Gordon, G.B. “Santuario”, Riptide Publishing, 2012.
Life on Santuario
Alex Rukow has spent his entire life on Santuario, a “home/prison/island”. The place has been run by elite families for the last two hundred years—since the time that their ship landed on the planet. Then it was populated by those from earth known as the Skanians. The Skanians want to open their borders but there are dissenting voices on both sides. The situation is explosive and then a dead body mysteriously appears on the island. Bengt, a Skanian investigator is sent to Santuario to conduct a murder investigation and he realizes that the local police want nothing to do with the event. The climate is terrible there and Bengt remembers how things once were. He was also attracted to his partner Alex who does not, in any way, reciprocate that feeling. In the past they had trouble with the local families. Now their personal problems seem quite small when they see that they have to succeed here and live.
The plot is very busy with the murder investigation and differing cultures. However as Alex and Bengt work together, they do begin to have feelings for each other.
Santuario is a place of exile and it is governed by a dictatorship. The Skanians are described as people who look Norse and are not used to the hot and steamy weather of Santuario. Bengt is a member of a closet-knit family and both he and Alex have morals and ethics. They are strongly attracted to each other. Homosexuality in Skania is looked at as natural but in Santaurio, it is a taboo. When Alex realizes how he feels, he does not understand and he is war with himself. These two men are the main characters in the book but there is one other—the land itself. Santuario is going through a very rough period—it is under a kind of martial law and ruled by an indulgent upper class. The descriptions are wonderful especially the way the different cultures are related to the reader. With each of the two men representing his native culture, we see that it is not only is it possible to coexist but that they can coexist with love.
I have a hard time with science fiction because it all seems so improbable. However, here there is mystery and romance and so I found myself pulled into the story even though I doubt I would ever have bought this book. I must admit that I was not satisfied with the way the story ended—we do not find out what happens later between Alex and Bengt so I can only suspect that this is the first book of a series that is to come.
Voinov, Aleksandr and L.A. Witt. “Take It Off” (Market Garden)”, Riptide Publishing, 2013.
A While Later
We met Tristan and Jared in “Quid Pro Quo” when they teamed up with a businessman for a hot three-way. Now that the two have found each other, they have begun to seduce some of the rich men of London. However, now Tristan is not so interested in making money from his john as he is in providing honest seduction.
When the businessman returns to the Garden Market, Tristan and Jared are eager for another round with him and be paid nicely for doing so. It seems that Jared has also been waiting for another sexual bout with Tristan and to get back at him for having teased him during the first session. Jared wants to avenge that first time they were together and in this we finally see a sense of strength in him that we did not see before. Tristan wants more from Jared than just working together but he is not sure how Jared feels about this and he is a bit afraid that he might have missed his chance with him. Now that we see something more than a working relationship, we get a better idea of what the boys think about each other.
The sex here is incredibly hot yet it did not take away from the read. The best words to describe this read are lusty and literary.
Belleau, Heidi and Violetta Vane. “Mark of the Gladiator”, Riptide Publishing, 2012.
Back in Rome
We first meet Anazar, the gladiator, when he is taken from the sands of the arena to be contracted to Lucius Marianus so that he can train the female gladiators at the Marianus house. These women have been abused, demoralized and untested. Anazar has just two months to get them ready for the arena and Marianus demands perfection. Anazar shares that goal with him but there is something that motivates him that has nothing to do with skill in the arena. It is that Marianus, his master is not only a handsome man but an honorable one and he seems as taken with the gladiator as Anazar is with him.
Marianus and his brother are engaged in sibling rivalry which causes a conspiracy of murder and Anazar and his female gladiators are caught up in it. This is a world where whims dictate actions and pleasure is for pleasure’s sake. Because he is a gladiator, Anazar is quite strong but his emotions do not go along with his body ad he knows that he can be penetrated emotionally but not physically.
I must admit that I was never really interested in the Roman Empire until HBO’s “Rome” series came on and started to read all I could get my hands on. I was really ready to read this and as I did, I realized I was really enjoying it. There is something for everyone—action, drama, love, passion, intrigue and romance. Rome comes alive as we read and we see the life of a slave as it was. We also saw how the upper class lived. We also get to know the characters well. Anazar, our main character, tells the story. He is somewhat broken, having spent his life in captivity. He knows his place and while he might not like it, he works hard at keeping his master pleased. He does get the opportunity to escape when he is loaned Marianus but he likes his master and his conditions are the best they have ever been. It is only when Marianus’ brother Felix enters the story, do things really change.
If you have read anything else about Rome or seen movies or television shows, you know that intrigue was everywhere and so it is here, as well. Anazar thought he did well by coming to the house of Marianus and had it not been for Felix, he did. The two brothers were involved in a family feud that dealt with lies, deceit, love and tragedy. Felix loved Anazar and Marianus used him. This forced Anazar to use deceit while romantically involved with Felix. Felix knows more than he lets on to others. He does not hide his feelings or his vulnerability. He was not afraid to show how he felt about Anazar who yearns for freedom.
This is a story about unconditional love at a time in history when class lines were extremely important and adhered to. The story pulls you immediately in and the authors tell it with great style.
Malone, Harry K. “The Hollywood Version”, Dreamspinner Books, 2013.
When Rumors Talk
When a photograph of Mark Lawler and his best friend Zach Pericles in an uncompromising position, Mark’s life seems headed toward disaster. Until that happened, Mark was living the life of his dreams. He had a successful acting career, a beautiful wife and he and Zach work together. Zach is a “television heartthrob” and there have been rumors that Mark and Zach are something more than best friends.
Once the photo was out, plans were underway to have Mark’s character killed off and then Mark will have no income, Zach will stop speaking to him and his wife will leave him. Desperate Mark turns to the most frustrating person he has ever known, an old friend, Ross Lockhart, to help him regain his career. Hopefully he will be able to help Mark. Ross explains to him that he needs to return to where he once was and in doing so; Ross will be able to help him discover what is important in life.
For me, Mark was an enigma. He is a straight man who was doing everything right but the rumors made him feel inferior. He is unable to get in touch with his inner self and when he loses everything, he is forced into doing some self-evaluation. Ross causes him to have a look at a side of himself that he has paid no attention to. I won’t say what that is because to do so would ruin the read for those who have not looked at the story. Ross remains level-headed as he guides Mark to get in touch with his feelings but the problem is that Mark is totally egocentric and really does not take seriously what Ross advises him to do. While working with Mark, he cannot be certain that Mark really knows what he wants.
I found this to be a sweet read but Mark is difficult to understand. Unlike Ross, Mark was willing to sell out in order to achieve the American dream. Like Ross, we cannot be sure that Mark really knows what he wants. It is all about being who you are and then accepting that.
Witt, L.A. and Aleksandr Voinov. “Quid Pro Quo”, (Market Garden), Riptide Publishing, 2013.
Jared and Tristan
The Market Garden imprint of Riptide Publishing consists of short novellas which can be read quickly. I picked up three at the Rainbow Book Fair recently and I found each to be engrossing which for me is somewhat special since I really do not like short reads. “Quid Pro Quo” tells us about Jared, a hustler (or rent boy, if you prefer) who has been selling himself at Market Garden which is a club with a clientele of wealthy men. Business, however, has not been good lately because of the impending Christmas holiday and the men with the money are too busy to rent a little fun for the evening. While Jared is not making money, he, at least, has time to admire another of the hustlers, Tristan, who is very popular with his clientele. Jared has been cruising him for several months and it is Tristan’s airs of cockiness and confidence that draws Jared to him. As we can well imagine, the two do get together when a businessman hires them both and Jared soon is able to realize what his lust has been all about. He watches as Tristan handles the john and at the same time provides good sexual release.
The novella is little more than a long sex scene but it is very, very erotic. As the businessman requests, the boys have each other as he watches and as the buyer gets hot so does Jared for Tristan and Tristan for Jared.
Voinov, Aleksandr, “Skybound”, Riptide Publishing, 2012.
Facing the Truth
Set during World War II, the story opens as Berlin and the Third Reich are being bombed. Felix, who is part of the squadron of fighter pilots, is in love with Baldur Vogt but at this time in history, the world seems to be blowing up and there is not time for love. Baldur’s plane has been shot down and he is saved because Felix is able to pull him out of his plane. Baldur takes Felix with him to recover from the disaster and once they are removed from the arena of fighting, the two develop a relationship. After recuperating, Baldur returns to his past as the war continues and the Allies begin to close in on the airfield. Both men realize that the danger is not yet over. They also realize that victory will not be theirs.
Voinov paints a complete picture of Felix as he prepares the plane for Baldur and we realize immediately how he feels toward the man. He is captured with all possible detail; so much so that we feel we really know him. We also learn a lot about the war.
It was Felix’s job to keep planes flying and he did so even with the shortage of parts and fuel. It was his unspoken love for Baldur that kept him working with determination. He, himself, had always wanted to be a pilot but he was unable to qualify. He did the next best thing and worked on planes for others.
In took Baldur being shot down for him to notice Felix. Having saved his life, Felix went to visit Baldur in the hospital and it was then that both men understood their feelings. I find it amazing how well Voinov was able to develop the characters in such a short story. We get two main themes here—the power of love and the danger of war and we hope that all will turn out well.
Voinov, Aleksandr. “Dark Soul: The Complete Collection”, Riptide, 2012
Lighting a Dark Soul
I have wanted to review some of the books from Riptide Publishing and I was lucky enough to meet a couple of the press’s honchos when I was in New York City recently for the Rainbow Book Fair (a great opportunity to meet and network with others in the LGBT literary profession). I came back home to Boston with a good many new books and I am slowly working my way through them. The first book from Riptide that I read was Aleksandr Voinov’s “Dark Soul: The Complete Collection” about a gay killer, Silvio Spadaro. Silvio is heir to his family’s fortune but he wants to make his name his way and danger and costs do not matter. Stefano Marino wants Silvio—but Stefano is also married and loves his wife. His life is comfortable—he is the boss of his mob and he is rich and handsome. He also has a soft heart and the turf war going on around him does not sit well with him. Silvio is sent to Stefano to help with the war and the moment that he comes into his life, Stefano is smitten. He loves his wife but he also wants Silvio and he does not know how to deal with this feeling.
Silvio is aware of Stefano’s feelings and he has patience to wait for him even as he maneuvers him closer and closer to the bedroom. Stefano forces himself to resist for he knows that allowing desire to overtake him would mean that his marriage would be over. Silvio seems to have a pull on him and Stefano once again is forced to deal with urges that he has repressed for years. He feels that he eventually will allow his emotions to overtake him but first he wants to find a way to keep everyone and everything that he loves and hold dear.
The story moves quickly and things happen so fast that the reader is caught off-guard. While we thought the story was about two men, we realize that there is a third party involved—Donata, Stefano’s wife. Voinov has the ability to make us like two members of the mob. This is how he built his characters.
Stefano has an honorable side to himself and Silvio is a man of honesty. He makes no apologies about who he is and the fact that he is gay does not bother or hinder him—it is just who he is. He would like to find a mate that he can enjoy and be comfortable with and it just so happens that Stefano turns out to be that man. He is attracted to Silvio but does not know what to do about it. The more he knows Silvio, the greater grows his desire for him and it becomes harder and harder to deal with his feelings for him and for his wife.
Finally Silvio propositions him but Stefano knows of his reputation of being a dangerous man who is known to kill.
Silvio sees a raw sexuality in Stefano and that makes him all the more attractive.
This is most definitely the kind of m/m romance that we usually get. This romance is between two hard men who are part of a turf war as they deal with their own emotional issues. The writing is both seductive and shocking at the same time. I found that Silvio as a gay man manages to avoid the stigma that usually goes along with that in certain societies and most certainly in a word of mobs and crime. It is his desire that drives him to Stefano while at the same time, one of the mobs, the Russian one, wants blood. Stefano wants Silvio but he is in the middle of some nasty business. We read about a lot of violence and of explicit sex as well. Voinov has written this in beautiful prose while the ideas are complex and the read is intense. I had to stop reading a few times just to catch my breath.
“Electric Button” (“Moon and Cherry”)
Love and Sex
“Electric Button” is an unconventional love story between soft spoken Tadokoro (Tasuko Nagoaka) and alpha female Mayama (Noriko Eguchi). Mayama knows what she wants and does exactly what she has to do to achieve it. She is the only female in her writing club and manages to convince 21 year old virgin to help her put her emotions into writing. Even though Sakamoto feels used, he falls in love with Mayama who not only took his virginity but who continues becoming bolder and bolder sexually. She wants to see how his sexual experiences can give her new perspectives to write about. The film is also a look at modern relationships.
Through Tadokoro we get a look at women in that he enjoys the sex with Mayama but he also likes Akane (Misako Hirata) who is Mayama’s opposite. She is prettier than Mayama and she caters to Tadokoro’s every need. The film is a comedy and is somewhat reminiscent of the first “American Pie” film without the slapstick.
As a writer, Mayama is excellent and has already published under a male nom de plume. Sexually she is something else—she has had sex with every member of her writing group and so when Tadokoro joins, she senses something. He comes in and talks about his knowledge of the female anatomy yet he is still a virgin and Mayama sees that immediately and busts him in front of everyone. It is at this point that gender role reversal begins. Mayama knows that Tadokoro can provide her with something to write about so she takes him home, seduces and deflowers him. Immediately afterwards she jumps out of bed and begins writing. While Tadokoro does not understand, he doesn’t complain. The more involved they become, the more evident it is that he is inexperienced totally and Mayama decides to try some new things including sending a dominatrix to his apartment and then demands that Tadakoro tell her all about it. She hires a prostitute and invites her new initiate over and she hides in the closet to watch.
The focus of the film is the sex and how sexual indiscretions can destroy the magnetism that brings people together. While this is an erotic film, it is exploitive even with the nudity. Noriko Eguchi and Tasuko Nagoaka turn in beautiful performances and they are perfect to play off of each other. We get a glimpse of all of the shades of love here and the ending is quite poignant. The film is small an intimate yet we do not feel like voyeurs watching the couple have sex (Something you rarely see in Japanese films).
Arvin, Eric. “The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men”, Wilde Press, 2013.
I have been reading and reviewing Eric Arvin since his first book and I have seen him mature as writer and take on new genres. This time he writes speculative fiction and he charms the reader with this new story that is literarily very far away from Jasper Lane and m/m erotica. He really surprised me here with his story about Minerva, a river dweller and mystic.
Minerva is the only one who senses danger in the place where the old chapel was built and this is because she has powers and abilities that her mother passed onto her. It is her responsibility and duty to protect others from danger especially from Dark Eyes who is determined to destroy all who set foot on the grounds where the old chapel is. So far, everyone stays away from the area since they know that once on the grounds, death and/or disappearance follows. Evil is constant there and yet the chapel is able to pull others to it. Few heed Minerva and now she has few supporters and her destiny as leader is challenged by the forces of evil.
The themes of love, faith and family run through the plot as good versus evil tug at the characters (of which there are many— the young hero Leith, his lover Aubrey, and the mute, Deverell, Leith’s half-crazed mother Calpurnia with her own aspirations, Hamilin Marsh to whom residents turn to when needing leadership and Dark Eyes, a preacher and evil force, to cite just a few.
Leith is bound by duty to take care of his mother even though there is no love between them from either side and when the ultimate confrontation of good vs. evil occurs, sides are taken and familial duties fall by the wayside and each character plays a part.
Speculative fiction has lately become popular in LGBT literature and while this is also a romance, we get a read that is not like anything that I have ever read. Arvin proves himself to be a storyteller par excellence here. Each page seems to yield a new surprise. For me, the biggest surprise was loving the book because this is not the kind of literature I usually read.
Woolfson, Alex. “Artifice”, illustrated by Winona Nelson, AMW Comics 2013
A Graphic Novel
“Artifice” was originally published as a web-comic about a cyberpunk same/sex love story. However, this is not a book for children since it contains violence and sexual contact. Deacon is a prototype android soldier whose superiors have ordered him to get rid of a scientific team who know too much. Deacon not only failed at this assignment but he let one stay alive of those targeted for death, a 119 year old human outcast, Jeff Linnell. When a team was sent to retrieve him, Deacon attacked and now the big men want answers and have hired a robo-psychologist named Clarice to get the information they want. Clarice is both ruthless and brilliant.
Deacon is hiding something—what went on when he was on Da Vinci 4? He knows he cannot fight Clarice since she can control whatever he does. We follow the story through Deacon’s therapy sessions as the mission is related in flashback. What was really strange to me is that I am not particularly fond of graphic novels or science-fiction yet I was taken into this story at the very first panel. So much is covered here—free will, love, sex and sexuality, and robots. The art work by Nelson is totally amazing and when it is combined with a good story, it is a pleasure to read. The characters are complex and I can easily see why it was such an online hit. What is perhaps the most interesting thing about this book is that we can identify with the characters even though they are not human. We remember those first romantic interludes and relationships and many times we modeled ourselves on the straight romances that we saw around us. Now that has begun to change and there are all kinds of examples of same/sex love in books, in movies and on television. Here we have it and while other worldly, we can still find similarities in our own lives.
In the field of literature we have had too many fluff romantic stories and while these books might appease as we read, we generally find little crossover value in them. For me, a sign of good literature is when it is relatable. I think that fact that this is a gay romance written by a gay male has almost everything to do with its relevance. I have really nothing against straight women writing same/sex gay romances but because they have never felt what we have felt, something usually seems to be missing.
It is an interesting look at the genre of science fiction when we see that the protagonists are gay lovers. That really should not make any difference but it does by giving my community a sense of having their own literature now in all genres. I have not said much about the gay relationship and I really do not want to because I want each reader to discover it him or herself. It is wonderful to come upon a piece of literature that is witty, intelligent and full of suspense as well as have a gay romantic plot. “Artifice” has them all and sets a new standard for the graphic novel.