber-café, and when Jeremy finds him missing he immediately takes off in hot pursuit, rescuing Julian and running (at a record pace) until they are well away from the area. They then take a hotel room where Julian continues to work on his computer. However, as far as the reader knows it is still back at the cyber café.
This oversight didn’t interfere with the over all enjoyment of the story, but I can’t call it perfect, either. I can recommend it as a highly original story, though, and if you are a sci-fi fan I think that you will enjoy this one. Four Gerry Bees (less)
“No Apologies” by J.M. Snyder, [JMS Books LLC, 2011], is a gem of a short story that captures the heart and attention right from the start. I would even go so far as to suggest that almost every gay male will be able to identify with this story from personal experience; i.e. that one buddy you fell in love with early, but didn’t know if he ‘swung that way.’ To make matters worse, he didn’t know either, and so each touch was like a prayer leading to disappointment. And then came that inevitable occasion when you crossed the line, in Donnie and Jack’s case with a furtive, liquor induced kiss, and so began the panic of losing a cherished friend on account of it.
We’ve all been there, and it is made even worse if the next morning your friend and soul mate—your hoped-for ‘lover’, even—isn’t talking or seems distant. Then the heart rending really begins, along with the guilt and the desperate attempts to make it right.
J.M. Snyder has not only captured this bittersweet situation, but he has also maintained it throughout the story until the very last paragraph. Along the way this reader was on tenterhooks wondering if young love would prevail, or if they would even survive the infamous bombing of Pearl Harbour—which was going on at the same time.
“No Apologies” requires no apologies. It is a tender love story set against the obscenity of war in a paradise. Five stars (less)
I first spotted The German by Lee Thomas [Lethe Press, 2011] in the fall of 2011, but it is only recently that I got around the reading it. At first blush it appeared to be too dark to prompt my immediate attention—and it is quite dark in places—but overriding this is its insightful and uncompromising look at human nature, of which the gory violence is only a symptom.
In his own words, Thomas describes it this way:
Cruelty is not taught. It is as certain as a compass point. One can be instructed in the specifics of cruelty, like one can be taught to use a spoon, a knife, a fork, but even without these skills a man will still eat.
The setting, which has been described as “richly atmospheric,” is a small town in Texas during the latter part of WWII. As small towns go, it is typically insular with tinges of redneck sentiment among the baser-class residents, and Thomas has done a masterful job of capturing this and the oppressive nature of it.
The main characters are Tim Randall, a likeable teenage boy struggling to come of age without the guidance of his father, who is overseas, and a working mother fretting about her husband; Sheriff Tom Rabbit, the town’s sheriff who reminds me of the sheriff in “Deliverance”—level-headed and not easily deceived; and Ernst Lang, a former Nazi officer who has been to the brink of death and back, and longs for nothing more than peaceful anonymity.
The gay element, though not a dominant one, is that Ernst Lang sleeps with men—not overtly but unapologetically. It is therefore a ‘gay content’ novel, and not an “m/m romance” as it has been described.
Otherwise, it is a who-done-it mystery that begins when a boy is discovered savagely murdered with a snuffbox stuffed into his mouth. Moreover, this snuffbox(certainly not indigenous to middle-class North America) contains a note written in German. And if this isn’t sufficiently bizarre and gruesome to get the whole town talking, another lad is discovered under similar circumstances. Not surprisingly, therefore, the focus turns to the small German community within the town, and specifically on Ernst Lang.
What a masterfully conceived and prolific mix this is: Two vicious murders with an obvious German connection; a small, redneck town in the midst of supporting the war against the Nazis; and a reclusive, ex-Nazi officer who is also homosexual. No wonder the author chose to take his time slow-cooking these ingredients so that the reader could savour each and every one to the surprising ending.
In addition it is a portrait of the cruelty that lurks in the hearts of men, even the “good” ones if it is allowed to come to the surface, and the tyranny of the majority to make a wrong a right.
The German is one of a handful of great books I have read. Highly recommended. Five bees.(less)