Review: The Officer and the Gentleman by J.P. Bowie

A young Scotsman and a Cavalry Officer embark on a forbidden love affair as the winds of war threaten to tear them apart. When Robert Alexander Macdonald locks eyes with Captain Charles Wentworth at a social gathering in London, it’s not long before they are also locking lips and engaging in a covert love affair. After an idyllic time spent together in a cottage on the windswept cliffs of Cornwall Charles receives orders to report for combat duty. Britain and France are at war with Russia, and Charles, an Officer with the 11th Hussars finds himself part of the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade, a military disaster that outraged the British population. Robert, on hearing that Charles is missing, goes in search of him, but finds only the shell of the man he loves, a man damaged in body and mind, with no memory of his family or loved ones. Faced with the possibility of Charles never again knowing what he and Robert meant to one another, Robert decides to dedicate himself to Charles’ full recovery. Going against all medical advice, Robert removes Charles from the hospital and takes him back to Cornwall in the hope that the familiar surroundings of his old home will bring back some latent memory to his lover’s mind. A hope, that as time goes by, becomes less and less of a possibility

Review by Tamara Allen

The year is 1854 and Captain Charles Wentworth is two weeks away from going into battle against the Russians. At this pivotal moment in his life, he meets the gentleman of the title, Robert Alexander MacDonald, who came into his inheritance after the death of a not-so-beloved grandfather. The two are introduced by Charles’ sister, Emily, who is surprisingly in the know regarding her brother’s sexual inclinations. Charles and Emily’s aunt, Lady Haddon, invites Robert to her home with the goal of introducing him to a bevy of eligible young ladies. But it isn’t the ladies who win Robert’s attention.

It takes barely an exchange of glances before Charles and Robert are swept by a mutual attraction so powerful that they sneak out of the house for a brief moment together in which to declare that attraction and indulge in some barely restrained kisses. In escaping Lady Haddon’s clutches, they are amusingly assisted by Emily and rumors of a rather enthusiastically spiked bowl of punch. It isn’t long at all before Charles and Robert are making the most of Charles’ time before his call to duty. Lust and attraction deepen to love in a believable way and I anticipated a very painful parting. The two men explore London together, giving the author an opportunity to add some interesting historical detail to enliven an already strong setting. When the time came for Charles to leave, the moment was as heartwrenching as I’d expected. Robert was so lost without him, I’d wondered if he would try to enlist just to be with Charles, or follow him into battle.

The sex is detailed, which I found more erotic later in the story when the two men had gotten to know each other, deepening their bond and making the impending separation an agonizing thought for both.

Though I am not familiar enough with the time period to judge the author’s description of the war, I had a bad feeling it would not go well for Charles. Though the descriptions were necessarily brief, I had a vivid picture of the Light Brigade’s charge and the consequences of it. Left to wonder how badly Charles was hurt, I devoured the rest of the story as Robert went out in search of his love, determined to find him and bring him home. The use of real life people I thought was well done, so much so that I wished this had been a novel rather than novella. Fleshed out into novel length, I think it would have been an even more interesting work. It’s a fascinating time period that I haven’t read much about and this novella made me curious to learn more. As a longer work, it would have definitely increased the story tension of Robert’s struggle to find and then save Charles. I would have liked to see that part drawn out more, because Charles’ recovery seemed almost too quick, right at the end, though I thought the author made it as believable as possible within the confines of the word limit. It was certainly romantic as could be. Robert declares in his love for Charles that he would do anything for him and fate puts him to the test. These are lovers who have to fight for their happiness and fight they do, which makes you love them both and cheer them on.

Despite my small complaint regarding length, I enjoyed The Officer and The Gentleman immensely. There was an almost innocent sweetness to Charles and Robert’s love affair, despite their earlier experiences. Neither man had ever fallen in love before as thoroughly and completely as they fell for each other. It had a whirlwind romance feel that was very appealing. The writing itself also had an innocent sweetness to it that contributed to the overall charm of the story. There is the occasional bit of dialogue that could have used polishing, such as when Robert in conversation with Charles refers to “Lady Haddon, your aunt”–apparently for the reader’s benefit, since that is something Charles would already know. I didn’t, however, find that it detracted from my enjoyment of the story. There are lovely lines, too, such as Robert’s trusted servant Morag’s comment as Robert goes to comfort Emily. Morag tells him to “keep hope in your heart and make her a gift o’ it when you see her next”. That was beautifully put. There are moments in the story that are moving in unexpected ways, such as Robert’s needing to hide his intense grief from his servants so they will not guess how deeply he loves Charles. Moments like that which will make your heart ache for Bowie’s characters. Moments that make this story quite a worthwhile read.

Author’s website

Buy at Total Ebound

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Review:Homesteads and Horseradish by Kiernan Kelly

Brace is none too happy to find a greenhorn building a sod house at the base of his mountain. In fact, he’s determined to run the little fellow right off his land. Unfortunately for Brace, Gaylord Quinn has nowhere else to go, and he has a patent from the US Land Office saying he has full rights to the land.

Quinn is scared to death of Brace, but he’s even more scared of having to return to a life he managed to escape. He needs the security of a new home. His dire circumstances might convince Brace to help him, but it will be the friendship that springs up between the men that endures. Will the friendship turn into something more?

Review by Mark R. Probst

Homesteads and Horseradish by Kiernan Kelly is a short and sweet “ingredient” in Torquere Press’s “Spice It Up” series. At 12,500 words it is closer to a short story than a novella and the download is priced accordingly.

Brace is a cantankerous young man who has detached himself from society to live like a hermit in a homestead he built atop his mountain, among the Teton Range. When a bespectacled, rather wimpy New Yorker named Gaylord shows up with a patent giving him legal claim to a section of Brace’s land, he’s having none of it, making idle threats to try and frighten this squatter off his land. Gaylord has been running from something and feels he has nothing to lose so he summons up the courage to defy Brace and stick to his legal claim. When things don’t go well for the ill-prepared Gaylord, Brace takes pity on him and decides to give the poor sap a helping hand. Eventually a friendship blossoms and they discover they have both been running away from the same demon, yes that persistent little desire that dare not speak its name.

What I appreciated about this story was its restraint. Most erotic romance these days tends to jump right into the hot stuff in the first page or two. Kelly takes her time to let the relationship between the two slowly develop before finally opening the floodgates at the very end.

It is a pleasant story. The two characters have distinct personalities that make them likable. Brace’s stubborn, antisocial demeanor slowly melts away and Gaylord’s timidity is countered with the savvy he picked up growing up as a street urchin. There are a few instances where the language seems a bit out of place for the nineteenth century setting, though overall the feel of the period is pretty accurate. Since the setting is an isolated homestead in the middle of nowhere, there really isn’t much reference to 19th century civilization or customs.

While my own personal taste would have been for a much lower heat level, I understand that the very high heat level in the finale is what Torquere’s fan base will be anticipating, so you can weigh that accordingly.

This is the first I had read of Kelly’s work, but based on this sample I would definitely read more. Her other novels set on the American frontier include In Bear Country and In Bear Country II: The Barbary Coast.

Author’s website

Buy at Torquere Press

Review: The Persian Boy by Mary Renault

The story of the climactic last seven years of Alexander the Great’s life through the eyes of his lover, Bagoas. Abducted and gelded as a boy, Bagoas was sold as a courtesan to King Darius of Persia, but found freedom with Alexander after the Macedon army conquered his homeland. Taken as an attendant into Alexander’s household, the beautiful young eunuch becomes the great general’s lover and their relationship sustains Alexander as he survives assassination plots, the demands of two foreign wives, a mutinous army, and his own ferocious temper.

Review by Charlie Cochrane

This book took me forever to read, but not for the usual reasons – that it’s some disappointing tome that ends up mouldering half read on your beside table. With The Persian Boy, I kept going back over parts I’d already read, savouring the wonderful prose and characterisations. It’s a much easier read than the rather confusing sequel, Funeral Games, with its plethora of characters. The only problem with The Persian Boy is that it’s too short by at least half.

Written entirely from Bagoas’ point of view, the book is alive with simple yet effective descriptions of place and era. Mary Renault’s characterisations are, as always, a delight; she produces deep insights into the key players with just a few well constructed phrases. She captures wonderfully the duality of Alexander – military leader/man and proto-God – as she does the ‘almost love affair’ between him and his army. She doesn’t shrink from showing his feet of clay, even if the tale is told through the eyes of someone besotted with him. Renault’s skill is also evident in the way that, although Bagoas tells his own story, we are aware of his faults and weaknesses, even if he isn’t.

The key turning point of the story is when Bagoas meets Alexander, where autobiography turns to romance. He falls headlong for the Macedonian king, dedicating his life to the man’s love and service. Alexander’s tender response and the developing relationship is beautifully portrayed – the love scenes aren’t in any way explicit, but written with such skill that they’re still sensual. I know that Renault has been criticised for romanticising the relationship between king and eunuch, but Bagoas’ motivation and actions ring true to life, and he’s as believable as all the other characters woven in and out of the tale. This isn’t a history book – it’s a well crafted and incredibly moving historical romance.

Buy: Amazon UK Amazon USA
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Review: Object of his Desire by Ava March

It’s the last night of a week-long house party in remote northern England. Every sensual delight imaginable is right at Henry Shaw’s fingertips. Yet all he wants is to be with his host, the deliciously handsome and enigmatic Arsen Grey. Henry’s certain it’s love, not mere infatuation. He’s also sure it’s hopeless.

Review by Erastes

As the title suggests, Henry has an object of his desire – and that is Lord Somerville, Arsen Grey, who, at the beginning of the book is his acquaintance, his fencing partner but not his lover because he’s convinced that Somerville is a woman’s man.

At first I wrote this book off an enjoyable romp, pure and simple; a quick set up, a bit of pre-sex angst and then lots and LOTS of sex which is exceedingly well-written and most arousing.  There’s even real breeches ripping, which raises a cheer.

Encouragingly, the book tips towards an interesting direction half way through and it was at that point, I thought, that the author missed an opportunity to create huge conflict–but it didn’t sustain and the moment passed in a heartbeat and the protagonists talked out the problem. Shame!

Although a fun quick read (about 90 pages) I was disappointed with the themes I’d seen done again and again–surely we are still a young genre that we can have more than (a) Great House (b) Orgy (c) BDSM ?

Certain things threw me, a few inconsistences, a couple of confusing modifiers and my pet hate tiny tiny sentences–that’s a personal dislike. Hate. Them. Also no consideration is taken for the difference in the worth of money from 1821 to now – Henry’s ex-lover is said to owe Somerville £10,000(!) which in today’s money, equates to (depending on which index you use) from £800,000 to around £8,000,000 … Again, small niggles, but it’s the sort of thing that, despite the hot sex, will throw out an experienced reader of historicals.

What saves this from a lower mark is the sheer quality of the writing. Ms March–despite the restrictions of length and the over-familiar themes–forces the reader to care about the characters but getting deeply into their point of view and making them ride the emotions with them. I admit to feeling every nuance of anger and fear and lust that Henry felt and that is what I always look for in a book.  Definitely worth a read.

Buy at Samhain Publishing

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