Short Reviews of Books and Fiims
[These reviews first appeared in Forbidden Fruit]
A thoroughly charming film about two gay surfers and their families, starring Trevor Wright, Brad Rowe and Tina Holmes. Zach has just graduated, and is the main carer for his nephew Cody, whose mother Jeanne, Zach’s sister, is more interested in her string of boyfriends than her son. Zach meets Shaun, who is the brother of his (straight) best friend Gabe, and who is gay. Zach has a girlfriend, Tori (it's the first time I realised that this is American for ‘Victoria’), but after an unexpected kiss between Shaun and Zach, Zach has to decide whether he’s straight or gay, whether to go off and do the arts course he really wants to do, and how he will go on looking after his nephew. Lovely.
I liked: the acting and the actors (all of them excellent); the unexpected subtleties and nuances (it turns out that Jeanne does love her son very much, and takes a hard decision in his best interests); the realism (Jeanne’s reaction to Zach's developing relationship with Shaun is perfectly delineated, while Zach’s relationship with his best friend is entirely convincing); the humour (the scene where Gabe quizzes Zach about gay sex is funny and touching); and the fact that the film didn’t just star beautiful people. I didn’t like: occasional clunky dialog.
It’s telling that it takes an indie outfit to make such good films when there is so much Hollywood big name total crap, expensively marketed and advertised so that it sells despite being drivel. By contrast, this film is a gem. Don’t miss it.
Wicked Gentlemen, by Ginn Hale
Pretty good for a first novel. An interesting thesis – demons have been allowed to come up from Hell, to live among humans after a concordat between Heaven and Hell. Sounds ridiculous, but Hale uses the idea to explore issues of the underdog, of love between classes/species, and the iniquity of religious inquisitions. Belimai Sykes is demon-kin, Captain William Harper is of the Inquisition, and is investigating a series of brutal murders of demons and part-demons. Belimai is cynical, Captain Harper idealistic. Their developing love is well drawn. Part Steam Punk, part Victorian or Edwardian thriller, part noir detective story, it reminds me of Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, to which it clearly owes something. Not as polished as Swordspoint, it’s nevertheless a touching and satisfying romance. I look forward to her next novel.
The God Eaters, by Jesse Hajicek
Another theological thriller. A few longueurs, but on the whole an exciting tale. Jem and Ash meet in prison, where they have been sent because of their opposition to a theocracy which is expanding westwards into new lands peopled by a different race (shades of 19th century America). It’s a nail-biting love story, and a cross between a Western and Steam Punk, and somewhat ‘harder’ (in the sense of more realistic and more brutal) than Wicked Gentlemen. Highly recommended, with my only complaint the price of the book, which is self-published. I know lots of self-published stuff is inferior, but why is something as good as this not snapped up by a publisher, when so much tosh and piffle is?
Valor’s Trial, by Tanya Huff
I must confess to being turned on by feisty women, and I’ve loved gunnery sergeant Torin Kerr since she first appeared in Valor’s Choice. Huff was in the Canadian military, and it shows – her depiction of life in the Space Marines is entirely convincing. Torin Kerr’s main love interest is a man, but throughout all the Valor books, and in fact all Tanya Huff’s works, same-gender love and sex is treated as if it is completely, utterly normal. Which of course it is! The secondary characters all appear to have both same- and other-sex relationships, and Huff makes no fuss about them when she mentions them. They just are. I couldn’t help wishing Gunny would let herself make love to the female di’Taykan who worships her. di’Taykans (who look suspiciously like elves - Huff's little joke) are the most sex-obsessed species in the galaxy.
I found this hard to put down, reading it in one sitting. I do rather get the feeling that Huff’s writing herself out – the plot was . . . mildly preposterous. But the writing is so polished, her characters so convincing, and Huff’s own personality shines through as so damn nice, I recommend it to anyone who likes military SF or tough, lovable and hot female marines.
Shadows Return, by LynnFlewelling
I owe a lot to Lynn Flewelling. Amazon recommended Luck In The Shadows to me (I couldn't see why, but they obviously knew more about me than I did.) It was this book that got me writing. It was exactly the kind of fantasy I was looking for. More than that: I used it to give me a guide on how to write, how to construct plots, how to delineate character. My first novel ElvenSword bears more than a passing resemblance to Luck In The Shadows. Of course, it's not a replica -- my characters took control, and it changed and grew as I wrote it. But the family resemblance is there.
Luck In The Shadows is still in print, twelve years after first publication, which is a singular achievement. Some excellent books get just one printing before ending their days in the remaindered pile.
Which is why I'm sorry to have to be lukewarm on Shadows Return. This is the fourth volume involving Seregil and Alec, and perhaps that's part of the problem. The first two volumes (Luck and Stalking Darkness) were really two halves of the same story. As adventure tales they were thrilling; as a romance moving and gripping. Where does any writer go from there? Volume three, Traitor's Moon was a stand alone story, but its inventiveness made the problems of keeping old characters fresh easy. But in Shadows Return, these two lethal toughs have turned into wimpy weepers, in the worst tradition of slash; the torture goes on too long; and the potential for profound character development and angst is fluffed (I can't say more without a major plot spoiler). It could have been so much better.
I read everything LF writes (sometimes several times!), and I can't say I didn't enjoy the book, but at the end, I would also have to say that if this had been the first of the Shadows books I'd encountered, I might not have gone on to read the others.
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