Review: In Bear Country by Keirnan Kelly


Pride hasn’t had an easy life. No matter what he does, things seem to go bad. This time, though, he’s not sure he can get out of his predicament, and he figures he might just have to call it quits. Bear is a mountain of a man, making a home where most folks wouldn’t, and he comes across Pride right when the other man’s irons are all hanging in the fire. Bear doesn’t even hesitate, he just barges in and saves Pride’s bacon, taking the man home with him to give him a second chance.

Review by Erastes

I admit freely that I went into this book a little jaded because I could pretty much tell what was going to happen.  The blurb rather over simplifies things, in my opinion though – but if it does one thing right it gives a hint that there’s more to these characters than just a Bear and a Twink having a damned good shagfest in the wilderness.

The feel is right; I was convinced by the era from page one without the necessity to be pumelled over the head with details. Pride is a man pretty much at the end of his rope leaving a certain unpleasant present for a hopeful better future with just enough resources (a little money, a gun, a horse) to get there. If he’s lucky.

He’s not, and that’s when the story kicks in, weaving Pride’s story with Bear’s – a reclusive mountain man who acts and looks like his namesake.  You are fairly sure conflict must be coming soon enough – but there’s a great character building section as both men comes to terms with each other and the fact that due to the bad weather (oh noes!) they are likely to be holed up in the remote cabin for the entire winter. (That’s not the conflict though!)

The characters are what saved this book from being another run-of-the-mill straight man/gay man shag story. They are very male in as much as they find it almost impossible to express their feelings, take umbrage at the slightest thing and grab the wrong end of every stick they are given.  If it weren’t for the fact that I felt their coming together was far far too early (after only three days or so) this first section would have been just about perfect.

The period details were excellent. I know nothing about wilderness cabin life in the late 19th century, but it was clear that the author had spent some time learning about it; how much provisions would be needed, aspects of skinning, preserving meat – all that kind of thing. Details, yes. Infodumping, no.

I liked the way that they weren’t soppy with each other, even kissing doesn’t come naturally to them terribly well at the first, and it takes them settling into a reverse dependency for Bear to be able to cope with giving affection rather than just having sex.

When they do become more easy with each other, they are almost lickable. Their easy banter, the constant teasing – and the fact that they DON’T get on all the time is well written and believable.

In all respects, the book could easily have been spread out into a novel as I was dissapointed as it was a short as it was. I am happy to hear from the author that there is a sequel in the offing, and I’ll certainly be getting it.

Buy Amazon UK Buy Amazon USA Buy ebook

Review: Erotic Tales of the Knights Templar by Jay Starre

From (part of) the blurb:

Jay Starre offers up a raunchy, non-stop feast of lusty medieval adventures in his new book EROTIC TALES OF THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR. A prolific wizard of the gay erotic short story, Starre has written twenty tales of nasty Knights in the middle ages as they battle and debauch their way through the Latin Kingdom of the thirteenth century Holy Land. Every page sizzles with unabashed hot gay eroticism. The erotic tales are intertwined with a back story of bondage, respect, discipline and servitude.

Review by Erastes

And that sort of sums it up I’m afraid. It’s hard for me to review this as a book within the genre because as a gay book it passes – there is more than enough gay sex here to please a regiment of gay men – but as a work of historical fiction it means almost nothing at all.

I’m informed by research and by more knowledgable friends that it’s perfectly possible that homosexual behaviour occurred in the Order – always the way when large groups of men are kept in together in “celibate conditions” – but there were strict rules against it within the Order (and of course in law of the the land). In fact I’m told that even showing yourself naked in the dormitory was against Order law. As my Templar expert says “…allegedly so they would be militarily prepared, but the source I read figured it was also to prevent the occasion of sin). You don’t make rules if there’s no behavior to legislate against.”

Having sex with a woman caused a Brother to have his worldly good (habit, weapons and horse) confiscated – but sodomy was punishable by expulsion.

The book itself is twenty short stories, loosely linked by character and plot – all porn filled. The stories are progressive in their porn too, and they don’t start soft – you’d expect the first story to perhaps have a blow-job, move up to anal in the second and so on – but here we start with fisting in the first, and they get gradually harder from there on in. BDSM features prominently in a lot of the stories, gang “dubious consent”, and a great deal of ye anciente objecte insertione. Hot they are. Historical? Perhaps. A new category, perhaps – rather than wallpaper historical, this is wallpaper historical porn. Frankly I can’t see the point of them wearing surplices or armour in the first place as they aren’t in them long enough to worry which century they are stripping off in.

The language has a tendancy to be giggleworthy rather than erotic though at times, because there are phrases such as “take it like a Templar” which caused me to nearly choke with laughter. As my Templar expert says: What does that mean? At prayer eight times a day? On a horse?

So really, it’s a big shame because of the lack of novels in this genre, and also because STARbooks have made a specific call for gay historical fiction – and they point this particular book out for prospective readers to use as an example of the sort of thing they are looking for.

It’s perfectly possible for gay historical novels to be erotic whilst still holding on to the period and having a strong plot and there have been many books that have ably illustrated this. But I’m afraid that this, other than being a quite effective wank book, didn’t give me any insight into the Order, the Crusades, or the era at all. But – for those who want to dream of a lusty Templar rogering you with a Saracen dildo, this is the book for you. For me, all I could think of as an alternative title was. Shagalot.

Shagalot by T J Pennington

A law was made a distant moon ago here
Medieval tales must always be quite hot
And not a single person says, “Go slow, dear
In Shagalot.

Vanilla is forbidden–it’s too boring
The readers much prefer kinks (and a lot)
Forget the plot–the characters are scoring
In Shagalot.

Each serf wears but the skimpiest of tunics
each Arab has a dildo, crystal clear
In short, there’s simply not; A more orgasmic spot
For harlots, knights and eunuchs than here
In Shagalot.

Buy Amazon US Buy Amazon UK

Review: Wicked Angels by Eric Jourdan (trans. by Thomas J.D. Armbrecht)

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Review by Hayden Thorne

BOOK DESCRIPTION:
This is the classic French literary novel, banned for 30 years, now translated for the English market. Wicked Angels is the English translation of the classic 1955 French literary novel Les Mauvais Anges, banned for 30 years for what was called its ‘subversive’ subject matter. It is the story of Pierre and Gerard, two teenagers who share a love that no one else around them can condone. The two young men discover their destiny in each other’s arms, their passion coupled with violence – and ultimately pay the price.

Translator Thomas Armbrecht helpfully includes an informative introduction that puts the novel into the proper context of the times.

REVIEW:
Anyone interested in devouring Jourdan’s novel is well-advised to read Thomas J.D. Armbrecht’s introduction. Here, Armbrecht explains in great detail the circumstances behind the novel’s censorship when it was first published in 1955 – France’s censorship law, The Book Board (La Commission du Livre), and the novel’s literary predecessors in light of past obscenity laws. It wasn’t just about obscenity, Armbrecht claims, but also the attitude of defiance against the status quo that the two boys give voice to again and again. In the introduction’s second half, Armbrecht analyzes Jourdan’s narrative style, making several references to the book’s level of graphic sexuality and violence (treat this part of the introduction as a warning).

Jourdan’s novel is sexually graphic (though not by today’s standards), and, yes, it becomes quite violent as the story progresses. The book is divided into two parts, each recounting the process of adolescent passion that eventually spirals out of control from both boys’ perspectives. Pierre’s POV shapes the first half, Gerard’s, the second. The plot itself isn’t very complicated. Simply put, it explores the development of a love between two boys who happen to be cousins. There are other characters involved, such as the boys’ fathers and their neighbors, but their roles tend to remain in the periphery though in their neighbors’ case, some forward movement does take place – and along sexual lines. By and large, these side characters aren’t that deeply explored, but that doesn’t hurt the plot at all.

Much of the action isn’t only sexual, but internal. Jourdan takes us deep inside each boy’s head, and we see the initial blossoming of an attraction between them that gradually takes on more physical expressions till the boys, swept up in their love for each other, turn to sadomasochism and violence.

The power of the novel lies largely in Jourdan’s lyricism. While the plot itself moves at a fairly slow rate, given the characters’ alternating descriptions of scenes, events, feelings, and thoughts, Jourdan manages to sustain a certain fevered level throughout the book. Whether or not Pierre and Gerard are making love or simply enjoying a luxurious moment in the sun, coming to blows with their neighbors or surveying their environment at home, I sense a tension that rises and ebbs with every scene but never goes away. Perhaps it’s Jourdan’s lush descriptions, which suffuse each scene with a sensuality that’s sometimes raw, sometimes muted and elegant. Perhaps it’s the simmering passion between Pierre and Gerard, which reaches its boiling point without a pause in the process. Of course, I prefer to see it as the combination of both.

That said, Jourdan’s descriptions also tend to be overwhelming because of their relentlessness (for lack of a better term), at times giving me reason to wonder if I’ve read the same passages in an earlier scene. If I had less patience, I’d probably get tired of the repeated lusting and panting between the characters.

Though there are several idyllic, romantic moments throughout the novel, Wicked Angels isn’t a happily-ever-after story. The voluptuousness of summer and the beach, two teenagers in love, determination and subversion under repressive society’s nose – the novel has all the elements of Romeo and Juliet, and it explores both cause and effect in beautiful and disturbing detail till the inevitable conclusion is reached. That same conclusion comes hurtling toward the reader in the style of high romance, with fevered passion, angry fatalism, and defiance – not much different from any other given moment in Pierre and Gerard’s romance but with more dreadful consequences.

The book is by no means for everyone. Jourdan is just as detailed in his descriptions of tender adolescent love as he is in his descriptions of sadomachism (beatings and blood). He holds nothing back in expressions violence and affection, and the effect is poetic and uncomfortable. The book’s horrible beauty, the fascinating cultural and historical context of its publication, and its resulting censorship make this a significant title in gay literature.

Buy the book: Amazon, Amazon UK

Review: Snowball in Hell by Josh Lanyon

It’s 1943 and the world is at war. Reporter Nathan Doyle is just back from the European Theater when he’s asked to cover the murder of a society blackmailer–a man who, Homicide Detective Matthew Spain believes, Nathan had every reason to want dead.

Review by Alex Beecroft

It is 1943. When the body of a feckless younger son of a high society family is dredged out of the La Brea tar pits, Detective Matthew Spain knows it’s a case that could change his life. He doesn’t initially suspect how much, even though from the start he is fascinated by the reporter on the case; war veteran Nathan Doyle. As the investigation progresses, it becomes obvious that the victim was a blackmailer. Nathan has a dangerous secret, which could lose him his job and his reputation – he’s gay. As Matthew finds himself falling in love with Nathan – much to his own confusion and distress – he also has to face the fact that Nathan is fast becoming his prime suspect in the murder investigation.

Appropriately for the historic setting of the book, Josh Lanyon writes in a different style from his usual urbane voice. The beginning of the story is told in a hard-boiled style reminiscent of Sam Spade and Phillip Marlow. There’s a ‘Maltese Falcon’ feeling about it which brings to mind black and white movies, gangsters, women in little hats, femmes fatale and rapid-fire dialogue reminiscent of machine guns. It gives an excellent feeling of the period, but I also found it choppy and rushed. I sometimes had difficulties in following who was who and what was going on.

However, a couple of chapters in, either the choppy style began to smooth out, or I began to get used to it and to be sucked into the story. The murder mystery continued to be something you might expect to have seen at the movies, complete with intrepid female reporters, dames in distress, a night-club crooner and one of our heroes being held captive by the baddy’s goons. Far from being overdone, however, this convinced me as charming historical detail.

What really impressed me, however, was the love story. Here the historical detail is more gripping and less charming. You share Nathan’s very real fear of exposure and the loneliness that causes him to court that exposure in meaningless encounters in bars and parks. Seeing his yearning and desperation, both from his own point of view and from Matthew’s fascinated observation, makes the tenderness of the love scenes all the more beautiful.

This is not the world of OK Homo, and although Matthew’s journey of self discovery proceeds with remarkably little angst, the pain that Nathan carries makes this one of the most believable studies of a gay relationship in the past I have read. And because it was believable and painful, also one of the most touching and heartwarming at the end.

This book is available as a one-short at or in an anthology with co-author Sarah Black in “Partners in Crime 2″

Partners in Crime 2 Amazon UK   Partners in Crime 2 Amazon USA

Snowball in Hell from Aspen Mountain Press

Author Website

Review: Gadarene by CB Potts and Tina Anderson

In the notorious Five Points slum of 1870’s Manhattan, Galen ‘the Mongoose’ Driscol steps out of jail and back into the arms of his transgendered lover, Wira Boruta. When Galen tells Wira that he’s tracked down the man who tried to kill them as children, Wira is unwilling to listen, and pleads with Galen to forget the past, and live only for the future…their future. Only Galen doesn’t forget, nor does he forgive. He doesn’t give a second thought about exacting justice, but justice has a price, and it’s come to collect from the one person Galen loves most…

Review by Erastes

I had no idea what to expect when I opened this book – I knew a little about the authors, but not a lot, and I didn’t know that either of them were likely to produce anything in this genre. I have to say that it’s not an easy book to find – No mention of it on C B Potts’ website and if you do a Google search for Gadarene C B Potts you get one hit which is my comment on a thread on Mrs Giggles’ blog.

I had an email fromTina Anderson when she discovered I was reading it and she explained that the book is “a light novel.” I hadn’t heard the term so she explained: Light Novels in Japan are novels that have artwork and are aimed at teens who’re manga fans; in America, Tokyo Pop and Seven Sea are redefining it by producing English works aimed at comics readers with images and ‘simple prose’.

I also had to go and look up the term Gadarene (after I’d finished the book) because I am an ignoramus. But now I know what it refers to, it certainly fits the story – in fact to look it up (if you don’t know to what it refers) it might actually spoil the plot a little.

This book is difficult to pigeonhole for those of you who like that kind of thing, it’s a love story – there’s no doubt about that at all, and actually surprised me that the sex was the least of the plot devices. You never doubt for one moment that Wira and Galen are soul mates despite the tempestuous nature of their relationship. Both characters are wonderfully human, making real mistakes and trying to cope with their demons.

And boy oh boy, do they have demons.

It’s also a mystery and from the second half onwards it spirals into some very visceral horror, so be warned if you are expecting fluff. Nothing could be less fluffy, and for me it was a nice surprise – so many books concentrate on the love affair.

The book is beautiful, and by that I mean the design. From the sumptuous cover and the little knot garden designs (both by Laura Carboni) interspersed in the pages to the font of the chapters and the nice easy on the eye font of the main text itself. It is always rewarding to have a pretty book, and I appreciate it a lot.

I wouldn’t describe this as light, though. Some of the prose is wonderful and skilfully dotted with slang from the period. Talking of the period and the location – I knew almost nothing of these, and if I hadn’t seen “Gangs of New York” I’d know nothing at all. This leaps straight into the slum of Five Points and does a damned good job of it, never romanticising it. There’s dirt and trash and danger everywhere you look and if anyone makes the film, it would have to be Tim Burton.

Having never read any transgendered fiction (and I think this has to be the only historical?) at all I found it a little hard to get my head around the way the trans viewed themselves. Wira is a hermaphrodite, something that is dealt with at birth in these times, (often erroneously) was raised as a girl for his formative years then after his mother died was forced into men’s clothing. I had the feeling that he thought of himself as a she (he gets into a panic attack when he tries to dress in trousers and leave the house) but both he and Galen refer to him as he, despite both of them always refer to Georgian (a great butch of a transvestite) as she. This dicotomy is actually resolved in excellent style and certainly left me thinking, long after I finished the book.

I spotted one or two minor editing issues, some minor typos and also that Wira is supposed to say “v” instead of “w” but this is inconsistent – so it’s almost like he does it as a pose. On a very personal level, I didn’t like that Georgian called Wira “Dubuya” – of course, it’s just unfortunate that I have to blame The Shrub President for that – but it jarred me.

But all in all (considering that I’m a very squeamish reader) I enjoyed it a lot and if you want a genre-busting story that covers a lot of ground, emotionally and viscerally, then you should definitely give this one a go.

Buy Direct from Elegant Madness

Opinions Please? Improvements?

Hi,

Thanks to everyone who has helped this community to grow in popularity it’s very much appreciated and it makes us feel great that you agree with us that this genre is one that deserves its own place in the world, with publishers, with awards and reviews.

I’m always wanting to provide the best service I can, and the accessibility to the List and the information shown on it.

Is there anything we can do to improve the list?

These are a few of the ideas I was thinking of:

1. Do you want a clear difference Historical Fiction as defined by the Historical Novel Society and fiction that just happens to have been written in the past?  The HNS defines Historical Fiction as:  “a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research).”

E.g. A list of stories that were written contemporarily and a seperate list of books that fall into the above category.  Maurice in one list, At Swim Two Boys in another.

2. Would it be useful to have the star rating showing in the List?  And/or on the Reviews Done page?

3. We’d like to review f/f but so far we are having difficulty finding enough people to review m/m, so sadly unless that changes, it will have to stay m/m for now.

4. We’d thought we’d slip films in here and there – anyone want to do them?  Films good idea? Or not?

Anything else, just let us know.

Review: Shadow Road by A.J. Wilde

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After his mistress is killed by rogue highwaymen, servant Bailey ends up in the hands of Lord Charles, the man his lady was to marry. Sick with fever, exhausted from his ordeal, Bailey can only remember that someone cared for him gently when he first arrived, and that the mysterious Lord Charles seems to have a great interest in him.

When Bailey recovers and begins to work for Lord Charles, he discovers that his new home is also plagued by a highwayman, one called the Shadow. Out late one night on his Lord’s business, Bailey encounters the Shadow himself, and learns more about the daring bandit than he ever dreamed possible.

Review by Hayden Thorne

A.J. Wilde’s “Shadow Road” has all the elements of a sexy, breathless romance – history (the events take place in 1739), danger, murder, vengeance by the sword, and the seduction of an innocent. One also shouldn’t forget the dashing, dangerous figure of the highwayman – reckless, courting death at every turn, romanticized in so many ways. Unfortunately, the story’s brevity sacrifices too much of the plot and characterization, and what would have been a sexy, breathless romance falls flat in the end.

Wilde’s voice is strong and vivid, robust enough for an 18th century romance-adventure. The scenes are wonderfully described with just the right touch of period details to set the events firmly in their respective time. Except for a few lay/lie errors, I found nothing too jarring by way of surface problems. The non-romantic character interactions, curiously enough, come across as more natural compared to those scenes involving Bailey and Lord Charles. And that might have something to do with the length requirement of the series for which “Shadow Road” was written, which is novelette (10K-15K words).

There’s so much potential in “Shadow Road” for a very engaging, complex, and developed romance. There’s enough background material as well as minor characters that could have been nicely explored in much greater depth had the story been written as a novella at the very least, a novel preferably. As it stands, everything’s crammed into a long short story (in a manner of speaking), and the promise of an 18th century gay romance falters with some clumsy moments and a too-strong dependence on coincidence.

The biggest plot difficulty I found involved Lord Charles’s reaction to the news that his betrothed, her young maid, and their coachman were all butchered on the way to his estate. In short, he does nothing – merely carries on with Bailey as though nothing tremendous has just taken place. Even if he were getting married reluctantly, I’d imagine that he’d at least get some help, demand to see the site of the murders – do something, even if it simply means being upset by such a horrible loss of life. There are innocent people (one of whom is the woman who was set to marry him) lying dead on the road somewhere, and he walks away from them?

His indifference isn’t the only problem I found. The use of coincidence in moving the story from beginning to climax to resolution also hurt what would have been a really engrossing account of a man’s desire to avenge a lost lover as well as the second chance at happiness that he can now find in Bailey. Had “Shadow Road” been longer and better explored, the implausibility of some of the events would have been fixed with stronger and clearer connections between characters. The sex scenes are well-developed in contrast, and perhaps the plot could have benefited from less sex, given the publisher’s length requirements.

For all those, I do think that A.J. Wilde has a knack for strong, vivid historicals, her writing style certainly right for a rough, bawdy, rouged time such as the Georgian era. Novel-length fiction, however, would be a more proper vehicle for her talent to bloom along smoother, deeper, and more nuanced lines.

Buy the book: Torquere Press

Review: The Loom of Youth by Alec Waugh

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Review by Hayden Thorne

BOOK DESCRIPTION:
And if the modern reader after turning a page or two finds his attention held and wants to go on reading it will mean that this book has become at last what in fact it was always meant to be—a realistic but romantic story of healthy adolescence set against the background of an average English Public School.

REVIEW:
Alec Waugh (older brother of Evelyn Waugh of Brideshead Revisited fame) wrote The Loom of Youth when he was seventeen-and-a-half-years-old. He was, he admits in his introduction, lost in nostalgia as well as rebellion. He’d been expelled from his school – Sherborne School in Dorset – for engaging in homosexual practices, i.e., a mild flirtation with a younger boy. He remains the only student to be expelled from Sherborne.

Part (perhaps a great part) of the book’s notoriety rests on its matter-of-fact treatment of homosexuality among public school boys, the other part being Waugh’s scathing attack on the public school system.

If potential readers pick up this book all agog over boarding school romances, they shouldn’t hold their breath. I myself, being a fan of schoolboy romance, was sorely disappointed with – not to mention baffled by – the controversy, given the extreme brevity of the “infamous gay theme.” Then again, I’m a reader from the 21st century – hardened and liberal – who wouldn’t even blink at the sight of same-sex couples holding hands or kissing publicly, smack dab in the middle of downtown Berkeley.

As for the novel’s gay angle? Not only does it take place toward the end of the book, but it also covers a whopping half a chapter. Half a chapter. It resurfaces afterwards in – and, yes, I counted – two sentences total in reference to Gordon’s romantic friendship with Morcombe. To get there, one has to slog through several chapters of fascinating, humorous, and excruciatingly tedious accounts of Gordon Caruthers’ life in Fernhurst.

On the whole, the book is well-written – wonderfully so, given Waugh’s age when he worked on it for six weeks. In this case his perspective greatly helps the novel’s satiric edge, having enjoyed and loved his school years, only to have them taken away from him over something so natural as the development of a deeper friendship with another boy. As master after ineffectual master parade across the pages, nearly all of whom become victims to the students’ pranks, one can almost imagine Waugh in his army uniform, grinning insanely as he scribbles down his criticisms of the public school system.

Waugh’s writing style is strong and natural, vividly descriptive and certainly dripping with a sly sense of humor. It’s very easy to be taken in by his cheeky observations, but it can also be a tiresome exercise in redundancy.

In exploring Gordon Caruthers’ school experiences from the moment he sets foot in Fernhurst as a thirteen-year-old till he leaves at nineteen, Waugh indulges – too much, I think – in recounting moment after moment, term after term, year after year, ad infinitum. Classes, sports, dorm life, pranks, ragging, cribbing, quarrels with masters – while at first these provide readers with an interesting first-hand, detailed account of public school life, after several chapters of the same thing, one feels his energy tapped and his brain frozen. In fact, I found myself skimming through all the football and cricket matches because while they demonstrate Waugh’s love for the sports, they really add nothing much to the story other than to stoke Gordon’s determination to rise to the top by his final year in school.

The novel’s redeemed in its final quarter. It’s largely because Gordon grows up, and he’s exposed to things other than sports, and he stops almost all of the silliness he used to indulge in with his friends. He’s exposed to poetry and things that go well beyond the superficial reach of sports and other academic goals. He meets Ferrers, a new master who stirs the pot with his modernist ideas. He develops a romantic attachment with Morcombe though he doesn’t quite understand what it is. He begins to question so many things, and the veneer of superficial schoolboy triumphs grows dim.

Much of the impact of the final chapters centers on England going to war against Germany. All of a sudden, schoolfriends and many of the younger masters are dropping out in order to enlist in the army. School life is affected by the war, and paradise suffers a sharp tug back down to earth. There’s a strong, poignant, elegiac undercurrent that runs through the last part of the book, and when Gordon finally leaves Fernhurst, it becomes a bittersweet moment. I was moved so much by the final chapters that I had to skim through the first part of the novel to let things sink in. Waugh’s purpose becomes clear, and all one has to do is to set the first few chapters next to the final ones, and he can see how far Gordon has traveled in his development. Suddenly all those horrible, tedious moments of dragging oneself through chapter after chapter of similar scenes and interchangeable characters are forgiven and forgotten – for the most part, that is.

FINAL NOTE: The copy I have has strange misplaced periods, by the bye. They pop up here and there, often in the middle of sentences, which threw me off again and again. I don’t know if that’s a printing issue that’s specific only to my edition (2007 BiblioBazaar), but it’s worth a quick heads up.

Buy the book: Amazon, Amazon UK

Review: Maurice, directed by James Ivory

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Review by Hayden Thorne

FROM MERCHANT IVORY PRODUCTIONS:
The traditional bildungsroman, or novel of education, ends with a marriage. E.M. Forster’s Maurice (1914), the second of his novels to be adapted by Merchant Ivory, takes on a subject that no major novel in the genre had ever addressed: the problem of coming of age as a homosexual in a restrictive society. First published in 1971, after Forster’s death, and long neglected by critics, it is only recently (and largely since the release of the film adaptation) that critics have come to set Maurice in its unique place among “Reader, I married him” narratives. Starring James Wilby (Maurice) and Hugh Grant (Clive) as two Cambridge undergraduates who fall in love, the film is set amidst the hypocritical homoerotic subculture of the English university in Forster’s time. In an environment in which any reference to ” the unspeakable vice of the Greeks” is omitted, and any overture toward a physical relationship between men might be punishable by law, Maurice and Clive struggle to come to terms with their own feelings toward each other and toward a repressive society.

REVIEW:
The dichotomy of love – that of the idealized (intellectual/platonic) and the physical – is beautifully captured in Merchant and Ivory’s adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel, Maurice.

The film is made with a remarkably sharp eye for detail. England becomes a lush panorama that enriches every scene – the green, rolling countryside, the sprawling grandeur of Penge (or Pendersleigh in the movie), the grayness of rain-soaked London. We’re treated to the rich traditions that define university life in Cambridge, with young, aristocratic students sharply-dressed and immersed in their Greek translations or raucously celebrating athletic victories. The side characters are also used to paint a detailed picture of the mores of those times, both within social classes as well as between.

James Ivory takes his time in feeding us Maurice’s world, and the pace is luxuriously idle without turning dull. The cinematography is gorgeous, but it never distracts us from the characters and the story. One can say that Ivory turns England into a character in the movie, and in many ways, she is. She’s the hidden puppet-master who controls and dictates the tension within and between characters with her history, faith, and laws, and everyone’s powerless against her.

The acting is strong (though Kingsley seems a bit uncomfortable in his role as a hypnotist with an odd American accent) and effective in expressing the way turbulent yet natural emotions are confined by a rigid, intellectual veneer that very much defines the English upper-class. Unlike his counterpart in the novel, Clive is actually made into a more sympathetic character, with more believable reasons (compared to those in the novel) for choosing the path he takes. Hugh Grant, in one of his better performances, captures the fear, the despair, and the resignation that will shape Clive’s life for the rest of his days.

James Wilby fleshes out Maurice with great skill, moving from innocence to love to heartbreak to hope with a subtlety that’s alternately admirable and gut-wrenching. His portrayal certainly defies common – and bigoted – misconceptions of ineffectual softness or effeminacy as the defining character of a gay man – yes, even as a refined, upper-class gentleman. He’s athletic, well-built, and his scenes with Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves, who gives his role a cheeky roughness and vulnerability that makes one hope like heck that he’ll get his man in the end) show a nice blending of masculinity and deep emotion.

Unlike Clive, Alec is unpolished and unabashed in his expressions of love, constantly seeking Maurice’s companionship, which terrifies Maurice at first but eventually leads him to make a decision that’s both bittersweet and satisfying though largely improbable on another level. Given the social atmosphere of pre-World War I England, after all, class, no matter how much we wish it weren’t so, was a ruthless force in defining people’s behavior. Maurice, in fact, has shown himself to be a snob in several instances. The chances of a successful relationship with a social inferior are open to question. On the other hand, it’s the romance of a “what if?” situation that should be allowed the final word.

In a time and a place that were dominated by convention and the soul-deadening hypocrisy of the status quo, a slow and quiet stroll down the paths of improbability and romanticism sometimes make the best medicine.

The DVD contains several deleted scenes in a separate disc, one of them involving Maurice’s relationship with young Dickie Barry. It’s dismaying seeing those scenes taken out of the final theatrical release because Dickie’s presence marks another turning point in Maurice’s development. The boy inadvertently introduces Maurice to feelings of lust, which Maurice rather pathetically hopes to explore by dropping hints regarding his sleeping arrangements (just up the stairs from Dickie’s assigned room, thank you). Another deleted scene involves Lord Risley’s fate after his disgrace, which would have been an even more desperate call for Clive and Maurice to dive back into the closet. Yet another shows Clive (still a university student) showing signs of rebellion at home and dispensing his duties with a pretty cynical (even bitter) attitude. Here he gives his staff presents for Christmas, and had the scene been left in the movie’s final form, it would’ve given us our first glimpse of Alec Scudder.

Given the film’s length as it is, I can understand the need to excise those scenes, but it’s still unfortunate that we miss a few excellent – even significant – moments because of it. Thank the stars that they’re at least part of the final package for us to view again and again.

Buy the DVD: Amazon, Amazon UK

Review: No Apologies by J M Snyder

Donnie Novak and Jack Sterling have known each other forever. Growing up together in a small Midwestern town, they were best friends. After high school, they both enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the same time, and somehow were assigned to the same company before being stationed on the U.S.S. Oklahoma together. One night on leave, Donnie crosses an almost imperceptible line between friendship and something more. A stolen kiss threatens to ruin what Donnie and Jack have built up together all these years, and the next morning, he can’t apologize enough. But a squadron of Japanese bombers has their sights trained on Pearl Harbor’s Battleship Row, and in the early hours of December 7, 1941, Donnie might not get a chance to set things right.

Review by Erastes

This is a short story, really – at just over 11,000 words, but thoroughly enjoyable too. It starts punchily and in a cinematic style, the two friends out with the rest of the shore leave sailors. Most of them getting drunk and getting off with the local women. Donnie isn’t, he’s too busy trying not to touch Jack and stare at Jack.  In fact the writing is quite cinematic all the way through – I really got a sense of the drunken band of friends, sticky cocktails and a warm Honalulu night.  Later we are “treated” to the terror of what happens during the raid and a very real feeling predicament for the two friends.

It could have been over-sentimental, but it wasn’t, which was right for the story being told – and sadly for our boys they didn’t get an opportunity to get each other’s kit off either, but that was right too, seeing as to what was happening!  I’m quite sure that they managed some “sack time” with each other at some point, even if I did feel a little sad to thinkwhat they were just about to get into, and hoped that they would survive to gettogether somewhere and somehow.

Well written and nicely described, from sailors in thin white cotton to the mess-deck breakfast I was thoroughly convinced and well worth$2.49 of anyone’s money.

Buy from Fictionwise 

Historical Novel call for submissions(!!)

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Many thanks to Sedonia Guillone for pointing this out, and to Alex Beecroft for the graphic.

Can you believe it?  I’m amazed – and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

HISTORICAL NOVEL SUBMISSION CALL

Historically-based Single Author Erotic Novel or Anthology

Deadline: December 30, 2008

STARbooks Press is looking for an historically-based single author novel or anthology to fill out our 2009-2010 catalog season. Choose a time period and a specific place or event to base your novel or anthology. If you choose to write an anthology, all the stories and characters should tie in together throughout the book. Give the reader a reason to continue reading!

When you choose your time period, be sure to do your research and be knowledgeable about that period in history. Be serious about your work as this is not just about the sex, but the historical themes as well. We have an editor who is a former history teacher, and submissions will be scrutinized to be sure they are not only erotic but accurate!

If you would like to see an example of what we seek, check out Erotic Tales of the Knights Templar by Jay Starre and published by STARbooks Press. Not only is this book historically accurate, the characters are well-developed, the theme is carried throughout the book as the stories are tied in together, and the sex is hot.

Guidelines:
Submit your query to submissions@starbookspress.com and YOU MUST include the following:
– In the body of the email, include a brief summary of your book and your publishing history/bio.
– Include the first few chapters of your book as an attachment.

If your query is accepted, a STARbooks Press editor will be in contact with you about submitting the complete work. Be sure your manuscript has been proofed and edited; we do not accept single author titles that require extensive editing.

Sloppy or poorly written manuscripts will NOT be considered, replied to, or acknowledged!

We expect submissions to be fully edited and ready for press.

For more information: www.starbookspress.com

It’s about time, eh? 

Review: Honor Bound by Wheeler Scott

 

from the blurb: Christian has just come home to England, leaving his commission in the Army, so he can do his duty by the family now that his brother, the heir, is dead. Prodded by his crusty dowager of a grandmother, he sets out to find a wife and produce heirs. He thinks he’s done well for himself when he meets a wonderful young lady, someone he feels might help him forget Jamie, his fellow soldier and wartime love affair. Then Jamie turns up right under his nose, and Christian is faced with some hard choices as he has to decide how honor is best served. This traditional gay Regency proves that sometimes the ties that bind go beyond blood, and that even a man bound by honor might give up everything for love.

Review by Erastes

“Traditional Gay Regency” this ain’t. It couldn’t be further from one, and what is one of those, anyway? There’s only about ten or so in existence, to my knowledge.

I have to say that I came away feeling severely conflicted about this book. It seemed to want to conspire to make me dislike it and yet I finished with a feeling that I didn’t, overall. 

Firstly it’s in a very tight third person present tense, and I really don’t like the present tense for novels. It can work well in sections, and it can work brilliantly for short stories, but I find it very wearing for long pieces and there are some things that, when expressed in present tense, become clumsy and lose their impact.

Secondly it doesn’t have a depth of the time it portrays, and that’s partly due to the style of the writing (which I’ll come to later).  I found that with a little experimentation, I could switch “Peninsular war” for “Gulf War” and I wouldn’t have noticed the join much.  This is shored up by the modern feel of the writing and by the informality the characters show with each other.  The heroine “Danielle” (and I baulked right here, seeing as how she’d have been born in an age where the French were seen as murderous rabble – and would any parent give their daughter a French name?) insists that Christian calls her – wait for it - Dani. And yes, with that spelling. I was waiting for her sisters Brandi, Buffy and Britney at one point.  Now, while I’m happy to consider that Christian may have given into a strong willed girl who insisted on such informality in private (and they are in private far far too often) she would be and should be Miss Fields in public right up until the time their engagement is announced.

There are other infuriating anachronisms too, such as the time when Dani and family arrive at Christian’s mansion for a weekend and Dani’s maid has to lug “several trunks” up the same stairs that Dani is climbing with Christian. This is silly enough as 1. one trunk is heavy enough let alone several, 2. guests luggage and their servants would be round the BACK of the house, not being seen but then Dani and Christian go to assist the maid which had me beating my head on the desk.

However.

The writing borders on wonderful at points, and while it didn’t really suit the time and the subject, it was so impressive at times that I could almost forgive the errors.  It very much reads like a man suffering from PTSD, which I could very much believe he was, and that’s a neat twist on a Peninsular War soldier.

Here’s an example:

The first thing he does is look around, frantically searching, eyes tearing from the smoke that still hangs thick and heavy over what is left of the field they fought on. Nothing. He’s looking again, alarm thumping in his chest, when he realizes his shoulder hurts, a sharp stabbing pain.

His fingers come away stained damp and dark but when he presses into the wound again, harder, he feels its edges and realizes it’s nothing but a sharp gash, not even down to the bone. He starts walking, ignoring the sounds his feet make as they travel across the ground. There was a period, in the beginning, when he cared where he walked and rode, thought about what might be underneath him. He doesn’t anymore.

Death has passed from wrenching into the familiar, and he feels more of a jolt when they pass through towns where children still play, stunned by the sight of someone who feels free and safe out in the open.

The story runs with two seperate narratives, the present – where Christian goes home to try and do what his family want – and the recent past which explains his relationship with Jamie. Perhaps using two different tenses would have worked better in each seperate narrative, but they are both in present tense which is a little wearing and confusing.  It is muddied yet further by a further-back flashback which does slide into past tense.

Christian is suitably conflicted, if a little too angsty for my taste and towards the end I was a little fed up with his internal whining. The decision that he finally makes actually pleased me because although shocking to his family no doubt, was probably something that did happen, even in the best families.

It’s not an erotic love-story, for those of you who seek out this kind of thing, sex is inferred and full of imagery rather than description.

So, I would say, read it and make up your own mind.  I hadn’t heard of this author before, but I would (particularly if it was a modern story) try another of their works.  I can’t mark it higher than I have for the reasons that jarred me, but without the wonderful passages it would have got two stars.

Buy from Fictionwise

Review: The Journeyer by J.P. Bowie

Edited blurb: In the year 1746, after the armies of the Scottish Highlands rebelling against the King of England were at last defeated at the Battle of Culloden, the English government began a vicious campaign of punishment and humiliation against the people of Scotland.  Jamie MacDonald, a young Scot mourning the deaths of his father and brothers in the massacre, and his mother embark on a dangerous journey to find a better life in the New World. But tragedy and unforeseen circumstance dog Jamie’s path and he finds himself pressed into service aboard a pirate ship commanded by a ruthless Spaniard-a man with a past as dark as any on the wrong side of the law, but with an allure Jamie cannot resist. When he finally reaches the New World, Jamie is a changed man-one whose innocence has been replaced with a keen sense of self-preservation and a determination to survive-no matter what. Fighting to endure in the wilderness, he believes he has found his destiny as his life becomes irrevocably entwined with a Choctaw warrior-shaman-a man who had a vision of Jamie’s coming. Together they fight the elements and those who seek to destroy them.

Review(with some spoilers) by Erastes

This book was the book that I thought “Brethren Raised by Wolves” was going to be. It’s an adventure story, and a damned good one.  This is no story of an innocent lad with wide open eyes who is taken by surprise by life; to me this reads like a true “journey” of a boy who quickly learns the harshness of his lot and the injustices of his world and strikes out to find new ways of living – only to find that life isn’t that much different, wherever you might go.

It’s not so much “coming of age” but the first stage in a life which could probably fill books, as this really only deals with a surprising small number of years in Jamie’s life.  If you like frontier stories or pirate stories you’ll like this as it has enough of both to satisfy.

I had a few moments, right at the beginning that challenged me and made me worry if I was going to like the book as a whole: One being the fact that Jamie MacDonald made no secret of his identity after fleeing the Highlands.  My knowledge (to my shame) of the post Culloden months is based almost solely on “Kidnapped” but I remember that people kept the fact that they were highlanders secret, and to mention a name like MacDonald would have been like tossing a cinder into a powderkeg – I didn’t find it realistic that he was bandying his name around, even in London, let alone in Scotland as he attempted to flee.

On a much more minor point I also shied at the fact that – when through circumstances he is forced not to take the boat to America that he has spent all of his money on – he didn’t attempt to try and sell his tickets on, despite the fact that there was a desperate queue of people attempting to leave the country.  It seemed a rather contrived way of beggaring him, when there were easier and more convincing ways to do it.  I also have to say, and I don’t like to – is that he struck me as just a little bit of a Gary Stu; everything he does, he tends to do really well. He rides well, he learns to sail, he fights incredibly well, everyone (well, to be honest, nearly everyone) he comes across takes to him, and a lot of people who didn’t like him to start with grow to like him.

But – and for me this is a big but, when the story got going it was nothing more or less than a page turner, and a grand adventure that put the wind of the Atlantic into my hair and made me remember the days of my youth when I wanted nothing more than to wear a deerskin breechclout and to run, unseen, to fight the white man.  The story moves along at a cracking pace, whilst never losing characterisation or romance development.

And yes, there is romance here.  We are given a hint of it right at the beginning, and then Bowie goes and veers off course and surprises the reader by giving Jamie a love interest that even he wasn’t expecting and one that he doesn’t even want to accept.

I liked Antonio a lot, and I appreciated the way that Bowie made us follow Jamie’s thought processes – and we fell in love with Antonio in the same way and for the same reasons, but it was fairly obvious to me that there was going to be something that ended this idyll on the sea and I won’t spoil you for what it is.

It is when Jamie comes to the New World that you get the sense that he’s a man – I enjoyed his time here a great deal. It was everything “Last of the Mohicans” should have been for me, a great love, loads of action and plenty of hot man-lovin’.

A word about the romance scenes, though – because I know some of you require hotter scenes than others – the sex is very subtle. It’s more about “he could feel his excitement” and “they spent their passion” than anything throbbing or spurting, but that was fine with me.  It was the plot that interested me far more than the anatomical details. I find it interesting that some male writers are writing what are more traditional “romance” scenes (Pierce, Virga, Bowie to name a few) and the majority of women seem to write them a lot more graphically.

Aside from the minor quibbles at the beginning of the book, I have to say – that like Lee Rowan’s, or Alex Beecroft’s books, even though I wasn’t at all au fait with the Jacobite period it was clear to me that Bowie had done a good bit of research and I was able to relax and enjoy the book for what it was.  If there are errors within it that an historian could point out, then that’s fine – there weren’t glaring and that’s a plus for me. I felt like I was in a safe pair of hands and I could wallow in the adventure, string my arrow to my bow and hunt the white-man while protecting my tribe. The ending kicked me in the stomach, too, so be warned.

May I further add that it’s self-published by iUniverse and the editing is pretty damned good. I hope that as the genre gain popularity that this book is picked up by a mainstream publisher because it’s one that deserves to sit on any historical fiction shelf.

Definitely a recommendation, and I’ll seek out his other historical, the Roman “Slaves to Love” soon.

Author’s website

Buy Amazon UK Amazon USA

Author Interview with Max Pierce

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This time we are joined by Max Pierce, journalist and author of Gothic gay romance “Master of Seacliff “

SiN: Welcome to Speak Its Name, Max, it’s good to have you here, can you tell the readers who might not have visited your website a little bit about you?

Max Pierce: Thank you, Erastes and a big Texas ‘hi y’all’ to the gang at Speak Its Name. Frankly, I lost my Texas accent years ago, but my soul remains there…much like Scarlett and her need to get back to Tara on occasion.

To set the scene, it’s a late Saturday evening here at the base of the Hollywood Hills, where I’ve lived for the past decade. The famous ‘Hollywood’ sign and the Griffith Park Observatory are visible from my balcony which runs the length of my apartment; about 55 feet. As for me, I’m seated at my writing desk, a 1950′s office acquisition about 6 feet long and crammed with paper, with candles burning and classical music on the radio. I’m enjoying a double Dewar’s and water. However, I am not chomping on one of my cigars…I reserve that for the balcony…and in California terms, it’s freezing; about 54 degrees so I’m nice and cozy inside. I’ve grown my beard for the winter, sorry no picture of that, but its as bushy as my moustache…alas much greyer.

SiN: You’ve obviously got writing in your soul, what with the journalism and everything – what made you make the jump to short stories and novels?

MP: I’ve always considered myself a writer….I come from a long line of storytellers. For me, short stories and novels were just a natural progression of development but journalism remains dear to me. I always felt a calling to give a voice to those who could not. More on that later. However, I still pick up a copy of SEACLIFF and wonder how in the hell I did it…and how am I going to do it again?

To start way back…I began reading at age 2, somewhat of a child prodigy my family maintains. Being a spoiled only child, for my 4th birthday I was given a color console television set…keep in mind only a few shows broadcast in color at the point, and there were only about 6 channels to watch, and it was an excellent babysitter for a lonely boy who knew he was different, and surrounded by adults.

Around age 7, I ‘began’ my first book, a shameless rip-off of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘Little House’ series, updated to 1970 and relocated to California. The need for California has been in my blood from an early age. My mother was an avid movie buff and loved to tell me all the old legends of Hollywood. We both used it as an escape from our by turn dramatic or dreary lives in and around Dallas. Mama made Hollywood sound so magical I made up my mind that I’d live there. Of the many obstacles I’ve overcome, getting to Los Angeles remains one of my proudest achievements and I remind myself to say a prayer of thanks everyday for being here.

SiN: What’s your publishing story? Continue reading

Review: Longhorns by Victor J Banis

 

Review by Erastes

From the blurb: The Double H cowboys are a tough bunch, and none of them are gay – exactly- but they have been out there on the prairie for several weeks, herding cattle, and new thoughts have begun to enter their minds. Enter Buck, a handsome young drifter with a silly grin, an unembarrassed penchant for being “rode hard,” and an instant hankering for Les

Well, howdy pardner, git yer six shooters, put on yer spurs, mount yer pinto, and meet me out on the plains because this here is classic and familiar manly territory, the land of the cowpuncher, the lassoo, the round-up and the stampede. Where men are men, a horse is a cowboy’s best friend, and  cows are nervous substitutes for da ladeez.

Um.

Except not. This is grand ole pulp and enjoyable as the rodeo ride is where the wind comes racing down the wossit – it doesn’t convince as accurate history.

Buck is a newcomer to Les’ round-up gang (yee hah) and is cheeky and sex-mad and determined to get laid by just about anyone.  He forms a fuck-buddy relationship early on, but his eyes and soon his heart is taken by the seemingly straight as an arrow Les, so he pesters Les to have his wicked way with him.

Pesters sums it up, too – as I did find him a pest, to be frank. If I’d have been Les I’d have sacked him (however good he was on a horse) or beaten him up, sharpish. He does the latter later on, and I’m afraid I actually cheered. 

It was unconvincing to me because I couldn’t get over the OKHomo. There’s this band of hard-ridin’, rootin’, tootin’ hombres in the prairie and they don’t bat an eyelid at this overtly queer cowboy who makes absolutely no secret about what he wants.  Not only are they all OK with it, but most of them are at it too. 

I don’t doubt that some did, but all of them?  Banis lost an opportunity for conflict here, as I’d much have preferred a realistic situation where at least some of them were violently antagonistic instead of taking bets on when Buck and Les get together. I hate to bring bi-sexual shepherds into this, but even in the 60′s this was a serious problem. I don’t want unremitting homophobia in my books, or angst angst angst either, but I do think that ignoring the fact that it could be dangerous to admit you were gay denigrates the genre.  Imagine what people would say if someone wrote a historical novel where everyone in, say, 18th century Alabama, married black people without even a second thought.

The anachronisms jarred me too – I know that a lot of people don’t care about this, but this is the blog relating to gay Historical fiction, and so I’m obliged to comment. Blowjob is an English Polari term not coined until the mid-20th century, boner is 20th century, Stetsons weren’t called that officially until the turn of the century, and so on and on.

However – putting all that aside, and if you treat this parallel to , say, an early John Ford movie – it’s as enjoyable as Stagecoach, and about as accurate. It’s a fun raunchy ride, but it didn’t do anything much for me, I’m afraid.  I’m more an “Unforgiven” kind of reader, and less “Young Guns.”

Buy:  ADL online    Amazon USA

Review: Cinnamon Gardens by Shyam Selvadurai

From the blurb: …Cinnamon Gardens is a residential enclave of wealthy Ceylonese. Among them is Annalukshmi, an independent and high-spirited young teacher intent on thwarting her parents’ plans to arrange her marriage. In a parallel narrative, her uncle, Balendran Navaratnam, respectably married but secretly homosexual, has his life disrupted by the arrival in Ceylon of Richard, a lover from long ago.

Review by Erastes

I found this a fascinating read, partly because I had only just finished Burmese Days” by George Orwell and the parallels are easy to see, even though it was obvious that they come from completely different directions. Both books deal with the English Raj – one in Burma, one in Ceylon – but one is written from the point of view of the priviledged and ruling whites, whilst Cinnamon Gardens is written from the point of the view of the privileged native population of Ceylon.

I knew next to nothing about Ceylon (this is set in the late 1920′s) and the insight that Selvadurai gives is like looking through a plate glass window into a world that none of us will ever know – like Mitchell’s land of knights and ladies, this is a another culture that is gone with the wind. However, although the blurb went on to say that it was a world where no-one can breathe freely, I didn’t really get an overwhelming sense of that, I was never really convinced that any of the characters (save for Belandran whose “face” is tremendous against the weight of love, responsibility, duty and family) were crushed and overwhelmed by position, caste or race. Not even the orthodox wives.

It seems from what I learned along the journey that the wealthy Ceylon of this time (for you don’t see the poverty in this book, the POV is purely from two rich people) were more racially integrated than I had seen in books dealing with other Asian countries; they intermarried with whites, and set themselves up as English, becoming Christian in many cases and changing their names to English names. In some instances the characters are related – and are seemingly accepted by- English aristocracy. Belandran’s wife visits a titled relative in England at one point.

After having read Burmese Days where the middle class whites consider the Burmans to be nothing but “niggers” this came as a surprise. I don’t doubt the author’s research – the afterword stated that he’d spent a year in Sri Lanka researching the book, and he was a native of the country, only leaving when he was 19. It was just a little surprising, that’s all.

What struck me was the complete LACK of the perception of colour and the barriers that it must, surely have made, in the book itself. Annalukshimi is a a school mistress under a headmistress called Miss Lawton, but you can’t assume that Miss Lawton is white – you only find that out later on, when Annalukshimi realises that her ambition to teach will be limited to the colour of her skin, no matter that Miss Lawton is helping to raise the education of girls in the Country. There’s Miss Lawton’s ward – Nancy – who I assume was white but turned out not to be. Because of the English names of a lot of the Ceylonese, it continued to be difficult to tell who was white and who was not. I was simply surprised that it did not seem to matter as much as it did in Burmese Days and other colonial books such as Passage to India and Jewel in the Crown

I was determined not to like Balendran because he had left behind his lover in England and “done the right thing”, followed his father’s dictates and had come back to Ceylon and married. But somehow he softened my resistance, and I couldn’t help, by the time the inevitable bitter sweet ending rolled around, to love him deeply for he had managed to make some kind of peace with himself in spite of all the obstacles he faced. His relationship with Richard was infinitely touching and there’s a moment in the hearing scene where I completely melted.

However, there was a niggling feeling that the characters held a little too much modern sensibility. One of the messages in the book (if I’m reading it right) was to show how Ceylon was taking its first steps to self rule and how the generational shift and education of its young people was helping that along, but it was slightly blurred for me that the young people did as they liked anyway and no-one seemed to care all that much.

The writing is fine – not (in my opinion, obviously) a masterpiece, but deftly done. There was, at times, a little TOO much description of saris and furniture and rooms and I had a Dan Brown flashback and felt that the author was so very intent on painting this world for the reader that he went a little too far.

The politics behind the whole regime change is interesting and detailed, although, again, there were a few times where I felt the the author was info dumping and it was refreshing when several of the characters were showing no interest in the politics, which felt very real to me. One of them even criticises Ghandi!

However, that being said – I do recommend it. It’s absorbing and I don’t think you’ll be able to put it down once started. The characters stayed with me, and more than anything I’d like to sit down with the author and talk to him about it, and I haven’t wanted to do that for a while. Perhaps it’s a bit too short, or perhaps it’s the niggling modernism of the characters but I came away having enjoyed being in Cinnamon Gardens but ultimately a little unsatisfied.

Buy Amazon UK Amazon USA

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