Review: The Chap in Chaps by Deirdre o’Dare

In 1910, Charles Smythe inherits a ranch from his late uncle. With some misgivings about leaving his life in England, he finally arrives in Arizona Territory only to meet one of his employees, an experienced hired hand named Sombra. In Sombra, Charles finds not only the perfect man to teach him all he needs to know about ranching, but also the masterful lover he has always craved.(59 pages)

Review by Erastes

Set in 1910, this short story has a strong, familiar beginning to it. A man arrives in the middle of nowhere, dropped off by the railroad in a dusty town and met by a laconic stranger. I was amused by the title, as Charles is English so that worked well.

I was jarred with the mention that Charles lived in Lancastershire, however. Where the hell is that?

Despite not being very knowledgeable with the era, I liked the feel of the story as Charles found his feet in his new command–it reminded me a little of “The Big Country”: A man out of his own environment. Charles dons his Norfolk jacket for his first day on the ranch. Incongruous attire to his hands, but perfectly normal for Charles.  It was a nice touch.

When in Charles’ point of view, it wasn’t English enough, though, that was my main problem, and the author tried too hard to make him so at times:

When Chaz realized he was pacing, he stalked back to the den and planted his bum in the massive leather chair

Such as, an English man wouldn’t think “cinch” he’d think “girth” nor “college” but “university,”- and I’m afraid “gotten” crept into the English POV too. The story could have done with an English eye over it before publication.

But what I did like about the story is that, even within 12k words, there is a story, even though we know that we are going to get a few sex scenes along the way, this is plot with sex rather than the other way around.  The sex was in the right places, not just peppersprayed throughout, and doesn’t have the reader rolling his eyes and saying “oh gawd not again.” What BDSM is there is more like a game than the heavy handed action we too often see, and the reader will enjoy it as much as the protagonists.

The author obviously knows her subject, she was raised on a ranch, so she should, and it shows in the descriptions of the daily life, and the changeable weather, the needs for a different horse for different tasks, all that kind of thing.

There’s a lot backstory too, which intrigues and makes the characters believable, I liked that a lot. Sombra is a man with a past which he, characteristically, doesn’t reveal that that’s exactly right.

A good little story and well worth checking out.

Author’s Website

Buy at Amber Quill

Review: A Heart Divided by J M Snyder

Confederate Lieutenant Anderson Blanks has grown weary of the War between the States. When a wounded soldier is heard, dying in the darkness, Andy takes a lantern and canteen in the hopes of easing the soldier’s pain. Andy is shocked to discover none other than Samuel Talley, his first love and a young man Andy’s father had chased from their plantation when the romantic relationship between the two boys came to light. It’s up to Andy to tend his lover’s wound and get Sam the help he needs before it’s too late…and before Andy’s compatriots discover Sam’s presence…

The opening of A Heart Divided is absolutely wonderful.  Lieutenant Anderson Blanks is writing a letter to his sister and then shortly afterward moves through the camp of his Confederate regiment.  To those pundits who say that you should start with action and ignore things like description, I say pooh.  This is the sort of beginning to a book that I really like, and the sort of thing that grips me.

It really drips with atmosphere; a heavy, hot Virginian night.  Insects sounding the night, men spooked for no good reason, and a man who doesn’t know if he’ll live through the night, let alone the week.

When he finds Sam, injured, and in a bad way, the atmosphere becomes even more tense and claustrophobic, which was very impressive.  If I have any criticism at the stage it is that perhaps the reunited lovers were more concerned with kissing and talking than worried about Sam’s injury, but who knows how we would really act under those circumstances?

As someone who appreciates the touch of gritty reality in their reading material, the part regarding Sam’s injury pleased me, but those reader who don’t want grim realism in their books might want to skip that section.

I was slightly confused by the top of every page said “Wicked Comes the Beast” – I assumed that it was a chapter name, but now I see it’s a typographical error on behalf of Amber Quill. I hope that’s been fixed now.

I was a little concerned by Andy’s lenghty absence from his regiment – he was gone all night, which I’d say he could have got away with. But then he was missing at dawn, and the regiment moved to bury the dead on the battlefield, he would have had men under his command, he would have been missed, by noon.  I was pleased when he was finally called on this — but it was almost a day later. I think I would have preferred if some reason had been given for his able to go off on his own for this protracted time, perhaps if he’d been officially on the sick roster or something.

Although I wasn’t convinced by Snyder’s All Shook Up, A Heart Divided is a much stronger book, showing the same skills of prose as did ASU, and the short story No Apologies, which I enjoyed a lot. It relies a lot on coincidence, but where would we be without them?  Sometimes it got a little too romantic for my taste (considering the danger and the injury) with Sam sulking and pouting – and with kisses while walking with a badly injured leg, and phrases like “verdant eyes” and “green gaze” but all in all, it was engrossing and I really cared about these people and wanted them to make it. Snyder is unashamedly romantic, but when there’s good writing to back it up, it becomes more believable.

Well worth a read.

Author’s website

Buy from Amber Allure

Confederate Lieutenant Anderson Blanks has grown weary of the War Between the States. He is all too aware of the tenuous thread that ties him to this earth—as he writes a letter home to his sister, he realizes he may be among the dead by the time she receives the missive. His melancholy mood is shared by other soldiers in the campsite; in the cool Virginia night, the pickets claim to hear ghosts in the woods, and their own talk spooks them.

Andy knows the “ghost” is nothing more than a wounded soldier left on the battlefield, dying in the darkness. With compassion, Andy takes the picket’s lantern and canteen in the hopes of easing the soldier’s pain. After a tense confrontation with the soldier, Andy is shocked to discover none other than Samuel Talley, a young man Andy’s father had chased from their plantation when the romantic relationship between the two boys came to light. The last time the two had seen each other, Sam had been heading west to seek his fortune, and had promised to send for Andy when he could.

Then the war broke out, and Andy had enlisted in the Confederate Army to help ease the financial burden at home. Apparently Sam had similar ideas—he now wears the blue coat of a Union solider.

Sam is severely wounded and infection has begun to set in. Andy can’t sneak him into his own camp for treatment because all Union soldiers are taken prisoner. But Andy’s Confederate uniform prevents him from seeking help from the nearby Union camp, as well. It’s up to Andy to tend his lover’s wound and get Sam the help he needs before it’s too late…and before Andy’s compatriots discover Sam’s presence…

Review: Hoofers by Kiernan Kelly

In Hoofers, by Kiernan Kelly, Dan Allen of Dancing Dan and his Magical Feet has just joined a new vaudeville troupe. He’s hoping for a good spot in the line-up, but he doesn’t hold out much hope for it when he discovers that the famous Foster Elliot not only is working the same troupe as he is, but is in the deuce spot. What brought about Foster’s drop from fame and could he and Dan have more in common than they realize? And what exactly is that little vial of oil Foster keeps with his make-up for anyway?

Review by Erastes

This short story (about ten pages) appears in this little anthology with another; Heated, by Zoe Nichols, which isn’t historical.

Kelly charmed me before with her two western novels (In Bear Country and In Bear Country II: The Barbary Coast) and this, although only a short story, didn’t let her down. Set in the last years of Vaudeville it fairly reeks of atmosphere, something Kelly is very good at.  Where she captured the gritty feel of the West in her Bear stories, here she really get “backstage” in all those tatty Vaudeville theatres, filled with amazing dog and pony acts, precocious children and hoofers. From the crowded wooden stairwells, to cramped, smelly dressing rooms this really shows the reader what it’s all about.

The story is short and sweet, the sex doesn’t overwhelm the plot, but it’s still hot – and keep to the dancing theme, which was a nice touch.

Although it’s only a short story, as with all good shorts it had the feel of a bigger work.  The characters are interesting and in depth – and I hope that Kelly gets these boys out again and gives them a longer spin.

For $2.49 you can’t go wrong for a perfect lunchtime read.

Author’s Website

Torquere Books

Review: Games With Me(vol.1) by Tina Anderson and Lynsley Brito(illus.)

Ex Civil-War surgeon George Callahan is a man haunted by his past. Unwilling to deal with the demons of his childhood he turns to opium, and finds back-alley employment with the heartless brothel keepers of San Francisco’s Chinatown. In Volume 1 of this gorgeously illustrated gay historical drama, Dr. George Callahan searches for a Chinese woman from his past, and soon finds himself unwittingly drawn to dim-witted male prostitute Jun, whose own life is complicated by the unwanted attentions of an aggressive bouncer named Roan Baxter.

Games with Me is an original German manga published in Germany by The Wild Side in (2009). The English language edition is currently available in digital format only, on the KINDLE reader from Amazon

Review by Erastes

Tina Anderson never conforms, and never shies away from pushing hard at the edges of her genre.  I’m no yaoi expert, as I’ve said before on this blog; the handful of books I’ve read have not gripped me because of the dewy eyed and seemingly mentally deficient ukes and enormous and suited semes–plus rape being a shortcut to love of course, which seems to be a must.

However, here we DO have a dewy eyed, long haired uke AND a angsty stern be-suited seme.  But there the comparison stops dead. And good job too.

Right from the first page we are thrust into Callahan’s bloody world. He’s a doctor all right, but he’s an abortionist at the same time, necessary work for the brothels of San Francisco in 1869.  It’s clear that Callaghan is talented, and has a conscience, but we are also shown –cleverly–that he’s got that certain disconnect that many doctors need to have.  The Chinese think he’s dead inside, a frozen man.

He is a troubled man, and one clearly with a “past.”  He loses himself in opium when he’s not working–what is he trying to forget?

Callaghan calls at a male brothel to collect payment for a job, and asks to spend some time with a young man there, called Jun.  “A retard” according to Roan, the brutish bouncer.  As Callaghan walks to Jun’s room, there are chilling details, a padlocked gate, windows that don’t look out onto the outside world, a man with two obviously underaged boys.  We know, if we hadn’t known from page one, that we aren’t in yaoi land any more.

Jun is heartbreakingly my favourite character in this. So sweet to George (and you can guess, probably to all of his customers) and with the mind of a child you almost feel uncomfortable reading about him, but he’s not a child–the book doesn’t cross that line.  It’s clear that George knows Jun from somewhere, and the first volume here doesn’t do more than tease us with this.

There’s a subplot involving Roan, the bouncer–who fancies the pretty Jun, too, and wants to play “love games” with him.  Jun, to my delight, was nicely pragmatic, telling Roan he had to buy a card to spend time with him. (Red for teatime, White for fulltime, Black for roughtime)  It broke me when George pushes Jun away at one point and Jun recoils in fear “if you want to hurt me, you got gotta buy a black card!” Just. Gah.

But, the writer being who she is, doesn’t make Roan a typical villain. He actually does seem to want Jun, he just doesn’t have a clue how to approach him, how to woo him. Jun is understandably wary of the man, as he’s obviously been abusive–or worse–to him before, so Roan tempts him with toys.

The drawings are beautiful. Brighto doesn’t stick to any fixed layout, but changes it from page to page, sometimes three panels, sometimes less, a full page here, a small insert picture there – I’m sure there are technical terms for this, but I’m afraid I don’t know them. Also it’s nice not to have to read front to back!  The historical detailing is beautifully done, the clothes are good, as is the architecture and the sex is rather warming without showing anything too graphic.

Take all that, and the promise of volume 2 to come, and you certainly have a keeper in my book.  I can’t wait to find out what happens next.  This ranks up there with the best gay historical graphic novels – the other being, of course, Only Words, by Tina Anderson and Caroline Monaco.

If reality based m/m historicals are selling, and are popular, then so do graphic novels deserve to be.  I highly recommend this, and hope that it comes out as a print book at some point–that she gets a publisher to take it on, as it’s only available in English as a Kindle version at the moment. But if you have a Kindle, then don’t miss out of this little gem of a book.

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Tina Anderson’s Website

Linsley Brito’s Deviant Art Page

Buy Kindle version

Review: Redemption: King of Swords by A J Wilde

In this sequel to Shadow Road: The Page of Swords, Bailey is now training under Lord Charles, and he’s working hard toward his goal of taking over as The Shadow, just as Charles took the position over from his late lover, Robert.

Things are not easy for either of them, though. Bailey yearns for Charles’ approval, but Charles refuses to let Bailey become the Shadow until he has experienced defeat at least once. Things come to a head when a late night encounter between a coach, a pair of highwaymen and the Shadow himself results in chaos, and the lord is injured. Will the events from that night change Charles and Bailey forever?

Review by Erastes

I didn’t read the prequel to this book, so I had to hit the ground running, but it’s fairly well explained without being over-informative.

Wilde has a nice touch, and I found her writing style easy to read and rather engaging.  I immediately liked Lord Charles as soon as we are introduced to him, and I wasn’t led to believe that we are in Hollywood.  The whole feel of the opening setting is right, down to the clothing.

It slips into OKHomo a little too quickly for my liking, however, as Charles goes to embrace his half naked blacksmith lover in full view of the stable lad and Duncan, another stable boy. His valet is also in on the secret, which I’d expect–but I found it a little unreal that all the staff could be trusted.

I was a bit puzzled at the highwayman angle.  At the beginning of the book it seems to hint that Charles continues to operate as The Shadow to keep the highway free of the really nasty brigands, but then he goes and robs and coach full of terrified passengers, so I sort of went off him at this point.  I admit to getting very confused with all the highwaymen that came and went, and it took a couple of readings to get it all straight so it probably would have been better if I’d read the prequel after all.

It’s a short, but enjoyable read with no hideous research and I enjoyed it.  I could have done without the inverted commas around some of the historical facts like “Tyburn Jig” and “tree” referring to the gallows, as that kind of thing reminds the reader they are outside the action, but all in all it’s not a bad read at all.

There are a few anachronistic phrases here and there, but nothing too dreadful and are probably unnoticeable to most, so I wouldn’t worry about them. It’s the feel of the story that’s right, and you can tell that the author has done the necessary work.

It was a bit short my liking, and once I got to know and like the characters it was all over, and I wanted to know more, but that’s probably because Torquere needed it to be this particular length.

From the review of Shadow Road last year,  it seems that some of the characterisation points particularly have been taken on board, so I’m happy to give Redemption an extra star.

Author’s website (can’t find one)

Buy Fictionwise Torquere Press

Review: Bend in the Road by Jeanne Barrack

Bend in the Road, set in Eastern Europe in the 1880s, introduces us to two couples that find safe havens in the insular world of a traveling Yiddish theater troupe. IN THE LION’S DEN brings us Daniel Bercovich, a young man in the first throes of finding his identity. Can the man he comes to love accept a new side to him? Yuval Smolenski finds more than the inspiration for his music, he finds something everlasting in FROM STAGE TO STAGE. These Jewish men in love must deal not only with the stigma of that love but also fear the rise of anti-Semitism. Can their love survive all the forces that surround them?

Review by T J Pennington

Bend in the Road is a book composed of two stories, In the Lion’s Den and From Stage to Stage. Both are the stories of gay Jewish men who are actors in a troupe roaming around Poland circa 1881.

I was rather interested in how the author was going to deal with this. There were, of course, traveling troupes of actors in Eastern Europe–primarily, they appeared in the courtyards of synagogues around the time of Purim, put on comedies and satires, and then went back to their own villages and their day-to-day jobs. They were, for the most part, amateurs who put on a yearly performance.

A troupe of amateur Jewish actors could not travel far, of course. Poland, at that point, was owned by Russia and was part of the Pale of Settlement (1772-1917). Jews were restricted. They could not travel far or often without official permission; they could only live or sleep in certain areas; they could not own land; they could not brew alcohol or run taverns. Secondary education for Jews was severely restricted and at times was forbidden outright. Jewish professionals and artisans were sometimes forcibly evicted from their homes in the city and compelled to move to the smaller, all-Jewish villages in the country. Jewish women were even more confined–the only women who could travel throughout the Pale without fear of legal reprisals were prostitutes. (The prostitutes had special passports, proclaiming their profession.)

And on top of all the restrictions and legal discrimination were the vicious and bloody pogroms.

So I envisioned a tale about men shuttling between a collection of relatively close villages, putting on plays, and then going back to their home village and picking up their daily lives, and about the culture shock experienced by a very secular English Jew as he tried desperately to fit in to a world light-years from the one he knew for the sake of a man he liked and was attracted to…but whose faith and traditions and way of thinking were difficult for him to understand.

But Jeanne Barrack chose to tell stories that were quite different.

Aryeh Nachman, whose English name is Lionel Nachman, is the hero of In the Lion’s Den. We are told that Aryeh’s tutor calls him this because “Aryeh” is Hebrew for “lion.” It’s not. “Ari” is Hebrew for “lion.” “Aryeh” is what a mother, father or melamed (Hebrew primary school teacher) would call a small boy named Ari.  The implication is that his teacher doesn’t regard him as an adult.

Also, “Nachman” is a rather noteworthy name in Judaism–it’s the name of Reb Nachman of Breslov (April 4, 1772 – October 16, 1810) , a rabbi, scholar and holy man –and the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov (the Master of the Good Name), who was the founder of the modern Hasidic movement.  In the case of the Rabbi of Breslov, “Nachman” is a first name, not a surname–many Jews of the time didn’t have surnames. Even so, it’s rather like a poverty-stricken orphan having the surname of Rockefeller; the name makes you wonder if there’s a familial connection or if whoever filled out the kid’s birth records just grabbed the name at random.

The bastard son of a rich Englishman and his Jewish maid, Aryeh is tall, dark, handsome, gifted at languages, and oddly ignorant of Judaism or Jewish customs despite five years spent studying the Law of the Torah. He is also a spoiled and selfish young man who feels no obligation to be faithful to his lovers though he expects fidelity from them. And he is not good at accepting “no” for an answer–as the story begins, he’s been working his way toward the region of Galicia in Austro-Hungary because he wants to be reunited with his former tutor, a young man named Shimon who kissed him once and then refused to take up with him. Despite the fact that Shimon has already said no and informed Aryeh that he is going home to wed a merchant’s daughter, Aryeh goes after him. He simply cannot conceive of a world where he cannot have what he wants.

In Krakow, Poland, however, Aryeh runs into a traveling troupe of Jewish actors and falls in with them. And among the members of the troupe is the young man he will fall in love with–the tall, strawberry-blond Daniel (or Dani, despite the fact that this isn’t the Yiddish nickname for Daniel), who is “beautiful and very young,” innocent, modest, sweet, shy, fond of “pretty things” and prone to blushing, as well as painfully naive. Despite having lived in close quarters with other men for the past eighteen years, Dani is oddly ignorant of sex and sexuality. He notices when someone stares at him intently, but he’s completely unaware of the fact that he himself is extraordinarily handsome and, at least in the beginning, doesn’t understand why any man would look at him with the slightest bit of interest. He is, to be blunt, a chick with a dick.

Now, someone who prefers reading about male homosexuals who behave more like Michaels than Michelles probably will not enjoy reading about a naive, sentimental pretty-faced man who, despite the fact that an eighteen-year-old in the nineteenth century would have been considered an adult, is constantly described in terms of boyhood. On the other hand, extraordinarily effeminate men who embody the stereotypes generally accorded to female characters are very popular among some readers of male/male romance, especially those who enjoy yaoi mangas and animes. For such people, Dani would be a godsend.

Unfortunately, I’m not one of them.

The leader of the troupe is named Moyshe, but really, he’s Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, alternating between normal conversations and loud, indignant proclamations to God. As for his wife, Rivkeh…well, she is every stereotypical Jewish mother from jokes and sitcoms, ordering anyone in the house to “Eat, eat!” and proclaiming of a character that no one has met yet that “he’s a doll, a real mensch!”  Malkah, the wife of the actor who plays the villains, is the resident matchmaker, trying to set up Dani with her niece from Gdansk (which, in 1881, was part of Prussia). She thinks nothing of asking her niece’s mother to send Dani a “picture” of the girl, though an Orthodox Jew would most likely have problems with the whole “graven images” issue even if portraits and photographs were cheap and easily available even to the poor, which they were not.  These are stock characters, rather than individuals–but they’re familiar, which some readers might find pleasant or reassuring.

Of course, there must be a villain of the piece, and that is the girlishly named Beryl. (This is a prime example of the need for proofreading as well as Spell-check. B-E-R-E-L is a man’s name in Yiddish; B-E-R-Y-L is a woman’s name that became popular among American Jews around the early part of the twentieth century.) Naturally, Beryl shows inordinate interest in Dani; naturally, Dani is horrified without being sure why.  Sadly, Dani finds it impossible to stand up for himself and tell Beryl to fuck off. Nor does he slug Beryl, nor play any number of unpleasant tricks on him that would make him look stupid. Nor does he tell anyone–such as the leader of the troupe–that Beryl will not leave him alone. Dani is, to put it plainly, a uke, and ukes, in anime, manga and fiction, are generally cast in a helpless, passive, stereotypically female mode. Therefore, Dani cannot fight or oppose Beryl, nor can he protect himself; his love interest, Aryeh, must do that for him.

There is, to be frank, not much of a plot in In the Lion’s Den. Aryeh is a gifted natural actor–we are told this a number of times–and he fits into the world of the troupe easily. There is no culture shock, no period of adjustment. The main conflict arises from the fact that Aryeh wants Dani and Dani wants Aryeh, but, for a while, despite the fact that both of them are dropping anvils around each other, neither is willing to admit an attraction out loud, and each is convinced that he is the only one who feels any attraction. Then, when they do figure out that they’re both attracted, Dani goes into meltdown because Aryeh is able to pull back and stop touching him; in Dani’s circular logic, this means that Aryeh doesn’t love him, because if he loved him, he wouldn’t be able to stop.  Then he decides that Aryeh and Yuval, the homosexual composer-lyricist-

instrumentalist of the group, are in love when that’s the furthest thing from either man’s mind. (And yes, this does make four homosexual characters in one small troupe.) It’s like a French farce, where most of the difficulties could be ironed out if someone would just SAY something. It will probably come as no surprise that Aryeh and Dani end up together with the approval of the entire troupe.One thing that I found distracting was the author’s habit of salting the dialogue with Yiddish words. Since for the most part the characters were supposed to be speaking Yiddish anyway, it was odd to see an untranslated Yiddish word crop up in the middle of conversation.

And many of the words were used in a way that was, unfortunately, incorrect. Using Yiddish words correctly–as opposed to dropping a Yiddish word like “schlemiel” in conversation–can be tricky at the best of times; the literal meaning and the connotations are often drastically different from one another. I have lived in a Jewish neighborhood for forty years. I am familiar with most of the vocabulary in this book, as well as the connotations of the words…and even I would double and even triple check before using them, because it would be so easy to miss a shade of meaning.

Take the word “beshert,” which the author uses frequently.

I told you it was a beshert that you found him

is a typical sentence.

As a verb, “beshert” means “destined” or “fated.” However, when used as a noun, as here, “beshert” means “destined one.” A destined one is the person God appointed to be your spouse from the beginning of eternity. There’s a Hasidic legend that says that forty days before a baby is born, a cry echoes throughout heaven–“This boy for this girl!”  (The legend is strangely silent about same-sex couples.)

So the speaker is saying, “It was a destined one that you found him.”

Another word that gets misused a great deal is “momzer.” Literally, it means “bastard,” and Aryeh uses the term to describe himself. It’s worth noting, however, that by Jewish law, Aryeh is NOT a momzer. He is illegitimate, but being a momzer involves more than that. For Aryeh to be a momzer, he would have to be the child of a coupling forbidden by the Torah–either adulterous or incestuous. His parents were not married to anyone else, and his mother was his father’s servant, which makes incest unlikely. And illegitimacy isn’t the issue here that it might be in other cultures.  Here are some of the laws regarding precedence and capitivity :

“For example, in procuring their release from captivity,” A priest takes precedence over a Levite, a Levite over an Israelite, and an Israelite over a bastard… This applies when they are all [otherwise equal]; but if the bastard is learned in the Torah and the priest is ignorant of the Torah, the learned bastard takes precedence over the ignorant priest (Mishnah, Horayot, 3:8).

So a learned bastard of adulterous or incestuous parentage stands higher than an ignorant high priest. Scholarship trumps worldly status.

Aryeh is clearly not a scholar. But that’s his own fault. If he were poor and illegitimate but scholarly, he could STILL be considered a matrimonial catch.

And then there’s this about Rute, the mentally slow sister of the troupe’s composer-lyricist, Yuval:

He sighed. “Such a shonda, a shame. She’s a little slow, but such a voice!

“Shonda” DOES mean “shame,” but not in the sense the word is used here. To quote the Yiddish glossary : A “shonda for the goyim” means to do something shameful, publicly witnessed by non-Jews, thus bringing shame upon Jews in general (because, the theory goes, we are all held accountable for the worst deeds of the worst of us.) Also, “Such a smart girl like that. It’s a shonda she’s such a meiskeit (physically unattractive person).”

So a shonda is less about “it’s a pity she’s a bit slow” than “it’s shameful and humiliating to all Jews that she is slow.” The connotation is very different.

Other problems crop up in historical or religious details. I’ve already mentioned the contradictions between the book and the actual laws during the Pale of Settlement. To give another example, Aryeh’s artist-lover Simeon (no relation to the aforementioned Shimon who kissed Aryeh) is arrested in France for homosexuality. Which is strange, since France decriminalized homosexuality in 1791 . It was the first Western nation to do so.

There’s also this detail about a young woman, a stranger in town, who died in childbirth:

If it weren’t for the Rabbi’s interceding, she wouldn’t have been buried in the cemetery!

According to Houses of Life by Joachim Jacobs and Hans-Dietrich Beyer, funerals in shtetls were paid for by a group within the village called the chevra kaddisha. There were even special sections within the cemetery for different groups–Cohanim, children, people who died violently…and women who died in childbirth. Also, in the shtetl, when someone died–even a stranger, shops were closed and people were expected to attend the funeral. The idea was that when someone died–whether a stranger or odious or whatever–his or her fellow human beings should mourn.

Moyshe paid him money to hire someone to say Kadish for her each year and the Rabbi promised he’d have a marker put up for her.

And that’s an alien concept. You didn’t PAY someone to say Kaddish; it was a good deed (and one blessed by heaven) to pray for those who had no one to say the Mourner’s Prayer for them. The rabbi, if he was any kind of rabbi at all, would have encouraged his congregation to do so, as well as prayed for her himself…probably for the rest of his days.

Another anachronistic concept pops up in Aryeh’s protest against Shimon’s marriage:

“You’d sell yourself and enter a loveless marriage, and that you don’t consider a sin?”

Arranged marriages and deliberately marrying someone of good, noteworthy or scholarly family and/or someone who could support you and your family were acceptable, even expected, in both Jewish and secular societies of the time. There was also usually a “getting to know you” period in which presents were exchanged and conditions for the marriage contract were drawn up. It’s unlikely that Shimon would be marrying a total stranger by the time he DID get married. Again, Aryeh is voicing a concept that is modern rather than period–that only marrying for love is acceptable.  It’s a notion commonly accepted by romance fans…but it simply does not fit.

And finally there is this about Aryeh’s Bar Mitzvah:

As he neared the age of thirteen, his mother had begged his father for someone to prepare him for his confirmation. Finding someone willing to begin with the “Aleph Bet” took some doing, but one was found.

The author is talking about preparing for the Bar Mitzvah–a ceremony that celebrates a boy coming of age as a Jew, accepting the fact that he is of age to assume religious and ethical responsibility for his actions. And given the tradition of scholarship among the Jews–boys often started studying at cheder (Hebrew school) when they were about three, and rarely later than six–studying Hebrew and Torah would not be something that had to be crammed in shortly before the age of thirteen. Aryeh should have been learning about both all along.

Moreover, in calling the Bar Mitzvah a confirmation, the author is describing a modern American Reform Jewish attitude toward the Bar Mitzvah, rather than the more traditional one. In the Orthodox way of thinking, a young man could take on ethical, spiritual and moral responsibility, but he would not have to confirm his faith; what could a Jew be but a Jew?

The second story, From Stage to Stage, is a sequel to In the Lion’s Den and begins in 1882 Prague. Yuval is talking to Aryeh in the garden of a boarding house while Aryeh’s sister Ruteleh and Dani fuss over the baby of a member of the troupe.  Dani, it should be noted, is wearing one of Ruteleh’s dresses:

Dani wore one of Rute’s lightweight wrappers, a gift brought back by Yuval for her. The latest fashion from England inspired by the Bohemian lifestyle, the peacock colors suited Dani’s golden curls. Perhaps it was incongruous to be worn over his shirt, but it was the closest he could get in polite company to the manner in which he wanted to wear it.

No one even suggests that wearing women’s clothing outside where he might be seen by someone who was NOT a member of the troupe might attract unwanted attention to him and his male lover. No one points out that a man wearing a woman’s garb or a woman wearing a man’s garb is against Jewish law, either. It’s fine, because Dani likes it. And as quickly as that, we are in the world of OKHomo

The story’s point of view meanders around for a bit; I couldn’t really tell whose story it was going to be. But then the readers learn that Moyshe and Rivkeh are breaking up the troupe and moving to America (we aren’t told why), that Yuval has just returned from a whirlwind trip around Europe (I don’t know how he got permission to travel) and that the troupe’s final performance at a wedding (never mind that itinerant players and wedding singers were NOT the same thing) will be Yuval’s adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Nightingale.” A gay version:

What if he made the nightingale even more magical? The Emperor could still grow ill, but before Death comes for him, perhaps the nightingale would arrive earlier and sing to him and when he listens to him, he grows stronger. Perhaps, the nightingale would fall in love with the Emperor and the Emperor fall in love with him. Whenever they are by themselves, the nightingale becomes human. He looked at what he had written. ‘Him.’ The emperor falls in love with ‘him.’ He’d have to be more careful. Even something as innocuous as a slip in a pronoun could be misinterpreted. Though in this case, it would be exactly what he meant.

A gay romance drama, het-ified. Written for a wealthy Orthodox Jewish couple, who are going to be married somewhere in Eastern Europe in the late nineteenth century.

Is it me, or is there a fundamental disconnect here?

It goes on in the same vein. The mother of the bride isn’t a well-to-do Orthodox matron from Prague, but a modern Jewish-American alrightnik. You can tell from the way she speaks:

“Excellent news, my dear. I can’t wait to see the faces of the other women of my club. Now, we can go ahead with the rose gazebo and the canopy.”

But Elizabeth Silberstein isn’t quite as Hyacinth Bucket-y as she sounds.  She’s more like Lady Chatterley, because she’s definitely trying to seduce the gardener. The problem is, Tsvi is gay. And this is not a gay man who will ever marry a woman. Oh no. If you were measuring from 0 to 6 on the Kinsey scale, this guy would score a ten.

Yuval meets Tsvi when he goes to the Silberstein house. Sets for “The Nightingale” must be constructed and music composed, and Yuval and the set designer need to know where the play will be performed so that the sets and the acoustics for the music will fit. I can understand that. But then I started to read about the vast estates of the Silbersteins.

They have a house with an enormous back lawn, a greenhouse, orchards and gardens (plural)–in the middle of Prague. Prague, a place that has been quite a large city for more than 1,100 years. Also, the Silberstein estate is supposed to abut AltNeu Park. I cannot find anything called AltNeu Park in Prague. There IS an Alt-Neu Synagogue in Prague’s old Jewish Quarter–it’s the oldest active synagogue in Europe–but there’s no mention of a park near it.

Tsvi is struck by Yuval’s handsome, confident good looks as soon as he sees him. Yuval initially thinks that Tsvi looks like a golem–his features are broken, scarred and roughly made–but then Tsvi smiles one of those transformative smiles that reveal a soul in all its honesty and beauty, and instantly, Yuval is head over heels in love with a man he doesn’t even know. Tsvi, of course, is utterly convinced that Yuval is straight. Regrettably, so is Elizabeth Silberstein.  I found myself wishing that she would stop making plays for all the gay guys and just get herself a decent dildo.

Things continue roughly as you would expect them to. Yuval finds a beautifully tuned piano at the Silbersteins and can scarcely keep away from it or the gardens. Tsvi hears Yuval performing  and begins singing Yuval’s songs to himself; Yuval hears Tsvi’s voice and realizes that Dani will never, ever be able to sing these songs as they are meant to be sung. Naturally, he compliments Tsvi. Naturally, Tsvi tries to brush the compliment off. Naturally, Yuval is so moved by the other man’s voice that he lightly kisses Tsvi, and convinces the Silbermans to give Tsvi permission to practice with the troupe. Of course Tsvi has never felt so welcomed and loved before, and is  astonished that people are not cringing at the sight of his face. Yuval is more attracted to Tsvi than he’s ever been to anyone. And, just as in the case of Aryeh and Dani, everyone in the troupe realizes that the two belong together…except for them.

There’s more (a tragic backstory involving a young man who was attracted to Tsvi and who didn’t take being turned down well, the head gardener at  the Silbermans who would just as soon molest Tsvi as beat him up, Yuval and his visit to a male prostitute, and Yuval’s mentally retarded sister, who is basically a cheerful archetypal Fool), but really, I had no doubt that these two were going to end up together, and they do. On Shabbos, actually.  The two of them are so happy and the rest of the troupe so accepting that I could not figure out how the story would go on–the HEA had already been written. Once all their problems are solved–and the last loose end is tied up when, just as in the case of Aryeh and Dani, one of them is threatened by a dangerous man with sexual assault and violence on his mind and, just as in Aryeh’s and Dani’s case, the assailant is caught and driven off–the two men finally figure out that they love each other and don’t want to part.

All in all, the actors remind me of the small professional troupes who circulated around the Catskills’ Borsht Belt in the 1920s and 1930s. And that would be a story worth telling, mind you. It just wouldn’t be identical to the experiences of a shpieler troupe in Eastern Europe in the late nineteenth century.

This is a situation where the stories are more plausible if you don’t know the period. This is not so much a historical novel as a novel with historical flavor.  If you know anything about Yiddish, the Pale of Settlement, the Maskilim, or the practices and traditions of Judaism itself, you won’t find the book remotely believable. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a wallpaper historical with a couple of yaoi pairings, you will very likely be extremely satisfied. And some people are looking for that kind of book, and would enjoy it immensely.

Personally, however, I cannot recommend Bend in the Road, as it has been widely praised for research and historical accuracy–which search after search proved to be untrue. Now, I don’t mind historically inaccurate tales; if I did, I wouldn’t watch Merlin. But I strongly dislike historical novels that are supposed to be accurate and aren’t, because there are far too many people who believe that historicals are, by definition, 100% true. Inaccurate historicals convince people that they know the facts and don’t need to learn any different.

Because of this, and because there were so many errors, not only in historical accuracy but also in language and in religious and cultural concepts, I’m forced to give the book 1.5 stars. I believe the author can do much better than this…but I cannot review a novel based on what I think the author’s best work could be.  I can only judge based on what is there.

Author’s Website

Buy from Amazon UK, Amazon USAPublisher

Review: A Summer Without Rain by Christie Gordon

In 1920’s Ireland, Shannon understands all too well that the love and hunger he feels for his best friend, Ciaran, is forbidden.  He’s already shunned by his town and emotionally damaged from enduring painful confessions after a male teacher’s molestation at age fourteen.  But when he finds Ciaran grieving over the sudden death of his mother in a barn, a hasty and desperate embrace shatters an unspoken boundary between them.

Shannon and Ciaran are sent on a journey to Dublin to bring a family heirloom to Ciaran’s aunt.  Along the way, a drunken evening leads to an illicit act in a hotel room, confusing Ciaran and forcing them both down a treacherous path of deceit and desire.  Can love overcome the obstacles of Irish society, the Catholic Church, and political unrest?

Review by Erastes

First off, I don’t get the cover. I think it’s a bad mistake on the publisher’s part and may make many people veer off. It’s obviously aimed at the yaoi market, and if I had seen this in a store, I wouldn’t have touched it, because I’m not a fan of that genre. I’d have had no idea it was a historical, and certainly not one about 1920’s Ireland.

Similarly the book’s layout.  I was frankly baffled as to why the font  inside and outside was oriental. Very, very odd and clashed terribly with the geographical tone of the story. It jolted me every chapter, in fact, and I hadn’t realised how much a layout mattered to keeping the reader focussed.

One of the character’s names – Shannon – jolted me too. There’s no way any Roman Catholic boy in Ireland in the early part of the last century would have been called (or would have got away with having their son christened) Shannon.  Boys were (and still are) named after saints.  Shannon is an American name and came into fashion there in the 40’s by ex-patriot Irish who felt nostalgic for the homeland. Like Tara.

OK – so not off to a great start.  But I hoped that things would improve as we went on, but sadly they didn’t.

This isn’t Ireland in the 1920s. This is a mish mash of Hollywood and Tom Cruise land where every potato farmer has a gas stove (puh-leeze, most rural communities don’t have those NOW) a butcher’s block and a horse and cart. Typical Irish villages have drugstores.  Save me.  The research wobbles hugely, having potatoes “finished planting” in August.  er, no.  And Boxer Shorts? In the 1920’s?  Please, authors, if you are going to write gay fiction, the VERY LEAST you need to know is the history of men’s underpants.

I don’t generally advocate the use of films for research, but if the author had bothered to watch Ryan’s Daughter – or even The Quiet man – she’d get more a feel of the era than this.

Here’s a very small list of the things that were entirely wrong in about three pages.

1. en suite showers (perhaps, just, in a five star hotel in Dublin, not in a tatty hotel one day out of Dublin, even if they did charge six pounds a night.)
2. “shepard’s pie”
3. “Restrooms”
4 Waitresses and food in pubs
6. paying the tab
7. spigot
8. Buying a book by Oscar Wilde

The two young men take a private horse and trap (er – I thought they were poor) to Dublin, ( have NO idea why they didn’t take the train) –  stop at a drugstore and buy Dorian Gray which would never have been for sale in any shop let alone non existent drugstores. They stay in a hotel which costs six pounds (equivalent to at least £200 in today’s money and a ludicrous amount, not only for a hotel, but for POOR POTATO FARMERS to pay.

I’m afraid writing wise I wasn’t at all impressed. Adjectives peppered the text like raindrops, just about every noun had an adjective and that can be a little wearing. Unforgiveable editing errors such as “chicken’s clucked” “running a ginger hand down Ciaran’s side” and Every Single Mention of the word “reins” is spelled REIGNS.  Also abounding are clunky sentences like these, which read like bad translations from another language. ( you can see another instance of this in the blurb itself)

He ambled in silence with Ciaran behind him to the house.

and

That evening, he lay restless on his back in his bed.

All of which served to amuse and then gradually to irritate.

The characters are clearly girls, they cry, gasp, have curves and ansgt like a ravished nun at confession. It’s implied that Shannon is only gay because he was interfered with–a trope that I’m getting very sick of.

I won’t go on. In fact I am not going to continue with the review.  Perhaps someone might like it who likes the kind of fanfic where the boys are actually girls and have actual curves like Ciaran does, or someone who like overly angsty yaoi, but I found absolutely nothing to recommend it, and it’s probably the most insulting book for the time, the place, and the gay historical genre I’ve ever had the displeasure to read.

Author’s website
Buy from Extasy Books

Review: All Shook Up by J M Snyder

The year is 1883. Eduard van De Lier is a Dutchman overseeing a spice plantation on the island of Java, in the South Pacific. His obsessive attraction to dark-skinned men is just one of his many secrets. His wife Marien knows of his indiscretions, but as she’s content with their Colonial lifestyle, she stays silent.

Until a former lover of Eduard’s shows up in their parlor with thoughts of blackmail.

Reza was a crewman on the ship that brought the van De Liers to Java. During the passage, Eduard spent many a night in the younger man’s arms. Two years have passed, and the last person Eduard expects to find in his drawing room is Reza, a letter in hand that could destroy the life he and Marien lead.

Seeing Reza again ignites Eduard’s lust for his first dark lover. He hopes to retrieve the letter, either through seduction or subterfuge, and the longer Reza eludes him, the more his desire grows. But they’re on shaky ground, and before things can heat up between them, their world explodes—literally—when the unstable island of Krakatoa erupts.

Review by Erastes

It all starts promisingly enough with a delicious scene of almost-sex; I’ve read several of Snyder’s before and I’ve always liked the erotica scenes so this was a good beginning, but then I was left gasping at the mention of “an underage boy” which had caused the scandal which had young Eduard shipped to the Dutch Colonies. There was no concept of that, seeing as how homosexual acts where illegal, it wouldn’t really have mattered if the boy was 15 or 25. Not only that, Eduard’s older brother is suspected of having put the stable boy up to pressing charges! Perhaps I’m missing something of Dutch history, but surely this would have meant the boy would have been arrested.

Eduard is a self-confessed sex addict, he’s always been homosexual and his marriage is purely one of money and convenience–but it’s not until he’s on the boat to Java when he begins to be obsessed by the dark skin and the wiry bodies of the natives. Once he leaves his first love, Reza, behind, he works his way through the rest of them with enthusiasm. But he does think about it ALL THE TIME. When he’s alone, when he’s with his wife, when he’s having tea with important visitors, even as the volcano is erupting – it might be symbolic but it’s just a bit too much. Reza is repelled by him for his profligate behaviour and I don’t blame him, even after Reza spurns him, he’s “salivating” over the house boy.

Those of you looking for steamy sex won’t be disappointed, as JM Snyder writes very delicious and erotic scenes without tipping over the line into pornography–but I have to admit that the sheer size of Reza’s cock frightened me to death.

“the thick cock whose base Eduard could barely encircle with both hands.”

One hand I can just about believe, but both? I remember my mother saying that my father could put his hands around her waist, to think that a waist can be cock width is truly scary.

I can’t say I warmed to Eduard, his complete preoccupation with sex brought to mind the irritating bloke in the pub or at the party who can’t do anything but bring down the tone of the conversation with smutty innuendos and talking about sex at every available moment. Even when his world threatens to come crashing down on him, all he can think about is sex.  But I think that’s actually what Snyder was working at here, and his profligate behaviour, his attitude towards his wife (he needs her a lot more than she needs him in some ways), and his selfish attitude is deliberate.

The second half of the book improves greatly, and I wish that Snyder had used more plot in the beginning, and not endless lust, because I was bored of Eduard by the time Krakatoa erupted.    I would have thought, though, that at some point, some of the characters would have made a comment that, prior to the main explosion, the volcano had actually been erupting for months.

Eduard and Reza make a risky journey the three miles into the town of Anyer, and just when I was thinking that Eduard might be improving under the pressure of the eruption, he goes and spoils it all again, when Reza tells him he has a small boat and he wants Eduard to leave with him, Eduard says:

“Of course I will. Tonight. Right this minute. What a brilliant idea. If we leave now—”

Class, Eduard; leave the wife and your servants to be buried in ash, good on you.

It gets silly again after that, as Eduard denies help to a desperate mother looking for her child. Instead he finds a empty shack and hides in it,  and has a quick stroke of his cock and unbelievably falls asleep.  Then Reza–who had ducked off to see to his ship–finds him, and I think you can imagine what they did. Edward tops it all by this little intercourse:

“I leave with you.”
“What of your wife?” Reza asked.
Oh yes, her.

Eduard shrugged. The movement settled him closer against Reza. Marien would have to understand.

Some readers might find some of the point of view a little disconcerting, as it slides from tight third to omniscient and back again.  There were also a couple of problems with the editing. Amber Allure, the self-proclaimed “Gold Standard in publishing” lets itself down with a misplaced homonym very early on (reign, instead of rein) that made me grit my teeth.

As for the eruption itself, although much research has been done, for me it doesn’t fully portray the horror of it all – the town of Anyer where Reza and Eduard head for was actually completely destroyed by a 30 meter tsunami–and the eruption went on for days.  The sky didn’t clear, as Eduard notes, and in fact half of the globe had darker skies because of this event for many years thereafter. The worst explosion ruptured eardrums.

But, although the book does improve latterly–in the main, it’s Eduard who ruins it for me, as I hated him and I thought he should have been given some opportunity to redeem himself and to my eyes he didn’t.

Author’s website

Buy Amber Allure

Review: Lessons in Discovery by Charlie Cochrane

Orlando’s broken memory may break his lover’s heart.

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 3

Cambridge, 1906.

On the very day Jonty Stewart proposes that he and Orlando Coppersmith move in together, Fate trips them up. Rather, it trips Orlando, sending him down a flight of stairs and leaving him with an injury that erases his memory. Instead of taking the next step in their relationship, they’re back to square one. It’s bad enough that Orlando doesn’t remember being intimate with Jonty–he doesn’t remember Jonty at all.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

Lessons in Discovery is the third book in the Cambridge Fellows series by Charlie Cochrane. In the first book, Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith meet and fall in love; in the second, they go on holiday together; and in this one, Orlando falls down the stairs and conks his head. As a result, he becomes amnesic and totally loses his memories of the past year, most notably his friendship with and love for Jonty. Also in this book, just as in the prior two, Jonty and Orlando put on their detective caps and solve a mystery. The combination of the sweet affection and a mystery works well for this series and makes the books very entertaining and enjoyable as quick, easy reads.

While I have been thoroughly entertained by all three books, if I had to rate them as to my favorites, Lessons in Discovery would be at the top of the list, which surprised me. I’ll be honest – I enjoyed book number two (Lessons in Desire) but it had moments where it was a little too sweet and slightly over the top, at least for me. I worried that if Cochrane kept on this trajectory, with the plot of Orlando losing his memory, Lessons in Discovery had the potential to veer either into the realm of completely saccharine or totally maudlin. Fortunately, my fears were baseless.

Orlando does lose his memory, yes, but what he doesn’t lose is the maturity and insight into his own personality that he has acquired through his friendship and love for Jonty. As a result, his re-discovery of himself is very compelling. I’ve occasionally thought of Orlando as “a lovable goof,” which is endearing, but sometimes seemed at odds with his keen intelligence and analytical mind. In this story, he has grown up and he realizes it. He is able to reflect on issues of friendship, loyalty, sexual awareness, and his own repressive childhood with new eyes and new emotions. I’ve always liked Jonty as a character but by the end of this book, I really, really liked Orlando which speaks to just how well characterized he was through Cochrane’s deft writing.

Jonty and Orlando re-establish their relationship (I don’t think I’m giving too much away by saying that, since there are four more books planned in the series) but they also create a network of family and friends who understand about their “secret.” Personally, I think this is realistic. Even though, throughout history, many gay people were persecuted and imprisoned because of their sexuality, I think that there were many who were able to live normal lives without the condemnation of society. My reasons why Oscar Wilde couldn’t, and Jonty and Orlando can, are more than I want to get into in this review. Rather, my point is that Cochrane has set herself up very well for the future books. Jonty and Orlando turned the corner in this book and became rich, well-developed, three dimensional characters and I look forward to reading more about them as they live their lives together.

I also think the mystery in this story is the best of the three. Orlando is tasked with solving a 400 year old historical puzzle which, of course, is very well suited to his mathematical abilities. If another contemporary murder had happened under Jonty’s and Orlando’s noses, as did in each of the previous two books, I think that would have stretched the bounds of plausibility. On top of that, the mystery itself was intriguing and very cleverly written and had lots of interesting tidbits of English history.

I particularly enjoy Cochrane’s writing style which reminds me classic English mysteries such as those by Agatha Christie. She has lots of funny expressions and clever turns of phrase which sound very British and very “I say old chap” –at least to this American reader.

All in all, this is a lovely series of books: charming and tender, full of loving affection between the two main characters. I highly recommend them.

NB: Lessons in Discovery has recently been re-released by Samhain Publishing. I had read the earlier Linden Bay version and read the new Samhain version for this review and I didn’t really see any major differences between the two, aside from the new cover. In an email message, the author confirmed that this was correct: except for correcting a few minor typos, the books are essentially the same.

Buy the ebook from Amazon or through the Samhain’s website.  A print version is scheduled for publication in 2010.

Review: Forbidden Love (anthology) – Various

Four m/m stories with a historical flavour by Stormy Glenn, H. C. Brown, Anna O’Neill, Aleksandr Voinov.

(I’ll only be reviewing 3 of the stories, as the Poisoned Heart, by Anna O’Neill is a time-travelling/paranormal story, so doesn’t qualify for review here.

Review by Erastes

My Outlaw by Stormy Glenn

After getting injured and losing his horse during a cattle drive, Daniel Branson is ordered to ride the stagecoach back home. Little does he realize that it will put him in the hands of the notorious outlaw, Black Bart. And the handsome outlaw has plans for Daniel that don’t involve holding him for ransom!

Quite a simple erotic story, cowboy Daniel is captured by the handsome Black Bart and Bart proceeds to sexually abuse Daniel, bordering on rape, without caring or not whether Daniel is that way inclined and of course Daniel loves it.While you might roll your eyes (like I did) and think this is yet another “rape turns to love” stories you’ll be pleasantly surprised with this one as the twist caught me by surprise. Well written–not exactly a ton of historical context, but hot, funny and touching at the same time. Three Stars

Forbidden by H.C. Brown

England 1075—Sir Renoir Danier finds himself in an intolerable situation when he is ordered by King William to marry an elderly Spanish countess. Five years earlier, he met the great love of his life, Sir Sebastian. This deeply sensual dark angel taught him all that a man could give to another. Renoir became a slave to his erotic punishment. After a month of bliss, Sebastian sailed to Spain. Will he return or leave Renoir with a shattered heart?

First of all I have to say that I didn’t like the faux olde worlde English, which was used not only in the speech, (Mayhap it is best) but unforgivably–in the narrative! (He oft’ wondered).   It’s a difficult line to walk, I know, but back in 1075, the protagonists would not be speaking any kind of English that we would understand, and I prefer to see speech patterns indicate a sense of antiquity rather than sticking in random “antiquated” words that actually wouldn’t  be used until a much later time. (for example, mayhap is from the 16th century.) It’s a personal dislike, but prithee don’t forsooth and nuncle me. It’s horrible.

However what really  let the story down from the beginning was the appalling research, or more to the point, lack of it.  The thing reads like fanfic of Kingdom of Heaven crossed with George RR Martin’s Westeros saga.  The facts in the story were ludicrous.

El Cid was NOT the Spanish ruler. Not at any time, and although he conquered several cities and took them for his own fiefdom, that wasn’t until much after the time when this story is set–he didn’t rule Spain. There was no Spain as we know it. Just warring fiefdoms, and a fight to rid the country of the Moor. In that light, it was bloody unlikely that the cream of Spain’s knights were in England training for a tournament.  William the Conqueror had only been in charge for 9 years, and I can’t see him welcoming a load of heavily armed Spaniards in.

In another light – Knight’s tournaments did not become an international event until the 12th century. Cologne (as in perfume) didn’t exist, and there was no way to spray it onto someone! Ye earlie atomiser!  There are many other problems, but there’s no point listing them. The whole thing was full of holes.

The trouble with erroneous facts in books that call themselves historicals is that they are self perpetuating.  I’ve seen this happen in hetereo-historical fiction and it drives me insane that we are seeing this kind of thing happen in gay historical. If one author writes a thing, another believes it, passes it on and I’ve seen readers say that they believed a thing just because they’d seen it written about so many times.  (for examples, see Georgette Heyer.)  “if it’s written about it must be true.”  er. no.

The sex is hot, if mildly implausible (sex on a galloping horse) and that’s the best thing I can say about this one. Two Stars.

Deliverance by Aleksandr Voinov

William Raven of Kent joined the Knights Templar to do penance for his sins. Formerly a professional tournament fighter and mercenary, William is brought face-to-face with a past he’d thought he had escaped.

Quite the most historical of the three stories that I read. There’s a good feel of time and place, deft mentions of the organisation of the Templars and other factions without being too info-dumping and the characters, particularly William, are real-life men of their time, not 21st century insertions. He’s a man riddled with guilt for his homosexual activity, and it’s realistic angst in that time and place. Not only is he in danger of being punished by the Templars (being expelled from the Order would be the mildest of punishments) but it’s impossible to separate law and faith in the 13th century, and Voinov, sensibly doesn’t try. Not to everyone’s taste, perhaps, but to take out either part of the equation would unbalance the story. This is a time when the seven deadly sins were as real to these people as the ten commandments.

Another touch I liked was the mention that it was less monstrous for William to have sex with servants or prostitutes – there’s the whole “the penetrated is a lesser man” stigma which was very real, and by being the top to Guy–a nobleman, a knight– William feels he dishonours him.

The sex when it comes is very nicely done, hard, muscled knights wrestling with each other, I was reminded forcibly of the nude wrestling scene in Men In Love, although with men who matched my memory of that scene, not the rather flabby and pale actors that really acted it out.  A good ending too, in my opinion, taking into consideration the time and place–although other readers might feel short changed. Four Stars

Overall two of the three stories get a thumbs up, and if you enjoy Edo-period Japan, you’ll probably like this anthology, it’s just a shame that the one story brings its score down one star to Three.

Buy from Noble Romance

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