Sunday, December 23, 2012

Eminent Outlaws; The Gay Writers Who Changed America

From a broader perspective I have just completed reading Eminent Outlaws  by Christopher Bram.  He takes a close look at the last 50 years of gay writing from America,  Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal and James Baldwin all feature heavily in the 1950s post war period.  They were often friends but also combative competitors. 
Their writing was often criticised for being too homosexual or read as homosexual pretending to be straight.  Baldwin suffered under the charge of not writing as a black man when he wrote a gay story.  It is these writers who along with Christopher Isherwood and Edmund White showed that gay writing could be good and did not always have to include suffering homosexuals.  Straight people had difficult lives and gay people often lived happy lives. 
The literature produced could be entertaining, informative and for the publishers even profitable.  The details of the plays, poems, novels and essays produced in the second half of last century is amazing.  This could be a book in which to find your future reading lists.

Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov

The famous author of Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov seldom mentioned the brother he left behind in Europe.  Paul Russell has very cleverly reconstructed this gay brother’s life from the few known facts.  It is a beautiful journey from the decline of St Petersburg in the early 20th Century as the time of the Tsars is brought to a close through to the end of Hitler’s Germany and Sergey himself. 

Sergey lives and loves an amazing life.  His father was immensely intelligent and he idolised his gay uncle who ignored him, while focussing his attentions on the elder Vladimir.  Sergey becomes friends with many famous people of the era such as Cocteau and Alice Toklas.  This is the story of an emigrant community and an overlooked brother.  It captures a changing world over a period of just a few decades. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Queen of Iron Years

By Lyn McConchie ad Sharman Horwood published by Kite Hill Publishing

Its 2035 and the world has gone to pieces.  Just like AIDS did in the 1980s a new disease known as Tensens is causing panic.  It appears that the hormonal balance of transsexuals means any Transgender person infected with Tensens and having sexual relations causes their partner to die.  Our transgender hero Cean finds his life is getting more difficult and the discrimination he suffers causes a halt to his life and his journey to becoming female.

The story progresses to Cean using a friend’s time travel technology to travel back to the first century and the time of his heroine Boadicea.  The subsequent tale is a brilliant example of historical fiction.  The details ring true as we read of battles with Romans and simple village life in early Britain.  Cean is hoping that he can change the future by helping Boadicea win war against Rome, rather than lose as she had done in our history.  Cean uses his knowledge and a stock of antibiotics to gain trust as he integrates with these more primitive people.  By changing the past a better kinder world where female strength is valued may come to pass.

You will enjoy reading this book.  Co-author Lyn lives in New Zealand.  Give her your support.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Naked Truth by Rachel Francis published by Penguin.


The sex industry in New Zealand occurs in dark back streets, busy street corners, strip clubs, massage parlours, brothels, and all places where gritty real sexual encounters occur.  This is Rachel’s second book, a book where she endeavours to share with all of us the truth and reality of this industry.  Through her interviews with a wide range of people Rachel wants to demonstrate the validity of what these people do for a living.

Sex workers can be entertainment as we see in night clubs and strip bars, while they can also be a safe sexual outlet for people who would otherwise be tempted force sex on someone in their lives.

At the book’s launch a wonderful variety of humanity was on show. These were the people from the book.  The female with long blond hair and great tits on show had grown up to be a farming bloke from provincial NZ, the couple who run a swingers club, young and old sex workers, the memory of Flora Mackenzie and Carmen Rupe who polarised our county’s attitudes to entertainment at the sexual boundary of society.

The interviews are revealing and engaging.  Rachel’s own self comes through in each of the introductions.  This is a woman who has lived life and is proud to be able to share her world with readers who have only glimpsed this one previously.

And then we come across our community’s hero, Miss Ribena.  Miss Ribena tells us she learnt to be drug and alcohol free from her first Madam.  This self control is what delivers spot on performances and a caring person to clubs like Family.  By challenging norms and creating allure she also gives a role model to us all.

Go on, do buy and read this book for its salacious details of the sex industry, but also for the wonderful stories of our fellow Kiwis.

Reviewed by Andrew Rumbles,

Saturday, April 21, 2012

King of the Badgers by Philip Henscher published by 4th Estate

Hanmouth, Devon is an English village where the town’s inhabitants are happily living their daily lives.  In the interests of civic safety they have agreed to install CCTV.  As the story unfolds we also see their lives from the inside and all is not what it always appears to be. Why is Sylvie making collages out of penises cut from magazines? Why is the Brigadier’s wife always so chipper?  What makes the new couple in town think they will fit in? Will their son enjoy his visit and who is his new friend?  Do Miranda and Kenyon know each other, let alone their crazy daughter, Heidi?  And why do the people on the neighbouring council estate have to call their suburb Hanmouth, when it quite obviously really isn’t?  And pervading the novel throughout is Mr John Calvin’s insistence that Neighbourhood Watch keeps authorising more cameras. A mix of motivations and intentions all slowly build to create a quirky picture of what really is going on.
The biggest surprise to me was the in your face gay sex party that is hosted for the Bears by local cheese shop owner, Sam and his boy friend Harry or “Lord what a waste”.  It does circumspectly take place behind the tightly closed curtains.  Throughout the novel one character remains distinctly unknown.  She is young China, a girl from the other Hanmouth who disappears and even the CCTV footage doesn’t seem able to help. 
This is a slow moving, beautifully written novel.  Enjoy it for its language and what it does and doesn’t tell you.  Its journey may be more enjoyable for you than its destination.

Good as Dead by Mark Billingham published by Little Brown

Billingham is one of the big names in crime fiction. His cops are human and focussed on doing their jobs well.  In this story a visit to a convenience store by a police woman quickly becomes a crisis as the store owner pulls a gun and takes Helen and another customer hostage.  Mr Akhtar’s son was taken into custody a year ago and the investigations have determined his death 8 weeks ago was suicide.  This resolution is not acceptable to this father.  In his heart it does not ring true with the son he knew. 

The response by the police gets complicated when Mr Akhtar insists that DI Thorne must investigate what really happened.  Time is against him as the hostage situation gets more and more tense.  Slowly but surely Thorne digs through the known facts trying to unearth the truth of what happened in the youth institution that young Amin was held in.  What lead up to the crime he went down for?  Was he really guilty?  Why was he in the area and the big question is why and how did he actually die?  A key part of this story is young Amin’s sexuality.  His parent’s knowledge or lack of knowledge of his life typifies most families.  The depraved lives lead by the adults in the world he is growing up in have not made his life an easy one.

The plot develops steadily.  Thorne has been in previous Billingham novels; however familiarity with previous books is unnecessary to enjoy this one.  There are plenty of twists and personal connections to flesh out this novel and they all add together to make it a very enjoyable read.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Disadvantage Line by Ron Davis published on Kindle books at

When I met Ron Davis the other day, he told me that he had always wanted to find the time to see if he could really write.  Life had kept him rather busy, but he had found time to do a writing course.  He has since then taken the opportunity afforded by the internet and self published his book Disadvantage Line online.  And can he write?  Yes.  Ron has written the book he knew he had in him.  He has not allowed himself to be hindered by any genre limitations.  This at times one handed read is a well crafted thriller with a love story about rugby player Ryan and our nation’s favourite game at its heart.

Ryan takes us into the heart of his world when we meet him at his first game as an All Black.  During the first game at the big new Christchurch rugby stadium in 2014 he realizes he knows the Lions player kicking the conversion in a way that he doesn’t want to share with any of his team mates.  Ryan then takes us back a few years to when he first realised he had a chance at serious rugby and also when he realised he could get turned on by guys more than girls.  His urges then lead us into a story of sport and lust as this young guy copes with a life of turmoil.   Ryan’s strict father has kicked him out and he is living with his best mate Ethan, whose family is both Maori and devoutly Christian.  Ryan’s team plays rugby in both New Zealand and the United Kingdom, while he lives with his secret desires.  The action does flow well and the plot is well developed.  I mostly enjoyed sharing Ryan’s world.

This book has a strong teen/ young adult protagonist.  In many ways this could have been a book that qualified as helpful reading for a young guy figuring out his sexuality.  However I personally have misgivings about some of the morally repugnant violence in the book, that lacks serious consequences.  This readership group should be offered some guidance if reading this book.

Davis says he will look at other e-publication outlets, so if you don’t like Kindle other formats may soon be available.  If you want to contact Ron you can search “disadvantage line” on Facebook. I was pleased to see that on his facebook page “Ryan” shows some regret for his actions.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jack Holmes and His Friend

Jack Holmes and His Friend $36.99 Bloomsbury/Allen and Unwin

This is going to get a bit gushy.  If you have enjoyed Edmund White’s earlier writing, please put down this copy of Express and simply go buy yourself a copy of Jack Holmes and His Friend, curl up in your favourite book reading spot and enjoy this beautiful novel. 

This is a coming of age novel that reflects the halcyon gay age of the 1960s.  While you will remember White’s Boys Own Story as the autobiographical tale of a young boy discovering himself in his parochial small town, this is the story of a young man discovering himself in big city New York.

We meet Jack Holmes as he moves on from his small town university life to discovering his adult self in New York.  Exciting friends and new experiences enthrall and also frighten him.  He has a wonderful perspective on the characters he meets as he finds himself a magazine job via interviews with  “two dear old alcoholic fussbudgets” who run the publication’s personnel department.  Then the wonderful Will Wright starts work in the same office and our Jack realizes he is in love.  It is the unrequited never go anywhere love many a gay man has for his straight buddy who obliviously continues the friendship while talking earnestly of his lusts and love for women.

Later the book switches and Will tells us of his life in the 10 years since he met Jack.  He is married to a glamorous mutual friend and has two children and a successful business.  The two men reconnect and the intricacies of their relationship swell up to complete the story of male friendship in what is now 80s America.

The strands in this tale unfold, blossom and takes you in.  It is storytelling of coming of age made fresh.  In the afterword White tells of how he was encouraged to write in a new style.  It left me a bit emotional and very much moved.  This is literature that cements White’s reputation alongside Philip Roth and John Irving.

Reviewed by Andrew Rumbles

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Hungry Heart Journeys with William Colenso

Peter Wells has presented a wonderful book to us with Hungry Heart, his thorough biography of 19th century Cornish missionary, William Colenso.   The name Colenso is linked to many important parts of our nation’s history.  He arrived here as a young missionary and printer with a charismatic passion to spread the Good Word.  Peter Wells has made his name as a novelist, but his skills as a researcher and collector shine through in this book.  He charts the life of William in New Zealand from his marriage to Elizabeth, his presence and outspokenness at the signing of the Treaty at Waitangi and then his life and trials in the Hawke’s Bay where he spent the majority of his life.
The realities of colonial life, coping with every day trials and the political realities of being in the vanguard of settlers arriving on this land are well documented and beautifully described.  Colenso’s downfall when the truth of his relationship with his domestic servant, Ripeka, became public, causing the end of his marriage and indeed his family has dominated much of historical recall of his life. 
There is a small chapter on rumours that Colenso may have had sexual relations with Maori Men.  This surprised Wells and despite hearsay about what some lost diaries may have said, he found no evidence to enable anyone to know what nugget of truth there may or may not have been to this aspect of the missionary’s nature.
Colenso always spoke out.  Biting his tongue or showing tact was not his nature.  He also reflected and thought things through.  In his later life this made him a pioneer.  Wells tells us: “ Yet From today’s viewpoint it was just this insistence on a personal truth that seems so authentic.  Time – and the Waitangi Tribunal – has borne out so much of what he said.  He was speaking in December 1871 to an audience who were sure they were never going to be caught out. “
I wish I had personally known this more human and well-rounded Colenso, rather than the zealous Anglican Missionary from earlier chapters.  If more people had listened to what he had to say, our nation’s path to reconciliation might now have been completed.
Published in Express Newspaper 22 February 2012

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Vietnam surprises

A recent change in business circumstances gave my man the perfect opportunity.  My excuse of “I can’t be away too long and I really need to keep an eye on things was gone”, so he swooped.  How about a holiday to Vietnam?

Asia has never been on my must travel to list.  I love Europe and quite like America.  I am over 6 foot and very fair so no blending in as a local was going to be possible.  The handful of foreign languages I speak include nothing from Asia.

But why not?  Something outside the norm could be just what I needed to regroup.  We researched and came up with a House of Travel organised group tour.  Sounded very safe and organised.  I can do something better said Ramona from House of Travel.  How about a customised tour with Active Asia?  It didn’t cost much more and could be rejigged by us as we went if we needed time out, or wanted more time shopping or exploring a particular area. It also provided a guide meeting us at each airport and checking us into our hotel and then meeting us for the organised bits of the holiday.

My first few hours in Vietnam, were in Saigon.  Officially this is Ho Chi Minh City but mostly only when written down.  We arrived on a flight from Singapore where we had taken an overnight break.  The local guide met us as the airport which still has Vietnam War Era helicopter hangars along the taxi way. 

His first piece of information was that the 7 km drive into the city would take 45 minutes.  In the last 10-15 years the modern world has arrived in Vietnam and this new consumer society is mostly transported by motor scooter.  There are hundreds on them on all the roads and they carry people and boxes and almost anything that needs to go from A to B. So the roads are packed and 40 kmh would be the top speed for a city journey and you never know when a bicycle, motorbike or buffalo may wander out in front of you.  And of course the other obstacle is pedestrians including us who quickly learn to just walk into the traffic and keep walking as it drives around you.  You cannot hire a car if you were feeling brave enough, as a Vietnamese driving licence is required. Our guides came with matching drivers!

This country is taking Ho Chi Minh’s message of progress through education to its heart.  People live and work in their businesses be it a shop, a sand barge, a fishing boat, or a fish farm.  To my eyes it looked slum like.  However Vietnam is not to be underestimated.  Samsung, Canon, Adidas and many other major corporations manufacture much of their product here.  The three guides who shared our time in Vietnam had all grown up subsistence farming and now in their 30s are earning good money guiding people like us. These people are learning their value to the world.

Once Tuang had us checked into our hotel on that first day we bravely learnt how to cross a street and went off to the local market and then later found a yummy and busy restaurant and had our first Vietnamese meal.  Bring on the chilli, coriander and fish sauce!

The following morning Tuang took us to Cu Chi to see the amazing tunnels that foiled America’s stupid war!  We lunched in a local restaurant on a river where the food was grown by local farmers.  A visit to the War Remnants Museum back in Saigon this afternoon added to my anger at 1960s and 70s America and my incredulity that they hadn’t learnt much about interfering in other parts of the world with their own gain in mind!

 The next day we journeyed a couple of hours to the Mekong Delta.  What a huge expanse of water!  We avoided the group tours and a locally owned traditional wooden boat took us across the river to a local orchard and then a coconut candy maker.  These are all small businesses run by 5-8 people.  Development in action is supplementing the traditional Mekong produce of rice and fish.  After a horse and wagon gave us a lift down the road, we then walked into the jungle for 15-20 minutes and again lunched at a hidden local gem of a restaurant.  It was geared up for tourists but the locals also ate there.  Then we rowed down a jungle stream back to our boat, where its Captain was still fiddling with the water pump that had been breaking down on the way across.  The presence of Tuang kept me calm.  If trouble arose he could fix it.

When we arrived back in Saigon we visited an ancient Chinese pagoda and then the wholesale market that the local retailers visit. High end labelled products from clothes and shoes to suitcases and confectionery were all stacked in plastic bags in tiny stalls where people were doing business, or napping or eating.  This was a full on experience.  After a long hot day it was a pleasure to escape back to our hotel for a swim and then a drink at the rooftop bar that was frequented by GIs back in the 60s.

The next day we farewelled Tuan and flew with Vietnam Airlines to Danang about halfway up Viet Nam on the coast.  Our destination was the medieval town of Hoi An and a few days rest based at the Golden Sands beach resort. We spent 4 days in Hoi An with Tuong as our local guide.  The resort had an amazing pool which we did use but it rained and rained and the wind blew in between the fine periods.   One day the river came up and low streets flooded.  During this we took a boat to Red Bridge cooking school along the river and cooked spring rolls, shrimp pancakes and other yummy local food.  The instructor had a great sense of humour and entertained as well as teaching us the local cuisine.

After days of full on Vietnamese food I said thank you to the French colonists.  The people here love to eat baguettes. So I had a baguette sandwich for dinner. I had been eating too much chilli and my upset stomach needed something plainer.

At local tailors Yaly I had a new suit tailor made for me.  Its size is not L or XL it is size Andrew. It all took just 2 days and looks very smart. I loved the personal service and the huge choice of fabrics on offer.

Then it was time for the 3 hour drive to the old imperial city of Hue. En route we visited Marble Mountain where marble sculptures succeeded in tempting us and then on to the museum of Cham culture.  The Cham were dominant in northern Vietnam until around the eleventh century.

We lunched near the GI’s fave spot of China Beach and then drove another 90 minutes to our Hue hotel by the Perfume River.  Hue was a smaller city and helped us to continue to unwind as we experienced more of this startlingly different country.  The next day we visited Tu Doc’s tomb.  He ruled for 35 years and spent his final years here reflecting on the needs of his people while supervising this amazing tomb and its gardens.  Back in Hue we visited the Citadel and the old imperial palace.  It had been an amazing complex but the American’s had bombed most of it, leaving only the main palace rooms.

 Lunch today was at a cafe near the citadel which is rated in Lonely Planet and is certainly rightfully popular for its spring rolls and kebabs.  This evening we found a Hue restaurant called Confetti.  The staff were dressed in starched pink shirts and provided great service.  The food was local and presented beautifully.  Even though we had a few drinks as well as several courses we were pleased to see it on the visa statement when we got home at the grand total of NZ $62.

The last 5 days of our journey beckoned as we flew on to Hanoi.  Again we were in a brash busy city.  Hanoi is attractive with its many lakes and the tradition of its Ancient Quarter.  This area is set up in the traditional layout of streets all specialising in specific merchandise.  Some of the old history is obscured by commercialism but it is an amazing place to wander.  Do take a map so you don’t get too lost. 

A must see in Hanoi is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.  Do wear trousers if you go as this is a sombre and important memorial for all Vietnamese.  Our guide helped us queue jump which would be great on a hot Hanoi day.  Afterwards there is a walk through the Palace grounds to see the simple houses where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked.  There is a well presented museum to him as well.    His messages of education and food for all along with a respect for the environment are being heeded today 40 years after he died.

Next up was Halong Bay.  This is a must visit bay of approximately 1500 limestone islands.  It is a 4 hour crazy drive north west of Hanoi.  We went with our guide and driver.  You can join a coach tour or in 2014 or thereabouts there will be a new Skytrain service from Hanoi.  We boarded a Bhaya Cruise and checked out our cabin with ensuite.  About 30 of us were overnighting on board.  The food was good.  After several days as a couple some social chit chat was quite fun too.  We visited fish farms, oyster pearl farms and a huge cave system and sailed a wide route around the bay before returning late the following morning for our drive back to Hanoi.

Vietnam!  The people are delightfully welcoming.  The country is a land of contrasts.  There is a diverse history of sadness and hope.  There are lots of pagodas and temples which shape the context of Vietnam’s history.  Shopping is fun and bargains are there if you negotiate cleverly.  And tailor-made clothing would be a key reason to head back again!

Travel Tips:

You can withdraw Vietnamese Dong from ATMs.

US Dollars are widely accepted and prices are often quoted in USD as well as in VND.

A guide and driver is an affordable alternative to group tours and using trains and taxis.

Most good hotels provide complimentary bottled water.

There is lots to see so don’t attempt to rush through Vietnam.

 Andrew and Bevan paid their own way to Vietnam.
Since coming back I have read more about Vietnam including an overview of Indochina from Thames and Hudson, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam from Former Secretary of Defense, Robert Mcnamara and the wonderfully optimistic Vietnam, Now from reporter, David Lamb.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, $36.99 HarperCollins

King Henry VIII and his famous henchman Thomas Cromwell are both well known characters from British history. 

Hilary Mantel won the 2009 Man Booker Prize for Wolf Hall, in which she gives us a quite different perspective on this period in history.  Would you have wanted to get in the way of either King Henry or Thomas Cromwell?  If Wolf Hall’s characterisations are true, it might well have been a more pleasant experience than one could have anticipated.  Mantel achieves this new perspective by starting her novel a decade or more before Thomas becomes indispensable to the King, a period that most of us are less familiar with.  At this time Cromwell, a lawyer and merchant, is running his own business and also working for Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York and a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. 

Mantel’s style is very descriptive and she observes background events and conversations beautifully.  In this reviewer’s opinion, her style mostly works, although occasionally the pace does slow.  The King is busy denying Queen Katherine of Aragon in accordance with advice from his courtiers.  This advice contrasts with the stern response of the Pope and provides a sense of tension in the story.  Bringing his common sense and legally trained mind to bear on what’s going on, Cromwell gives the King strategic advice, rather than telling the King what he wants to hear.  Consequently the King appreciates that in Cromwell he has found an advisor who is not just out for himself. 

Whether the older Cromwell continues to be so selfless is not in this book’s ambit.  Wolf Hall, by the way, is the home of Jane Seymour’s family.  Her story comes after the specific timeframe of this novel.  However she is there almost from the beginning as lady-in-waiting to the new Queen, Anne Boleyn.  It’s altogether a clever new approach to some important British history.

As a reader one feels privileged to be a fly on the wall as Cromwell's life unfolds with its daily opportunities, tragedies and comic moments.  Warning: as it’s such a whopper, you may choose to skim read Wolf Hall, but the language of many passages is such that it’s well worth slowing down in order to savour it.

Wings by Raymond Huber

Wings by Raymond Huber Walker Books $19.99

We first met Ziggy the bee in Raymond Huber’s book Sting.  Young Ziggy is a bee who gets into lots of adventures, many of them quite risky.  This book was shortlisted for several awards including the NZ Post Book Awards for Children and Adults. 

Ziggy is back in a new adventure called Wings.  Huber has definitely got a thing about honey bees and the important part they play in our lives.  He takes these facts and has Ziggy and his fellow-bees illustrate them for us while they explore and get up to all sorts of hi-jinks.  Learning by stealth?  For sure!

In Wings Ziggy and his friends have been transported to Tokyo by scientist and friend to these bees, Sparkles to him, Sophie to us.  They meet some Japanese bees and their adventures begin with a big hornet as the nasty bad guy.  There is also a mystery danger to all the bees in the world that Sophie is hoping her Japanese friends will help her prevent.

This is a great adventure story that kids can read with wide open imaginations.  Great plots, clear action and strong relationships make for a great story. The main characters just happen to be bees!  Sell it to your young customers as a great adventure story for 8 to 11 year olds and you will be doing them a great favour.

Traitor by Stephen Daisley

Traitor by Stephen Daisley, Text Publishing $39 out now

Ex New Zealand infantryman, now Western Australian husband and father, Stephen Daisley takes us back to Gallipoli in 1915 in his novel Traitor.

 Mahmoud, a British trained Turkish doctor, is in the trenches with Kiwi soldier, David, when a shell bursts overhead injuring them both.  During their convalescence Mahmoud shares his Sufi beliefs and traditions with David, while David is allowed to guard his new close friend.  When it becomes clear that Mahmoud will be treated as an enemy rather than as an ally David engineers an escape attempt.  However in a Sufi-like way, this cataclysmic moment is a long time coming as we share the many private moments of these two men from opposite cultures. 

David’s choice to betray his country for his friend leads to the severest punishment, which is avoided in a very Anzac way.  He is allowed to serve the rest of the war as a stretcher bearer, where a new compassionate David is much valued by those he assists.  However when we meet David as old man sheep farming back in New Zealand, his world is still in tatters from his war experience. The man who returned to heartland New Zealand is not the one who left and his new compassion and quietly whispered about history separate him from the tough society of post war rural New Zealand.

This is definitely a story of mate-ship, but also one of humanity.  The relationships ring true and the story will delight.

Telling Tales, A Life in Writing by William Taylor

Telling Tales, A Life in Writing by William Taylor, $39.99 HarperCollins Published May 2010

William Taylor is well known to many New Zealanders through his more than 30 published novels, most for young people. Blue Lawn and Jerome both captured the angst of being young and gay in this country and, despite some controversy, both have sold well.

In Telling Tales Taylor, now in his early seventies and the recipient of many awards (Taylor was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004 for his services to children's literature), writes about his own life starting when he was about six or seven and living along with his siblings and mother in Levin – at that time his father was abroad fighting in WWII. A quirky and forthright individual who was also very stylish and hugely competent in matters usually handled by men, his mother was unlike most others to be found in provincial towns of the time. In due course Taylor senior returned from the war and the family moved from pillar to post over the next few years as various business ventures were started and, unfortunately, went on to fail. In this prologue Taylor details his family connections back to England, along with the actual migration of his grandparents and goes on to write about his family’s links to the Hutt Valley. In many ways his was the typical life of a young person of this era, i.e. a member of a family where the parents struggle to make ends meet as they get on with bringing up their children.

Taylor goes on to describe the many parts of New Zealand that he got to know as a child – and later as a schoolteacher and much-esteemed headmaster, and the books he wrote in each of these places.

Telling Tales is a story of a certain generation of New Zealander for whom private matters are kept private. We do learn that as a teenager he was very shy, while he describes his sister as being quite interested in the opposite sex. However, nothing is revealed of Taylor’s private life after his marriage to Delia ends, other than an admission that his ongoing sexual confusion led to his marriage break-up. On the pendulum of sexuality he puts himself somewhere in between heterosexual and homosexual.  And he reflects that his 10-year marriage is the longest intimate relationship he’s ever maintained. Is the reader entitled to know more intimate details than this?  Probably not, but more self-examination and sharing may have made for a more gripping and interesting life story, an actual autobiography. But at the end of the day this story of a writer producing the words that become books is in itself well told. 

Surfer Boys : Gay Erotic Stories edited by Neil Plakcy

Surfer Boys : Gay Erotic Stories edited by Neil Plakcy $33.99

A cover shot of a cute everyman clutching his surfboard attracted me to this book.  Plakcy has collected together an anthology of sexy stories from writers from many parts of the globe.  The common thread to Surfer Boys is the world of surf, wetsuits and board shorts.  The beaches aren’t all the Californian clich├ęs with Texas, Sydney and even Tunisia setting the sexy scenes.  One story questions if a gay guy can be hard enough to surf, another is the story of a man getting over a break up and finding new beginnings on a beach as he rescues a fallen surfer.

Plakcy’s own experience as a writer and as editor of a previous collection of erotica show in his selction of well crafted stories.  And yes you might need a tissue or two to clean up the aftermath, but these are also great stories that celebrate sex, a little romance and the pleasures and potential of guy-love.

There are 19 stories in all from many noted writers.  This is a diverse and yes sexy collection to tide you through until your life next includes your own Mr Sexy Boardshorts.

South of Broad, by Pat Conroy

South of Broad, by Pat Conroy $38.99 - March 2010 

A friend described Pat Conroy’s writing style as one that uses a hundred words where one would normally suffice.  But while this extravagant use of words may slow your entrance into South of Broad, do not let it deter you.  Through the voice of young Leo King, Conroy introduces the reader to Charleston, South Carolina in 1960 - a city with a long history of segregation, by both class and colour.

As a boy Leo discovers the body of his brother in the bathtub and subsequently spends some time in a mental institution. He also gets in trouble with the law, but despite these setbacks Leo seems to be a happy self-contained young man with a caring father and a formidable but fair mother who happens to be the principal at Leo’s high school, where his father also works.  In the early part of the novel Leo shares fascinating details of his city with the reader as he cycles the streets hurling newspapers onto his customers’ front porches. 

There is so much detail in this novel. To just quickly sketch the basics, the novel starts at the beginning of a high school summer when some new arrivals at Leo’s school and neighbourhood form the nucleus of a group of friends that transcends and challenges Charleston’s traditions.  A year of transformation follows; but happenstance has brought them together and will take them forward to when the reader meets them again in 1989. At this time the group undertakes a challenging expedition to San Francisco to track down one of their cohorts, a journey that thrusts them into the midst of the reality of the AIDS epidemic and also the truth of their own pasts.

Beautifully written, South of Broad has humour, lightness and depth.  The extravagant language takes you on a journey that cycles through these people’s lives and loves and will have you laughing and also shedding a quiet tear. Conroy is well known for previous novels, The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides - both some years ago. It has been a bit of a wait for this novel, but well worth it.    

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood, Random House $29.99

Christopher Isherwood was a true twentieth century man.  Born in England in 1904, living in Berlin, China and finally Los Angeles where he died in 1986.  His life reflects the enlarging of the world that had come with the colonization of America.

In his novel A Single Man he chronicles one day in the life of George, a middle aged gay English Professor teaching at a Los Angeles University.  George’s lover has been killed in a car accident some months earlier and George is getting on with his daily life, as illustrated by the first scene of waking and struggling out of bed.  He lives in a high state of self awareness, which redefines his everyday experiences  for you. Take his thoughts during his drive into Los Angeles : As he drives, it is as if some kind of autohypnosis exerts itself.”  And in this state George shares with you his fantasies and thoughts of new realities for his world, with himself in a centre of power.

Isherwood is at his best however when describing George’s awareness and interaction with his neighbours and especially his students.  He nervously balances teaching the meaning of literature with avoiding causing offence to any of the many minority groups in his 1960s Californian classroom.  This anxiety is beautifully contrasted with the comfort he later experiences during his gym workout with people he can be comfortable with. 

This is a very personal novel.  George is exposed to us in all his better and worse qualities.  The language of this intimacy satisfies while leaving a taste for even more.

Shift by Rhian Gallagher

Shift, poetry by Rhian Gallagher Auckland University Press $24.99 In store 1 September 2011

Rhian Gallagher was born in 1960’s Timaru.  She has studied with Bill Manhire and at London University.  Many of her poems have been published.  This is the second collection of her own work.   She fits in writing around her day job at the Otago University Bookshop.

As you begin reading this collection, Gallagher’s verse transports you with familiar sentiments, perplexing journeys, a sentiment of missing pieces,  and a desire to live up to the image of a twin sister who disappeared before you became fully acquainted.  This is a very personal collection of poetry. 

The journey takes you on to Europe where the world is described as truly foreign to what was home and then love arrives in a section named “Butterfly”.

After the initial passion of the new romance, the visit home to the new lover’s parents produces many images.  A delightful memory I savoured and indicative of the fresh engaging poetry of this book is:

Excerpted from Under Cover page 36

Lapping the Freezer...

Your gentle step

Breaks between single beds

And we’re almost invisible,

With our hush of unison,

Making love like the drowned.

Eventually the love story surrenders to the incredible tension this great planet exercises upon people and connectivity.  Our poet has come full circle and is home again reconciling the feeling of belonging and still remembering the missing piece from her childhood and family.

I often engage only tentatively with poetry.  This is poetry that doesn’t demand to be read out loud.  It invites you in and slowly builds to an idea of a true story, hinted at, rather than factually retold.  A delight.  Well done Rhian.

Sharp Shooter by Melanie Delacourt

Sharp Shooter by Melanie Delacourt, published September, $35

While this book’s heroine Tara Sharp appears to be paying homage to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, the action and setting soon engage and make for a great read in its own right.

Tara, an intelligent young woman who wishes to get a ‘proper’ job, but needs to find a way of dealing with her ability to see an aura in everyone she meets, lives in her parents’ converted garage. Although she has established this semi-independence, she still regularly raids their fridge when groceries and cash run low, which happens often.  Meanwhile her psychiatrist puts her in touch with a Mr Hara who begins to teach her how to control and best use her special talent. Soon after she lands a casual contract as a private investigator, and this leads to being asked to check a woman out with regards to her true feelings towards her boyfriend.  A simple job  that inevitably becomes more complicated as Tara finds herself getting close to the business of some dangerous people; big industry players who seem to have an axe to grind with the people she is working with. 

A light easy read, perfect to take on holiday.

Sanctus by Simon Toyne

Sanctus by Simon Toyne, HarperCollins

In the wake of The Da Vinci Code there has been an avalanche of at best average, over wrought thrillers with a theme drawn from ancient Christianity. 

Simon Toyne, with a background in television, delivers us Sanctus, a gripping thriller set in the Taurus Mountains.  An ancient rock citadel in the mountains is the site for a monastery belonging to a sect of monks guarding a secret that is only known to the inner circle.  The book opens with a monk, Samuel, climbing the sheer cliffs and then bracing himself on the edge held up by the wind for hours before finally flinging himself into a death flight. 

Why?  Who are these monks?  Why would one choose to exit the monastery via certain death?  .

Arcane rituals, conspiracy, secrets and the power of knowledge are all themes that course through this book.  It seems that no one has ever left the monastery once they know its secret.  Is Samuel’s death some kind of message to the world? 

Unlike the previous pretenders you may have read, Toyne is not an author to get sidetracked.  He delivers a well paced adventure full of intrigue.  There is a feeling of warmth in many of the character’s relationships.  His plot twist is well delivered and if you are anything like me; it will be an unexpected one.

This is well worth the read and I think is a better book than any of Dan Brown’s

Richard Till Makes It Easy

Richard Till Makes it Easy, by Richard Till, $34.99 Renaissance Publishers

Richard Till treated us to a highly entertaining instore evening a couple of weeks back. He’s always got plenty to say and this particular evening was no exception. In his laconic – in fact remarkably laid-back - style (quite different to the hyped-up frontperson for Progressive Enterprises that we see on our tv screens every night), he shared with us his love for traditional recipes and related food rituals. For the Till family, Christmas is all about the turkey and the pudding – with all the usual other stuff in between.

So what does his new book deliver? Well, the style is very chatty and the layout is interesting and reminded me more of an old scrapbook. There are plenty of great combinations such as Osso Bucco (Beef Shins Italian style) served with gremolata. Also included are some classics including the ‘world famous in the South Island’ Cheese Rolls and one of Richard’s particular favourites, Devils on Horseback. My friend Susan made me Mum’s Chocolate Square and it was indeed yummy, although thinner than the chocolate squares found at most modern cafes these days.

Richard Till Makes It Easy evoked memories of food I have enjoyed before and it’s inspired me to try again.  I suggest you give some of the recipes a go yourself.

Boy Crazy: Why Monogamy is So Hard for Gay Men and What You Can Do About it, by Michael Shelton

Boy Crazy: Why Monogamy is So Hard for Gay Men and What You Can Do About it, by Michael Shelton $36.99.

Michael Shelton is an American clinician focusing on behavioural and addictive sex and sexuality concerns.  I opened this book expecting to be sold monogamy as a nirvana or absolute goal.  My personal feelings were discomfited and challenged as I read a wide ranging survey of masculinity and maleness concluding with the author’s opinion that men don’t cope well with monogamy, thus their need for sexual variety.  

Can one relationship fulfil all our emotional and sexual needs?  A possible answer appears to be yes, but only if all parties have worked through their own issues and communicate and share ongoing intimacy and passions.  Genetics, upbringing and role modelling have made it difficult for gay men to show intimacy and emotions with their male mates. 

When faced with a partner’s infidelity many of us instinctively flee or avoid dealing with what is going on.  Shelton explores the options and motivations in Boy Crazy and impresses me with his practical approach.  We have options and if we communicate our feelings honestly, all parties to a relationship can make more appropriate and positive choices for either monogamy or non-monogamy. 

This little gem is a thorough examination of relationship, emotional and sexual issues for gay men and how to deal with our primary relationships as our desires ebb and flow.