Monday, December 29, 2008

Day of Wrath by Iris Collier

One of the first things I learned as a mystery writer was 'don't kill off pets'. Your readers will never forgive you. Iris Collier did not heed this rule, probably to stir up anger in her readers against the perpetrator instead of her. She used such a heinous crime to illustrate the religious fervor and fanaticism of the early sixteenth century monks to hang on to their monasteries against a king bent on dissolving them. I can't argue with that logic but it's still not a technique I would use.

After reading a number of whodunits set during Elizabeth I's reign, it's interesting to have a mystery set during her father's turn on the throne, Henry VIII. Collier's foray into the medieval mysteries, Day of Wrath, takes place during King Harry's dissolution of the monasteries.

Sir Nicholas Peverell, after a visit to the King, finds a loyal steward has been murdered. Unconvinced it was the work of thieves, he launches an investigation reluctantly assisted by Mistress Jane Warrener, a beautiful local girl with a keen wit and sharp intelligence.

She tells him that she has heard talk of conspiracy and treason against the king and that the steward's death may be linked to something he overheard. Their suspicions grow deeper when the young woman carrying the steward's child slowly wastes away. Although her death is attributed to natural causes, Nicholas and Jane are certain that she was killed because she also knew about the treasonous plot, called Dies Irae, 'Day of Wrath' in Latin.

A neighbor of Nicholas's is arrested as part of the scheme but dies on the rack before identifying the mastermind behind the conspiracy, a man known only as Ultor, the avenger.

The King, well aware of the plot to kill him, decides to visit Nicholas at his home in Sussex. Although Henry is blissfully unconcerned, Nicholas is thrown into a panic at the thought of the king in his home, wanting to go hunting and inspecting his ships at Southampton, while an assassin is on the loose nearby.

And he owes the king a new doublet. One that's green and very expensive.

Nicholas also fears for the Priory in his community. He knows that the King will inventory everything, confiscate anything that's valuable and then turn the monks out. The Prior refuses to believe any of this and insists on showing off the riches of the priory to all and sundry.

Collier keeps the story interesting by peppering it with facts and descriptions of England during the reign of Henry Tudor. But the climax falls flat as the assassination attempt is foiled and the traitor revealed all in one sentence. C. J. Sansom's Dissolution is a more satisfying read. Not that the readers will be disappointed in Day of Wrath. It's still as good as the majority of mysteries out there. Collier inserts a lot of humor into King Henry's conversations with Sir Nicholas, intertwining his talk with the arrogance and snobbery he was known for. Anyone who is a fan of historical whodunits will enjoy Day of Wrath.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Iguazu Falls, Brazil

I now know where the original site of the Garden of Eden from Genesis was. The beauty of Iguazu Falls adequately fits the description of Paradise in the Old Testament. From the first glimpse of the falls as I emerged from the jungle to the last stop at the foot of the largest cataratas, I felt stress washing away downstream in the fast current of water below me.
I have no idea why the sight of falling water is so soothing. Maybe it’s the roar as it crashes to the rocks below. Maybe it’s the foliage that lines the river and falls. Whatever it is, I know I could have stayed in one place and watched its mesmerizing sight for hours. And I probably would have if the rest of my tourist group hadn’t been so insistent to keep moving.
On the upside, as we headed upstream, Iguazu Falls revealed more if its beauty. Around each curve, more cascades were seen.
Two of these South American raccoons came out looking for some food. They were unruffled by the crowds and completely ignored us. Although they look cuddly, they have very sharp teeth which made us decide against reaching down to tickle them on the stomach.

When you thought there was nothing more to see, the head of the falls come into view.

A walkway takes you out over the river to the foot of the cataratas. The spray and the noise are glorious. Where the falls before empty your mind and body of the hassles and stresses of life the main cataratas invigorates and rejuvenates you. It fills the void left by bad vibes with a youthful vigor.

Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny

I’ve enjoyed the movie version of Zelazny’s classic work Damnation Alley, but wasn’t surprised to find that there was very little in common between the two.

Damnation Alley takes place in a post-apocalyptic nuclear war where most of the earth has been destroyed. Only a few pockets of humanity exist in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Boston. The mid-section of the country is a wasteland, occupied by extremely violent tornadoes, huge bats, Gila monsters the size of Greyhound buses and large, radioactive holes in the ground where the enemy missiles struck so long ago. Planes cannot fly since the atmosphere is wrought with fierce winds a few hundred feet above the earth’s surface.

When a messenger arrives in L.A. from Boston that a deadly plague has hit the city, the nation of California sends the only man who can cross the Alley to take the necessary drugs to the northeast. Murderer/rapist Hell Tanner is the man they need. Zelazny must have started the trend of the lowest, most despicable human being as the only one who can save us all and the world. This theme has been over-used and worn out ever since then. It came as no surprise that of the five men who set out from L.A., Tanner is the only one to make it. His rough and brutal manner is what gives him the ability to traverse Damnation Alley and survive its pitfalls and dangers.

The story is a chronicle of Tanner’s adventures from L.A. to Boston but Zelazny’s writing keeps the reader hanging on to each encounter and wandering what will happen next. Zelazny gives plenty of excitement to the readers’ delight. His description of post-nuclear was America is vivid and frightening. But he does not give much detail about the war or when it occurred. Fleeting references only place it years in the past.

Tanner finally reaches his destination barely alive but he saves the day in a scene reminiscent of Michael Crichton’s Andromeda Strain. As far as Zelazny’s work goes, Ii still much prefer his Princes in Amber series, but for science fiction Damnation Alley is one of the best I’ve read. He weaves a terrifying and excellent story and certainly head-and-shoulders above many of the other post-nuclear war stories out there.

Deadly Night by Heather Graham

Imagine being the recipient of a grand New Orleans mansion, pre-dating the Civil War. That’s the scenario that opens Heather Graham’s excellent ghost story, Deadly Night. Aiden Flynn and his brothers, Jeremy and Zack, inherit the house upon the death of an aunt whom they never knew existed.

It’s been neglected and in dire need of fixing up. Oh, yes. It’s also haunted. A Confederate soldier, his beautiful wife and his Union cousin still walk the grounds, giving the locals a juicy legend of family betrayal and murder.

Kendall Montgomery, a tarot card reader, lived in the mansion with the again Amelia Flynn until the old woman’s death. Slightly disappointed about not getting the estate, she gladly returns to her apartment in the French Quarter, leaving the Flynn brothers to their inheritance.

Meanwhile, Aiden has found human remains on the property and begins investigating in the face of ho-hum reactions from the New Orleans police department, still reeling from Hurricane Katrina. Flynn, with the help of his brothers, finds a string of mysterious disappearances of young women, dating back ten years. His investigation keeps leading him to Kendall and the jazz bar where her friends play in a band.

Kendall has been experiencing her own strange encounters with the paranormal. She never had any illusions that she could foretell someone’s future by reading tarot cards but, when the death card comes alive and mocks her, she begins having dreams that she is being stalked.

Although they don’t like each other at first, Aiden and Kendall are drawn together as the mystery of the plantation and the disappearance of the young women deepens.

Graham keeps the excitement building as Kendall receives more warnings with frightening and increasing frequency that she is in serious danger. When she moves back into the mansion with Aiden, she is visited by the ghosts of the Flynn ancestors, but are they malevolent or are they warning her of danger?

Graham’s depiction of New Orleans as a dark, gritty and dangerous place does not sugar-coat anything but does the great city justice by painting her as a place of wonder, mystery and magic.

There is a bit of cliché in that Aiden Flynn suspects serious crimes where the local authorities see none. Their excuse is Hurricane Katrina washed up many bodies out of their final resting places and hundreds more are still missing. The bones could be from anyone. It’s easy to see their point of view, but one would think they would be interested in body parts found on land where the flood waters didn’t reach even during the hurricane.

With lackluster response from law enforcement, the story takes a unique twist as the ghosts take matters in their own hands and help Aiden and Kendall solve the mystery but also save Kendall’s life.

Deadly Night is a great haunted house murder mystery for everyone, including those that may not enjoy horror.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Slow Melt to be released by loveyoudivine Alterotica!

My second short story will be released soon from loveyoudivine Alterotica! It's definitely more hard core BDSM than "Safe Word".

Here is a synopsis:

Mutt is a sex slave sworn to obey his Master commands, even if that means acting as a dog or having sex with another Master. Mutt’s only purpose is to please his Master.
One night, Master takes him to help train another couple interested in puppy play. During the session, Master decides to show off Mutt’s extensive training, but the pet fails to keep one of Master’s strictest rules. As a result, he is forced to experience his Dom’s wrath.
Facing humiliating punishment at the hands of his Master, he is kept chained and locked in the dungeon. When he sees Master again, he realizes that his punishment has only begun….and that he may not survive it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Screwed-Up Life of Charles the Second by Drew Ferguson

High school is an awkward time for everyone, but Charles Stewart, the main character of Drew Ferguson’s novel, manages to cope by masturbating continuously and fantasizing about every other senior male at school. Told through Charles’s diary, the book takes the reader through the first few months of his senior year, dealing with his parents’ rocky marriage, being openly gay to his soccer teammates and dating the hottest and richest guy in school.

He finds comfort with his best friend, Neil ‘Bink’ Binkmeyer, whose family is reminiscent of the Weasley family in J. K. Rowlings’ Henry Potter series. They are numerous, quirky and a big support system for Charlie as he struggles with the pitfalls of being gay. Bink is straight but loves and protects Charlie like a brother. Bink’s mother is adorable as she stumbles around trying to find upstanding gay role models for Charlie, but ends up thinking of the most flawed. But Bink’s girlfriend Dana remains mad at Charlie for most of the book because she blames him for ruining her back-to-school party.

It’s at this same party that Charlie meets Rob Hunt, the new senior in town. He’s hot, loaded and falls head-over-heels for the tall, gangly, big-nosed and big-eared Charlie Stewart. Their open relationship creates some interesting dynamics at their high school since they go to the homecoming dance as a couple and they share a room when the soccer team travels to an out-of-town game. But as typical, the good-looking rich kid is left alone while the lesser one (Charlie, in this case) takes the brunt of his classmates’ homophobia.

Despite their differences, they become lovers with Rob teaching Charlie the joys of sex. When Rob’s mother dies, the two boys are drawn closer together, until some questions are raised about the circumstances surrounding her death.

Rob does a one-eighty on Charlie, accusing him of withholding information which he believes indicates that his mother’s death may not have been due to natural causes and his father may have been involved. Even taking into consideration a young man’s grief over the untimely demise of a mother, Rob’s extreme reactions seem a bit far-fetched especially with the brutal beating of Charlie so soon after the prom.

For the rest of the book, I hoped that Rob would come around after realizing his cruel and inhumane treatment of Charlie but I think Ferguson handled the ending well without disappointing the reader with a cop-out or a ‘happily ever after’. When Rob does come around after Charlie narrowly avoids a serious head injury during a soccer game, the damage has been done, but there is a glimmer of hope for Charlie.

I enjoyed reading Charles the Second but sometimes his attitude got a bit too sarcastic. Very, VERY sarcastic. Also his propensity to masturbate pushes the envelope when he has to ‘disappear’ for a spell during the viewing at the funeral home. Does death turn him on that much? Creepy.

Although, Charlie lacks the innocence that many of us had during high school, he is an enjoyable character. It’s his flaws that ultimately make us like him and cheer for him through his senior year.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Sex Club by L. J. Sellers

Sellers’s first novel featuring Detective Wade Jackson of Eugene, Oregon is a disturbing mystery involving teenage sex and fanatical Christian extremism. The story open with the bombing of a Planned Parenthood birth control clinic, followed closely by the death of a young client, found nude in a trash dumpster. Jackson becomes worried bout his own teenaged daughter, once it becomes known she used to be friends with the murdered girl. And the victim was sexually active. With his marriage to an alcoholic wife disintegrating and taking on Eugene’s top elected official, Jackson continues to uncover startling revelations about the students at his daughter’s middle school.

Meanwhile, Kera Kollmorgan, a nurse at the clinic, is caught in the midst of the bombing and knowledge of the dead girl’s sexual activities but cannot divulge confidential patient information to the police. She initiates her own investigation starting with an email she received from the dead girl after she left the clinic that fateful day, but before she died. Kera stumbles upon a website where teenage girls and boys chat openly about their sexual escapades with unabashed bluntness. The more she probes, the more she unwittingly puts herself in the bomber’s eye and becomes the next target.

Jackson meanwhile believes he has the murder investigation wrapped up, when another body surfaces. Is it a copycat murder or is there a serial killer loose in Eugene?

The aspects of The Sex Club I found to be disturbing was how the bomber used Bible passages to justify her violent quest, relying on them to guide her quest for destruction and murder. Fundamentalists like this get so caught up in their religious fervor that they can twist the verses in the Good Book to fit their own agenda. On the other hand, Sellers’s concept of Suzie Homemaker/terrorist is hysterical. In one scene, she plans a nice meal for her family after cleaning up her bomb-making materials.

The realism of the teen sex in the story may cause some readers to squirm. It’s interesting to note that the emphasis in The Sex Club was clearly on the girls, while the boys were virtually non-existent, and hardly mentioned after their names appeared.

Sellers does a great job of keeping the pace moving and dialogue interesting. She has a good knowledge of police procedures and autopsy methods that are as fascinating as the mystery. The build-up to the climax will thrill you to its exciting conclusion.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Attack of the Theatre People by Marc Acito

In an earlier review of a work by Robert Rodi, I stated plainly why I did not read gay literature. I’m pleased to say that Acito’s novel, Attack of the Theatre People, contains little of the stereotypes, narcissism and sex that other gay-themed stories are awash with. Theatre People is also on of the funniest stories I have read.

During the mid-80’s, Edward Zanni, a young gay man, is kicked out of Julliard for being “too jazz hands” for the prestigious school. He lands a job as a ‘party motivator’ performing at bar mitzvahs as the hottest VJ from Britain’s MTV, and also posing as a ‘stealth guest’ at corporate functions, schmoozing up to business men. Through the latter, Eddie gets involved in an insider trading scheme with the handsome broker Chad.

Soon his life spirals out of control, hilariously. He’s wanted by the Securities Exchange Commission for his role in the insider trading sandal, stalked by a teenage Jewish girl and terrorized by his ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ ex-stepmother who seems to haunt his every step.

The only way Eddie can clear his name is to implicate Chad to the SEC. Easier said than done since the gorgeous broker is slippery as an eel.

His theatre friends, an eclectic and eccentric group, come to his rescue by devising one hare-brained scheme after another to trap Chad.

The final showdown, involving a Bruce Springsteen impersonator, a dump truck costume from Starlight Express and a fake Shah of Iran, ends hysterically in a slapstick scene reminiscent of the climax in “What’s Up, Doc?” including everyone being arrested and hauled down to the police station.

Rife with theatre and literary references and snarky comments, Theatre People had me laughing out loud. Acito’s writing style is easy-going and a joy to read. Anyone who loves theatre and lots of good laughs will enjoy this book.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bouchercon 2008 - Charmed to Death (and loved it!)

Driving though some seedy areas adjacent to downtown Baltimore, I wondered if this mystery writers’ conference would be worth it. After all, these were published authors with books out in the market place. Some (most) of them had more than one! I had a short story published in an anthology and not even a book I could call my own. As I entered the Sheraton, the host hotel of the conference, I did not have to ask where Bouchercon was because of the cacophony of fifteen hundred writers, publishers, agents and fans all talking at once. Bouchercom seemed to be more of a homecoming than business conference.

I soon found it to be a warm and inviting community instead of a cliquish fraternity. After an overwhelming and exhausting first day, my luck changed the second when I bumped into Scott Sherman, author of First You Fall. He introduced me to other writers and publishers including Richard Stevenson, author of the Donald Strachey mystery series.

Author Scott Sherman and me

I also met some of my favorite historical mystery writers such as Alan Gordon, Kathy Lynn Emerson, John Maddox Roberts and Priscilla Royal as I got their autographs. Everyone was so approachable and easy-going, I was amazed. All of them sat on at least one discussion panel, so I got to hear them talk about heir works and why they are interested in the time periods of which they write.

Kathy Lynn Emerson, author of the Face Down series featuring Lady Susanna Appleton

I heard discussions on religion in mysteries, animals and doing research. I realized I had more in common with these authors than I originally thought during the second panel on the first day: Does Sex Sell More Books? Lori Armstrong, David Corbett, Mary Burton and the hilarious Meg Chittenden kept the discussion lively under the moderation of a just-as-funny Ted Hertel. (Just FYI, the conclusion was ‘Yes’ and it was reached during Hertel’s opening remarks).

In the supernatural panel, Heather Graham surprised me by stating that no one can tell you what a vampire can or cannot do. One of the reasons I tended to eschew vampires was because of all the rules that surrounded them, such as they couldn’t enter your house without first being invited in by the head of the household, etc. I doubt I’ll start including creatures of the night in my writing but it’s nice to know that I don’t have to stick to the rules.

Graham, Wendy Roberts, Elena Santangelo and Alex Sokoloff pen wonderful mysteries involving the supernatural and the paranormal. I fell lucky that I got to hear them since the paranormal is my favorite field of fiction. They also gave some great advice on where to research haunted history and take ghost tours.

Bouchercon offered many great discussions and there were some that I didn’t get to attend since the schedule was full. It also provided a great opportunity for networking. But overall it was a fantastic experience. As Mark Billingham stated during the opening ceremonies Thursday night, reading crime fiction is better than sex.*

*This is according to a survey of British housewives that found out they enjoy reading crime fiction more than shopping, eating or sex.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Day One at Bouchercon 2008

Bouchercon opened today in Baltimore with 1500 mystery writers, fans and booksellers in attendance. This is my first conference and I found it a bit overwhelming at first. When I entered the Sheraton Hotel, the host for the event, I was taken aback by the cacophony of everyone seeming to talk at once and nobody listening. I soon realized that this is such a welcoming and friendly community, that the conference is more of a homecoming for many attendees rather than a business meeting.

I attended a panel discussing if sex really does sell books. The conclusion reached within the first ten seconds of the panel was a resounding "Yes!", but the panelists finished the time allotment and kept the discussion lively.

I had a great time in the panel discussing supernatural and paranormal elements into mysteries. I'm racking up a number of authors that I need to read now! LOL

It was a long day but a good day. I'm looking forward to going back tomorrow. I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Damn, that's a big dam! - Itaipu Dam

A visit to a hydroelectric dam doesn’t sound like an exciting tour, but when it’s the largest of its kind in the world, there is a whole new perspective on it. And after getting up at 3am and riding across the country in a mini-van with a Fred Flintstone-style suspension system, the Itaipu Dam did not disappoint. The dam is named after a small island that was covered by water when the dam was built. In the Guarani language, Itaipu means ‘singing stone’ or literally ‘island that sings’. The reason the Guaranies considered it to be a singing island is unknown.

We approached the dam through Itaipu Binacional, the Paraguayan/Brazilian company that operates and controls the hydroelectric monstrosity. Here we had to show our passports, as if we were entering a different country, to take a bus tour of the facility.

The only stop on the tour was a large pavilion on the west bank overlooking the Parańa River, which forms the border between Paraguay and Brazil. From this vantage point, the spillways sprawled out before us like enormous water slides, dry but stained with years of use.

Across the river, buses carrying tourists appeared the size of ants crawling along the banks that were carved out of the landscape for the diversion channels, which were used to alter the course of the river so the dam could be built.

Huge conduits from that distance looked like household PVC pipe that can be bought from Home Depot. However, their diameter was larger than the length of the tour buses.

I found it amazing when our tour guide told us that Itaipu Dam produced twenty-five percent of Brazil’s energy needs. That’s significant considering the size and population of Brazil. Paraguay, on the other hand, receives more power than it needs. In fact, it sells the energy it doesn’t need back to Brazil.

My overall impression of Itaipu Dam was very impressed. The entire spectacle and feat of engineering overwhelmed the senses and baffled the mind.

To read more about my travels in Paraguay and Brazil, go to

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tyrant of the Mind by Priscilla Royal

The title of Priscilla Royal's second novel featuring Prioress Eleanor of Wynethorpe, Tyrant of the Mind, comes form a seventeenth century play by John Dryden. It is stated in a line from Act 3, Scene 1, "Song of Jealousy". It's very appropriate to this novel where murder nearly takes a back seat to the green-eyed monster.

Prioress Eleanor is recalled to her home, Wynthethorpe Castle when her young nephew is taken ill. Sister Anne, whose care and healing abilities bring the boy back from the brink of death, and Brother Thomas accompany her on her sojourn. While the nephew Richard is on the mend, Eleanor's father Baron Adam is in negotiations with his close and dear friend, Sir Geoffrey for the marriage between Eleanor's brother Robert and Geoffrey's daughter Julianna. Although the baron's children and the knight's were childhood friends, they are no longer youngsters. After the death of his wife, Sir Geoffrey married his ward, Isabella, who was expected to marry his son, Henry and has opened a wide rift between the two men.

As the knight and his retinue arrive at Wynethorpe Castle for the continuation of negotiations, the chasm separating father and son is widened even more as Sir Geoffrey loudly accuses Henry of recklessness which resulted in the death of a retainer. Later, Henry is stabbed to death and Eleanor's brother Robert is found standing over the body holding a bloodied knife.

Even though it looks bad for Robert, no one, not even Sir Geoffrey, believes he could carry out such a heinous act, against his childhood friend. But it's not up to them to decide. As law dictates, Baron Adam locks up his son in a very comfortable cell. Eleanor is grateful that a snowstorm has delayed any message getting through to the sheriff. She, Sister Anne and Brother Thomas struggle to make sense of the mystery and find out who killed Henry before the roads become passable.

Then the castle priest Father Anselm nearly dies after being pushed down a staircase. Pressing with her investigation, Eleanor learns a hideous truth behind Julianna's marriage to Sir Geoffrey.
In a race against time, the trio from Tyndal Priory uncovers jealousy, humiliation and lies in abundance. Royal adds more intrigue into this story and the plot becomes more complex. Prioress Eleanor finds herself increasingly in a struggle between loyalty to her family and her faith. Royal's portrayal of her is more meaningful in Tyrant of the Mind, more so than Wine of Violence. In the first we see her struggle against the nuns at Tyndal, who are angered at such a young woman being appointed their prioress. She wins over them with grim determination. In Tyrant, she has the same stubbornness but she must deal with her father, the only man who can match her hard-headedness and wit. Her usual straight-forward thinking is confounded as she realizes that her childhood friends have long lost their innocence and are now almost strangers. She must face ugly truths about her own family.

Eleanor is reminiscent of Peter Tremayne's Sister Fidelma, a nun/sleuth in seventh century Ireland. They have many of the same qualities and temperament, making one wonder if a good number of nuns of yore were so quick of wit and intelligent.

Royal's second novel is a wonderful read and can probably satisfy the discriminating tastes of readers who don't like mysteries. The depiction of thirteenth century England brings the past alive and vivid even in gray, snowy weather. Tyrant of the Mind will please any reader no matter what the weather.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Guide to Eating Out in Asuncion, Paraguay

In the heart of the market district in downtown Asuncion, the capitol of Paraguay, the diner El Bolsi caters to the businessmen and women needing a quick bite for lunch. A small electronic marquis above the kitchen window boasted “We have the best food south of the MASON-DIXON!!”. Noting just how far south of the famed boundary we were, this is a tall order. El Bolsi didn’t fill it, either. The quatro queso empanada was tasty but nothing that outshone food I’ve had between Asuncion and the Mason-Dixon Line. Considering that my colleague from Columbia, who was a naturalized U.S. citizen, had no clue about the Civil War reference, I wondered how many Paraguayans knew.

The rest of the meals eaten away from the Hotel Sheraton were delicious and satisfying. La Cabaña in the Del Sol Shopping Center and Paulista Churrasqueria on Avenue San Martin served tasty meals but the latter was clearly the superior. Much larger than La Cabaña, Paulista had more of a cafeteria feel but with it came the giant buffet with salads, pastas and other side dishes. Here, the waiters scurried about toting skewers of meat hot from the kitchen. At La Cabana, you had to ask for the next serving of meat and then it was brought to the table on a plate. The modest portions at La Cabana were a bit on the greasy side with gristle left on, but Paulista had similar cuts, just larger and more readily available. My favorite was the carne asada with queso, simple but tasty.

In the downtown area near the Paraguayan capitol building sits Le Flor de la Carta, a Peruvian restaurant. Our driver for our tour of Lago (Lake) Ypacarai suggested it when I asked for recommendations for ceviche, or cebiche as Le Flor de la Carta lists it on the menu. It comes with a choice of three different fish: surubi, mero and lenguado. There wasn’t an English translation for these but they were all types of white fish. The waiter told me that each dish with a single meat was rather small, so I chose the Cebiche Super Especial, which had all three. I got stuffed on the generous portions, and couldn’t finish it. My British-born friend ordered a grilled surubi plate and it satisfied even his discriminating pallet.

Il Capo, an Italian restaurant, is a few minutes walk from the Hotel Sheraton, just past the Del Sol Shopping Center and the McDonald’s. (Yes, the U.S. icon is ubiquitous, more so Burger King but nearly as omnipresent as Coca-Cola). Its relaxed atmosphere the night we visited could be attributed to the Paraguay vs. Venezuela soccer game on TV. The décor and menu were typically Italian and you could easily forget you were sitting in a South American capitol. I ate a simple pizza that was as good as any similar ones I’ve had in the states. The Brit had a much larger pizza with more toppings and once again satisfied his taste buds.

My biggest joy over the week was the Paraguayan beer Brahma. It had a mile taste but was very refreshing. The dark version actually had a sweet aftertaste that made it delicious. I wish I had found it earlier. Two other Paraguayan brews I tried were light and nearly as weak as many domestic beers. A search for Paraguayan wines proved futile, since most people there prefer the Chilean and Argentinean vintages.

An interesting departure from an otherwise routine food service was leaving a tip. In the U.S., we usually put the tip on the credit card instead of leaving cash on the table. However, in Paraguay, we were told many places that the tip could not be put on the credit card. This could make for awkward situations unless you are carrying several thousand Guaranies!

Overall, the food was delicious and I never had a bad meal. In fact, I felt that I may have gained a few pounds while enjoying the Paraguayan cuisine. Maybe the reason I tended to overindulge was the reasonable prices at even the fancier restaurants. For the amount of food served at La Cabaña, two of us ate for just under forty dollars. The regional delicacies were flavorful and tasty but not too spicy. And not exactly a place for anyone watching their cholesterol levels or their waist lines.

Hotel Sheraton Asuncion - Elegant and modern

The hotel’s website proudly proclaims that it is situated in a privileged neighborhood. Privileged indeed. The view outside my window overlooked an affluent area of the city with many large homes with huge yards like none other that I saw in Asuncion.

One wonders what the residents of these mansions felt about the ten-story hotel when it was built directly adjacent to their luxurious property.

How private can that huge pool be when dozens of strangers can look down on you from above while you’re enjoying a relaxing dip? That eight-foot security fence is ineffective against the prying eyes of visitors from across the globe.

The hotel is simply elegant to match the surrounding neighborhood, but with modern interior designs and situated far enough from the hubbub of the downtown area. It’s still convenient to many amenities, however, such as the shopping mall across the street and good restaurants nearby. And a cab ride to downtown takes about twenty minutes and costs a whopping 60,000 Guaranies, or roughly fifteen dollars.

Hotel Sheraton Asuncion hosts a small restaurant and bar on the ground floor (not to be confused with the first floor. I’ll explain later). Breakfast, which is complimentary, and lunch are buffet-style and both are delicious. Breakfast consists of hot foods, such as scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages and pancakes. I found it interesting that the restaurant does not offer syrup. Pancakes are eaten with honey! It’s a unique blend of two familiar and wonderful tastes. They also serve an amazing array of fresh fruits, like mango and papaya, small pastries and an assortment of cold cereals. (Tony the Tiger, Snap, Crackle and Pop are not included.) The orange juice tasted like it came straight from the tree, but the peach juice tasted like it came straight from the can. The coffee is strong and powerful enough to knock you into the middle of next week. Needless to say, I loved it.

Lunch had a number of salads, hot meats and sides, usually including a pasta dish. The ceviche was awesome.

As I mentioned earlier, registration and the restaurant are on the ground floor. The first floor is up a wide open staircase to the large ballrooms. The second and third floors house meeting rooms.

The fourth through ninth floors are the guest rooms and the tenth is the crowning jewel. It features an open bar area with swimming pool and hot tub and gives visitors a spectacular and breath-taking panorama view of Asuncion. The open area had a modern Greek style with columns, giving it an affluent feel. Although I didn’t get a chance to try the wet and dry saunas, I was assured by my colleague that they were luxurious.

Downtown Asuncion

Sunset over Asuncion

One important fact that needs noting is that the elevators do not ding, beep, buzz or otherwise indicate they have arrived on your floor, with the exception of the ground floor. Several times, I was caught admiring the view out of the ninth floor window, unaware the elevator was standing open. I had to make a mad dash to reach it before it was too late.

As with any place catering to the traveler, the staff can make or break the experience, no matter how luxurious and posh the hotel is. This crew was one of the most helpful, courteous and friendly staff I have ever encountered. Some spoke English but many did not. Still, the language barrier rarely caused inconvenience or misunderstandings. However, there was the time I asked for coffee and got espresso instead. It did help me stay awake for the long, boring, afternoon meetings.


Ruben, the bartender, makes the best Caipirinhas. He speaks excellent English since he lived and worked in Montgomery, Alabama. Norma and Elaine were two of the lovely young women who greeted me with a buenos dias, big smiles and kept the coffee coming each morning.


Tall and handsome Diego manned the registration desk and arranged for transportation to and from the airport as well as a couple of city tours.

Bottom line, my room was always clean and, for a week, I was happy to call it home.

Traffic Controls, Schmaffic Controls: Getting around in Paraguay

Unless you have nerves of steel, can let anything roll off your back or are suicidal, don’t drive in Paraguay. Walk or take a cab. The few traffic controls in place, such as stop lights or lane markings in the capitol city of Asuncion, seemed to be regarded as suggestions only rather than law. As a result however, some of the vehicular infractions I witnessed, including cutting someone off, passing in a no-passing zone and running a red light hardly registered even a horn blow. The small of these gaffes in the U.S. would’ve provoked the worst case of road rage imaginable.

During the cab ride from the airport to the hotel the first night, the driver straddled the middle line for most of the journey. At least this road had one. For many of the streets, any type of markings for lanes or the shoulder simply does not exist. At intersections where a stoplight stands, drivers fill in the street curb to curb in a random fashion like irregular shaped rocks clogging the bottom of a chute. If a vehicle fits into an empty space, one will be there.

Where no stoplight or sign stands, cars venture into the intersections with trepidation, looking for an opening in the cross-traffic. What designates an ‘opening’ is up to the discretion of the driver. Minor traffic jams appear as motorists on the side streets mingle with the main thoroughfare and then disappear with a minimum of horn-honking.

(Note the absence of stoplights, stop signs and traffic police in this intersection.)

In fact, everyone appears to take such things in stride. The most egregious faux pas of one driver against the next, passing in a no-passing zone on a hill, did not result in any horn-blowing or flipping the finger which are guaranteed among U.S. drivers in such cases. In our cross-country trek to Brazil, I was reminded of my years in Texas as a Mercedes-Benz passed our vehicle on a hilltop in a no-passing zone as if he were too prosperous to be bothered with obeying traffic laws. But buses and trucks are not at all above taking advantage of this opportunity to move up in the queue of cars. Our driver also made his move to pass two cars on a rise, but made it past only one before a vehicle came over the crest heading toward us. Although there was no room between the two cars, the driver of the rear vehicle eased off and let us in front of him, without any visible reaction. Imagine a motorist in the U.S. not taking this as a personal insult and affront!

Zipping in and out traffic between cars, trucks and vans are the motor bikes which by nature of its economic advantages are a widely-used mode of transportation. The riders exhibit even less regard for themselves or other motorists as they squeeze into small spaces between cars, whether traffic is moving or not. When the light turns green and everyone moves through the intersection, cars fan out taking as much of the road as they can without getting into on-coming traffic. Remember that lanes may or may not be indicated. The motorcyclists take advantage of the larger gaps, pressing their advantage to move forward. Among our fellow commuters one day was a young man with his wife sitting behind him and a toddler sandwiched between them. Despite the noise and commotion, the kid appeared to be sound asleep.

In the border town of Ciudad del Este, they’re even more aggressive and suicidal. Here, many of them run taxi services, carting people back and forth between Paraguay and Brazil, even if it means using the sidewalks when traffic stalls.

In the rural Paraguayan countryside, the motorcyclists are more prevalent but less intrusive. The morning shift mobilized in one small community as we passed through, buzzing around us like bees protecting the hive and making sure we weren’t a threat. The country folk stick mainly to the shoulder of the highway, using it as opposed the lanes which are clearly marked.

Young women are as likely to be operating motorcycles as the men. People traveled in twos and even threes, clutching tightly to each other. Since this is their only mode of transportation, the motor bikes are used to haul cargo as well as passengers. One such fellow had three large boxes strapped to the back of his bike, to the point that he could not be seen from behind. I glanced at him as we passed and saw his lap was filled with cargo as well. In the Lago Ypicarai area, one cyclist’s buddy held a large harp, while riding on the back of the bike. It was a sight to give any harpist’s heart to skip a beat.

As I mentioned earlier, the city bus is not an attractive alternative, either. My colleague was strongly advised to remove her watch if she opted for the bus. Whether this was only a stern warning or a dose of reality, we decided to take a cab.

Walking is the best alternative, especially for short distances since you can enjoy the sites and sounds of the city. While riding in a vehicle, it’s extremely difficult to take pictures while holding on for dear life.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Face Down Upon an Herbal by Kathy Lynn Emerson

As is happily usual, the second novel in a series surpasses the first. Kathy Lynn Emerson's second work Face Down Upon an Herbal, featuring herbalist/sleuth Lady Susanna Appleton upholds this trend. Two years after the first book, Face Down in Marrow-Bone Pie, Susanna's work on herbs has been published but with only her initials, giving the great many purchasers of her book no indication that the author is a woman.

While her husband is sent to Scotland on an errand for the queen, Susanna receives an order from Elizabeth to assist Lady Madderly, who is writing her own herbal. It does not take Susanna long after her arrival at the castle to realize she's been manipulated by the wily queen. A month prior to her appearance, a Scottish lord was murdered and found lying upon a copy of Susanna's published herbal. Shortly afterward, the Lady of the castle is struck down. The list of those who might want to do in the Scottish lord extends to nearly everyone in the castle who had opportunity, but no clear, discernable motive can be determined. The lengthy roster of suspects includes the master of the house, his ugly and bitter sister, and his handsome gentleman servant.

Lady Appleton and her husband's half-sister Catherine Denholm continue their work on the herbal and investigate the murders and their possible connection to counterfeiters working in the area. Thus the reason for Queen Elizabeth's sending Sir Robert Appleton to Scotland and his wife to Madderly Castle becomes apparent. Although the monarch doesn't appear in the novel, Emerson illustrates Good Queen Bess's shrewdness and her apparent disregard for her subjects' feelings in getting her way.

There is more interaction between Lady Appleton and her husband, in this second work than in the first, and more animosity which confused me. In the first novel, Emerson makes it clear that there is no love lost between the couple, who are married by arrangement. But they had a congenial relationship. In this story, there is open hostility before they manage to forge a working relationship to solve the mystery that the Queen has embroiled them in. At the end of Face Down in Marrow-Bone Pie, Susanna manages to get a legal document that releases her from any control by her husband. Now she blatantly dislikes him and makes it clear she does not want him at Madderly Castle with her. His arrival for the holidays gives them ample time to call a truce and conspire.

Emerson adds more intrigue and suspense to her second work using the backdrop of the conflict between Elizabeth and her cousin Mary to the north as the basis for conspiracy, counterfeiting and murder. It was unclear as to what the nature of the counterfeiting was. The only specific incident of forgery noted in the novel was a fake genealogy used to gain a higher station in life. The implications of falsified documents to Elizabeth's grip on the throne were vague at best, and it seemed as though the queen sent several agents to investigate the counterfeiting for her own amusement rather than her safety.

What Emerson does specify clearly are Lady Appleton's recipes for physics, poultices, salves and unguents for binding battle wounds, curing body aches and ills. During one scene, Susanna rattles off ingredients for several potions in the span of two pages in a data dump, where specific information is concentrated into one area and is mainly for educating the reader instead of entertaining them. It doesn't come off well in dialogue but in this novel, it wasn't too awkward.

Again, this second outing was better than the first and Emerson took the opportunity to deepen all the characters, enhance the rift between Susanna and Robert, and marry off Catherine Denholm. She also crafted a complex and masterful plot that keeps the readers' interest. I found myself looking forward to picking it up again whenever I could make time to read. It's sure to delight all mystery fans.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Men - An Anthology! On!!

Letting all y'all know that my short story "Safe Word" is available on as part of "MEN - An Anthology. Here is the direct link to book's page.

I got my copy last night and it's beautiful! Fellow loveyoudivine author Jon Michaelsen and I will be signing copies at Outwrite Books in Atlanta on Oct. 6! If you're in the Atlanta area, drop by and say "Hello!"

Each story is available from Love You Divine Alterotica's website:

loveyoudivine is offering a 10% on each of those ebook stories when you use coupon code MENWHOLOVEMEN

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Cataline Conspiracy by John Maddox Roberts

For a quaestor, the lowest level of elected official in ancient Rome, ca. 690 BC, Decius Caecilius Metellus gets around. He is invited to the grandest of parties thrown by Rome’s ultra-elite and seduced by the most beautiful, voluptuous and insatiable women. In the Roberts’s novel with Decius, The King’s Gambit, he is taken on a wild night of carnal exercise by the beautiful sister of his enemy and her incredibly flexible female companion. In The Cataline Conspiracy, the second novel in the ancient Rome series, it is the nineteen year-old stepdaughter of his friend Catalina.

Alerted by the murders of several equites, money-lenders and hated by the populace, Decius suspects a link between the seemingly unconnected deaths and there is something more than somebody carrying out an extermination of a group of men to whom nearly everyone was indebted.

Against the wishes of his emotionally distant father, Decius investigates and uncovers a plot to overthrow the Republic, but it seems doomed to fail on the surface. The leaders are a group of men who do not have the organizations skills or the resources to pull off anything remotely successful.

Decius concludes that there are powerful and wealthy men behind the rebellion, who pull the strings and push the cash, but keep themselves an anonymous distance away to keep form being implicated with their fall guys. Decius manages to infiltrate the group but to show his dedication to the cause, he must kill his best friend, the Greek physician Asklepiodes. The good doctor agrees to conspire with Decius and fake his death, while remaining unflappable and keeping his wry wit, which makes him a loveable and endearing character.

As with The King’s Gambit, the mystery in The Cataline Conspiracy oftentimes takes a backseat to the events and daily lifestyle of Rome which form the basis for the story. Much of the time the basis is more prevalent than the story. Roberts includes a glossary to help the reader navigate the ancient Roman terms that lace every page. Still, one tends to get bogged down among the secondary and peripheral characters with similar names, but this isn’t Roberts’s fault. Blame the Roman who thought naming all his offspring and descendants the same name was a good idea.

There are still many references to the environment of southern Italy of that time that are not expounded upon in the book, leaving the reader more confused.

Overall, I enjoyed The Cataline Conspiracy more than The King’s Gambit and that’s as much Roberts’s writing improvement as my becoming more familiar with ancient Rome through Decius.

John Maddox Roberts also infuses more than a little humor into this second novel. The conversation and plotting that takes place between Decius and Asklepiodes when they discuss the Greek’s fake demise is very enjoyable as the doctor chides his friend to not grieve too much when he’s ‘gone’. The blurb on the back of the book made this sound more ominous than the scene actually was. And few authors can deliver a line like “They don’t make tyrants like Sulla anymore” with great comedic timing.

I feel that with The Cataline Conspiracy, Roberts has developed Decius a bit more, who realizes that he has a terrible weakness for beautiful and voluptuous women, but we also see him as a soldier. Although the climatic battle was a very short scene in the final pages of the book, we get to know this other side of Decius that has only been hinted at in these first two novels. It gives the reader a stronger bond with the flawed and vulnerable hero, but as a result, he becomes more human.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale

My first impression after reading this book is there must be more of the adventures of Belimai Sykes and his lover Captain William Harper. Just inside the front cover, Hale includes two maps of the world of Wicked Gentlemen; one depicting the layout of Crowncross, the Holy Capitol; and Hopetown, also called Hell’s Below. Both are elaborate and descriptive with Hopetown having the most detail, but many of the features of the maps do not figure into the novel, which is actually two short stories, the second a sequel to the first. In fact, a significant portion of the sequel, Captain Harper and the Sixty-second Circle takes place beyond the maps.

With such attention to detail, one would expect Hale to include those points but are left with questions are other places of interests, called out on the maps. But that’s not to say Wicked Gentlemen is not enjoyable. I found it to be a lot of fun to read and loved the concepts. Belimai Sykes is a Prodigal, which is a descendant of ancient demons from long ago. Captain William Harper is an Inquisitor, a member of an organization that seems to be the love-child of Nazism and the Spanish Inquisition.

The first story, Mr. Sykes and the Firefly, opens with Captain Harper entreating Belimai’s help in finding a woman who has been kidnapped. It appears that Belimai is a bit of a detective and a hustler (where have I seen this before?). It is unclear why the Prodigal is approached for this assignment since his background is sketchy and references to other cases are vague.

Hale does a good job of incorporating the aspects of the fantasy world and its social interactions between the Prodigals and the Sons of Adams. Here again, one gets the feeling that Hale put more thought into the fantasy world than into the story.

The characters are fleshed out well enough. The heat between Harper and Sykes becomes apparent quickly, but almost too quickly. After a night of drinking, they fall into bed together quite easily. It’s not until the second story that we find out why the staunch, upright and militaristic Harper is so beguiled after only a few drinks by a man whose race is considered sub-human.

Captain Harper and the Sixty-second Circle opens with the Inquisitor heading to a family estate for vacation but dreading the experience. His trip is interrupted by the mysterious death of a wealthy and prominent citizen’s daughter. Harper smells the putrid stench of a cover-up but the powers-that-be immediately suspect the flight-capable Belimai Sykes. Through a furious thunderstorm, Harper manages to keep one step ahead of his fellow Inquisitors to rescue his Prodigal lover and whisk him away to the family estate.

The rest of the story is an exciting ride as Harper leaves Belimai in capable hands and returns to Crowncross to clear his name and bring the guilty party to justice. It’s a great read but the plot, lowly good guy brings down the almighty rich establishment, is so old isn’t practically petrified. The sci-fi/fantasy spin does give a refreshing approach to such an over-used concept, but the reek of decay lingers.

Mr. Sykes and the Firefly is told in First Person from Belimai’s point of view, but the Sixty-second Circle is Third Person from the Harper’s perspective. Hale returns to First Person in Circle’s epilogue with Belimai as the narrative. This switching back and forth is a little tedious and confusing.

This being said, I’d like to read more of the adventures of Captain Harper and Belimai Sykes. Despite the old we’ve-seen-that-before plots, Wicked Gentlemen is a fun and entertaining read.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Book Signing with me and Jon Michaelsen in Atlanta, Oct. 6!

Join me and Jon Michaelsen at Outwrite Bookstore and Coffeehouse in Atlanta, GA Oct. 6, 2008 at 7:30pm!

We will be signing copies of "Men" from loveyoudivine Alterotica, which includes my story "Safe Word" and Jon's story "Voyeur".

Come see us and get an autograph from your favorite authors! (Yes, that would be us!)

Outwrite Bookstore and Coffeehouse
991 Piedmont Ave.
Atlanta, GA 30309

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hex: A Novel of Love Spells by Darieck Scott

Warning: Contains spoilers!

Hex is not only a novel of love spells, but also the love of relationships, unrequited and sex. It contains elements of the supernatural, occult and horror. Throughout the story and more importantly, it has a wonderful sense of humor.

The novel opens in Miami, where news of Castro’s death has sent the city into a frenzy of excitement and celebration, especially among the gay Cubans. Several friends visiting get caught in the midst of the revelry and strange sightings of the supposedly past-on Cuban dictator. Langston Fleetwood, his straight(?) best friend Azaril, friends Reynaldo and Quentin search for Damian who vanished under very serious circumstances during one of these episodes. Their quest takes Langston and Azaril to Key West where Langston’s Aunt Reginia, a respected and formidable psychic sends the foursome on a journey that takers them to the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut to New York City and back to Miami. They learn the strange and bizarre family history of their friend Damian, are stalked by a warlock bent on capturing their secrets and a poor little rich girl who is an odd wild card with the power to bend time and space. In the midst of the chaos, Azaril disappears in a fashion very similar to Damian’s.

Scott’s writing takes a little getting used to at first, since he writes in the present tense. His prose gets a bit wordy at times but he soon grabs the readers and pulls them into a fantastic world of alternative universes, sorcery and the joy and heartaches of gay love. At six hundred and one pages, Hex is a lengthy read but again Scott doesn’t forget his readers. One could easily get bogged down on some of the lengthy descriptions, but not with this author. He keeps us grounded and back in the story, experiencing the action instead of merely reading it.

I found myself absorbing Aunt Reginia Jameson Wolfe’s teachings to Langston to the point that I actually reacted as she did when he asked her a question about the powers in which he was tapping. That’s great writing when you can connect with a character so closely.

Although a powerful psychic, Reginia remains down-to-earth and fiercely protective of her family, including her two sons, typical teenagers in their own world, clueless as to the scope of events happening around them. Reginia is not bothered by four o’ clock in the morning phone calls from her nephew unless, of course, he interrupts her favorite movies. She has some of the best lines in the entire book.

Another character that injects humor into the story is the rich Roan Gillory. She accidentally turns her husband into a dog, morphs her hotel room into a tropical rain forest, and moves it out of the real of the hotel’s physical reality. Roan never completely loses touch with her earthly side as she checks out the warlock’s butt and admits to Langston that she wouldn’t mind making out with his aunt.

The fascinating climax, the rescue of Damian and Azaril, is a journey into the alternate realities with Aunt Reginia leading the way and taking charge. On a hysterical note, as they emerge from the experience, the five young men discover that Reginia used the power they tapped into to bless their already significant endowments and give herself and Roan Gillory a nip and tuck. Who among us wouldn’t take the same advantage of an opportunity like that for a little physical enhancement?

Hex is one of the best books I’ve ever read and certainly the best in gay literature. The not-too-happy ending is a nice dose of reality when Langston must give up the love of his life, Azaril. This digression from the usual pretty-boy-gets-pretty-boy-in-the-end (no pun intended) kept it real and that’s the biggest thing I applaud Darieck Scott. He gives us a powerful love story complete with sci-fi and fantasy elements that blissfully casts a love spell on its readers and keeps them enchanted to the end.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Wine of Violence by Priscilla Royal

I love medieval whodunits, especially those of Ellis Peters, Margaret Frazer and Peter Tremayne, all of whom have cloister residents as sleuths. Priscilla Royal’s young but shrewd prioress Eleanor of Wynethorpe ranks among formidable company as Brother Cadfael, Dame Frevisse and Sister Fidelma.

In her first novel with the uncanny Eleanor, Royal takes us back to the year 1270 during the waning years of Henry III’s reign, who favors Eleanor’s well-connected family by assigning her as prioress of the remote Tyndal priory. Her youth and inexperience does not set well among many of the members. Namely, Sister Ruth, who was elected prioress by the sisters only to be stricken of the title when Eleanor is appointed; and Brother Simeon, an arrogant and self-absorbed monk who ran Tyndal, taking advantage of the elderly Prioress Felicia and the equally-aged Prior Theobold.

Eleanor knows she has to overcome the nun’s negativity and the monks disdain for her, but the new priest, the young Brother Thomas, ignites fires of lust in her that confound her logic. She is confused by her reaction to the monk.

Thomas arrived at Tyndal just after Eleanor to replace Brother Rupert, who was murdered the day after her arrival. Thomas has been sent for reasons other than to care for the sick in the infirmary and hear the nuns’ confessions. His investigative skills are needed to determine why the priory is not as profitable as in recent years, an accusation that came from an anonymous letter written to the mother house.

Although he initiates strong feelings in Eleanor, Thomas has no interest in women. I find it interesting that Royal chose a gay man as a sleuth in this situation and environment. He’s dumped into a thirteenth century priory where the perpetrator of the crimes turns out to be a homosexual, also. And they’re not the only ones connected to the priory.

It’s her main character, Eleanor of Wynethorpe that is the most vivid and complex. She rules Tyndal with wit, intelligence and a common sense well beyond her twenty years. Wine of Violence is a great read which is why I’ve read it twice now. Beautifully written and rich in details, it’s one of a few books that is very hard to put down. I look forward to more from Priscilla Royal.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Face Down in the Marrow Bone Pie by Kathy Lynn Emerson

The Elizabethan era is one of the most intriguing and fascinating times of England’s colorful history. This may be the reason why so many authors, such as Fiona Buckley, Karen Harper, Edward Marston and Kathy Lynn Emerson, choose that time period as the backdrop for their mysteries. The glamour of court life, wars against Spain and France, and the strife at home give the authors plenty of events as a basis of their stories.

Emerson’s first mystery with Lady Susanna Appleton is set in the first year of Elizabeth’s reign. The Lady’s husband Sir Robert is sent to France by good Queen Bess on a reconnaissance mission loosely disguised as a gift giving gesture to the new French king.

During his absence, Susanna travels to her husband’s ancestral home Appleton Manor where the steward died under circumstances she finds odd. Although she and her retinue arrive several weeks after the death and there is no evidence that the man’s passing was anything other than natural, Susanna continues to probe, snoop and ask questions surrounding the deaths of the steward and her father-in-law’s two years prior.

Her investigation is thwarted by the local villagers’ mistrust of the newcomers to the manor, the strange family of the neighboring manor and the general opinion that Sir Robert’s boyhood home is haunted by a vengeful ghost.

Slowly but persevering, Lady Appleton finds out more about her husband’s family and their history than he ever told her.

Emerson’s Susanna is a very strong-will and stubborn woman who doesn’t exactly bully her husband but forces her wishes and does what she wants. Sir Robert appears almost cuckolded. His trip to France in intermingled in the novel but adds nothing to the mystery and becomes more a distraction rather than a sub-plot. It was as if Emerson only used it to show her knowledge of the French monarchy during Elizabeth’s early reign and get Sir Robert out of the way to allow Susanna her freedom to investigate the steward’s death without interruption. The only cross-connect between the two stories is a brief but very important event at the climax of the mystery.

It seems that Susanna is based loosely on Queen Elizabeth I, whose intelligence, wit and eccentricities are portrayed accurately although the monarch makes a very brief appearance. But Lady Appleton becomes almost too over-bearing for the reader because she is always right with few flaws.

Even with all that, Face Down in the Marrow-Bone Pie is a fun read and does whet the readers’ appetite for more. I definitely plan to continue reading Emerson’s Face Down series.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

First You Fall by Scott Sherman

For someone who writes about detectives with arcane powers such as telekinesis and telepathy, I had a difficult time (at first) wrapping my mind around the concept of a male prostitute as a sleuth. Kevin Connor is a hustler who sucks off, jerks off and otherwise gets off half the population of NYC. The male half that is. There’s not a straight male to be found anywhere in First You Fall. Once you get past the narcissism, Kevin and his best friend Freddy are a likeable pair.

When a friend of his takes a multi-story dive out of his posh, high-rise apartment, Kevin is convinced that it was not an open-and-shut case of suicide as the police are too quick to conclude. He begins his own investigation into Allen Harrington’s death, which becomes complicated when an old boyfriend from seven years ago reappears as the detective on the case. Although Tony is married, it is clear that he still has the hots for Kevin, who uses the sexual tension to his advantage. Occasionally, the mystery took a back seat to the off-and-on, up-and-down relationship between them and, in a sense, turning the reader into a voyeur.

Where Miss Marple uses gossip and Dr. Elizabeth Chase uses her psychic powers to solve mysteries, Kevin Connor uses his body. In nearly every situation, he employs his looks, his dress and his physique to get answers to the questions he’s asking. In other words, just as Robert Rodi’s Kept Boy, only young, fit and pretty get sex, unless Kevin wants something from you. If you don’t fit at least one of these criteria, you must pay. But everyone wants to have sex with Kevin Connor. Guess what? The murderer is someone who doesn't want to have sex with him!

There is a lot of humor in First You Fall in the form of Kevin’s best friend Freddy, who is a loveable if not over-the-top queen; and Kevin’s mother who has little idea how to be a mother. These two give the reader good laughs.

First You Fall is an enjoyable read once you overlook the main character’s constant preening, primping and arrogance. Then it is an engrossing story that’s difficult to put down. Sherman leaves us with a cliff hanger so we look forward to Kevin Connor’s next adventure.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Men - The Anthology is now available on!

This is my short story and six other stories also sizzling hot by Carol McKenzie, Anastasia Rabiyah, Max Griffin, Patricia Oshier Bruening, Jon Michaelsen and ME (Alex Morgan)

(including my story, Safe Word)

ISBN 978-1-60054-240-4

Genre: Gay Lit


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Press Release! Men - available from!

From loveyoudivine Alterotica

To be released 1 August 2008, MEN, the hottest anthology of the summer from loveyoudivine Alterotica. lyd's first His and His Kisses print anthology is all MEN cover to cover. If you enjoy gay fiction, these stories will scorch your senses!

In Voyeur, Jon Michaelsen invites the reader into the obsessive depths of voyeurism. While Kevin enjoys gardening on the balcony of his high-rise condo, he notices a chiseled Adonis staring out the window of the penthouse across the street. What begins as innocent glances soon spirals into an obsession that changes his life forever.

Dive into passion and explore all five senses with Anastasia Rabiyah in Blindfold. Blindfolded in the basement at the mercy of a coworker, Leo's senses are put to the test, as well as his broken heart.

Max Griffin offers a wild ride into another time dimension with The Other Side of the Window, and a look at David who spends his life pursuing Truth through physics, sex, and gin. One morning, after hot sex with an anonymous stranger, the three beacons in his life conjoin when a hole in space and time appears in his room. In Dream a Little Dream of Me, Max plunges into an exploration of the dark side of perfect love. Sean and Gil, polar opposites, seek in one another the perfect lover. In a forbidden dungeon in Gil's apartment, Sean finds secrets coiled within mysteries. Soon enough, he learns the horrifying truth about Gil, and himself.

Carol McKenzie explores a man's first experience in Pure Artistry. Cameron Bracy is just out of a relationship...or so he thinks. Needing to ease his stress, he enrolls in a drawing class. However, the tension increases when he becomes acquainted with the gorgeous hunk, Eli Thompson.

Take a walk on the wilder side of things with Alex Morgan in Safe Word. The body of a man is found as Provincetown prepares for Mates Weekend, a popular leather gathering. Corey thinks a BDSM scene went past it's extreme limit. He tours the town's dark dungeons, looking for a murderer preying on young men. Can Corey find him before becoming a victim to the ultimate BDSM fantasy of execution?

With Graphic Intentions, Patricia Oshier Bruening takes you into the tortured memories of two men who meet in a coffee shop, neither thinking the other is gay. Scarred by past events, Scott and Derek find each other when neither is looking for a partner. It takes a confrontation from a loud-mouthed bigot before each realizes the other is interested in more than artwork. Can they discover a way to battle their demons together, rather than alone?

ISBN 978-1-60054-240-4

Published by loveyoudivine Alterotica

Available 1 August 2008 Publisher Direct

Ghost Ships: True Stories of Nautical Nightmares, Hauntings and Disasters by Richard Winer

The cover of Winer’s Ghost Ships trumpets him as the New York Times best-selling author of The Devil’s Triangle, released in the early seventies. A quick search on shows not many works since then until Ghost Ships, copyrighted in 2000.

Although Winer cites one ‘ghost ship’ incident in 1998, the remainder of paranormal episodes in his 33-chapter, 265-page chronology occur prior to 1978. The lion’s share of the spooky events takes place between the beginning of the twentieth century and the completion of World War II. The one post-1978 story is about a ship that disappeared without a trace in 1998 during Hurricane Mitch, one of the most powerful and deadliest hurricanes recorded in the Atlantic basin. Gasp.

It seems as though Winer conducted his research into the ghost ships immediately after the success of The Devil’s Triangle, but never carried through on the project. Until now. I got the feeling that Winer needed to publish again after a long dry spell, so he pulled his notes from long ago, threw in a couple of recent incidents and released Ghost Ships.

The book focuses on vessels found with no one on board or that vanished without a trace. Only a handful of the stories actually chronicle paranormal phenomenon.

Winer’s work has few surprises and no scares but is rich in history. Although the book doesn’t deliver on ghosts, it does have a number of interesting chapters in maritime history, including a number of WWII tales that weren’t mentioned in the history books.
If you’re looking for ghosts or horror, search elsewhere. Unsolved mysteries? This can be the place.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Alehouse Murders by Maureen Ash

In her first of a new mystery series, Maureen Ash introduces the reader to Templar Knight Bascot de Marins, who has returned to England after years of captivity in the Holy Land at the hands of the Saracen. Injured in his escape to freedom, de Marins is on sojourn from the Order at the castle of Lincoln, to allow his leg to heal. The leave from the Templar Knights also gives him a chance to question and renew his fading faith.

Nicolaa de la Haye, the lady in charge of the castle and wife to the sheriff, charges Bascot to find the murderer of four people found dead in the alehouse. The deaths come on the eve of Lincoln’s huge midsummer faire and she is concerned that the person responsible could disappear into the crowds.

As the temperature rises, so does the body count and Bascot finds himself dealing with a ruthless and very determined killer.

Ash creates a vivid picture of medieval life and culture against the backdrop of King John I’s reign. Although the monarch does not appear in the story, his pressure is felt by all and his influence is palpable. It is interesting to read Ash’s portrayal of John as king which is in contrast to the depiction of him as prince to his brother, Richard I. Sharon K. Penman’s excellent Justin de Quincy series lays John’s perfidy and malice (some of which seems genuinely justified) unapologetically open and exposed.

The most engaging of Ash’s characters besides Bascot are his young ward Gianni, and the aging matriarch Hilde, who also recognizes the intelligence of the wounded Templar and becomes instrumental in helping him solve the mystery. Gianni, the mute Italian orphan rescued from the streets and starvation by Bascot, communicates with the Templar through a series of hand signals and captures the readers’ hearts as well as attention. Gianni is devoted to Bascot as a son is to a father and the sentiment is returned. Bascot lost an eye during his captivity (reminding the reader of Candace Robb’s one-eyed hero Owen Archer) and relies on the boy’s visual acuity for finding clues.

Bascot de Marins is a complex character like another Templar sleuth, Michael Jecks’s Sir Baldwin Furnshill.

Ash received kudos from Penman and another medieval mystery legend, Margaret Frazer, along with other accolades printed everywhere on the paperback edition. The glowing reports are deserved as this book is worthy enough to be put along side the other medieval whodunits from Frazer and Penman. Ash’s writing style tends to be heavy on the passive voice, but this does not distract from the reading pleasure. I look forward to reading the next one.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Come and be a Pirate!

Saturday night, Fuzzy and I attended the Crimson Pirates' CD release party in Suffern, NY just south of the New York Renaissance Faire in Tuxedo. Ireland's 32 hosted the venue which became crowded quickly as the crush of fans filled the small room to capacity and raised the temperature to sauna levels. The restaurant seemed unprepared for the onslaught of hungry patrons since it took 30 minutes to get a club sandwich!

None of this mattered since the Crimson Pirates treated us to three sets of wonderful music. They sang songs from their new release, 'Come and be a Pirate', as well as our favorites from the previous four CD's. They announced at the beginning of the show that the third set would be entirely requests. The Crimsons found out the consquences and fun of singing a final set when the band and the audience are well-lubricated.

Robin's Corsair-esque version of "Pump Shanty" will not be forgotten any time soon. Singing from hand-written lyrics on the back of a crumpled sheet of paper (and still not getting the words right) and Kelly's exhuberant tambourining during short periods of scrutinizing her own heiroglyphics, Robin left her audience in stitches.

But I digress. Back to the new stuff. Ann's rendition of the title song, 'Come and Be a Pirate' sung to the tune of 'Bell-bottomed Trousers' is a bouncy and fun song that's sure to be a favorite sing-a-long tune very soon. (kinda like 'Bell-bottomed Trousers'!)

Don's new lyrics to 'Wild Rover' are hysterical.

My favorite: "Bow to Stern".

After the show which ended just before midnight, Fuzzy and I remained behind to chat with Robin, Dan, Ann, Don and Kelly along with a handful of other devoted fans. As usual in our conversation with such good friends, the time flew past and before we realized it, it was nearly 1:30am!

I am so looking forward to attending the New York Renaissance Faire this year! Having friends such as these, the four-hour drive through Baltimore, Wilmington (construction zones), around Philly and near NYC is but a small insigificant price to pay to spend time with them!

P.S. Thanks for the snog, Barley!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pirate Ghosts: Tales of Hauntings at Sea

This compilation of horror shorts written by such literary giants as H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch and Washington Irving promises the reader ‘with bloodcurdling buccaneers, spectral ships, uncanny experiences under the Jolly Roger and eerie spirits from a historic past that refuses to stay dead’. Pretty high expectations, huh?

The anthology could have been renamed Caribbean Magic Ghosts with some Piracy Themes Thrown in the Mix. Few had pirates as main characters and just as many did not even contain any manner of sea rovers.

This is not to say that the anthology, compiled by Frank McSherry, Jr., Charles G. Waugh and Martin H. Greenberg isn’t an entertaining read. The short stories contain some great horror themes and effectively scare the reader.

H. P. Lovecraft’s The Terrible Old Man is one such story that eschews the piracy theme but is as creepy as Robert Bloch’s The Red Swimmer, a great story of revenge on a bloodthirsty pirate.

The lengthiest short, Henry S. Whitehead’s Seven Turns in a Hangman’s Rope is a tedious read as he lays on one subordinate clause after another, extending sentences into paragraphs. The detail in which he describes the depth of the white witch’s knowledge and experience into voodoo and obeah was unnecessary, gauging its lack of impact on any of the climatic scenes.

August Derlith’s The Blue Spectacles, Carl Jacobi’s The Digging at Pistol Key and John Masefield’s Anty Bligh, along with the tales of Irving, Lovecraft and Bloch are just plain spooky fun. These are wonderful tales of vengeful ghosts, macabre magic (and a pirate or two) all thrown in with eerie tropical settings. Since I recently reviewed a biography of Jean Lafitte by Jack C. Ramsay Jr., I was pleased to see the dashing pirate appear in The Blue Spectacles. It and Irving’s story were the only two with pirate ghosts.

Clark Ashton Smith’s A Vintage from Atlantis is a short read that contains some of the best pirates in the book, but tended to get preachy. Before I Wake by Henry Kuttner is a slow-moving tale of a young boy haunted by dreams of sailing to magical places. Pirates are mentioned as part of his fantasy while the story clutches the island magic obeah tightly to its breast.

Lady Eleanor Smith’s No Ships Pass could probably be the forerunner of the Twilight Zone-esque ‘you are here now and there is no way back’ theme. Again short on pirates, but a great story.

Pirate Ghosts is a must read for lovers of the horror genre but not for the pirate aficionado or fan. The Caribbean magic has interwoven a spell among the pages and presides over the stories, and gives us a nice tropical scare.

Jean Lafitte: Prince of Pirates by Jack C. Ramsay, Jr.

In all the pirate books I’ve read, Jean Lafitte is mentioned mainly in reference to his helping the U.S. and future President Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 against the British. The one event, although heroic, does not begin to attest to the person of Jean Lafitte.

Ramsay’s biography of the famed pirate is an easy read and chronicles Lafitte’s achievements before and after the famed battle. Lafitte and his older brother Pierre played large roles in the history of early New Orleans and her politics during the transition of Louisiana from territory to statehood.

The Lafittes had a base on Barataria, between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, from where they operated a very successful smuggling business. Jean Lafitte’s knowledge of the marshes and bayous surrounding the island and New Orleans gave him a strategic advantage in confounding would-be officials or enemies from ruining his paradise. The British had hoped to woo Lafitte to their side against the U.S., but being loyal to his French roots, he sided with the Americans.

His support in the decisive battle helped the Americans from allowing the enemy to gain a foothold on their continent.

Sometime afterward, the United States began cracking down on pirates and privateers operating in her waters and the Lafittes retreated to Galveston Island which was under Spanish control at that time. They meddled in the affairs of Mexican insurgents while giving the façade of cooperating and giving intelligence to the government of Spain. Lafitte also issued letters of marquee from his ‘country’, making Galveston a nest of privateers the world hadn’t seen since the pirate colony on Madagascar.

A loophole in U.S. law allowed Jean Lafitte to turn a huge profit by smuggling slaves into Louisiana. Ramsay mentions that future Alamo hero Jim Bowie and his brother were up to their necks in the illegal slave trade. Apparently many unfortunate souls met their death at the wrong end of the knife Bowie crafted and bears his name.

Although there is mystery shrouding Lafitte’s death as well as his origin, Ramsay’s sources all agree that Jean was charming, friendly and very handsome. He had an easy-going disposition that even disarmed his enemies.

Ramsay also paints the picture of a gentleman pirate, where other historians depict Lafitte as one of the most bloodthirsty sea-rovers, worse than Blackbeard. Ramsay disputes those claims with historical records, journals and an extensive library of research on the man.

My only criticism of the book is that Ramsay threw in a few sentences here and there that only illustrate the extent of his research but did not reflect on the subject of Lafitte.

These are just hiccups in a great read about one of the most mysterious anti-heroes in American history. Ramsay writes a wonderful piece of work, giving Lafitte an unbiased and deserved portrayal.