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

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