Author Interviews

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I’m pleased to announce that very soon we will be starting a series of Author Interviews which will continue for as long as I can rope Authors in to do them.

So far I’ve managed to convince Rochelle Hollander Schwab (Author of “A Different Sin”) and Max Pierce (Author of “Master of Seacliff” – review on this book to be done over the weekend) and in the last minute, Marion Husband (Author of “The Boy I Love.”)  I’m asking others, some possibly I’m a bit cheeky even to ask, but hey, if you don’t ask you don’t get, that’s my motto.

Actually my real motto is Moderation is for Monks, but that makes no sense in this context.

Women writing M/M

There’s a subject I keep seeing all over the net recently, and that’s about people who are not gay and lesbian writing gay and lesbian fiction. Some people find it annoying, some people even find it offensive, a lot of people seem puzzled by it.

Myself, I’m puzzled why people are puzzled.

For me, writing fiction isn’t about who are actually are – and that seems such an obvious statement that I am staring at it wondering that I actually had to write it down. If writing was about who I actually was, then all I would write would be very dull work stories, or perhaps some wild-child fiction, or even horse stories. God forbid.

I’ve seen it argued that women can’t write gay men. Granted I’ve seen some excruciatingly girlie boys in gay fiction, but hell – that doesn’t mean they don’t exist, or that people (men and women) don’t like reading about them. In my personal life, I’ve met gay men and lesbians which encompass just about every range (well, DER) from squealing girlie boys to bears with grease under their nails and men more beautiful and yet more masculine than a lot of heteros, despite being gay gay gay. And actually – some of the most girlie men I’ve read in the historical genre have actually been written by men. You can’t deny that Duncan from The Master of Seacliff, or Robert from Gaywyck are rather feminine in their attitudes, complete with bouts of tears on a regular basis.

So a particular woman might not write your cuppa tea when it comes to gay men, but you can’t write off all female writers of the genre off just because you’ve read one you didn’t like. I know of some women who write porn more basic and just as downright filthy than any wank book I’ve read available at Starbooks or Alyson.

It seems to me that it’s only in this corner of the writing world that this problem raises its head. No-one cares who writes crime fiction. No-one cares particularly who writes Historical Fiction. (There is, in the latter genre, some discussion between “what men like” (“battles”) and “what women like” (“queens and shit”) but it’s still generalisation. It’s like ALL girl children playing with Barbie and ALL boy children playing with Action Man/GI Joe. It doesn’t happen. Some men will read a story with a romance, and some women love the stories that are battle heavy.

Even with Romance, no-one really cares that much. I know a few male authors writing it, although they usually use a pseudo, there doesn’t seem to be the “you are a man, you shouldn’t be writing this.” campaign.

Why then, is it annoying to some that women write gay fiction? Is it because a lot of it is erotica? I suppose I can relate to the fact that gay men might find the objectification of their bodies to be offensive, and that they feel that they are being exploited in some way, but can we say “puhleeze” people? Women have been treated in this way since women were invented – us doing it back is not revenge after all, it’s a sign of our feminism (perhaps) that finally we can write erotica – buy and read it – without shame and without having to buy Playgirl or ask gay friends for loans of magazines.

For many many years (and still to this day) men smirk, fanaticise and wank at the thought of two women in bed together – I cannot see why women finding two or more men in bed together a beautiful thing is something that raises eyebrows.

But when it comes right down to it, fiction is fiction. An author, be they male or female, writes PEOPLE. Whether the author is good at their job is another matter.

There are a lot heterosexuals writing bad romance, erotic or otherwise. There are a lot of gay people writing bad romance erotic or otherwise.

I can’t, despite my plumbing and “it’s got a pulse?=SHAG” mentality, write a m/f or m/f/m scene to Save My Life. It would be unconvincing and would probably end up on Weeping Cock. However, gay men, lesbians, bis and straights of all types have read my stuff and while it’s not universally popular, I hit the spot (as it were) or so I’ve been told.

As for non-erotica, perhaps the feeling stems from “you have no right to write about our struggle if you haven’t been there.” I can see this point of view too. I’ve seen anthologies which won’t take stories from people who aren’t gay men, and this makes me sad.

Why?

Because when did I need to prove what I was to submit a story to anyone? Despite the fact that my appearance is female, how does the editor know what I consider myself to be. This, I thought (unless I’ve got the whole thing terribly wrong from start to finish), is what I thought the essence of gender was all about. Not what you SEEM to be, but what you are, what you consider yourself to be.

So when am I allowed to submit? When I start on the hormones? Or after the surgery is completed? When will I will gay enough?

(Incidentally, I exclude real-life memoire submission calls, I would never submit to one of those, as that would be dishonest – they are not fiction and do not declare themselves to be)

Consider this. Do I need to be black to attempt a story about slavery, or segregation? What if I were to write a story about Rosa Parks, would I need to prove I was black? I don’t know. Possibly. It would depend if I got it right enough for the readers and didn’t lessen the impact.

Part of the reason I write gay historical fiction is to show people the problems gay men had in times before ours. I think it’s important to remember – obviously – and there seems to be a preponderance of text-books and articles on the subject, but very little historical fiction. Not enough stories, and there must be a million stories untold.

Should I be Irish to write about the famine, or the troubles? Should I be Chinese to write about the Boxer rebellion?

Or what about – like Anna Sewell or Michael Morpurgo – I were to write a story from a horse’s pov? Is that right? Is it just because the horse can’t say “oh, that would never happen” that we consider it to be literature?

Or a robot?
Or an alien?
Or a hobbit?

Yes, I know, I’m getting facetious but my point remains the same. It’s up to the author to write characters and for the reader to be (or not to be) convinced by them. That’s all. Whether the name on the cover is Janet or John – as long as the story is good –does it matter? Discuss:

Review: Hot Valley by James Lear

It’s New England, 1861, and the troubles in the southern states seem a long way off for Jack Edgerton, the spoiled son of a prominent Vermont family. Howver, when he meets and falls in love with Aaron Johnson, the sexy son of a slave on the run from Virginia, Edgerton’s world is turned upside down. Separated by circumstances, the lovers pursue each other through the escalating madness of the Civil War and both find themselves forced to choose sides.

Review by Erastes

I was utterly enamoured and in love with Mr Lear’s last novel “The Back Passage” that I was over excited that another book was coming out. I pre-ordered.

Sadly, though, I was rather disappointed, because where TBP was witty and unique (whilst incorporating a series of fuck scenes to solve a mystery) this was nothing but a series of fuck scenes.

Whilst it won’t dissapoint readers who like a hot scene to excite them on every other page, that’s where the book failed for me.

In The Back Passage, the hero goes from sexual encounter to sexual encounter in his quest to find out clues for a murder in an Agatha Christie style romp and although the sex is possibly gratuitous its cleverly done and never feels like it. There’s also much wit and humour.

But Hot Valley – set in the American Civil war–felt to me that sex scene after sex scene after sex scene (…) were linked tenuously by the hero’s travels. It felt like the background of the war is added as an afterthought. It also feels hugely anachronistic as surely to Betsy 1860 America wasn’t so accepting of gay sex.

Every single man that Jack meets, from his co-workers, his father’s employers, drinking companions, fellow soldiers – everyone! Wants to (and does) have sex with him in many various ways. As much as I enjoy (heaven knows!) an erotic book, there is a case for Too Much – and I found myself hoping that the next man that Jack met simply wanted to have a chat. Or a cuppa tea. Or anything! I found myself skipping the sex to find the next piece of plot, which, as I’ve said before, always makes me feel that the reader is cheated.

I’m sorry, James, that I didn’t like it. I wanted to, but I was hoping for a good gay historical romp but didn’t find it in Hot Valley.

Buy at Amazon UK :   Amazon USA

Review: The Stallion & The Rabbit by Mike Shade

 

Review by Erastes

Alex is a reporter, determined to follow a great race through the Sahara and earn his name in his field. What he doesn’t count on is desert cheiftan Alfahl kidnapping him and carrying him off.Alfahl needs and English tutor, and Alex fits the bill. Alex fascinates him, as much for the Arabian Nights style tales he tells as for his sweet body and foreign ways. Can these very different men find enough common ground to last together? Or will they become just another story?  

This is an odd little novella and almost defies my reviewing it. It possibly is far more clever than I am giving it credit for, the meaning of it is probably steeped with folklore or something but that may have gone completely over my head.

At first glance it seems like a typical Sheik/slave story, Alex is reporting on the first Trans Sahara road race when his car breaks down and he is captured by Alfahl, a powerful Sheik.

Ostenibly, the men have brought Alfahl an English speaker to help him with his language but it’s soon clear that Alfahl has more on his mind than vowels and he refuses to let Alex go.

Alfahl nicknames Alex “the Rabbit” for reasons that escaped me (as I said, perhaps the whole book went over my head) because I considered Alex to be (‘scuse the pun) quite spunky and he stood up to his kidnapper, wasn’t afraid to make a deal with him when a lot of people might have been a little more terrified.  Alfahl is “the Stallion” which is hyperbole whichever way you cut it.

Alex borrows Scherezhade’s trick of tale-telling (because, hey, every Sheik falls for that trick, right?) and it works beautifully. Alex’s ravishment is gradually put off until he starts to tell tales that excite both of them.

On the surface that’s just about all it is, but I think personally it’s more than that. There is some beautiful writing here, and the gradual increasingly sexual scenes are genuinely erotic rather than verging anywhere near porn.  For those reasons I have kept the e-book (which is rare for me) and I intend to read it again because it haunts me a little.  I do have a small quibble that a white man and a reporter can go missing in the desert and no-one actually bothers to look for him, but that’s just me.

That being said, this book has the feeling more of an allegory, (although I’m too dim to work it out) and less of a narrative and I personally liked that feeling as I was unsettled throughout and still am.

Well worth the $3.95 that it’s on sale for, and I wouldn’t mind reading more of this author, if there is any.

Buy from Torquere

Review: The Hill: A Romance of Friendship by Horace Annesley Vachell

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Reviewed by Hayden Thorne

FROM THE PUBLISHER:
In this novel based on the life of the masters and boys at Harrow school, two boys compete for the love of a third. Lord Horace Vachell was an English novelist who introduced polo to Southern California when he moved there in 1882.

REVIEW:
I must say right now that this novel was the most frustrating, exasperating work of fiction I’ve read in a long time. It isn’t badly written though at first I railed against Vachell’s characterization of Scaife and Desmond. As it turned out, my complaints were largely unfounded, at least with regard to Desmond.

Jonathan Verney, the new kid in school, falls hard for Henry Desmond (or Caesar, as he’s called), and he does all he can to develop and nurture a close friendship with the older boy. Unfortunately for him, Reginald Scaife, who’s older and more street-wise than the other two, also has plans of winning Desmond over. And so begins the tug-of-war between good (Verney) and evil (Scaife), innocence and guile, intellect and brute strength. The opposing forces are classic – cliché, almost. Yet Vachell’s presentation is anything but, hence my growing frustration that made me set the book aside two-thirds of the way through, while I redirected my energy elsewhere.

I picked up the book again and finished it, finally. Yes, I stand corrected on a number of things. My initial complaint was characterization. I found Scaife and Desmond at first to be so one-dimensional that I simply wanted to reach into the book and give both boys a damned good thrashing. By the book’s conclusion, however, my opinions of Desmond had shifted favorably, and not because of the conclusion, in which Verney’s friendship and love play a significant role.

Desmond, while admittedly a weak character, is still complex in his own way, which is the reason why the tug-of-war and growing hostility between Verney and Scaife don’t seem to have an end. He’s torn between the two boys for reasons he can’t understand because he’s ruled mostly by his emotions though deep down, he really is a good, decent fellow. Scaife, also called Demon by his peers, is pure evil, his initial charm and wit slowly losing their veneer till in the end, Verney sees him as “deliberately setting about the devil’s work.” And I saw nothing else about Scaife other than he’s simply rotten to the core, so much so that when Verney admits to himself (much to his horror) that he’s actually wished Scaife to be dead, I didn’t feel outrage at Verney’s sentiments. “The bastard deserves it” was the thought that crossed my mind, and it’s an uncomfortable one. I like my villains more multi-dimensional than that. I want to feel a little torn between sympathy and disgust. Unfortunately for Scaife, I felt nothing but the sense of being cheated out of a potentially very good antagonist.

Verney shines as the lead character. Though the angel against Scaife’s devil, he still makes all sorts of errors of judgment, which end up giving Scaife ongoing ammunition to be used against him. It’s because of his innocence that he hurls himself headlong into this wild, romantic, and passionate attachment to Desmond. It’s also because of his innocence that he holds on to hope, defying Scaife’s expectations, which, in turn, fuels the other boy’s antagonism toward him.

It’s the perpetual battle between good and evil that ultimately wore me down because it simply dragged on. However, Vachell saves the best for last, when all things seem to be so hopeless in Verney’s eyes. There’s redemption, but in a manner that I never expected. The Hill concludes with an event that’s tremendously heartbreaking yet ennobling, the final scenes being the stuff of classic, enduring romance.

Vachell lovingly paints Harrow school as a gorgeous pastoral. Even with the presence of the proverbial serpents (Scaife, Lovell, and their circle), the school still resonates with the lushness of spring and youth all richly detailed. When Verney, in his final year, looks forward with trepidation to the darker, murkier waters of Oxford and Parliament, I also wished that he – as well as his friends – needn’t go anywhere else. The side characters are also vividly drawn, with Caterpillar (a snobby older student who openly despises Scaife for being lowly bred) and Fluff (a younger student who attaches himself at first to Verney but eventually drifts away) being my favorites.

Yes, it was initially an agonizing read, but The Hill is really much more complex, much deeper than a simple rivalry between two boys over a third. As a rare book that specifically deals with 19th century/early 20th century boarding school romance between boys, it’s a significant addition to the library of historical gay fiction enthusiasts.

Buy the book: Amazon USA, Amazon UK

Review: A Different Sin by Rochelle Hollander Schwab

 

Review by Erastes

Wow. What a read!  I had few expectations of this book – I’d seen it around here and there, in this limited genre the same books are bound to crop up from time to time – but the cover always put me off.  However, eventually I ordered a copy and it arrived  (and it’s a signed copy no less!) 

It starts simply and familiarly enough; our main protagonist, David, is the son of a plantation (and slave) owner.  He chafes against living at home and the hum-drum existence and wants more. But the twists start almost immediately and there’s a hell of a lot packed into this not very long book.

It would be almost impossible to write a book about this war without mentioning race and RHS meets this head on. David’s father has a shameful “secret” – which is no longer a secret – he fathered a child, Mike, from one of his slaves and has helped him escape from Virginia to Boston to become a doctor.  David lives under the impression that, as an artist and someone who has no interest in taking over the plantation, that Mike is the son that his father would have really wanted, especially now as he’s acknowledged him publicly.

David is offered a job on a New York paper and becomes friendly with Zach who he quickly becomes friends with and soon realises that his feelings are a little more than platonic.

The nice difference here is that the men aren’t the usual hairless 20 year old Adonises, (Adoni?). These are bearded men of their era in their late 30’s and early 40’s. Zach in particular is rather beary-hairy and the way that David fixates on his solid mature body is no less sexy than the endless stories of six packs and ridged hips.

The love story itself is familiar though, Zach is an experienced homosexual who knows what he is and he’s finding a way to communicate his preferences to others, finding others with his tastes in the big city. David has been unsatisfied with sex with women and doesn’t know there’s something missing. The difference between them is that when David does fall in love and into bed with Zach he can’t accept himself for what he is and he fights his “perversion” almost every step of the way. (This jarred me a little because I knew that the word pervert/perversion applied in this sense was anachronistic in itself and wish that (as Schwab has so much right) that she had found another word to use – because David uses it a LOT.)

He’s a very angsty man, and sometimes he was so repetitive in his angsting that I wanted to smack him.

He tries to break with Zach time and again, (despite knowing now that he loves him) as the country falls into conflict and then into war and then finally he can bear his own perversion no longer and volunteers to go to the front for the paper, despite having had it proved to him that he’s no hero.  He joins Grant and some very bloody history is recounted at this point, seen, on the fringes by David, and his new friend, Al.

I’ve seen this book accused of having “too much history” which has to make me smile – it’s rather difficult to avoid the history in the middle of Grant’s Wilderness Campaign!  However I know that military campaigns aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and despite having a penchant for Sharpe they aren’t usually mine, but here I really I enjoyed reading about an era that I only know from Gone With The Wind.  I didn’t know anything about the draft riots for example – and some of the violence, truthfully written, is quite hard to read.

People’s wildly varying attitudes to the black population are interesting, difficult to cope with, and inspiring in turns, and I admire that the author didn’t shy away from all this, as she could have done, she could have smothered a difficult and bloody time for all involved with a gay love affair in a wallpaper historical.  But she doesn’t, for my money – there’s politics, and the man on the street, and the soldier’s opinions about many different things.  I would have been happy if this book had been twice the length, to be honest – I find it hard to work out how she managed to cram so much in.

Yes, this is about love, but it’s also a message (that Zach mentions) that there are “different sins” and perhaps two men loving each other in private can’t compare with what America was doing to itself. It’s still easier for some Americans to see a man with a gun in his hand than another man’s hand, actually, isn’t it?

I also particularly liked the New York social scenes; they are entirely masculine – the only mention of women being when one of the group goes to a brothel.  The newspaper men meet up in journalists’ bars, men frequent gymnasiums and you get a real feel of hard bitten journalists working round the clock. Walt Whitman makes an appearance (at one point rather disturbingly kissing a young armless soldier) and there are hints of men meeting up in groups for possibly orgies, but as David turns the offer down, we never know. It is clear however, (Zach gives us broad hints of this) that there is a large and close homosexual fraternity in New York.

Anyway – all in all very enjoyable. However, I have to say- it has possibly one of the worst covers ever. I AM going to continue to critique the covers of these books because I think that it’s important. However, as one of the protagonists is a war artist in the American Civil War, I can’t help but wonder if this was deliberate and that the painting is supposed to reflect that.  However I hope that David’s art was a little better.  If I saw it on a shelf, there’s no way in God’s green earth I would turn it over to see what the blurb said.

And then I’d have missed an excellent book, which would be a criminal shame.  Historically weighty, yes, (for the size of it) but the theme of this blog is Gay Historical Fiction, and this book certainly is one of the examples I shall point to when I say “This is gay historical fiction.”

Buy: Amazon UK   Amazon USA

Covers: Survey Questions regarding Buyability

Ruth Sims has a series of unofficial survey questions for readers of m/m romance .

Please reply personally to Ruth at RSNewsletter@insightbb.com

1) If m/m romances were readily available and easy to find in stores such as Barnes & Noble would you buy them?

2) Is the author’s perceived gender a consideration? Would you buy a m/m romance authored by a man?

3) Women tend to read in public a lot–doctor’s offices, etc. The following Amazon titles represent different types of covers. Which one would you be more likely to buy in a store? The titles below were chosen only for their covers as examples, with no consideration given to the author or story. Please just rank them 1 (would buy) 9 for bookstore “buyability”. We’re not collecting names or information, so any comments you care to make are welcome. The titles were chose at random from the Amazon Top 100 lists – gay fiction, and gay romance.

Continue reading

Review: Teleny, att. to Oscar Wilde, et. al.

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Reviewed by Hayden Thorne

REVIEW:
It’s fairly common knowledge now that Teleny’s authorship continues to be debated among scholars. Was Oscar Wilde truly a part of the novel’s creation? If so, which scenes or chapters did he himself write? John McRae’s introduction (a very worthy read in itself) to the only annotated and unabridged edition (published by Gay Men’s Press) explores the fascinating process that gave birth to the novel. The “round robin” method of creating a book that’s a “celebration of uninhibited sensual passion between men” certainly explains the stylistic inconsistencies throughout the work.

Teleny’s plot is fairly straightforward: Camille Des Grieux, a wealthy young man, finds himself intensely attracted to René Teleny, a gifted pianist. Des Grieux struggles against his passion but in the end is forced to acknowledged his “aberration.” What follows next is textbook romantic fiction of the time regarding the lovers’ union and the consequences of their passion as well as Teleny’s excesses.

Even to non-academic readers, the stylistic inconsistencies are evident. The novel’s an aesthete’s pleasure ground, with descriptions that are elaborate and sensual and simply bursting at the seams. Teleny is, in many ways, an aesthetic – a decadent – exploration of love between men as well as the relationship of artist/lover and muse/beloved. Purple prose that seems to run on forever shifts into occasional elegant language, so that explicit sex scenes vary from chapter to chapter.

Heterosexual erotic scenes, while written with similar stylistic shifts as homosexual scenes, are still treated unequally throughout. These are almost always defined by grotesque – even disturbing – imagery and an attitude of distinct loathing, which, in turn, raises the same-sex love scenes to nobler heights erotically. One needn’t wonder at that. Strip the novel of its excessive, florid prose and descriptions, its elaborate exploration of artist and muse’s psychic connection, and its angry defiance – what’s left at its heart is a romance between two men.

Des Grieux and Teleny are classic heroes of the genre. Camille Des Grieux, while not exactly a wide-eyed waif, still fits the mold of the less experienced of the pair. René Teleny, conversely, is the tortured artist with mysterious gypsy blood, who enjoys the company of both men and women in bed. The novel’s accounts – often long and very, very elaborate – of the psychic bond between the two may draw a few sniggers and eyeball-rolling from contemporary readers. All the same, the baroque quality of these scenes doesn’t take away from the romance. In their overdone way, these scenes can satisfy fans of love stories with the element of inescapable fate or destiny woven tightly into the plot.

On the whole, Teleny is a fascinating read – though perhaps not completely enjoyable for those easily squicked, thanks to a few disturbing scenes involving a brothel, a rape and suicide, and an orgy. The method by which Des Grieux’s story is told (a dialogue between Des Grieux and another character) is also a bit messy, at times awkwardly breaking flashbacks with present conversation. However, its enigmatic authorship, its open defiance of Victorian mores, and its decadence all work together to give the book its unique, albeit bizarre, allure.

FINAL NOTE:
There are two published versions of Teleny, the circumstances behind the varying editions being covered in detail in the book’s introduction. The edition released by Gay Sunshine Press (1984) makes use of the “London version,” while that published by Gay Men’s Press (1999, New Ed) makes use of the “Paris version.” I read the GMP edition because it’s claimed to be the only unabridged version of the novel that’s currently in print.

Buy the book: Amazon.com, Amazon.com UK

Review: While England Sleeps by David Leavitt

Review by Erastes

From the blurb:

At a meeting of republican sympathisers in London, Brian Botsford, a young middle-class writer and Cambridge graduate, meets Edward Phelan, an idealistic, self-educated London Underground worker. They share a mutual attraction. Across the divisions of class they begin an affair in secrecy.

But Edward posesses “an unproblematic capacity to accept” Brian and the love that dare not speak its name, whereas Brian is more cautious and under family pressure agrees to be set up with a suitable young woman. Pushed to the point of crisis Edward threatens to volunteer to fight Franco in Spain.

There are (to my perception, at least) a few inaccuracies in the blurb, but I won’t quibble over them. This is an excellent book which I devoured in two sittings.

It has a readability that draws the eye, and the narrator’s voice is completely convincing. It’s written in first person, there is a faux prologue “written” in 1978 where Brian explains that he’s now living in America and considers himself to be an American and an epilogue which looks back at 1938 from that fifty year gap. Both of these devices go far to convince that the book was written by Brian and not by David Leavitt.

Like “As Meat Loves Salt” (although not to the same extent) Brian is not a likeable or attractive character. A product of his class, he coasts through life, unlike Edward who takes what he wants with more enthusiasm, facing what he is face on. Brian still thinks that being homosexual is just something one did at school and that he would get over it, although it’s obvious he’s deluding himself. He’s a playwright, and he plays at it, having no drive to support himself; he sponges off his Aunt Constance (or “Inconstance” as he cruelly calls her, as she doesn’t pay him regularly enough for him to depend on her support. He mumps off his friends and generally won’t commit to one thing or another, which leads to the crisis event in the book – one which he will regret, and will haunt him for the rest of his life.

I found it to be tremendously absorbing, like the best of historicals, it immersed me in the era without info dumping. As I’ve said before, if a book reads like it was written in the time, rather than about the time, it earns big kudos from me. The class divide might be hard for non-Brits to grasp – but pre-war it was still more relevant than people would suppose. I felt ashamed of Brian’s inability to admit his affair to his own friends, but then found it perfectly acceptable to talk to Edward’s sister about it. I wanted to smack him with the clue-by-four several times in the book – but that’s ok – that meant that the author was doing his job.

It also brings the situation in Europe at that time into sharp relief, there’s a lovely sub-plot with a friend of Brian’s who is attempting to get a friend out of Europe which breaks your heart, and you, as the reader, knowing what is going to happen in a few short years, hold your breath and weep at the hopeless cause and loss of life that is the Spanish Civil War.

If you prefer to like your protagonists, then this book might not be for you, but if you want a meaty and rich story that takes you so viscerally into the period that you can smell the steam engines and feel the bubble of the champagne of the Fast Set, then you’ll enjoy this as much as I did. A definite keeper.

Buy at Amazon US: Amazon UK

Review: Silk & Poison by Barbara Sheridan and Anne Cain

Subtitle: Book One of the Dragon’s Disciple trilogy

Review by Alex Beecroft

Review:  Toshiro Itou is an ambitious young man in 19th Century California.  His mother sent him to a father he never knew so that she could pursue her own ambitions with her powerful lover.  Bitter and rebellious, when he chances to meet the top ranking tong assassin Dao Kan Shu he yearns to have the power and fear the older man inspires for himself.  Seduced by Toshiro’s beauty, ruthlessness and ability to withstand pain, Shu takes him on as his apprentice.

Meanwhile Toshiro’s mother, Ume, has an unpleasant surprise when her lover sends her to the Tong elders in repayment of a debt.  Her efforts to keep herself out of the whore-house lead to her becoming an assassin herself, under the control of crime-lord Ren Yang.  Yang has fallen in love with her, but her only concerns are firstly survival, and secondly to free her son from the abusive relationship she believes he has with the sadistic Shu.  The fact that he has no desire to be freed, or that the effort will bring them all into lethal disfavor with the tong elders, is not something she is prepared to think about.

I must say that I loved the setting of this.  The contrast of the Ages old Chinatown culture with the Wild West setting is a joy to behold.  I’m only sorry that that culture clash was not exploited at all.  In fact the book could as easily have been set in China itself.  Equally I didn’t feel that Toshiro or Ume’s Japanese culture was a strong enough element in their personalities or the plot for it to be necessary that they should be Japanese rather than Chinese.

However, having said that, this was still a great change of setting and an interesting culture to explore.  There’s no getting away from the fact that we’re talking about a crime empire either.  The book is heavy on violence, bad language and sexual threat.  Ume’s thread, indeed, is constant, wearing, sexual threat all the time until by the end you react to the threat of rape with ‘oh not again!’  It is a dark book.  Dao Kan Shu and Toshiro bond over their shared enjoyment of killing people in nasty ways.  Ume’s motherly love expresses itself in an attempt to get her son’s lover murdered, and she herself can be very inventive with a hair-pin.

When the book began I very much enjoyed the verve of the writing, the wonderful detail and description, and the high quality characterization and plotting.  I also enjoyed Shu and Toshiro’s gleeful rampage and mutual sadism.  They aren’t a cute couple by any means, but I could quite easily believe in their sick and twisted love.  By the end of the first third, however, I was yearning for a change of tone – the unrelieved darkness became a little wearing.  I’d have liked to see a variation in tone now and again.  Instead we got another third in which Ume was thrust into a succession of humiliating experiences and sexual perils.  I didn’t enjoy this very much.

The final third united the two plots by bringing Toshiro’s thread and Ume’s together.  This third was exciting, ever so slightly less humiliating for the female character, breathlessly paced and had an emotional weight that the other two was missing (I thought.)  Shu had clearly fallen for Toshiro and was paranoid that Ume was trying to take him away, Ume was terrified for her son.  We suddenly had emotions that could be almost considered admirable.  Unfortunately this third was marred by wild point of view shifts which made it difficult to tell which character was thinking what at what time.  The editing was also fairly poor – at one point the point of view even slipped into first person.

All of this dampened my enjoyment a little.  I must say that the characters are so violent, so selfish, self centered, sadistic and so generally amoral that by the end of the book I was rather tempted just to get a machine gun and solve their problems once and for all in a hail of bullets.

But having said all of this the delightful complexity, the fascinating setting, the very hot sex and strangely sympathetic relationship between Shu and Toshiro and the obvious skill of the writers made me glad to have read it.  I don’t know that I’d read it again, but I enjoyed it very much this once.

Buy from Liquid Silver Books

Textbook: Mother Clap’s Molly House, (The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830) by Rictor Norton


Review by Alex Beecroft

First published in 1992 by GMP Books. A Second, Revised and Enlarged edition published in October 2006 by Chalfont Press (Tempus Publishing, UK).

Available through Amazon, or via Rictor Norton’s site  HERE which is a great place to go for a more detailed run down of the contents.  It’s also a fascinating site in itself, where you can find essays on all sorts of queer issues from the homosexual pastoral tradition to bawdy limericks.

Table of Contents
Introduction
1. The Renaissance Background
2. The Birth of the Subculture
3. Mother Clap’s Molly House
4. The Sodomites’ Walk in Moorfields
5. Maiden Names and Little Sports
6. Caterwauling
7. Popular Rage
8. Blackmail
9. The Third Sex
10. The Warden of Wadham
11. The Case of Captain Jones
12. The Macaroni Club
13. The Vere Street Coterie
14. A Child of Peculiar Providence
15. Men of Rank and Fortune
16. Tommies and the Game of Flats

Review:

Basically, for anyone interested in what it was like to be gay during the 18th and early 19th Century, this book is a must.  By combing through records of criminal prosecutions for buggery, and the documents kept by the Societies which persecuted gay men, Rictor Norton has amassed an enormous wealth of evidence about a heretofore unknown subculture.  He’s able to prove that our own century was not the first to have cruising grounds, gay bars and even a sense of gay pride.  On the contrary, our own views on homosexuality and our own modern gay culture have their roots in the culture which came to light in the 18th Century.

I say ‘came to light’ because as the book shows, it’s entirely possible that this gay subculture had already evolved by the 16th Century.  The first chapter of the book describes King James Ist’s court, in which the King’s love for George Villiers made the court a relatively tolerant place for gay relationships to flourish.

Norton holds that the specific subculture we see in the 18th Century did not spring to life in that century, but was merely revealed as a result of the purges organized by the newly formed Societies for the Reformation of Manners.  These societies organized ordinary people to shop their neighbours for immoral behaviour, and as a result an awful lot of gay men were prosecuted for buggery.  With the result that there were a lot of executions, but also that for the first time we have documented existence not just of one or two isolated individuals but of a whole culture of homosexuality.

In successive chapters, Norton explores some of the plays that show the playwright’s knowledge of this culture; the locations of the cruising grounds; the most famous gay bars (or Molly Houses).  Incidentally, I was amused and a little relieved to find out that Mother Clap’s molly house was so called because it was run by a gay-friendly lady called Margaret Clap, and not because that was what you could expect to acquire there!

Norton also covers the molly’s slang, some of their stranger rituals – like the practice of having pretend marriages, and sometimes even pretend childbirth.  We’re introduced to an enormous variety of characters, from blackmailers to Dukes.  I have to admit my heart was warmed to read of the butcher ‘Princess Seraphina’, who borrowed the clothes of his female neighbours and was obviously treated as one of the girls by the neighbourhood.  It was also good to read of Reverend John Church, the ‘child of peculiar Providence’, who as a gay priest had worked out a theology of God’s love long before our own time, and officiated at some of the marriages at The Swan molly house.

Less happy, however, are Norton’s accounts of so many trials and executions, and the enormous hatred of the general public for the mollies.  Such hatred that even those who were only sentenced to the pillory often barely made it out alive.

There is also a very interesting final chapter on Tommies or Lesbians – Norton is able to show that the word ‘lesbian’ was already in use in its modern sense at this time.

The strength of this book is its reliance on primary sources, so that the reader almost feels she is meeting the people described and participating in their tumultuous, dangerous, but ultimately surprisingly positive lives.  They seem to have been, despite the level of hatred and persecution surrounding them, confident, unashamed and well able to justify themselves to themselves.  The sense of positive, courageous joy in life is a welcome antidote to the statistics of trials and persecution.  I came away impressed by their resilience and convinced that it was not necessarily all doom and gloom, after all, being a gay man in the 18th Century.

The weakness of the book, I think, also comes from its reliance on primary sources.  There is a sense that although we’re meeting a number of fascinating individuals, the writer hasn’t managed to synthesize this information into very much of a larger picture.  There was a feeling of listening to repeated anecdotes, and by the end I yearned for some sort of pulling together of the evidence into a summary.

That didn’t happen.  I didn’t get any sense that an argument was being made, or a logical plan was being followed through the sequence of chapters.  There’s a sense in which this is simply a disorganized dumping of information on the reader.  But really, it’s such interesting information, and so lightly and amusingly told, that asking for more would be grasping.

A must have book for anyone writing m/m historical fiction from the late 17th Century to the early 19th.

Buy: From the Author: Amazon UK: Amazon USA

Review: Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory

Seventeenth-century England is the setting for this engaging historical novel based on the life of John Tradescant, a gardener of common birth who transforms plain plots of land into slices of heaven on earth. As vassal to the secretary of state, Sir Robert Cecil, Tradescant—who, as fate would have it, had no sense of smell—places his master’s garden above all else, much to the chagrin of his wife, Elizabeth, and young son, J. Tradescant’s affinity for botanicals is matched by his thirst for adventure; in the service of his lord, he travels to distant lands to defend his country’s honor (and collect cuttings of rare and exotic plants). When Tradescant is summoned by King James I’s closest confidante, the dark-haired and devious Duke of Buckingham, he is immediately taken by the nobleman’s beauty. Devotion soon turns to erotic obsession, and Tradescant must face the consequences of loving a fickle, heartless man.

Review by Erastes

I wouldn’t say “if you aren’t into gardening, don’t get this,” but you WILL appreciate it a lot more if you have an inkling of gardening and plants. It’s the story of a very famous – and one of the first “celebrity” gardeners, John Tradescant who was a gardener to many famous people during the reign of three monarchs, Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I.

She paints a very believable picture of John, his family and his life. John is a man who must belong to a master, that’s how his life has always been and that’s how he thinks his life must always be. He starts the book in the employ of Robert Cecil, building the gardens of Hatfield House and he is very close – a confidante and friend – to the great man. After he dies, John moves around from master to master until he is ordered to the new and fabulous estate of George Villiers – first Duke of Buckingham, the most powerful man in the land and favourite of the then King, James I. It is in Villiers’ service that he discovers a lot about the meaning of loyalty and a lot more about himself.

This is a “Romance” in both senses of the word, the author does a wonderful job telling a fair portion of Tradescant the Older’s story, although missing out some portions of it, to my disappointment and amusingly missing out that he actually looked like a pregnant goat, if the portraits of the day were to believed. It was easier NOT to look at what he looked like, because then it was easier to believe that the beautiful George Villiers would want to bed him.

I enjoyed it a lot, however, more – it has to be said – for the fascinating insight into the introduction of plants into England (he brought the first six horse chestnut “conkers” back to England for example, and lost money in Tulipmania) – rather than for the homosexual story. However, the litery license that Gregory takes by assuming an affair with Villiers works perfectly within the character that she has drawn and it’s a vital thread in the book.

Gregory writes convincingly and in a very approachable style although strangely I didn’t get addicted to this book in ways that I have with others. I had no desperation to find out what happened, even when I was in the early parts of the book. In fact it took me well over a month to read, while I read many other books in the interim.

Buy Amazon UK: Amazon USA

Promo: “Read the Rainbow”

Ah, gay books. Where would we be without a volume of Mary Renault or Alan Hollinghurst in our hands, or the next Gordon Merrick or Patrick Gale on our reading list? :)

It’s wonderful to be able to read the reviews on this site, but sometimes the comments section isn’t long enough for a really detailed discussion. So, if you enjoy reading gay books and would like somewhere to chat about them, list your current reads, pick up recommendations of books and/or authors you haven’t tried before, and generally have some fun, why not head over to Read the Rainbow?

This is a brand new chat forum for gay books of all types, shapes and sizes, including (but not limited to) fiction, short stories, non fiction, films-of-the-book, and any genre you can think of.

Like the sound of Read the Rainbow? You can find us at http://readrainbow.4.forumer.com/

All are welcome and I hope to see you there!

Fiona Glass

Promo: “In Their Own Words”

One of the reviewers, Alex Beecroft, has started a blog where your characters can be interviewed.

Here’s her blurb:

Some time ago a lady set up a blog for which people were invited tosubmit interviews with the characters of their books. She preferred to keep this as a space for m/f romance novels only – which is of course her right. But I thought it was a bit of a shame that those of us who write m/m or f/f (or trans romance, if there is such a thing – and if there isn’t, there should be) didn’t have a place to do the same.

So after a long delay I have finally launched In their own words -a blog for interviews of characters in GBLT romances. So if you know anyone champing at the bit to send in an interview and promote their novel, ask them to send it to alex@alexbeecroft.com, and I’ll post it up as soon as maybe :)

NO PEEKING!!

COME BACK ON THE 1ST DECEMBER!!!

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