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December 2010
Short Reviews of Books and Films

Big Eden

Henry Hart (played beautifully by Arye Gross) is gay, and comes from a small town deep in the timber country of North-west Montana.  When his grandfather, who has brought him up, has a stroke, Henry goes home to help look after him.  His best friend from high school whom he is still in love with, Dean Stewart (Tim DeKay), has also gone back to his home town
with his two young sons after his marriage failed.  The expected plot development would be that Henry and Dean would finally get together, and there are moments when it seems as if this might happen.  Instead Henry finds love in an unexpected place.

In one way this film is completely unrealistic:  all the inhabitants of the town try to bring the two lovers together, and the cowboys who lounge on the front porch of the general store watch the relationships with interest but without judgement.  Yet, you could argue that that is the way it should be, and that in a town where everybody knows everybody else perhaps such warm-hearted tolerance might actually occur.  There were some plot infelicities (the resolution of the love between the two best friends wasn't fully developed) but the acting was marvellous and the story ultimately satisfying and heart-warming.  I found myself often smiling or chuckling.  Given how long ago it was made (2000,  five years before Brokeback Mountain) it's also fairly ground-breaking in that it shows gay relationships as quite ordinary and normal.

I did like: that the new lovers didn't fall into bed with each other or even kiss each other, because the developing relationship was shown much more subtly; the magnificent scenery; the many subtleties of the story lines; the excellent acting; the unobvious way the story panned out; the fact that they didn't hire only beautiful actors.

I didn't like: the way the two best friends' relationship wasn't fully explored; and the ending.

Still, I enjoyed it.  The excellent acting and direction went a long way towards making the unlikely tolerance of this charming town plausible. I recommend it to anyone interested in gay film.

My Life and Other Misdemeanours

This is Lorenzo Montesini's (AKA Prince Giustiniani's) autobiography.  He describes a life born into the gilded elite in Alexandria, his family's emigration to Australia after the revolution in Egypt, his military service in Vietnam, where he met his husband, Robert Straub.  For me the best part of the book was the first third, the description of his life in Alexandria:  exotic, fascinating, remarkable.  The book is worth it for that alone.  Prince Giustiniani's life in Australia was far more plebeian, though he tried to keep up some of the standards, becoming for example an expert on antiques, and always ensuring that his dinner parties, even in a tiny flat, were grand affairs, with the best crockery and cultery and decorations.
 Like so many inhabitants of Alexandria, he is fluent in several languages, and this cultural diversity and familiarity colour his perceptions of the world.  The book is well-written, and Signor Montesini/Prince Giustiniani comes across as a most likable and interesting bloke.  And the descriptions of life in Alexandria in the 40s and 50s are fascinating.

The Truth of Valor

I thought "The Truth of Valor" is the best "Valor" novel yet. Maybe Tanya Huff's best ever, apart from "The Fire's Stone", which for personal reasons is a frequently reread favourite.

I've already reviewed Valor's Trial in a previous Quickies, and if you've read that, you'll know that I like this series and its heroine Torin Kerr.

This latest installment in the series from Ms Huff is just so good in so many ways.   Firstly, Torin Kerr in an entirely convincing kick-arse heroine, tough, resourceful, cunning, yet also soft-hearted -- and hot as.  Sexy, clever, down-to-earth, feisty--what's not to like?

But it's more than that: Huff's bad guys are
beautifully written (evil is SO hard to write well), and naturally, they come to a delicious and well-deserved sticky end.  As usual in all Huff's work, there is a matter-of-fact acceptance of homo- and bisexuality.  The di'Taykans for example, one of the four fighting species used by the Federation to fight its battles, are sex-obsessed, and there is a wry and rather funny scene where Torin Kerr's de facto, Craig, who hitherto has come across as 100% straight, gets it off with a di'Taykan young man, or at least starts to . . .  There is a glorious space opera feel to the whole novel, and indeed the whole series.  The action is entirely convincing, as you'd expect from someone who served in Her Majesty's Canadian armed forces, and Torin Kerr always gives better then she gets. The author (and her heroine) are cynical without being bitter (a signal achievment), and the last couple of pages are darkly funny, with the promise of more to come, as "Gunny" is getting a new role outside the Federation marines.

I found it unputdownable, quite literally, reading it in one session, till all hours of the morning. Engrossing, moving, satisfying, clever.

Move over, Elizabeth Moon: you have a formidable new competitor.

Collected Novellas (Volume 1)

by Josh Lanyon

There are three novellas and one short story in this collection, and each one of them is excellent.  Josh Lanyon writes m/m stories which are filled with the emotional and character-developing meat which makes them eminently readable and involving.  In Dangerous Ground , for example, government agents Taylor and Will, are partners in their job but also have been lovers.  A casino robbery finds them playing a game of cat-and-mouse with remorseless killers in the wilderness of California's High Sierras.  But the very realistic action is entwined with reignition of the love between the two agents.  Very nice.  Villains deftly and classily depicted too, always the hallmark of a good thriller writer,

Snowball in Hell is set in post-war Los Angeles.  Police detective Lt. Matthew Spain meets reporter Nathan Doyle, where one arrives to investigate a murder, and the other to report on it.  Matthew Spain has been married, but his wife is dead.  And Nathan is deep into the cum-and-go culture, dangerous for his self-respect and as dangerous if he gets caught in one of the periodic vice-squad sweeps of the meat racks.  In post-WWII Los Angeles the potential consequences of their attraction are serious, even though they're the good guys. 

Cards on the Table is about writer Tim North, who starts to write about 
a sensational Hollywood murder committed decades before he was born.   He assumes that there's no risk, since almost everyone involved is dead or senile.  Meanwhile Tim's ex, homicide detective Jack Brady, still has a place in his heart.  But Tim knows it's over:  Jack is too straight to love him. Tim discovers that he's wrong. About everything.  Great plot, and even more satisfying romance.  

This collection includes the bonus short story In Sunshine or In Shadow.  It's about two cops, Kieran and Rick, who've been partnered five years, "longer than some marriages."   Yet their relationship is more than just partners on the job, and  somehow it's all going sour.  The resolution is beautifully done: writing of the highest quality.

Lanyon is an entirely satisfying writer on every level.  The writing itself is superb, but unlike some authors whose writing is great but whose stories have all the excitement of cat kibble, the stories are gripping and exciting as well, and the people three-dimensional   They are the kind of stories you will read again and again because of their depth and because you grow to care about the people in them.

Lord of the White Hell
by Ginn Hale

I reviewed Wicked Gentlemen in an earlier Quickies, and said that I looked forward to Ginn Hale's next novel.  This is it, and it's even better than Wicked Gentlemen, with a whole fascinating new fantasy world.

Kiram Kir-Zaki is the first pure Haldiim to attend the prestigious Sagrada Academy.  It's obvious that they only let him attend because he is so gifted. Because he's despised and unwanted by the Cadeleonians who conquered his homeland centuries before, he gets put with a "mad" nobleman, Javier Tornesal, who might be rich, famous and scandalous, but pays for it because he is cursed by the evil powers of the white hell. Kiram is attracted to Javier, but is Javier attracted to him?  Though the Haldiim accept and embrace same-sex love, the Cadeleonians despise it.  Yet far more is at stake than their romance.  

Wonderfully complex and believable world-creating, a steady build in narrative tension, tasty sexual encounters, and an exotic and magical atmosphere made this a really enjoyable read.  The best of 'original slash': highly recommended.

Nikolaos Thiwerspoon is the author of several romantic m2m and bisexual novels and short stories.  He lives in country Victoria, Australia.

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