Review: A Gift of Ash and Frost by Chrissy Munder

When new residents come to the Grange, Mathias applies for a job at the house and is hired on at the housekeeper’s request for the Christmas season. He finds there a temptation of the body and heart in the form of the house’s master, one that he is ill-equipped to handle or resist … not that he has the desire to do so.

(10,000 words-ebook)

Review by Erastes

This was one of the Advent Calendar stories from Dreamspinner Press, a new story each day, and all set around the winter holiday season. It’s set a few years after 1812, approximately.

I found myself a little confused, as the author weaves a little too much into the first few pages, Mathias is a bastard but he has a recently deceased father, so it appears his parents weren’t married. His mother is a whore, but it’s unclear what role his father played there.There’s inconsistencies–there’s a small staff for the house, we are told, but then we are told that Mathias gets a room to himself because the staff bedrooms are all full up.

It does improve, and once Mathias starts working in the house I found myself reading more fluidly without being jolted, but I’m afraid the characters never really appealed to me, and I wasn’t touched by Mathias’ ‘tragic’ past because he did tend to whine about it. He’s a big strong lad and his mother is whoring to support the family.  I lost my affection for him early on.

The romance element is somewhat sidelined as the author flicks back to more description of the house and tasks than are actually needed. This approach would work better within a full-sized novel, but with a book of 40 or so pages, there needs to be more than two short meetings to convince me of attraction and love on both sides. I think that’s part of the problem, that the premise that is carefully layered, and the subplots put in place as the book progresses are larger than this–a short story–can cope with, and even at the end I couldn’t believe in the  happy ending, as Edward–Mathias’ love interest–didn’t really show that much interest before the last few pages.

Sad to say, that I have to add that it’s not at all well edited. I wanted to sprinkle comma dust over the book as a whole. Several of the run on sentences were almost impossible to decipher due to this lack, missing words confuse further and tenses change without need. It’s a shame, because what is there isn’t that bad, the ideas are good, if ambitious for the size of the book, and the prose could have really sparkled if the editor had done their job.

Author’s website

Buy from Dreamspinner

Review: Loving my Lady by Penelope Friday(f/f)

When her father dies, Cordelia Brownlow’s future looks bleak. She has no money and must sell Ashworth, the family house, in order to pay the debts of honor that her father ran up. The offer her cousin, Lady Dennyson, makes to buy Ashworth and keep Cordelia on as a companion seems like the answer to her prayers. But Lady Juliet Dennyson has an unusual idea of the duties (and pleasures) of a ‘companion’, and Cordelia finds herself falling in love with the lady who shows her delights of the body she’s never imagined.

Lady Juliet has secrets in her past and they threaten to spill over into the present, destroying her relationship with Cordelia. Can Lady Juliet learn to live with her past – and can Cordelia accept it, too?

Review by Kalita Kasar

Set in Regency England, the story reads like the journal of a genteel lady fallen upon hard times after the death of her father. Forced to sell the ancestral home, Ashworth, to cover debts left by her deceased parent, Cordelia looks set to be cast upon the streets. Then fate intervenes in the form of a widowed relative who wishes to buy the house, with one stipulation. Cordelia must come with the house and remain as the new owner’s companion.

Expecting to greet an elderly dowager, Cordelia is taken by surprise, and utterly smitten by the arrival of a young and quite beautiful cousin by marriage, Lady Juliet Dennyson.

Juliet is beautiful, and as a rich widow, highly sought after on the marriage market, but her heart in relation to men is quite cold. The one love of her life having been her late husband, she now toys with the affections of men, and teaches Cordelia to do likewise. At the same time she schools her companion in the ways of love between women.

I found myself simultaneously spellbound by the writing and disappointed at how many elements the author brushed over without fully developing them. I felt that there was enough content here to fill out a novel had the scenes been expanded upon and it left me wanting something that was never quite delivered. The tone and voice of the writing is appropriate to its setting given that the narrative is first person.

This is the debut GLBT novella of a newcomer to the gay-historical scene and if this is an example of what Ms Friday can do, then I sincerely hope that she will stay around and write many more stories.

ebook: 48 pages / 19000 words
Available file types – html. lit, pdf, prc
Author’s website

Buy from Torquere Press

Review: Inkman’s Work by Steve Berman

Young Radford never thought he’d end up a pirate. Shanghai’d, he finds himself cursing the company he kept onboard the Alecto.

Wounded during a raid against a Dutch vessel, Radford is marooned on an island with a mysterious French tattoo artist referred by pirates as the Inkman. Can this man, wise in ways of the heart as well as the flesh, find the means to heal all that ails a lonely Radford?

Review by Erastes

Secretive Steve!  I had no idea that he’d written a gay historical, and only found it because Elisa Rolle showcased it on her blog. It was a very pleasant surprise as I like Steve’s writing a lot.

This didn’t disappoint. It’s a little jewel of a story–no set time mentioned, but there are pirates so we can assume 17th century or thereabouts, but really it doesn’t matter. It’s the story of Radford, who was kidnapped in Cornwall by a drinking companion and pressed aboard ship. His ship gets into a fight with the Dutch and he’s wounded. The Captain doesn’t want to take him any further–convinced he’ll die–so he leaves him on an island with “Inkman” an enigmatic tattoo artist.

It’s hard to do a review on such a short story without spoiling, so this will be a short review!  In such a little tale, Berman manages to write several believable characters, some intriguing backstory, and a deeply erotic, but not graphic sexual encounter. Oh and an ending that leaves you panting for more.  My favourite character is the Inkman, and I for one had itchy fingers at the end of it it wanting to write fanfic about him. Bravo and Yo ho ho!

Author’s website

Buy from allromanceebooks

Review: Artist’s Model by Z A Maxfield

From the anthology “Artistically Yours” published by Torquere Press

Emile Laurent had a child’s fascination for artist Auguste Fournier. Now a grown man, he pursues Fournier with a passion born of worship. Fournier has denied his nature for the whole of his life. Paralyzed with fear, he rejects Emile’s advances, even in the face of desire that threatens to consume them both.

Review by Erastes

The old adage is “write a good beginning” and Maxfield does this; for me it was an irresistable beginning.

My first glimpse of Fournier, the man he was before he became the legendary artist, came when I was but six years old. He was so striking then, even more so than later, his countenance too beautiful to take in at once. He sat at the table on the balcony of our flat and smoked, laughing with my father while my mother filled his glass. I could only watch from inside the tiny drawing room as I was relegated to writing my name, Emile, over and over again until my hand shook with the effort.

That day, my stern-faced nurse had eyes that shifted, like mine, to the window where Fournier brushed his loose golden hair with a casual hand. He was so fascinating to me then, wearing smoked-glass spectacles that hid his eyes. I should have had his image in my head forever, even had I never seen him again, but when I did, the shock came to me that I had loved him all that time. All that time.

It certainly hooked me, and that’s the main point!

It starts as a charming read, the interplay between Fournier and Emile warmed my heart and it read in a very realistic way, I thoroughly believed that it was a conversation between a 40 year old man and a love-struck teenager, but when the relationship suddenly takes a turn I was thrown in the best kind of way–for the ingenue was suddenly in charge and the older man was helpless, floundering to fight his nature and everything he wants.

The prose great throughout but at times is heartstoppingly good–I found myself holding my breath, gripping the edge of the desk because the breathless desperation of the characters poured out of the page.

He leaned in to kiss me, gentle and promising, his lips tender and passionate. His face held a terrible beauty, a kind of mad light that I at once recognized and responded to.

It really paints the tale of a man who has fought his nature, found nothing but loss and despair in his homosexuality, and that mad, fluttering joy of someone who has wanted something all his life, and then gets it.

As I often find when I read a short story that touches me like this, I find myself wish for the novel that it never became, in so few pages, Maxfield spreads unknown backstory to intrigues us–the friendship between Fournier and Emile’s parents, and Fournier’s vow not to succumb to the desires he feels, Emile’s upbringing and everything inbetween. It would have made a wonderful novel and I hope that the author will attempt it–or another historical one day.

I haven’t read Ms Maxfield’s work before, because up to now she’s written contemporaries, but if this is the standard she writes at, then she deserves to call the likes of Andre Aciman her peers. So yes – put me at the head of the queue if she ever writes another historical.

Author’s website

Buy at Torquere Press

chauncey-gay-new-york31

Review: Bound by Deception by Ava March

Lord Oliver Marsden has a secret. He’s been in love with his childhood friend for years, to have one night with Lord Vincent he masquerades as a whore at Vincent’s favoured brothel. When Oliver arrives at the bedchamber, he’s in for another surprise. Restraints and a leather bullwhip? Apparently Vincent isn’t as conservative as he appears.

How will Oliver reveal himself to his friend without losing his respect?

Review by Erastes

Rather more a longish short story than a novella, despite it being about 80 pages long, this is definitely an erotic story, so those looking for a very VERY hot ride will like this a lot. It certainly made me warm in places that make me happy!

As the blurb suggests, Lord Oliver uses a ruse to get his friend Lord Vincent (more on the lords later) to shag him, and relies on the Lois Lane Blindspot™ which involves a dodgy accent, a dimly lit room and the removal of his spectacles to get Lord Vincent not to recognise him. The sex that ensues is BDSM but not so much to make you squirm uncomfortably, (my threshold for BDSM is pretty low, and I enjoyed it) and is excellently written, if a little predictable, and hot as hell.

The remainder of the story deals with how Oliver and Vincent act immediately afterwards, how they feel about those feelings and what they do to resolve the situation.

I have to say that I would have liked something a bit more meaty, plot-wise. There was a lot of possibility, father issues, gambling addictions, one of the characters was living on his uppers, the other was rolling in money–there was plenty that could have made a full sized novel, or at the very least a 40 or 50K word novella, so I was a little disappointed with the substance of the thing which was little more than sex-a little characterisation-sex.  That being said, however, I’ve read many books which are all sex and linked thinly by a balsa-light plot, and this–for some reason–seems heads and shoulders about that.  I think it’s the power of the characterisation, the POVs are deep and convincing, both in the bedroom and out of it and I found myself liking both main characters for different reasons and wished them well.

There were a few anachronisms here and there, such as “drawers” “precum” and “fluffy towels” and other small things.  I know that 90 percent of readers aren’t going to know or care about this sort of thing (what lunatic is going to know the history of towels after all, apart from another writer who has been there done that) but it’s likely to throw some readers off stride. The trouble is, of course, is that smaller publishers don’t have specialist editors–so there’s no real cure to this, but I would stress that American authors should move heaven and earth to get a Brit Picker. Meat is hung. A man is hanged!

But as I say, it’s a small nitpick, and I was impressed both by the writing, and the research that the writer had obviously done. It’s evident when an author has tried hard, as in this case, and when they’ve done the bare minimum or simply haven’t bothered at all.

Lovers of hot erotica will enjoy this a lot, and I’ll be watching eagerly for Ms March’s next work.

Author’s Website

Purchase from Loose-ID

Preditors and Editors Poll

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Once again, some kind person has nominated our little review site over at Preditors and Editors yearly round up poll.

So, if you’ve enjoyed the site and the reviews, please pop over to the site and vote for us!

http://www.critters.org/predpoll/reviewsite.shtml

Review: The Secret Tunnel by James Lear

Handsome, muscular Edward “Mitch” Mitchell is back in this steamy send-up of Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express, traveling from Edinburgh to London for a reunion with his ex, “Boy” Morgan. All aboard the Flying Scotsman for a ride that’s anything but smooth, as Mitch discovers his fellow travelers include Belgian power bottom Bertrand, sleazy starlet Daisy Athenasy and her butch publicist, Peter Dickinson. Add to the recipe a group of kilt-wearing soldiers, some very accommodating railway workers and a dead body tumbling out of the toilet, ant you have a magical mix of comedy, mystery and non-stop sex.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

The time: Winter 1928. The place: Aboard the Flying Scotsman as Edward “Mitch” Mitchell makes his way from Edinburgh to London to attend the christening of Harry “Boy” Morgan’s firstborn child, a daughter, for whom Mitch is to be the godfather. The events: murder, madcap mayhem, amateur sleuthing, silliness, and sex. Lots and lots of sex.

And that, in a nutshell, is The Secret Tunnel. It is not exactly a sequel to The Back Passage, but author Lear does bring back two characters, Mitch and Boy, and introduces a whole cast of colorful newcomers, including Bertrand Damseaux, who is supposed to vaguely remind readers of Hercule Poirot, just like The Flying Scotsman is supposed to remind us of The Orient Express. In other words, Lear uses lots of references to classic mysteries to set the mood.

When the story opens, we learn that Mitch has graduated from Cambridge and is now living in Edinburgh with his lover, Vince, and is in the final stages of completing his medical training. Mitch purports to be deeply in love with Vince, but that doesn’t stop him from having lustful thoughts about Boy Morgan, train conductors, porters, and lords, all before he is barely 18 steps away from his front door. Events have conspired so that Vince is unable to accompany Mitch on his journey; at first, Mitch is annoyed but being an optimistic sort, he remembers the adage, “Out of sight, out of mind,” and decides that having fun on his trip will be his number one objective.

He doesn’t waste any time, getting friendly with Arthur the porter, the mean train conductor, and the aforementioned Bertrand; then all of a sudden, Zut, alors! A body shows up in the first-class lavatory. Mitch is thrilled. Now, he gets to play Sherlock Holmes, Jr., too — his favorite hobby, second only to sexual activity in all its forms.

As a sleuth, Mitch’s primary detective tool seems to be his tool, which he uses to get men to open their mouths – and various other bodily crevices – to spill the beans. He isn’t terribly discriminating: even men who don’t have beans to spill get the treatment. At about the halfway point of the book, the story gets confusing. Why exactly is Mitch having sex with this guy? What exactly is he hoping to learn? Who is this guy, anyway?

The sex, fun as it is, becomes formulaic. I almost felt like the author had a checklist at his side to make sure every possible fantasy and fetish was covered. Sex with a man in uniform? Check. Sex with a man (or two) in a kilt? Check. Sex with lots of men at once? Check. Sex with Mitch tied up? Check. Sex with Mitch tied up and drugged? Check. You get the point.

I only kept reading because Lear is a good writer. The story is funny and fast and the writing is humorous, although the plot is totally implausible to the point of being preposterous. I got swept along in the current and kept flipping the pages, even if by the end I was flipping the pages to the point that I was mostly just skimming the words.

I read this back-to-back with The Back Passage and maybe that was a mistake because I kept comparing the two. The writing wasn’t any different and I don’t think the sex was any different either – but Mitch as a character was, and that was unsettling for me. In The Back Passage he was a college student visiting an English country estate for a holiday weekend (which happened to include finding a body in a closet). In The Secret Tunnel, school days are over and Mitch is supposed to be settling down to a career and a life with his beloved life partner. Boy, too, is married and a father and that gives Mitch momentary pause – but only momentary before he thinks about what he wants to do (and eventually does) with his former lover and friend. While I didn’t expect Mitch to become totally monogamous to the point of being a prude, his promiscuity with wild abandon was a tad too far to the other extreme for me to be totally comfortable with – especially since Mitch himself had some ambivalence about what he was doing.

Even more unsettling is the fact that Mitch realizes that what he likes best – to have sex with men – is an illegal activity. It comes up at the beginning: Mitch and Vince wear pajamas because they worry that the landlady might walk in and the sight of two naked men sleeping together could be grounds to call the police. Huh? That’s not the only instance. Mitch worries about drawn blinds, overheard cries of passion, and visible erections, any of which might have him hauled off to the clink and hung as a sodomite (never mind that the last time a sodomite was hung in England was 1835). Since the story is totally absurd, anyway, this slice of reality was intrusive and jarring and I am not sure it added to the narrative.

Would I recommend this book? It depends on what you want to read. I know many who consider Lear’s works to be “one handed novels” and if what you want is well written soft-core gay porn, it certainly fills the bill. On the other hand (excuse the pun!), if you are looking for a well written historical fiction story with a homoerotic subplot, I can think of many others I would suggest before this. While I am glad I discovered Lear as an author and I certainly enjoy Mitch as a character, I am not chomping at the bit for the third installment of this series, if one is planned.

Author’s website

Published by Cleis Press, Inc., publication date October 2008

ISBN: 978-1-57344-329-6

Buy: Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Eye of the Storm by Lee Rowan

It’s the Winter of 1802 and the long war between England and France has entered a fragile truce. But the lives of Commander William Marshall and Lieutenant David Archer, have become more complicated than ever.

As a Commander, Will is accustomed to making tough decisions. Can he give an order that will surely put his Davy in harm’s way? He almost lost his lover to a bullet once before and he fears losing him now, yet duty calls.

Davy is tormented by doubt. Will walked away before, trying to end their relationship for Davy’s own safety. Can he trust Will again—not only to stay with him, but to believe that their love is worth the risks?

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

I had been waiting eagerly for Eye of the Storm to be released on January 1, 2009 and to my great delight, it popped up on the Linden Bay Romance website on that date. Since I have an e-reader I was able to download the book and get right to the important business of reading. If anyone reading this is waffling on getting an e-reader, let me assure you that instant gratification is tremendously rewarding.

To the story: this is the third in the Articles of War series, preceded by Ransom and Winds of Change.

Eye of the Storm picks up immediately where Winds of Change ends: Commander Marshall and Lt. Archer (now David St. John) have just been reunited. An uneasy truce exists between England and France. With the assistance of his relatives, Sir Percy and Baron Guilford, Archer/St. John has become the owner of the merchant vessel Mermaid. They are hoping that Marshall will sign on as its captain. The nature of the work of the Mermaid is vague; it seems that she will be transporting cargo but one suspects that more clandestine activities are in the offing.

The story begins with dinner with Marshall, Archer (St. John) and Sir Percy, which allows for discussion of practical matters and sets the stage for what’s to come. Then we have a joyous reunion between lovers Davy and Will which was certainly needed, since the previous book ended with nothing more than a passionate embrace and a few tears. In a post-coital moment, they have an interesting conversation about what sort of future they might possibly have together, including discussion of Will getting married “for appearances” since that is what may be best for him to advance in rank in His Majesty’s Navy.

Once the groundwork is laid, the story moves ahead briskly. Author Rowan knows how to tell a tale and the plot of this novella is tight and carefully constructed. Even though they are on the ship together – Davy as owner and Will as captain – they do not have much free time, to the dismay of the reader who might be hoping for lots of sex! Rowan stays focused on the narrative and keeps the events realistic to the era. Marshall is a very conscientious captain who does not let his own desires – and the desires of his lover – come before his responsibility to his ship and the men under his command.

Eventually they are separated and this allows for more rumination, especially on Will’s part, about the nature of their love and the potential of their lives together. Will eventually reads some letters that have long gone unread that helps him to understand more fully the relationship that exists between him and Davy. There is also another exchange – very brief, but touching – which helps Will realize that he is attracted to men in general and Davy in particular. It is only a few paragraphs but telling and deftly written.

All of this happens against a background of ships and spies, wondering who’s who and what’s what. Like I said earlier, Rowan knows how to tell a story and her skills in this department seem to get better with each book.

My only complaint – and I had the exact same complaint with Winds of Change – is that things get a little abrupt in the last one-fourth of the book, to the point of it being ragged. There are transitions that just seem too unexpected. A few conversations are so brief that they seem truncated. Characters who seem to be present one minute suddenly disappear. It is frustrating because it wouldn’t have taken much rewriting to fix these points but they are annoying loose ends that should have been corrected – and weren’t.

Even so, Davy and Will are such beguiling characters that I am willing to forgive the author for these small transgressions. Their love is so joyous and real that I enjoy every minute I am able to spend in their company.

As a reader, I am often asked if books in a series should be read in order, or can you start at any point. With Rowan’s books, they definitely should be read chronologically and to assist anyone who may be coming upon the Articles of War series for the first time, here’s the list: Ransom, Winds of Change, Eye of the Storm. There is also a trilogy of short stories called Trilogy 109: Sail Away. These stories include important backstories on many of the characters included in the larger novels. I would particularly recommend reading the Trilogy before reading Eye of the Storm because it has essential information about Baron Guilford that will definitely enhance a reader’s understanding about the events in the present novella.

In sum, I heartily recommend this book and look forward to the next installment, which I understand from the author is due out sometime in late 2009. Sigh…so many months to wait, but something to look forward to!

Author’s website

Amazon UK Amazon USA

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