Sophia Soames’s Scandinavian Comfort series has been a real treat so far. Of course, I was therefore very excited when I was offered a free ARC of her latest novel, Baking Battles, which turned out just as perfect as her other books… But read my entire review on
Still reading (and reviewing) a lot… Here’s my take on “How Not to break” by Susan Hawke, the fourth book in the “Lovestrong”-series…
Now, it’s six pm here in Paris, France, so I’ve poured myself a glass of red wine in lieu of the almost compulsory French aperitif. I’m sipping it when our connection is established.
Ron Naples (toasts back with the cup of coffee he’s holding): Same here! I would have loved to join in with some wine myself, but it’s only 9 in the morning over here. And that’s definitely too early for wine. (chuckles)
We chit-chat for a while, Ron immediately putting me at ease. Then it’s time to launch into the main subject.
RN (shrugs): I’ve always felt my story was a good one, and it needed to be told. I was intimidated by trying and getting it published, though, because I felt I was lacking professional writing experience. But I did read many books on how to write and publish. I also kept checking my grammar and punctuation with online sources while I was writing it. When I felt it was good enough, I hired an editor, who helped me with manuscript formatting and submission guidelines.
RN: Most of it, really (laughs). All the characters in my book are based on real-life people. I’m still in touch with a few of them. All the places did exist, some still do. And the events, although exaggerated at times, really happened.
RN: Mostly quotes—things I’ve heard drag queens say over the years. I really did play my drums in a drag show in Ptown, you know, together with my character Auntie Brie.
RN (laughs): OK, guilty. I might have embellished it a bit. But I sold you, so why not? My sister loved that scene, by the way. It was an over-the-top version of what actually happened, but in my mind, it happened like that. Wouldn’t it make a great movie scene?
RN: No. I really did fall in love with a cowboy when I was in Boston, and we lived together for a while. But I met Joe in San Francisco many years later. We’ve been together since 1982. (shrugs as if saying they’ve simply been meant to be together). Unbelievable for me as well.
RN: You’re right about that. The sequel will play out in San Francisco, and I’ll try to tackle all my West Coast adventures. I have so much more to write about; all the wild times I had in the 80s. It was quite a different time before AIDS. I’m lucky to still be alive!
RN: Well, I have to write it first (laughs). In fact, “My Last Dance” started as a journal I wrote in Ptown 38 years ago. I completed the first draft in 2015. It took me nearly 4 years to find a suitable publisher, that was the hardest part. I’m hoping the sequel won’t be as arduous. I’ve started an outline for it, but my focus has been on promoting my current book.
RN: You’re not nosy (smiles, then thinks about my question). Other writing projects? Not really. You know, I have created a website for my massage practice, and I have recently launched a website for this book. I’ve written documents for various jobs I’ve had through the years, though—guidelines, policy and procedures etc…
My boyfriend walks in at that moment and asks me if I want him to start preparing dinner. I notice Ron listening to our exchange in French, almost as if he understood what we’re saying.
RN (shakes his head): Not at all. I took a class in high school but have forgotten it. I’m entertaining the thought of visiting Paris for my birthday in October, though.
RN (nods): That would be wonderful!
RN: And you as well. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me.
About the author
Ron Naples, a native of New Britain, CT, has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area with his partner Joe for the last 37 years. In his youth, Naples was a professional drummer and played in many successful venues. He attended Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1979, majoring in jazz performance, and the LA Recording Workshop in 1983, majoring in recording engineering. In 1987, Naples enrolled in Contra Costa College in San Pablo, CA, where he earned a degree in Interior Design. He has worked most of his life as a showroom designer for furniture stores. In 2004, he attended the National Holistic Institute in Emeryville, CA, and became certified in massage therapy. Today he works for various spas and runs his private practice in Richmond, CA (www.massagebyronn123.com).
A new review is online over at Rainbow Book Reviews… You might want to check it out.
Dear readers, dear friends—my new cosy M/M murder mystery “Till Death Do us Part” will be released on June 24, 2020. Its French version has already been warmly welcomed by my French-speaking readers, so I hope you’ll also enjoy it. In order to make your mouth water, here’s a little excerpt of the first chapter…
CHAPTER 1 – Raphaël
How’s the SITUATION? Number one: I’m alive, which means the plane hasn’t crashed. A plus point. Number two: I’m dead on my feet. That’s so-so, even though being up and about at this time of night is rather normal for me—I rarely go to bed earlier.
Number three: the bed. Wait a second, let me do a bounce-check. Okay, not bad. The mattress is firm without being reinforced concrete; the bed is clean and not too dreadful, despite its, er, let’s say indefinable style. A bit worn and dated, like the rest of the ship.
Oh, yes. Here’s a scoop. I’m not at home, in my bed. No, I’m on a ship. The Queen of Egypt more precisely. I’m tempted to groan, “AT LONG LAST!”. For weeks Auntie has been talking about nothing else. The Queen of Egypt here, the Queen of Egypt there, and yadda yadda yadda. She was driving me mad with that patter. When Auntie has her mind set on something, she’s like a broken record. Her tune spins, clack, starts again; spins, clack, starts again. Makes you want to do yourself in after a while.
So. Basically, everything is fine right now. I’m alive, I’m on vacation, I’m lying on a comfortable bed. And my body is whining, “Let’s have a nap!” Indeed, I should get some sleep, maybe an hour or two. After all, it’s only four in the morning, for Christ’s sake.
But my little brain cells must be on standby because they don’t process what my body wants. They prefer flooding my head with random thoughts and odd memories. Even Jordan briefly appears in this merry-go-round. Very briefly, because faster than you can say “Loser”, I expel him from my thoughts.
You see how tired I am, though? Because Jordan! Jesus Christ!
I’m WEARY OF fidgeting on my bed. That’s why I stand up two hours later. If sleep doesn’t want to do me the honour, I can’t force it.
I open the thick curtains. The first sun rays are hesitatingly groping the country as though they wanted to check if the morning was ripe. The big, empty parking lot beneath my window still lies in semi-darkness. A lonesome man in black pants and a white shirt is smoking a cigarette on the gangway. Behind him I glimpse the steep bank and its dried-up lawn. Palm trees and bougainvilleas hide the road where we arrived.
I take a shower, grumbling all the while. I’m not a morning person. At all. I’m not a ship person, either.
I get dressed. Shorts, a short-sleeved button-up shirt with a Hawaiian print, flip flops.
With my fingers, I try to tame my curls. In vain, of course; they never do what I want them to do. I finally pull them together in a tight bun. There—that’ll teach them. Before leaving, I also grab my stuff—sunglasses, mobile, notepad, and a pencil.
I leave my cabin, now definitely in appropriate discovery mode, feeling like a little boy on the first day of his summer vacation in Boondocks-upon-Boredom. Appropriate. Because vacation, of course. Because Boondocks-upon-Boredom, too; in my eyes, anyway. One week of walking around with old codgers while staring at old stones—my, cheers, exactly my idea of having a ball! Last but not least, despite my passport proving the contrary, I don’t think I can call myself “adult”. Not too often, in any case.
The thick, red carpet in the corridor swallows the sounds of my steps. Fake candlestick wall lamps shed a pale light.
Before reaching the main stairs that connect the lower decks, I come across a swing door. It leads to the Amun-Ra Sun Deck. The fancifully named upper deck, that is.
I push the door open. And—gasp! Holy cow, this heat can’t be legal! Of course, what would you expect on a June day, especially in this country? Problem is, the ship is so heavily air-conditioned that you easily forget about the temperatures outside.
I’m standing at the foot of a spiral staircase. After unbuttoning my shirt, I slowly move upstairs.
The Amun-Ra Sun Deck is empty. Relief. My first meeting with the old codgers seems temporarily postponed. Birds are softly chirping in the trees on the bank, the river waters lapping against the hull of the ship. On the other side of the deck, I discover a bar, still draped in enigmatic shadows. To the right, several tables and chairs are dozing; to the left, there are four long rows of deckchairs. The whole deck is covered by green sunshades.
Of course, my pleasant loneliness doesn’t last long. That would have been too nice. I’m still enjoying the silence when I hear a swishing noise behind me.
I turn around.
At the foot of the stairs I discover a man in his thirties. He’s skinny, almost frail, and wearing a tracksuit. A pink one, if you please. Neat colour—give pink a chance seems to be the motto. The guy stares at me. He looks like a little mouse: a bit grey, a bit shy, a bit weaselly. His fine hair falls dolefully down to his shoulders like overcooked vermicelli.
We stare at each other for a moment, me from above, him from below. Finally, we smile, that’s what polite people do, and the man starts to climb the stairs.
I don’t want to exchange the usual commonplaces, so I slip away to the rail on the other side of the deck.
And finally, I get a panoramic view of where I am.
I admit, I’m dumbfounded. Before me, below me, right and left: the Nile.
Get it? THE BLOODY NILE!
Cobalt blue and wide, the river is flowing languidly towards the distant sea, its movement barely perceptible. The rising sun tints its waters orange and yellow, highlighting the low mud houses on the faraway shore. They look like tiny, rectangular blocks randomly piled up here and there. Their shadows throw long, precise shapes over each other’s walls. Several white or yellow buildings stand out from this cluster of cubes: mosques with filigree minarets pointing up to the sky. Some trees brighten up the brownish labyrinth with dusty green specks. Behind the city, the morning haze covering austere and rocky desert mountains makes the landscape look even more chimeric.
I flop into a chair and take a deep breath, completely overwhelmed.
This is Egypt! Egypt, damn it, right before my eyes!
I mean, I’ve seen documentaries and photos; I’ve even travelled to Morocco and Tunisia. But that’s nothing compared to what I’m currently taking in—and what I’m currently taking in looks like a fairy tale.
Fancy my lack of enthusiasm when Auntie told me, “Guess where I’ll take you in June? To Egypt!” Instead of saying, “Why, thank you, Auntie, you’re the best Auntie ever”, I pouted, because I’m an ungrateful oaf. I’ve actually been pouting—discreetly, mind you—until a minute ago. Fortunately, Auntie isn’t easily impressed by my antics.
I sigh with ease. The river flows slowly from left to right, silver reflections dancing on its surface. Two old, turbaned men with bronze-coloured faces pass in the distance, drifting over the river, a fishing net trailing behind their little boat. Their dirty white jalabiyas flap in the morning breeze.
They wave to me, laughing with the natural joy of people who have nothing but are perfectly happy.
Mesmerized, I sit on my chair for a long time while the young day is waking up around me. My gaze wanders every which way. I feel amazed and expectant at the same time, like an explorer back in the day who’s wondering what glorious adventures the next days may hold in store.
When I manage to focus on my closer surroundings, I notice that the man in the pink tracksuit is standing at the stern of the ship taking pictures.
I pull out my mobile, too, and shoot countless photos of the panorama. The legendary river, the fishermen, the cruise ships moored in front of and behind ours. The shore across the Nile. The hazy mountains. The pale blue sky.
Then, I take out my notepad and pencil. I fill three pages with my drawings, in my usual quick and concise manner. As always, my sketches remain fragmentary, but I think I’ve captured the essence.
After stowing everything away in the pockets of my shorts, I stand up. The mousey dude in pink is still hanging out at the stern. That’s why I proceed to the bow. At this time of day, it should be empty.
It isn’t. Just my luck. When I get closer, I discover a young man standing at the rail.
Where does he come from? Has he spent the night here or what?
I give him the once-over: his black hair is cut very short, the upper part kept much longer, in hipster fashion. His white T-Shirt reveals nicely shaped muscles, his shorts two comely legs that are tanned and covered with hairs looking like fine golden threads in the morning sun.
The man’s a looker. At least from behind.
He hears my quiet steps or senses my gaze and turns around.
Oh, hel-lo, there! My heart does a backwards flip. In my job I meet handsome guys aplenty. But this one is something else. He looks like a model, I kid you not. As if one of those unreal guys had stepped out of the glossy pages of Vogue Homme or GQ. Manly features, sensual mouth. Square chin, Roman nose, neatly trimmed designer stubble. The dense longer hair on the top of his head is styled backwards, falling behind his left ear in a lazy wave that looks annoyingly natural.
Alas, the beau doesn’t share my immediate interest. On the contrary, he reacts as if I were a monster. Luckily the rail prevents him from moving too far back, because otherwise he would have plunged into the Nile.
What a boost for my self-esteem.
The handsome cretin pulls himself together at last and eyeballs me from head to toe. His cold stare lingers over my naked chest for a second, and he frowns. I notice that his eyebrows are bushy but perfectly drawn and that his body-language expresses barely concealed aloofness and dislike.
Despite his hostile reaction, I murmur, “Hi”. Somewhat coolly perhaps, but still. I was raised like that. All right, I add “Asshole!” in my mind, because, hello?
The young man merely nods. A black lock falls over his eyes, he puts it back in place. He seems to hesitate, then turns his back on me again.
Okay, asshole. Go ahead, enjoy your moody brooding, I don’t care. I don’t need no mens, even if they’re handsome as fuck.
HALF AN HOUR LATER, THE sun has started its race across the pristine sky; the heat has risen some more as well. The hipster slash asshole is still sulking in his corner when I sit on a shady deckchair. Our meeting was unpleasant, but he and the guy in pink belie my initial prognosis, and that’s a good start. We’re at least three on this ship to contemplate our sixties from below.
With the back of my hand, I wipe off the sweat trickling down my chest and soaking my chest hair. I realize I’m thirsty. There’s a bottle of water in the fridge in my cabin. Let’s go get it. Never forget to drink, Auntie would say. Granted, she means alcoholic beverages only, but that doesn’t make her wrong.
The man in the pink tracksuit has apparently seen enough, too. When I get to the top of the stairs, he’s on the last step.
He’s waiting downstairs, holding the door for me.
“Thank you,” I say.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he remarks in an affable tone.
I look up in surprise. His beautifully deep baryton doesn’t match his puny physique and the mousey face. He makes an affected hand movement. “The landscape, I mean. The light.”
Automatically, I think, Oh. Family. “Very beautiful indeed,” I reply. “And ‘splendid things gleam in the dust’…”
Recognizing the Flaubert-quote, he laughs good-heartedly.
The swing door closes behind us. Another door slams softly somewhere down the corridor. In the first cabin, I hear a woman say heatedly, “… I think he got it. He won’t bother you anymore, tweety.”
Tweety! Smirk. I really wouldn’t want to be pet-named tweety.
We pass other cabins, the vague noises of conversations, no more than murmurs, drifting out. I can hear showers running as well. The ship is waking up. A nice smell wafts through the corridor, a woody, leathery perfume for men that strikes me as familiar. The pink, mousey guy in front of me must have sprinkled himself with it.
A few doors before mine, the young man stops. “See you later,” he says.
“See you later,” I reply. When I pass behind him, I get a whiff of his pronounced citrus perfume, very fresh, very pungent. Oh. He’s not the source of the leathery fragrance…
He turns the key and opens the door. “Mon chéri—are you awake?” he asks. The door closes behind him.
I was right. Mon chéri, not ma chérie. He is family. I’m not the only gay guy on this ship.
I walk to my door while rummaging in the pockets of my shorts. Let’s see… mobile… pencil… notepad… h-m. Where have I put my keys? Did I take them? Damn—don’t tell me I locked myself out…!
A yell. “AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!”
I jump, turn around, gaze down the empty corridor. What was it? Who was it? Where was it? What am I supposed to do?
“MY GOD! MICHEL!”
A bad feeling bubbles up in my guts.
Come on board the ‘Queen of Egypt’ and discover this new murder mystery full of witty dialogs, funny situations, and blooming love! Already short-listed for the French Gay Book Award 2020!
When Auntie Agathe invites Raphaël Poireaut, a young Parisian bartender, on a Nile cruise, he isn’t really thrilled. To stare at old stones together with a bunch of old codgers—why, thanks for the gift. Unsurprisingly the trip starts off badly enough. Not only does Raphaël have an unnerving confrontation with a handsome but standoffish and haughty Italian guy, but he has barely stepped on board the cruise ship when he stumbles upon a tourist… who has been stabbed to death.
The young Venetian Stefano di Angeli agrees to spend his vacation in Egypt with his best friend Grazia. He hasn’t had holidays for six years. But his first encounter with a young, angel-faced, curly-haired Frenchie brings back painful memories. Besides, what could be worse to start a Nile cruise than to discover a murder has been committed on board? Cazzo—fate seems to bear him a grudge!
While the Egyptian police led by Colonel Al-Qaïb are investigating the murder, Raphaël and Stefano find themselves swept away by the events… and by the blooming feelings that inexorably draw them closer. Will they manage to sort out the truth from the lies and find the murderer? Will they be able to resist this mutual attraction that seems to overwhelm them against their wills?
A new, funny and light adventure by the author of ‘The Stuffed Coffin’, the French version of which has won the French Gay Murder Mystery Award 2019.
I never slept with a prince, neither accidentally nor otherwise… but I read the book 😉 My review of “How I Accidentally Slept With a Prince” can be found at
| English |
This review has initially been published on Gay Book Reviews in 2019; alas, the website has been closed down ever since. that’s why I republish my review in this space.
Title: My Last Dance with Auntie Brie
Author: Ron Naples
Publisher: MLR Press
Release Date: April 19, 2019
Genre(s): Coming Out, Memoir
Page Count: Not indicated
Heat Level: 2 flames out of 5
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
My Last Dance with Auntie Brie, Ron Naples’ debut novel, is a fictional story based on his coming out experiences in the ’70s. It is a vivid translation of a time when closet doors were nailed shut, but more than a vicissitude, it is also a peek back at the madness of the Disco Era.
Raised an Italian Catholic, Ron escapes his disciplinary family life when he’s introduced to his first gay bar. There he meets Auntie Brie, a drag queen who shapes his destiny. His impending dream of becoming a professional musician is shattered when he is seduced into the gay party arena.
Feel the reverberations of the disco beat as Auntie Brie seduces you on the dance floor. Revisit some of the infamous clubs of the day including NYC’s Studio 54 and escape to the Cape on a summer vacation gone wild with one of Ptown’s most prolific houseboys.
His familiar tour de force reaches even farther with his insight and questions surrounding gay culture. It delineates a 70’s puritan society filled with fear and ignorance which ignited The 1979 March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights to end violence and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
My Last Dance with Auntie Brie defines an entire gay generation who succumbed to the hedonistic lifestyle of that time which has now become legendary. It carries the universal message of unconditional love and acceptance; we all need somebody to love us just the way we are.
The essentials first: I really liked this book, liked it very much indeed. It’s a compelling coming-out as well as a coming-of-age novel, a historical manifesto, a sort of (I gather) heavily fictionalized memoir that retraces the author’s own experiences. In some parts the book does read more like a memoir than a novel, alright, but my overall and pleasant impression was that Ron Naples didn’t so much want to tell us about his life with total accuracy than rather give us a feeling of the life-portions and the era he’s writing about—and that can only be done with a fiction writer’s tools and techniques, which he seems to master very well.
The novel is told by a first-person narrator called Ronaldo “Ron” Giuseppe Napolitano. We first meet him when he’s still attending high school somewhere in Connecticut. His best and obviously gay friend Derek takes him to The Warehouse, a gay nightclub near his parents’ home, where he has his first encounter with the ‘70s gay culture, which includes disco music, poppers, and of course drag queens. One of them, Brianna or Auntie Brie, will accompany us as a secondary character throughout the book. We follow Ron’s first, stumbling steps in this new, thrilling, exciting and alluring microcosmos. His first pick-up and ensuing sexual experience is a major disaster because he gets more or less raped by an older man. That plunges him into feelings of shame and self-repulsion, which he tries to handle by confessing his act to the local priest… who tells him he’s “an abomination” (alas, the man is merely quoting the Bible, by the way).
As he’s almost suffocating in the small town where he’s living with his parents, Ron sighs with relief when he’s accepted by the Berklee College of Music in Boston (he’s an aspiring drummer). He has a crush on a boy he befriends, then starts a relationship with Nikki, the boy’s ex-girlfriend, and at the same time continues to explore gay life together with Derek whenever he returns to his parents’ place. He secretly dates a dashing lawyer there, but these parallel relationships come to an end when both the lawyer and Nikki learn about each other’s existence. During the following weeks he enters the world of the civil rights movements and the fight for LGBT rights, finally accepts the truth that he’s gay and plunges deeper and deeper into his new lifestyle. There are many more twists and turns in his life, much dancing, occasional hook-ups, serious dating, even his coming-out to his parents. His maturing and learning process is a winding one, with major ups and downs, moments of sheer happiness, moments of gruesome drama, until he ends up in California some years later, a wiser, almost reformed man capable of starting a true relationship. Did Ron Naples really live all the experiences we read about? And does it really matter to us readers?
Because his tale is a fascinating one, a trip down memory lane for those who have lived during those careless pre-HIV times when gay culture was blooming, a reminder of our community’s history for those like me who’ve been born later. I found the novel nigh unputdownable, compelled to read on until reaching the last full stop. A powerful story of “how it all began”, almost as captivating as Felix Picano’s classic “Like People in History”. I really don’t care that much if fictional Ron equals real-life Ron, but at any rate the novel’s main character Ron seems to be taken out of real life. He rings true, thinks, acts, and reacts in ways I can easily relate to. He’s often extremely annoying, caught up in unwarranted self-righteousness, selfish anger, un-empathetic actions and reactions. All this reminded me strongly of myself at that age, when I had found out (or rather: accepted) that I was gay and started to revel in the gay night-life of my time and place, thinking this was all there was to life, that nothing else was important but I. That’s the major point that got me hooked: I could see myself in Ron, all the differences between us (times, places, experiences) notwithstanding. No tepid, far-fetched or predictable plot-turns in this book—you get a read that draws you in by its credible story-line.
A little bit more effort could have been put into proof-reading the book, though (tenses, commas, wrongly placed spaces, missing words). I do hope the copies you purchase have been looked over because my ARC’s formatting was a complete shambles, almost impertinently so—there were “forced” line-breaks that, as bad luck would have it, didn’t match with the natural flow of the writing even when I tried to change the font size, so that it read almost like a prose poem. That turns out exceedingly annoying when you’re not reading a prose poem, let me tell you! Luckily the story was so interesting and the story-teller’s voice so strong and compelling, because otherwise I wouldn’t have put up with this nigh unreadable copy.
I have also interviewed the author; this interview will soon be republished on this site…
I’ve finished the third book of Susan Hawke’s Lovestrong-series and quite liked it. My review’s up on Rainbow Book Reviews, so you might want to check it out:
It’s no secret how much I love murder mysteries, and how much I enjoy Josh Lanyon’s books. Unsurprisingly, my review of Josh Lanyon latest murder mystery “Secret at Skull House” is therefore somewhat gushing… again… Find out more on