Review: Spurs & Saddles: Oil Well Ben and the Hollywood Rustlers by Lucius Parhelion

When Ben gets a chance to leave his New Mexico home to visit his childhood friend in Hollywood, he jumps at it. 1930s Beverly Hills is full of bait and switch tricks that Ben just isn’t used to, especially when he meets up with Johnny, someone he knew a long time ago, better than he’s known anyone since. Between actors, studios and Tom’s suspicious wife, Ben thinks he’s walked into the lion’s den.

Luckily, Johnny is willing to help out, and becomes Ben’s guide through the tricky world of moving pictures. Ben thinks he might like to make Hollywood a more permanent part of his life, but not everyone and everything are as they seem. Can Ben find a way to reconcile all the pieces of his new life, or will he and Johnny have to part ways?

Reviewed by Jean Roberta

The ‘Spurs and Saddles’ line from Torquere Press consists of same-sex romances about cowboys in various settings and eras. Forget John Wayne and old reruns of Gunsmoke. These stories completely rewrite the ‘western’ genre.

Lucius Parhelion does a brilliant job of describing same-sex relationships in a time when “coming out” was so dangerous that double-entendres, secret signs and discreet meeting-places were absolutely necessary. And the “gay culture” of the time existed only in cities.

In this novella, a ranch owner in 1920′s New Mexico suspects that he might be a “Nancy boy.” He is only about as old as the century, so he can’t be absolutely sure. If a young man likes the fit of another fellow’s trousers, he doesn’t ask his old friends for advice on how to go courtin’. And whatever he does, you can be sure he does it in secret as long as he’s living on the family ranch.

But what if oil is discovered on Ben’s land just before the Stock Market crash of 1929? Well then, Ben is one lucky son-of-a-gun. And his opportunities sure open up.

There isn’t a lot of explicit sex in this rollicking tale, but the action is fast-paced, the dialogue sparkles, and the details are true to the period. The reader learns early that Ben is no fool in high-stakes negotiations:

‘For years, Ben McClure had battled land, cattle and climate to try to win a hard living from the high plains ranch that had been his father’s dream come true. This year, for no better reason than luck, that fight was over and Ben had won. Not that his victory had come easily. In Ben’s opinion, any negotiations in a new and booming oil patch were a lot like being sewn up in a canvas sack with five snakes, four of which were diamondbacks, and then having someone kick the bag. But Ben’s pa had known everyone who settled this part of the Llano Escatado, the stake plains, so Ben knew them all too.’

So now that Ben can afford to travel, where does he want to go? He wants to follow Tom, the handsomest man he ever met, to Hollywood, California, where Tom is burning up the screen as a ‘cowboy’ in moving pictures. Along the way, Tom married a diva, a blonde spitfire named Miss Inez Altura. Tom didn’t mention her in the two letters he sent to Ben, inviting him to come for a visit.

When Ben rolls into California in the most luxurious train carriage available, he finds some new surprises. His first view of the local sights is impressive: ‘So far, the men in Hollywood were an awfully fine looking lot.’

The movie cameraman who asks Ben if he’s an ‘extra’ looks strangely familiar. Then Ben recognizes him:

‘You’re Janos. Your pa was Mr. Kovacs, the peddler who took photographs and fell so ill. James Kovacs.’

‘Johnny Smith now.’ He could see the Adam’s apple shift as Johnny swallowed. Ben could not blame him. He felt a touch queasy himself. They had not known each other long; but, thanks to Tom, their few weeks spent together had been real memorable.

Johnny takes Ben to the Red Gulch, a ranch north of Hollywood that serves as a set for western movies. Ben’s wrangling skills come in handy, but the bright and perky Miss Blake is a little harder to handle than a horse. Is she sweet on Ben?

Johnny learns that the motion picture business is all about appearances. Just as the Grade B pictures that Johnny films don’t bear much resemblance to ranch life as Ben has lived it, the boy-meets-girl ‘romance’ in the pictures is a cover for a whole other way of doing things. Ben learns how he can get ‘paid’ for helping Johnny out, and he also learns that a bigger company is very interested in the Red Gulch. And ‘Oil Well Ben,’ as Tom calls him, is holding all the aces.

Tom the movie star doesn’t appear in the story until about halfway through, and by then his appearance has been long anticipated. How has he become so famous so fast? Is his marriage with Miss Altura a Hollywood ‘arrangement,’ a friendly understanding or a love-match? Has he bamboozled Ben, or does he intend to?

For that matter, why is booze so easy to find when it can’t be legally bought or sold?

Ben shows himself to be shrewd when he needs to be. He is no stranger to maverick cattle or slick dealers. Love, however, is a new experience for him. While figuring out how to win at the poker game of the motion picture business in hard economic times, Ben also needs to learn who is really on his side, and whose side he wants to be on.

If you can never openly tell the truth about how you really feel, is there a place for flirting, courtship, flowers and valentines? Ben and the partner of his dreams have to answer that question for themselves. From beginning to end, this twentieth-century ‘western’ is a wild and witty ride.

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Review: The Low Road by James Lear

An erotic adventure story for men who love men, set at the time of the Jacobite Rebellion in war-torn Scotland. Charles Gordon is sold into near-slavery as the plaything of corrupt military officials, but his talents-both in and out of bed-win him powerful friends as well as dangerous foes.

Review by Jean Roberta.

“You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland before ye.
But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.”

- from “Loch Lomond,” Scottish folk song (see explanation below)*

James Lear is a sly dog who subverts the kind of novels that are widely thought of as ‘classics’ by larding their plots with man-on-man sex. The results are surprisingly faithful to the original books, if not strictly faithful to the era in which they are set.

The most obvious model for James Lear’s novel about Scotland after the defeat of the Jacobites (Catholic supporters of Prince Charles Stuart’s claim to the throne of Scotland) at Culloden in 1746 is Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, a novel published in the 1880s but set in the mid-1700s and largely read (when it first appeared) as an adventure story for boys. The central character in Kidnapped is a young man whose parents are dead, and whose wicked uncle arranges for him to be taken to sea against his will. In the course of his adventures, the young man grows up and eventually gains his rightful inheritance.

The Low Road picks up the picaresque (adventure-story) and coming-of-age themes and intertwines them with the romance of ‘coming out’ into a society in which ‘sodomy’ is a hanging offense but in which most men enjoy sex with other men. Nineteen-year-old Charles Edward Gordon, the central character, lives with his grieving mother in the family mansion after his father, a brave Jacobite leader, has been murdered. Young Charlie, a physically active but isolated lad, develops a ‘friendship’ with Alexander, the servant who works in the stable.

Charles and Alexander engage in horseplay (literally), which leads to more intimate contact.

For awhile, the lovers live together in bliss, but the country is still in turmoil, spies and English soldiers are everywhere, and danger lurks.

One day, Alexander disappears and a mysterious French ‘priest’ named Benoit arrives to tutor the lad in Greek and Latin. Charles resents him, but grudgingly admires him.

By spying on the strange man in the house (after being spied on himself), Charles sees the “priest” masturbating. Charles confronts Benoit about his hypocrisy. Before Benoit can explain his real mission and his real identity, English soldiers arrive to search the house for ‘traitors’ to the English crown. The soldiers take Benoit away, leaving Charles and his mother. Charles realizes that he must take action.

Charles sets forth to outwit the ‘redcoats’ of the garrison and rescue Benoit. Along the way, he stops at an inn where he encounters a group of men:

‘a rough and ready group, but, I thought, honest-looking Scotsmen each and every one of them. When I entered the inn, they had been joining in a chorus of Loch Lomond — a crypto-Jacobite hymn, as every young Scot knew well.’

Charles is naively trusting. After excessive drinking and sex with the men, Charles loses consciousness and wakes up on board a ship, where he is destined to be the plaything of the crew.

The captain is an English gentleman who rescues Charles from the attention of uncouth sailors (not that Charles really objects), and decides that he wants to keep Charles for himself. Although he has been commissioned to bring Charles, the Jacobite ‘traitor,’ to a feared English general for ‘questioning’ (torture), Captain Moore sends word that Charles has been killed. Charles does not want to be the captain’s concubine forever, so he escapes.

Charles eventually meets up with the feared General Wade while impersonating a messenger so that he can discover the whereabouts of Benoit. In one adventure after another, Charles uses his healthy young body in the service of Scotland.

Meanwhile, Benoit uses any means at his disposal to write letters to Charles, addressed to him at Gordon Hall and smuggled out by corrupt guards. Benoit has little hope that Charles will ever receive the letters, but writing them helps keep Benoit sane in desperate circumstances.

The letters are interspersed with Charles’ adventures, so the reader can follow the parallel narratives as the suspense builds. The plot proceeds at a gallop despite the frequent sex scenes involving orgies, voyeurism/exhibitionism, spankings, cross-dressing and a memorable banquet in which Charles is the piece de resistance. Charles survives numerous close calls long enough to mature from a sheltered boy to a more sensible man, and all complications are resolved — at least for the major characters, if not for the doomed Prince for whom Charles was named.

For those who love historical fiction and m/m erotic romance, this novel is a treat. The epistolary form seems true to the period, and the episodic plot lends itself to being read in installments. James Lear has such a shamelessly homoerotic take on history and literature that a reader wonders which “classic” he will take on next.

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* From the Wikipedia entry on “Loch Lomond:”

“There are many theories about the meaning of the song. One interpretation is that it is attributed to a Jacobite Highlander who was captured after the 1745 rising. The English played games with the Jacobites, and said that one of them could live and one would die. This is sung by the one who was sentenced to die, the low road referred to being the passage to the underworld.

Another interpretation is that the song is sung by the lover of a captured rebel set to be executed in London following a show trial. The heads of the executed rebels were then set upon pikes and exhibited in all of the towns between London and Glasgow in a procession along the “high road” (the most important road), while the relatives of the rebels walked back along the “low road” (the ordinary road traveled by peasants and commoners).”

Review: Enslaved by Kate Cotoner

Injured crusader Falk du Plessis survives the Battle of Hattin only to be sold at the slave market in Acre. He’s bought by Sinan, a mysterious Saracen who takes care to hide his true identity. Falk has the feeling they’ve met before. Their attraction is instant and mutual and their destinies are inextricably entwined, but duty and loyalty to their respective masters threaten to drive them apart.

Review by Vashtan

This review has a bit of a backstory. First of all, to get the legal issues out of the way, I was planning to buy this and asked one of my writer friends who is associated with Torquere to buy me one, since Torquere doesn’t accept PayPal. Instead of charging me, he gave it to me as a gift.

Here’s the backstory. A few month ago, Torquere Press put out a call for submissions for a historical anthology titled “Chain Male”, which then, sadly, didn’t happen, with Torquere citing that they didn’t get enough quality stories to do this. Be that as it may, Kate Cotoner’s story “Enslaved” is what is left of the anthology project, and was published in Torquere’s “Sip” line of stand-alone short stories.

Looking at the generic cover and reading nothing but the blurb, I admit a little trepidation. Would this be one of those famous “slave fics” that have a large and loyal following? Would this feature BDSM, humiliation and power games and a crusader reduced to a whimpering sex slave? The crusades are probably my favourite subject in the vastness of the Middle Ages, and I admit to feeling even more protective of them than of the rest of history.

So I braced myself a lot before opening the file.

And relaxed. Relaxed some more. Slowly, a smile started to spread, and in the end, I was so pleasantly surprised that I read the story two more times. For the review, I’ve read it twice more. I’m happy to report this is not your typical slave story. I’m even more happy to report it has actual research (!) in it.

But first things first. Falk du Plessis, the squire of his brother, a Templar Knight, survives the battle of Hattin, the medieval equivalent of Gallipolli, in short, a disastrous, all-out battle that decimated the already thin-stretched military resources of the crusader kingdoms to breaking point. At the time when it happened, our historical witnesses tell us that they didn’t think the knightly orders would recover from the loss of men and materiel. It was a turning point in the rich history of the Crusades, an iconic battle with a bloody aftermath, when the prisoners were put to the sword rather than ransomed, and the rest sold on the slave market.

Falk is lucky, he gets sold as a slave. But instead of the all too typical “woe is me” scene in the slave market, we get a Falk who’s actually optimistic. He’s a strong character, calm, and just damn glad he lived. I really enjoyed that inner strength that is so far removed from all the melodrama a lesser writer would have put in there to make an impact in such a short story (16 pages, a total of 6-7thousand words). But Kate Cotoner is not a lesser writer, in fact she’s a pretty damn good writer who has clearly made an effort to make this real, human, authentic and true.

I’m quoting you the first page here:

The second day of the slave auction drew only passing interest from the crowd. Falk stretched his tall frame, thankful to be free of the cramped quarters in which he and his comrades had been imprisoned. Herded into the adjacent market, linked together like cattle, they were shoved into line on a raised wooden platform.

Falk had watched yesterday’s auction through the barred window of the cell and knew what came next. The young and good-looking men would be sold later in the day when more traders and buyers were abroad. The morning was reserved for the older, injured, or less comely slaves who’d fetch a lower price. Falk thought of himself as neither handsome nor plain, and knew his inclusion in the morning’s dregs was due to the injury he’d received on the battlefield.

A glancing blow across his ribs had produced a gash that looked worse than it felt, and the barbed arrow he’d taken in his leg had created a bleeding mess when he’d pulled it out. Though the wound hadn’t suppurated, it was slow to heal and he’d started to favor his left leg, limping

whenever he walked.

He flexed his feet to restore the circulation, pulling against the rope that tied him by the ankles to the men on either side of him. The man to his right, a surly fellow from Swabia, turned and cursed in rough Norman French. “Stop it! We don’t want to attract attention.”

Falk gazed at the scattering of onlookers who’d gathered in the market and saw a few of them staring back at him. “Attracting attention is the only way we’ll get sold.”

“I don’t want to be sold. It’s shameful and it’s un-Christian!”

“I would rather preserve my life than concern myself with shame or Christian duty.” Falk glanced at the Swabian and lowered his voice. “If even half of what they say is true, the Templars and Hospitallers are all dead, and perhaps the King with them. The True Cross has been stolen and Saladin is advancing on Jerusalem. If we don’t get sold, we won’t survive long enough to regain our freedom. The slave traders are killing unnecessary, unsold stock. Do you understand? Getting sold will save us.”

“Being sold to a Saracen will damn us,” the Swabian grumbled.

“At least Saladin’s army has moved on. It’s likely we’ll be bought by merchants who may be sympathetic to our cause. Acre is one of the biggest trading centers in Outremer no matter who rules here — there’ll always be a need for dockhands and laborers.”

The Swabian shot him a suspicious look. “You sound cheerful.”

Falk smiled. “No point in being pessimistic. We’re still alive.”

“I’d rather be dead than a slave to an Infidel!”

Falk abandoned his reply when the slave trader came forward and hauled the Swabian to the front of the platform, forcing Falk and the others to shuffle after him. During the subsequent bidding on the Swabian, Falk studied the gathering crowd. The women barely spared a glance in their direction and instead examined goods for sale at the stalls set up around the edge of the marketplace. Men stood back and assessed the line of slaves, comparing notes with their neighbors and occasionally calling out a question to the trader.

You see? Just a day on the slave market. No high drama, and that really stood out for me. It’s a more quiet, more real story than you usually get, with a character who’s gay, has some experience, and even that rang true—little drama about forbidden homosexuality here, mostly because Falk is usually careful (he has reason to) and because he is not of high enough status to make this political for him. When he gets bought by a Syrian, Sinan, their relationship is not typical of a “slave fic”, either.

It’s a sweet, gentle romance between two men who share more than divides them, and it’s also not soppy at all. Cotoner trusts her characters to let them tell the story, and the actual love/sex scene is delightfully free from men shouting each others’ names in the throes of climax, or confessing undying love five minutes after meeting.

I have to have one little niggle – there’s this:

Falk frowned. Saracens bathed often and scented themselves with exotic fragrance, which made the Franks consider their enemy effete. Crusaders went for months on end without immersing themselves in water, and though they stank and their clothes crawled with lice, at least they were godly men and not perfumed like whores. Besides, everyone knew bathing was unhealthy.

Bathing culture in the middle ages (the battle of Hattin places this story firmly into the late 1180ies) was actually doing alright. The “unhealthy” reputation of bathing came when the Plague and likely syphilis spread via the beloved and often-used bathing houses. We still have a few Roman baths, sometimes surviving as parts of monasteries, but in general, our European ancestors did like being clean. It’s in the 14th century and later that that goes slowly down the drain. Not bathing, however, was part of the ascetic ideal, so very holy people wouldn’t bathe to mortify the flesh (yeah, I’d be mortified, too), but those are extreme cases.

So, a short, sweet read that went completely against my expectations, well-told, with an ending that promises more between the two characters. In fact, these two should be a match made in heaven, and I’d really like to read more about their adventures during the decline of the crusader states, or wherever Cotoner takes them.

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Review: Stealing Northe by Jamie Craig

Two outlaws and one widow turn to each other for comfort, but nobody expects lust to become a love affair…

Amy Northe hasn’t known a man’s company in the six years since her husband died. That all changes the night her son comes in from chores with two strangers in tow. Kenneth and Leon are seeking shelter, and though Amy wants to turn them away, she can’t. There’s a blizzard moving through the Utah mountains, and Leon’s busted ankle has him teetering on the edge of consciousness. She does the only thing she can and takes them in, unaware of the secrets these young men hide.

Kenneth doesn’t want to take advantage of the older woman’s hospitality, even though she’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. But Leon needs help and Amy is a nurse. If he has to satisfy his desire for her in the form of covert trysts with Leon, then that’s what he’ll do, especially since he’s too much of a gentleman to ever think of making advances on her.

Until Amy makes one herself. Then everything changes…for all three of them.

Review by Erastes

Jamie Craig is–as you probably all knew by now–a writing collaboration of Pepper Spinoza and Vivian Dean and I’ve been impressed with just about everything I’ve read of theirs.  I can’t imagine how a colloaboration works; I know that I could never do it, and if I did it would never be seamless–and that’s what Craig’s writing is, seamless.

They have a knack of being able to start a story in the middle, as it were–slap bang in the action, very little backstory to be outlined, because it’s not necessary.  It’s very cinematic writing, the camera pans into the remote log cabin, and we are right there in the moment.  In only a page we learn where we are, who our first protagonist is (Amy Northe, a frontier woman who’s lost her husband)–there’s already a lot of conflict in her life, and then BAM, two strangers appear on the doorstep and off we go.

I found myself entirely pulled in by the situation.  It’s clearly a claustrophobic one, three adults, a kid, animals, all snowed in in a log cabin in the hills, and you really get a sense of the difficulties that life would entail.  Water melted from snow, an elk being meat for the winter, preserved fruit and flour being lifelines to make it through the worst of the weather. It really makes you wonder why people would choose a life like that.

Be warned, you people who seek purely gay relationships in their stories, this isn’t that, as the blurb suggests.  One of the characters is clearly bisexual, and the sex is mostly het and ménage.  What I particularly liked is that this character (Kenneth) knew his tastes–he was clearly very fond of Leon, but while of them knew that Kenneth preferred women, there’s was not a “lets have sex because we don’t have a woman” type of relationship.

He couldn’t leave Leon, even if Leon would have forgiven him for it. And he didn’t want to forget Amy. One way or the other, he’d carry her with him for the rest of his life, even if she was just a very fond and distant memory.

The ménage is nicely handled too, you don’t get the feeling that suddenly there’s a woman to cure the homosexuality in the book, and the sex scenes don’t swamp the story, which is great.

Although menage stories aren’t normally my cup of tea, and frankly this was more het than even menage by the end, I found this an enjoyable book, and a well written if short (130 pages) read.  However there is more in the story to be told, as “Stealing West” is a sequel which I’ll be reviewing shortly.

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Review: Lola Dances by Victor J Banis

Sometimes funny, sometimes tragic and often bawdy, Lola Dances ranges from the 1850 slums of the Bowery to the mining camps of California and Montana, to the Barbary Coast of San Francisco. Little Terry Murphy, pretty and effeminate, dreams of becoming a dancer. Raped by a drunken profligate and threatened with prison, Terry flees the Bowery and finds himself in the rugged settlement of Alder Gulch, where he stands out like a sore thumb among the camp’s macho inhabitants–until the day he puts on a dress and dances for the unsuspecting miners as beautiful Lola Valdez–and wins fame, fortune and, ultimately, love.

Review by Vashtan

I was looking forward to reading “Lola Dances” by Victor J. Banis – Banis has made an enormous impact on the genre and I’m always curious if I can subscribe to the hype surrounding an author or not. Full disclosure: I received the ebook for free from Erastes for the purpose of this review.

To come right to the point: I completely enjoyed “Lola Dances” and will check out Banis’ other works. It’s the story of Terry Murphy, an effeminate youngster, who, in the 1850ies, dreams of being a dancer. One day, Terry is raped by a powerful man and refuses to become the man’s ‘toy boy’ on the side. Instead he confronts his assailant, running the risk of imprisonment (because homosexuality is punishable and a socialite’s word counts for more than those of a street orphan).

To save Terry’s neck, his street tough brother Brian takes him away from the Bowery and joins the masses of people hoping to get rich in the Gold Rush. However, Brian turns from saviour into suppressor. Abused and exploited, Terry finds his calling when he dresses up as Lola Valdez, replacing the former entertainer in the mining camp saloon. “Lola” is a huge success, which leads Terry on a journey of fame, fortune, and, finally, love.

I was impressed with the way the setting was effortlessly fused into the story. Homosexuality, and, in Terry’s case, cross-dressing, is not something that the ultra-macho miners would have looked kindly upon, and Lola is in danger of being unmasked and possibly killed as a ‘sissy boy’. Banis portrays well the tension between Lola, whom everybody is in love with, and Terry, whose best hope is to stay under the radar and who still, due to being very very pretty and ‘feminine’, causes especially male tempers to flare.

A special emphasis is on the relationship between Terry and Lola. His female alter ego has all the qualities that Terry is lacking (or feels he lacks). She is proud, confident, mistress of her own fate, and has the inner strength to follow her way and her calling. Lola is, in Jungian terms, Terry’s anima, and together, they are whole and strong.

There are beautiful passages in the book, such as Terry’s first transformation and dance:

Something happened that had never before happened at The Lucky Dollar. The room went silent, a thunderous silence.

No one spoke. Even the slap, slap, slap of the cards at the poker tables went still. A hundred mouths hung open, a hundred pair of eyes were suddenly riveted on the little figure standing before them.

“Like a rose, suddenly appearing in the filth of that dirty room,” one of them would put it later, a description that would be long remembered by many.

It lasted half a minute, that eerie silence—a full minute, longer yet. You could almost hear the seconds tick by until Lola took the satin skirt between her fingers and lifted it ever so slowly, ever so slightly, offering more flashes of scarlet petticoat and one slender ankle—even an inch or two, but no more than that, of net-clad calf.

She gave the fan a quick, sudden snap, revealing her face in full for the first time, and smiled, brightly—and there was not a man in the room who wouldn’t have sworn afterward that the smile was aimed directly and personally at him.

Pandemonium erupted. Male voices bawled like cattle in lightning, boots stomped, fists pounded on tables—so much noise that the very rafters shook and you half feared the roof might collapse, the building fall in on itself from all the noise and commotion.

Lola took a single step, rolled her shoulders. The silence fell again, as completely as before, as quickly as the noise had exploded.

I found myself eating up the pages, even though Terry isn’t really the type of character I enjoy reading about. But the blushing boy did worm his way into my heart eventually. While many of the details were well-observed, there was a definite feel that this is a pulp novel – painted in often stark colours with a wide brush and energetic strokes. I liked the passages best when Banis showed that he masters the finer lines and takes the time developing his characters.

Overall, I enjoyed this sometimes pulp-ish coming-of-age story of a crossdressing character who bounces back from adversity and finds a hidden strength that nobody thought he/she possessed. I’m catching myself thinking this could actually make a pretty good film, too.

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Review: Finding Jason by Lyndi Lamont

When Jason Huxley, Regency dandy and man-about-town, acquires a new valet, he finds himself fighting the unnatural inclinations he thought he’d outgrown.

Alfred Threadgill lost his first lover at Waterloo, but now wrestles with his desire for his new employer. He suspects that finding Jason could be the best thing that ever happened to him. But first Jason must find himself.

Review by T J Pennington

The character of Jason Huxley did not, initially, make a good impression on me. This has little to do with the writing and far more to do with me. You see, the first paragraph states:

Jason Huxley was a lucky man. He had health, good looks, an adequate income and a beautiful and enthusiastic mistress. There was no earthly reason why he was filled with ennui.

Speaking as someone who has ill health, average looks and a highly inadequate income, I saw no earthly reason for Jason to be filled with ennui, either. I would relish being bored to tedium by such good fortune. Since I have a hard time pitying someone who has everything that I lack, my immediate reaction was, “Hey, if you don’t want good health and an adequate income for someone in high society, I’ll take ‘em!”

By the next page, Jason has spotted his old friend and “partner in a youthful indiscretion”, as the book calls it, Michael Penrose. Michael, it develops, is terrified of women and would rather face Napoleon’s hordes than attend a dance. And, after Michael gets snoggered on brandy back at Jason’s house, Jason invites him to sleep it off in his (Jason’s) bed. Michael does, falling asleep almost immediately.

What follows is a scene between Jason and Michael, who are talking as they lie naked beside a river. This threw me a bit at first, as I wasn’t sure whether it was a dream, a flashback, or a scene taking place some months in the future. But as the conversation continued, I realized that it was either a memory or a memory-dream of the last time that Michael and Jason were together before Michael went off to war.

In what I thought was a nice touch, dream-Michael asks dream-Jason to come with him; even if Jason’s father won’t buy him a commission, he can still join as a volunteer. It pointed out quite nicely that the two didn’t have to be separated, that Jason could follow his lover into the army and onto the battlefields of Europe if he so desired.

Jason refuses on the grounds that his parents would be furious (he’s the only son and needs to produce an heir), but at least one of his motives is selfish–”[h]e liked his comforts too much.” I knew at that moment that Jason would not have a happily ever after ending with Michael or anyone else until he learned to love someone more than himself.

After a seduction scene when he is half-asleep and a voluntary scene of mutual masturbation when he is wide-awake, Jason is forced to confront the fact that yes, he’s still as attracted to men as he was in his schoolboy days, and immediately proposes to his mistress, Rosalind, thinking that surely this will be the solution. Rosalind, fortunately, is a sensible and realistic sort who doesn’t confuse sex with love. When Jason protests that he adores her, she responds thus:

She turned to face him, expression serious. “No, Jason, you do not. If you did, you would not have gone off with your military friend last night. You are fond of me, as I am of you, but that is all.”

Outraged by what he sees as the loss of Rosalind’s affection, Jason storms off. Hurt and puzzled by this and by Michael’s actions, he retreats to the family estate in Cheshire, hoping that once he gets away from London, his attraction to men will simply fade into the background once more.

Several months later, after a short scene between Michael Penrose and his valet in Belgium–the two are physically lovers, but Alfred Threadgill’s deep love for his employer is not reciprocated–Michael returns from war and has a reunion with Jason, despite the fact that Jason said quite firmly that he never wanted to see Michael again. And he asks Jason to look after Alfred for him. Jason, unwilling to deny Michael anything, promises to give Alfred a try.

Someone who likes a great deal of sex with his or her fiction would find this tale ideal; virtually every conversation is followed by a much longer and fairly intense sex scene, which usually reveals the depths of emotions that at least one of the parties cannot admit possessing.

Personally, I would have preferred that the story be longer and show much of what was only mentioned in passing: the friendship and love affair of Jason and Michael at school; the affection and trust between Michael and Alfred that never quite turned to love on Michael’s part; Jason fighting his growing attraction to Alfred. We’re told that all this has happened, but, for a reader, telling doesn’t pack nearly the punch of witnessing key events or of seeing emotional intimacy bloom between characters.

Jason’s issues with sexuality rather jumped out at me. He thinks a great deal about what it means for him personally to want to bed men AND women. This is not a thought process or attitude of that era. Modern people define themselves in terms of who they sleep with or who they want to sleep with. Someone of the Regency era would have seen it in terms of society–what is society’s attitude legally, socially and religiously? How will I be treated or punished for these desires? I can understand Jason struggling over the fact that he wants to sleep with men even after his schoolboy days, especially in view of the penalties–but the fact that he likes sleeping with women as well would not have caused any questions in his mind, because, by his time’s definition, that was part of being a man. The struggle would not have been “oh no, I’m attracted to men and women, what does this mean for me and my identity?” because the concepts of homosexuality, bisexuality and sexual identity didn’t exist then. Jason is, essentially, a twentieth to twenty-first century man who has been transported to the Regency era.

And I was, I confess, a bit irked about Jason’s eventual renunciation of his mistress. It had already been established that Jason liked women as well as men, and was an only son and was going to have to marry and produce offspring. Jason knew the first and accepted the second, so it was rather jarring when Jason gave up Rosalind for the sake of Alfred. I’m sure that some people were strictly faithful their same-sex lovers; it just doesn’t seem to fit here, given what we’ve been told of Jason, his background, and his family’s dynastic expectations.

However, the writing overall is good, and the author has done her research on historical detail, if not historical attitude. I particularly liked the details of the molly house to which Alfred flees–it’s not the elite sex club for gentleman that so often appears in gay romances and erotica, but a low-class brothel on the poor side of town, complete with “wedding chapel” for temporary unions.

I give it two stars–it’s not a bad short story. And I’d like to see what the author could do if she had time and space to fully show her characters’ emotional pasts.

Author’s website

Buy at Amber Allure, Fictionwise or Kindle

Review: Fellow Travellers by T.C. Worsley

When Harry Watson, an attractive and personable ex-Guardsman, becomes involved with the young novelist Martin Murray, he is quick to assimilate Martin’s left-wing views.  He fits readily into Martin’s circle, along with the earl’s daughter and communist Lady Nellie Griffiths, her playboy nephew Pugh, and the unconfident Oxford undergraduate Gavin Summers.  But then Harry’s enthusiasm leads him to join the International Brigade, and all five are suddenly faced with the stark realities of the Spanish Civil War.

Review by Erastes

This is an English “Gone With the Wind” in a way, in the same way that Mitford’s 1930′s novels are; detailing a way of life that has gone forever–and a book which becomes a piece of social history, because although fictional on the surface, Fellow Travellers was written in the time, and is largely based on real-time events and real people.

The story is told in a fascinating manner; the unnamed narrator is a man who has been meaning to write a novel about these events, but has never really got around to it. (Many of us know that feeling!) So instead of wasting the time and research that he’s put into the project he presents us with his historical records of the events: letters, interviews with the five people involved and his own sporadic author’s notes.  He starts off with each of the five people giving their opinions of all of the other five, then deals with their political beliefs, and then the catalysts that led them all charging off to protect the doomed Spanish republic.

It took me a little while to get my head around the way the books was structured, but once I did I found it a much easier read than I had anticipated.  The unnamed narrator has an appealing style, and a dry sense of humour at times, and all five of the characters come to life little by little in varying degrees.

We are introduced to Harry first of all

The homosexuality (and indeed bisexuality) in this book is a simple fact, no-one is expecting anyone to judge, and there’s no sense at all of censure (until they go to Spain and Martin is faced with arrogant bigots) as they all frequent a literary pack of like-minded individuals where the right and wrong of gay life doesn’t impinge.  Harry and Martin are living in “uneasy domesticity” at the beginning; before Martin took up with him, Harry is “undeniably attractive” but a male “tart” (as he’s described several times in the book), going with anyone who will support him, and – as Martin says he’s sure of – would have come to a bad end had Martin not taken up with him.  Although from working-class mining stock, he’s a bit of a chameleon.

His capacity to fit himself into any situation or social circumstances was remarkable in one who had after all come from a miner’s terrace.  It was this capacity which had served him so well when he first burst upon London and discovered that there were plenty of willing gentlemen ready to play host to such an engaging personality.

It’s this chameleon quality, his magpie-like capacity to take on the respectability of others, and the political views of others which drives the book along.  Harry–the odd-man out in this little group of upper-middle and upper class intelligentsia–becomes the catalyst to events.  He finds Martin’s left-wing views and embraces them, joins the Communist Party but soon becoming bored when–in peacetime–there’s nothing much for him to do other than flag waving, speech making and marching.

Second of the characters is Lady Nellie, daughter of an Earl, and sister to an Earl.  As many of this class did in this time, she’s the black sheep of her family, the English rebel without a cause, finding a cause within the Communist Party and joining the Party without truly understanding the true meaning of the practicalities of it, despite reading Marx and others.

Gavin is a bit of a wet hen. He is trying to write an autobiographical novel, but moans that nothing has ever happened to him, so why would anyone read it. He scoffs at all of the others’ political and religious beliefs while having none of his own.  He had been in love with Harry at one point, and had a brief passionate affair with Pugh, but like everything he does, he can’t commit to anything.  His involvement in the war was actually quite intriguing.

Martin is probably the most complex of all the characters – based very strongly on the novelist Stephen Spender – he tries to balance his life around the varying pressures that affect him.  After six months with Harry he realises that it’s not going to work, and manages to persuade him to leave, but because he feels responsible for “adopting” Harry and getting him accustomed to a life beyond his means, he continues to support him, with a flat and an allowance.  He goes to Spain purely to help Harry out of the scrape he gets him into, again based on fact, as Stephen Spender did for his own ex-Guardsman lover, Tony Hyndham.  Incidentally, these elements of the book are echoed in another book that concentrates on this era “While England Sleeps” by David Leavitt which is reviewed here.

Pugh is probably the least clear of the characters, even though his story winds clearly through everyone else’s.  I can’t put my finger on why he’s quite so vague as a character–perhaps it’s because there are no actual interview directly with Pugh himself, like there are with the others. We know he’s wanton, bisexual rather than homosexual, and gets into trouble over just about anything.  If anyone was going to get into trouble in the war, it was bound to be him.

The characters’ opinions of everyone else are the lightest part of the book, and amusing in parts as everyone thinks they know everyone else and it’s very clear that they know nothing of the sort.  Nellie is convinced that Harry is determined to get a job and believes every excuse as to why he won’t take one, Gavin decries everyone, and Martin feels he is acting for the best.  As for the political section, I admit that I was a little lost in that, not really understanding the differences between socialism, communism, crypto-fascism and goodness knows what else.

The war itself cover slightly less than half the book, in all, and is only really dealt with in letters from the characters (not Pugh) to the narrator, and from diary entries from Nellie and Martin.  But what is written is vivid and unforgettable.  It’s hard not to be swept up in Nellie’s and Martin’s exhilaration of the Anarchist spirit  of Barcelona and then to mourn with them as they realise that there really can not be any such thing as a purely communist army where everyone is equal, and if it attempts to be so, it cannot help but fail.  I for one, with the sang-froid brought on by 40 or so years watching warfare on the TV, felt Nellie’s sheer horror as a new kind of warfare was born–one where cities were destroyed, thousands of evacuees fled from nowhere to nowhere, and where women and children are raked by plane machine guns while already fleeing for their lives.

What is clear, and for me, hard to read, is the way that European events were largely ignored by England. The juggernaut of Hitler and Mussolini lumbers towards the Second World War but it seems that England has its head stuck firmly in the sand.  Nellie’s brother David is the face of this denial here.  When Pugh decides to join the Carlists, the Catholic Nationalist supporters (and quite the wrong side as far as Nellie and the others were concerned), this is what Nellie reports of her conversation between David and herself:

‘And you’ll just let him throw his life away?’ I said.

‘What’s he doing now but throwing his life away?  If he’s going to do that, he might as well do it for something he believes in.’

‘Something you believe in!’ I said furiously. ‘Don’t imagine the he believes in it!  He doesn’t believe in anything.  Why, Gavin told me the only reason he’d picked on the Carlists was because they wore scarlet cloaks and berets!’

‘Well, he may come to believe in it,’ David said. ‘As I see it, it’s his big chance.  He’ll be mixed with decent people and that will be a change for the better you must admit.’

(It should be added here, that Pugh was a step-son of David, the Earl…)

The way that the scales fall from most of the characters’ eyes is sad to watch, after the buoyed up enthusiasm of all the flag-waving and the bonhomie of the International Brigade.  The realism that a just cause isn’t necessarily the winning side, and the sheer frustration that no-one is listening to the stories of the prison camps and the persecution.

As is probably obvious by the length of the review I was hugely impressed with this book–for all that parts of it made me feel like an ignorant nihilist–and the characters will stay with me forever, more so, I think because they portray real events and real people, albeit in a fictional manner. If you enjoyed While England Sleeps or Nancy Mitford’s work, you’ll definitely like this.

Highly recommended, and essential reading.  You may need to track a copy down, but well worth doing.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

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Review: Convincing Arthur by Ava March

Mr. Leopold Thornton missed his chance ten years ago. He isn’t about to let this one pass him by.

Given Leopold’s reputation for vice and debauchery, Mr. Arthur Barrington has a fair idea why the sinfully beautiful man invites him to his country estate. A shooting excursion? Unlikely. Especially considering Arthur is the only guest invited to the estate. He shouldn’t consider the invitation, but a few days of mind-blowing sex could be just the thing to help him get over the heartbreaking end of a ten-year relationship. Then he can return to London to his thriving law practice, and quietly search for an amiable man who understands the meaning of the word discreet and who recognizes the value of commitment.

There was a time when Leopold wasn’t such a rakehell. When every night didn’t end with an empty bottle of whisky. When he believed in the rewards of patience. When he didn’t give himself over to just anyone who’d have him. Old habits die hard, especially when tempted by six feet of solid muscle, but Leopold will only have a few days to convince Arthur he can be the man he’s looking for — that his love is genuine and he’s worthy of Arthur’s heart.

Review by Erastes

Leopold thinks he’s been stood up, and he drinks and paces in his study.

This book starts promisingly Leopold is quickly introduced and we get a measure of the kind of man he is, one that will sleep with anyone, male or female.  He blew his chances with the man he’s been obsessed with, Arthur Barrington, ten years ago and now Arthur has broken his his lover of ten years, he’s hoping to get him at last.

Leopold then goes on to mentally castigate his rival, Amherst: the man who has been with Arthur for ten years and whom Leopold finds objectionable because Amherst has loose morals.  At least Leopold has the grace to realise that this is a little bit of the Pot calling the Kettle black!

Her research and detailing is impressive, solid and convincing.  There’s no extraneous description, to my eyes, just enough to give a feel of the rooms and the decoration without a list that sounds like a Gillow’s catalogue.  Little touches like game shooting in November.  I’ve seen books where the men go grouse shooting in June!  There’s a nice smattering of language of the time too, but it explains itself in context, so you aren’t forced to rush off to find Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

He recognized the name—Madame Delacroix’s, a decadent West End brothel with a near-endless supply of beautiful women, and according to rumor, a handful of handsome, accommodating men as well. At least Randolph had the good sense not to go to some nunnery in the stews. Those places were rife with diseases.

Ava March writes well, and I’ve enjoyed her other historicals that I’ve reviewed on the site–my major gripe would be one that I’ve said many times before, that I feel a little cheated with a story of a mere 80 pages, and this story particularly deserves more to do it justice.  The author goes to great pains to explain that these two men have a history, have known each other for ten years, and that Arthur trod the virtuous path while Leopold was gobbled up by a corrupting London and they went their separate ways.  We are told details about Arthur’s relationship with Randolph and I’m left thinking “But I’d like to KNOW about this, not just get told about it!”  There’s more than enough material here for a novel.

Because we are told, not shown, all this detail – the story folds in on itself and was for me, little more than a PWP–and that takes the pleasure out of the journey for me.  They are at it like bunnies in chapter two, in fact. And three….

But that aside, it’s well written and the personal longing for a big meaty novel from Ms March doesn’t stop her smaller works being an auto-buy for me.

Author’s website

Buy at Loose ID

Review: Dash & Dingo: In Search of the Tasmanian Tiger by Catt Ford & Sean Kennedy

Stodgy British archivist Henry Percival-Smythe slaves away in the dusty basement of Ealing College in 1934, the only bright spot in his life his obsession with a strange Australian mammal, the thylacine. It has been hunted to the edge of extinction, and Henry would love nothing more than to help the rare creature survive.

Then a human whirlwind spins through his door. Jack “Dingo” Chambers is also on the hunt for the so-called “Tasmanian Tiger,” although his reasons are far more altruistic. Banding together, Dingo and the newly nicknamed Dash travel halfway around the globe in their quest to save the thylacine from becoming a footnote in the pages of biological history.

While they search high and low, traverse the wilds, and fight the deadliest of all creatures—man—Dash and Dingo will face danger and discover another fierce passion within themselves: a desire for each other.

Review by Erastes

I don’t like reading at my PC much, and I often start an ebook for SIN with a feeling of dread- especially when one is – like Dash and Dingo – over 300 pages.  But I was immediately pleasantly surprised by being drawn in, and it was not until my eyes started to get tired that I realised I was 100 pages in and enjoying myself immensely.

Let me just comment on the cover. It’s great. There’s no two ways about it.  So what that it doesn’t yell “gay romance”?  A woman holding an apple doesn’t scream Vampire Romance either. It’s a good cover and for my money, one I’m more than happy to put on my shelf, read it on the bus.

I’ve been discussing recently with other gay fiction authors and we often say that what seems to be missing is “adventures with gay protagonists” rather than books just concentrating on the romance.  This certainly fits the adventure bill – it’s a real boy’s own adventure, a Saturday morning film-club book, a delicious blend of gay romance, Rider Haggard and Indiana Jones with a fair smattering of humour thrown in.

In an netshell Henry (Dash) Percival-Smythe is a stuffy professor who’s never been on a field trip, who is whisked off to the Antipodes by brash typical ocker Aussie. Romance and adventure ensues.

Sean Kennedy is a true-blue Aussie, I believe, and that shows.  Dingo may be a little bit of a stereotype, but he’s a stereotype that does exist, as real-life characters such as Steve Irwin ably prove.  I love the way Dingo takes the piss out of everything and everyone, from the head of Henry’s department–calling him Lardarse–to moaning about the warm English beer.

Dash, too, is priceless.  Stuffy stiff upper lip professor one minute, over-excited public schoolboy the next.

The authors don’t skimp on detail just to skip ahead–the men need to get from England to Australia, and research has gone into doing this feat in the 1930′s. It was still primarily a sea voyage, and flying wasn’t the direct connect it is today.  Too many books don’t take this kind of thing into consideration, having horses travel 100 miles a day or a train travel a thousand.  Remember Kevin Costner’s famous boast that he could walk from Dover to Nottingham in a day?  Well this book doesn’t do that.

Similarly there’s no rush with the plot.  Because this is “proper novel size” (300 or so pages) the plot is not rushed at all, nor is the romantic entanglement.  Time is spent getting to know Dingo’s family, all well written, and reminding me of a mixture of Kath and Kin bred with The Sullivans, and all of it “proper” Aussie.  So many gay romances have the characters thinking only with their cocks from the moment they spy their soon-to-be partner, and we are spared this, and we are given time as the plot unwinds.

One thing I really appreciated was the imperfect sex–God alone knows there’s enough mutually switching studs with simultaneous ejeculations, and they never ever come too soon. Bravo to this book for having sexually deprived men behave like they probably would.

Once or twice I had the impression of being thumped over the head with too many facts a la Dan Brown style, and a few facts proved to be wrong – but they won’t spoil the experience, not unless you are nitpicky like me (and I only looked this stuff up because the facts were presented.)

A couple of general things niggled at me, being English: Scotch whisky spelled with an e,  the ubiquitous ‘gotten’,  mentions of sidewalks,  and Henry’s father being called James Percival-Smythe III which is a rather American way of naming people, but nothing I couldn’t gloss over in the sheer fun of reading about these people. But perhaps to make a note that next time a Britpicking is clearly needed.  There was also a propensity for beginning paragraphs with a name, which I hope the writers can root out in future collaborations, as it’s an easy vice to fall into.  There are one of two places where the POV wobbles too, we seem to start a new scene in one POV and it turns out not to be so.

But there are some really nice touches, a strainer for the tea for example. A tiny thing, but a detail that proves the writer is thinking about that they put on the page.  And with any good collaboration–Jamie Craig being another excellent example–it’s impossible to tell who wrote which part.

Anyone who loves Rider Haggard, Crocodile Dundee or Indiana Jones will have a blast with this book. Anyone who doesn’t know the sad history of the thylacine will find this a fascinating and instructive read; (personally, I don’t think the Tasmanian Tiger is extinct–there have been sightings, and even films of this amazing creature, and I’m sure we’ll see it again.)     And I also hope very much that we see Dash and Dingo again, because for my money they’ve leapt right to the forefront of gay adventure/romance fame.  No, it’s not perfect, but it’s a bloody great try and I didn’t want it to end, and that bumps it up from a 4½ star to a five.

I couldn’t find much of a web presence for either Sean Kennedy or Catt Ford, but I did find an interview over at Jessewave’s Blog where they discuss the business of collaborative writing.

Amazon UK Amazon USA Kindle Dreamspinner: ebook paperback

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Review: Lessons In Power by Charlie Cochrane

The ghosts of the past will shape your future. Unless you fight them.

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 4

Cambridge, 1907

After settling in their new home, Cambridge dons Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart are looking forward to nothing more exciting than teaching their students and playing rugby. Their plans change when a friend asks their help to clear an old flame who stands accused of murder.

Doing the right thing means Jonty and Orlando must leave the sheltering walls of St. Bride’s to enter a labyrinth of suspects and suspicions, lies and anguish.

Their investigation raises ghosts from Jonty’s past when the murder victim turns out to be one of the men who sexually abused him at school. The trauma forces Jonty to withdraw behind a wall of painful memories. And Orlando fears he may forever lose the intimacy of his best friend and lover.

When another one of Jonty’s abusers is found dead, police suspicion falls on the Cambridge fellows themselves. Finding this murderer becomes a race to solve the crime…before it destroys Jonty’s fragile state of mind.

Review by T J Pennington

This book contains the best warning label I’ve ever seen: Warning: Contains sensual m/m lovemaking and hot men playing rugby.

I freely admit that I have not read the first three books of the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries and that I know nothing about rugby. That said, I was relieved to discover that you don’t need to have read the previous mysteries or to be a rugby fan to comprehend–or, indeed, to savor–this book.

The story starts in February 1907 at St. Bride’s College, Cambridge, when Matthew Ainslie, a professor at University College London, comes to his friend and fellow professor Jonty Stewart, asking him (and, by extension, Jonty’s lover, Orlando) to investigate a murder. The suspect? Alistair Stafford, Matthew’s old lover–and more recently, his blackmailer. Complicating matters is the fact that Stafford was in Jardine’s company shortly before the murder, that they had exchanged words concerning the way Jardine had treated Stafford’s sister, and that Stafford had threatened Jardine’s life. Nevertheless, Matthew has heard Stafford’s story, and while he knows that Stafford is both vengeful and spiteful and is quite capable of crime, he honestly doesn’t believe that the man is guilty of this crime. And he isn’t willing to stand by and let Stafford hang for something he didn’t do.

The murder victim–and I found this to be an artful touch–is no more a sympathetic character than Stafford is. He is, or was, Lord Christopher Jardine, one of those who sexually abused Jonty Stewart at school–in fact, the first one who raped him. Of all the people in the world, Jonty has the least reason to care who smashed in Jardine’s head…and the most cause to celebrate.

But he does not. Like Matthew, Jonty is an honorable man who believes in doing his duty, even if he finds it unpleasant. “I wouldn’t want his killer going free just because the victim was such a toerag,” he says to Orlando. “Truth above all, it has to be so.”

Yet at the same time, he’s deeply conflicted; his memories of the rape and torture he underwent at school are a torment, both physically and psychologically. “I can tell myself we’re serving justice and that I don’t want Matthew’s friend unfairly convicted,” he says a bit later. “But when it comes to it—when we have the man or woman in our grasp—I have no idea how I’ll react.” And he prays to the Lord Almighty for help, saying that he knows he’s supposed to forgive those who have sinned against him, but that this feels impossible.

I think that it was at that point that I started to love Jonty. I cannot resist flawed but honorable characters who will do what is right even if it hurts. Given the popularity of antiheroes, such protagonists are not easy to find.

The investigation–which has to be carefully timed to take place on weekends and holidays, the only times that Drs. Stewart and Coppersmith aren’t working, a detail that both amused and pleased me–then begins…with the assistance of Jonty’s brother and father, who, respectively, share a club and a Savile Row tailor with the victim.

(It’s worth noting that though Jonty’s parents are aware of his relationship with Orlando, Orlando himself–after four books–is only just beginning to build some kind of relationship with his lover’s father and seems a bit overwhelmed by Jonty’s mother. Despite the fact that the Stewarts are nice people who love their son and want him to be happy, and despite the fact that Orlando likes the Stewarts, things are both amiable and a little awkward. I liked that; it was positive and yet believable.)

The early evidence, unfortunately, doesn’t so much favor Stafford as indicate that others might have wanted Jardine either dead or permanently blackmailed. Another man who’d helped Jardine rape and torture younger boys at school says that he wanted to confess what they’d done, while Jardine did not. The two men argued loudly enough for anyone inclined toward extortion to hear them. Stafford’s sister let herself be seduced by Jardine, thinking that he would marry her, and was furious when he refused to do so. Finally, Jardine had at least one unidentified visitor on the night of his death.

In addition to the mystery, a number of other things take place–a rugby match between the English department and the mathematics department at Cambridge; confrontations between Jonty and Timothy Taylor (Jonty’s second rapist and one of the chief suspects in Jardine’s death); seductions and attempted seductions by Orlando; and Jonty suffering flashbacks due to what we’d probably call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And that’s before there’s a second murder…which brings Jonty and Orlando under the scrutiny of the police.

I must mention that an American reading this book may trip over a couple of phrases–not because of any flaw in the writing, but because Americans probably won’t recognize rugby slang. I wished, more than once, that there was a rugby glossary in the back of the book; there were many times when it would have helpful. For example, when I read this sentence:

…a cannonball came flying across the field to take him, itself and the ball firmly into touch.

Orlando was winded, the rugby ball flew away, then the cannonball got up with a big grin all over its gob and said, “Sorry, Dr. Coppersmith, don’t know my own strength,” without meaning a word of it.

Now, the problem with this passage is that I don’t know what a cannonball is in this context, though I presume it’s a rugby term. So I was picturing an English football flying down the field and hitting Orlando in the stomach like, well, a cannonball. I was a bit thrown, therefore, when the cannonball turned out to be a person…albeit one described as having a grin all over ITS gob rather than HIS.

However, this is quite a minor detail; the book overall was excellent. One of the most delightful things about this book is that despite the fact that there is plenty of tension and despite Jonty having plenty of reason to be frightened and unhappy, the characters retain their sense of humor–even under the most trying circumstances. For example, while talking to one of the men who connived at the sexual abuse of a number of young boys at Jonty’s school, Orlando, irate on Jonty’s behalf and frustrated beyond words, thinks: I’ll kill him now and make it look like his aunt was responsible. Which is such wry and Saki-like statement and such an implausible scenario–the aunt in question being elderly, proper, and a tad dotty–that it surprised me into laughing.

Finally, I must mention the cover. The cover by Scott Carpenter is truly beautiful–an image of a young man gazing at an old-fashioned classroom, and underneath that, a realistic sketch of a college with the legend “A Cambridge Fellows Mystery.” The cover is washed in sepia tones, but with color accents and shadows in key places that make both the classroom scene and the sketch of the college at Cambridge both more vivid and more solid. All in all, the art deftly hints at some of the plot, one of the main characters, the importance of the setting and the genre of the tale while stating, “I am a good, solid, classy book. You would be proud to be seen reading me.”

I give it five stars, and wish that the book had been longer.

Author’s website

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Buy from Samhain Publishing

ebook available now, paperback version in around 9 months.

Review: Another Chance by Shawn Lane

Ten years ago, Aubrey St. Clair, Viscount Rothton, watched the man of his dreams, Daniel Blake, the Earl of Graystone, walk out of his life after a brief sexual encounter. Now Graystone returns to London after the death of his wife and Aubrey is given another chance with his dream man. But Daniel is determined he will have only one night of sexual bliss with Aubrey and then they must once more go their separate ways.

Review by Erastes

This is a short erotic story – around 40 pages and due to that, it does feel a little rushed.  There’s a flashback at the beginning which zips by at breathtaking speed, cramming in a sex scene when really I’d like to have got to know the characters, at least a little.  This frantic pace continues as we are flung into a graphic heterosexual sex scene which jolted me as I really wasn’t expecting it, and the publisher’s page says m/m, no mention of het or bisexuality.  So if that’s not your cuppa tea, I’d recommend avoiding this.  Then almost instantly we find out that Aubrey has children with this woman he’s having sex with (who we’ve hardly been introduced to), so it’s all a bit too much for the length of story.

What annoyed me is that if Aubrey was so taken with Daniel – WHY hadn’t they seen each other for ten years? It seemed improbable, both from the point of view of the ton, which was madly incestuous and everyone knew everyone else (just read Vanity Fair) or from the point of view of lust, attraction and friendship. Why were they attracted to each other?  Why did they fall out? This is skated over, but never truly resolved, pushed aside for the sake of more sex.

The second half of the book is stronger in this respect, with some characterisation coming into play and some insight into why these two men like each other. Personally I’d prefer this to be at the front of the book as I find it difficult to empathise for characters I know nothing about.  Even when the characters begin their path to reconciliation I still wasn’t convinced, two sexual encounters don’t equal “I want to spend the rest of my life with you,” I need a bit more explanation than that.

It has a Regency feel, so readers who love the genre will probably like this, a couple of things that didn’t fit, like all the men in the ballroom dressing in black, which would certainly not have been the case, and the scent of citrus blossoms in England (bwhahaha!!!) but otherwise it works all right.

It’s more of a wallpaper historical than I’d like–modern guys having sex, thinking about cum and prostates, having blowjobs and rimming each other which would have been pretty unlikely–but anyone looking for hot sex in costumes will enjoy it.

Buy Ellora’s Cave

Review: Man, oh Man: Writing M/M for kinks and cash by Josh Lanyon

Lambda Award finalist Josh Lanyon takes you step-by-step through the writing process: from how to find fresh ideas and strong hooks, to how to submit your carefully edited manuscript. With help from the genre’s top publishers, editors, reviewers, and writers – experts in the field of M/M and gay romantic fiction – Lanyon offers insight and experience in everything from creating believable masculine characters to writing erotic and emotionally gratifying M/M sex scenes.

Review by Vashtan

I’m not giving five stars lightly, but five stars is what this is. Full disclosure: I bought this paperback with my own money last year, read it, loved it, and put it on my creative writing books shelf. I own a huge amount of creative writing literature. I’m weird like that—reading about creative writing makes me want to write, which is really the main reason why I keep buying them. And to sometimes do exercises to get the muses kickstarted, or to be able to recommend a good creative writing book to beginners. And I love reading about how other writers go about it; there’s some kind of comradely or even voyeuristic pleasure there.

Josh Lanyon doesn’t really need an introduction, award-winning writer, one of the big names in this tiny fishpond of m/m and gay fiction, and he tells us what’s what. I found myself nod an awful lot, and agreeing with almost everything he says (and the details are down to personal opinion).

With this, he has written an eminently useable book for m/m writers of all levels of experience, covering all the angles from finding ideas to writing that dreaded synopsis. He covers why men in fiction aren’t women plus penis, how men interact, and gently points out what so many m/m writers still get wrong (and no, it’s not the anatomical detail).

Lanyon has added a lot of great quotes from writers, reviewers, editors and publishers, which give a very good idea about whatever topic he’s currently covering. All his advice is hands-on, never preachy, and comes with a good dose of humour. It’s much like you’re sitting in a cafe with him while he chats about writing, the genre, his method, and what he thinks needs some work. He has included an outline, a synopsis, a query letter, and added an appendix of m/m writing contests, as well as a list of m/m publishers, so this book saves you a lot of work. Every chapter comes with recommendations for further reading (usually creative writing books), and his choices are for the most part excellent.

If I had to voice one criticism, then that there are a lot of fonts involved in the printing and the text looks a bit “busy” with those slightly gimmicky fonts, but I really prefer my layouts to be as clean and sparse as possible.

For anybody writing in the genre, or thinking about jumping into the little pond, this should absolutely be required reading. I would hope that this book helps prevent some of the train wrecks I’ve seen in the genre. Get it today.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

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Review: Lover’s Knots by Katherine Cross

Third Lieutenant Andrew Clayton wanted senior officer Daniel Barrett from the moment they first met. Something about the charismatic man with the scarred knuckles and street-tough voice heats Andrew’s blood and makes his body ache. He’d give up everything for just one taste of the forbidden—his position in Society, his commission…even his life.

Daniel’s sure he’s losing his mind. Nothing else could explain his obsession with noble-born Andrew or his constant desire to spread him across the wardroom table and mark his fair skin. In His Majesty’s Royal Navy, the punishment for their love is death. One misstep could have them both at the end of a hangman’s noose.

But everything changes when they’re granted an unexpected leave. Far from the captain’s watchful eye, Daniel agrees to one week—seven days to explore each other’s bodies, to let four years of suppressed desire consume them—before they must return to their ship and the way things were. But some passions can’t be tamed once unleashed, and some dangers are worth the risk.

Review by Alex Beecroft

I know I said, just in my last review, that I didn’t like erotica much. So it seems like a dose of poetic justice that this should be the very next book I read. This is a very sexy book indeed and I loved it.

There’s not a great deal of story; we open with the ship on blockade duty, patrolling up and down the coast of France to stop any potential French invasion fleet from leaving harbour. This duty which is tedious at the best of times provides plenty of opportunity for Andrew to yearn for Daniel, angst about what Daniel would think of him if he knew, and enjoy some scorchingly explicit dreams.

Daniel’s low born roots and current high status make an enemy of the fourth lieutenant, Edmund Sinclair, who has designs on Daniel’s job and – it emerges later- on his person as well. However, before he can manage to find any weapon to use against Daniel, the ship is directed back home to England for the Captain’s wedding.

On the way, Daniel lets slip to Andrew that he is that way inclined too, and has been lusting after Andrew for some time. Further angst ensues as Daniel does the sensible thing and insists that nothing should happen between them.

However, by dint of cunning and determination, Andrew convinces him to at least spend the seven days of their upcoming leave in bed together, and much further highly entertaining sex ensues.

Unfortunately, the moment they reappear in public they make a disastrous mistake and are spotted kissing by their First lieutenant and by Sinclair. Given the opportunity he was looking for to hurt Daniel, Sinclair proves not to be the cad we thought he was, and doesn’t use it. The first lieutenant also keeps mum, and during a battle with the French, the two lads behave heroically and all is forgiven.

Put like that, the story is not enthralling. In fact I would say that the story is the weakest thing in the book. Not a great deal happens, and the villain who has been set up to provide some feeling of threat fortuitously turns out not to be a villain at all. Despite a battle at sea, there isn’t a lot of conflict, and this does rather undermine the characters tendency to angst about how dreadful it would be if they were ever found out.

But I don’t think that anyone who was reading this book would be doing so for the story. It’s an Ellora’s Cave book, and its intended audience are people who are looking for a sexy read. This is certainly that, the sex scenes are numerous, emotionally and sensually involving, mean something to the characters and therefore also to the reader, and are very very intense and hot.

The book is also beautifully written with a lovely spare style which is however not lacking in detail and description. And the historical research and setting are absolutely impeccable. No topless waiters and glassed-in portholes here. The scenes on HMS Charon are the real deal. I may not be sure about “swabbing the barrel” as a command – I’m fairly certain it would be “worm and sponge” – but I suspect that’s just a translation for the sake of greater clarity. Apart from that little nitpick, however the sea scenes are wonderful, and could have graced CS Forester. I’d have liked to see more of them, in fact.

That’s my main problem with this book – I would have liked it to be longer. I’d have liked to see Sinclair go through on his threat, and how the lads dealt with that. I’d have liked more of the action at sea that Katherine Cross proves she can do so splendidly. I’d have liked the heroes to have to struggle harder for their happy ending. Maybe a couple of hundred pages harder J

I also had a minor problem with the character of Daniel. Throughout, we hear about what a great leader he is, how everyone loves him, even the villain, how he’s born to be a captain despite his low birth. Everyone seemed determined that he should be given a command of his own, and the social and financial support he needed to get it. And the more everyone in the book praised him and said he was wonderful, the more I ended up mildly disliking the man.

He doesn’t act like a born leader. It’s Andrew (whom the book tells us is a natural follower) who forces the issue between them. Andrew decides that he will use his family connections to get Daniel a command, and drives this decision through despite Daniel’s protests. Andrew overcomes Daniel’s determination not to get sexually involved, and it’s Andrew at the end of the book who continues to drive the action.

The book’s insistence on Daniel as the ‘alpha’ of the pair, and as the one destined for greatness didn’t really match the way they came across to me, and ran the risk of making me dislike Daniel as a Mary Sue. But having said that, despite this, I did like him anyway, as a sort of gentle, immovable rock of a man, and I liked Andrew even more for his nervous but unstoppable determination.

This is definitely the best piece of Age of Sail erotica I’ve read recently, and I can only reiterate my wish that she would try something longer and more plot heavy to let all that lovely historical setting and research shine out even more.

Buy from Ellora’s Cave

Review: The Sheikh and the Servant by Sonja Spencer

Trapped in his life as a pleasure slave, Noori serves each master who passes through the amir’s realm. No one sees beyond the slave’s body—no one bothers to look—until the sheikh of a desert tribe discovers the once-free, educated man could be an asset to his business. Noori’s life is turned upside down as the sheikh takes him to his new home, where he will discover new challenges, new people, the possibility of freedom, and the irresistible lure of love.

One of Dreamspinner’s Timeless Dreams category which they describe as: “While reaction to same-sex relationships throughout time and across cultures has not always been positive, these stories celebrate M/M love in a manner that may address, minimize, or ignore historical stigma.”

Review by Vashtan (warning – plot spoilers)

Okay, this review was two weeks in the making. When I got the list of titles to be reviewed, I was quite excited. Finally one of those fabled “sheikh stories” that I‘ve heard people talk about! I haven’t read a single one of them in my life, so, to me, that was like dipping my toes into something new and exciting. I read the text in one day, mostly morbidly fascinated from page one.

This is not a kind review, but honestly, this book deserves very little kindness. I don’t actually enjoy ripping books apart, I am a reviewer because I love reading and I adore finding a good book in unexpected places and getting to know authors that I haven’t read before to add to my “authors to buy” list.

I was glad that this book is almost ahistorical, so I thought I could ignore it and move on, forgetting I ever read it, but reading a few other reviews on Speak Its Name, I realized that just because it has next to no discernible setting and is a punch to the face of any intelligent reader, that doesn’t mean it’s not meant as historical. So I will treat it like that. Good things first: the cover is fine (no poser cover, no soft-porn male torso), and the style isn’t offensively bad, for the most part.

This is a short, 158 page story about Noori, a former pleasure slave, who is bought by the eponymous sheik. He lives with the sheikh as his “trusted servant” and they sleep in the same bed for many months. Noori is trained as a pleasure slave, and has been badly traumatized by it. The sheikh is the first man he really wants, but also the first man that doesn’t touch him. To those readers who like a lot of sex with their pleasure slaves, the only sex scene is on the last few pages, and it was… really fairly purple. If that was the pay-off for the other 155 pages of drivel, it didn’t work for me. The sheikh and Noori sleep in the same bed, cuddling a little, but nothing happens. You could think they are celibate nuns rather than men. Noori desires his master, but is too timid to do anything about it, so what we get is this simpering, wide-eyed slave adoring the sheikh for a long time.

Noori is as feminine as you can make a character. “Simpering doormat” is almost too gentle a description. For those of you looking for characters who actually have guts or balls, trauma or not, this is not the story for you.

The story-building is weak, to say the least. Most of the time is spent with Noori talking to people about how great and fearless and wonderful and gorgeous and tragic the sheikh is (show me, please, rather than tell me, dear author!), and the sheikh, on camera, so to speak, is pretty terse and “grunts” a lot. Sexy! Noori plays with the sheikh’s sweet cute pretty clever children (of two conveniently tragically deceased wives), and talks to the sheikh’s mother about how much the sheikh needs another person in his life. Yes, we can see that Noori’s going to make him a good wife; gets along well with the  “mother-in-law” and the children love him too. Very convenient, so the happy ending is set. At some point, Noori’s former, dastardly owner shows up and grabs Noori and one of the children. Noori, despite being wounded, escapes (how exactly remains a mystery), robbing the sheikh of the opportunity to a good action scene where we can finally see him as a glorious leader of men that the author tells us he is.

Then, after the rescue, there’s some “romance” and the purple-prosed sex scene.

So much for the story. Let’s look at the research.

It must be here somewhere.

I’m pretty sure I saw some kind of setting.

Oh, right. Desert. Bedouins. It’s on the cover, right?

What comes to mind when thinking Bedouins? Yes, they tend to be  Muslims. There are certain customs in the desert, think hospitality (not that anybody cares, mind you). The only thing properly “Bedouin” about the cast is that they wear flowy robes. Let’s look at the way Spencer shows us her research. (Let’s ignore the whole thing about male sex toy slaves being traded). What galled me that the two sexes, males and females, interact like in the Western World. No segregation, women seem to be very emancipated, and dating behaviour looks very western. Okay, I thought, so it’s not current-day, because reality looks a bit different in Saudi Arabia.

I knew I was in for a ride when the book opens with the sheikh getting drunk on wine (!). I’m not sure how many Muslims the author knows, but all but one of my Muslim friends (in current-day Europe), don’t drink. And the one I know is a non-practising Muslim. Okay, I thought, our  sheikh is obviously an apostate. That fits with him not praying on
camera and not following the tenets of his own faith throughout the book. It could have been an interesting conflict, apart from the fact that a sheikh (as a leader of his men) would have to answer some hard questions from his followers if he’s so obviously non-Muslim. Not so.

In this book, everybody loves the sheikh, he can do whatever he wants,
and that includes taking a male consort (after all, he already fathered two children), so that’s pretty much OKHOMO. There is a mention later of that he’s at odds with the Imam, but nothing much is made of the conflict. It’s introduced at a convenient time, but not resolved or used to further the story.

There is no sense of culture, history, or setting. Noori, being pale, is “from the land beyond the northern sea”:

“His people were quite fair, with lighter hair, as well. His was a dark blond, near the color of the sand of this desert land, and his blue eyes were definitely exotic. He was also slighter than the people here, with finer bones and features that ironically served him well as a pleasure slave.”

If we place the novel in Saudi Arabia, I’m not sure about what “northern sea” we are talking about. The Mediterranean? That would make him European. Noori (which, we learn, is his real name) is a  Persian/Turkish name as far as I know. There are blond Turks/Persians, but there is a “northern sea” missing between there and Saudi Arabia.

This is just one instance of the author being incredibly vague about everything regarding setting and culture, which tells me she couldn’t be bothered doing more than adapting the nice flowy robes. I’m all for good visuals, but this is simply not enough for me.

Noori spends a lot of time about obsessing about upsetting the sheikh:

“Grunting again, the sheikh looked back down at his papers after a dismissive twitch of his hand. Noori winced. The man did not want to be bothered, which was surely his master’s intention, thereby sending this interesting choice of distraction. His master would be very displeased that Noori had failed to keep the sheikh’s attention.”

Or:

“Noori dared to glance at the sheikh. Lowering his eyes again, he answered, “In my homeland above the northern sea, Master, I was trained as any free man’s male child would be. I studied numbers and words and sciences. After my father died, I was sold to cover his debts. Amir Qutaibah bought me, and his harem master dictated my education in the finer arts of art, dance, and pleasure.”

The constant “master” this, “master” that, and the melodramatic angsting over things like the twitch of an eyebrow galled the character for me. Noori has no spine, not a molecule of testosterone, and is a complete submissive doormat without any hopes or aspirations beyond getting finally fucked by the sheikh. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about him. If he was part of the harem, he would be castrated, so that maybe accounts for the lack of “balls”, but the author never mentions that, so I assume she ignored the facts of life for a male member of a harem.

Now, the time. The “feel” of the story was historical at the start.  When we learn that the sheikh wears glasses (I assume that’s the “flaw” that’s meant to make him a two-dimensional character), I put this post 1200s, as that’s when we learn of spectacles. Give or take a few years for the Arab world. I read it with that in mind. Then, the sheikh says:

“I have not decided your duties,” the sheikh said shortly, falling silent for a long moment before adding, “I do not believe in forcing someone to warm my bed,” he said gruffly. “It is … counterproductive.” (page 37)

Which catapulted me right back into post 1950ies – the online  etymological dictionary places “counter-productive” in 1959, so a good guess.

Now, there is a lot of archaic words being used, too, or archaic turns of phrase. But there’s nothing that we’d expect from a speaker of Arabic or a Muslim (no mention of Allah or the Prophet, for example), and the author does a pretty poor job making me believe those people speak Arabic, which is usually really poetic.

To confuse me more, there’s mentioning of a place called Meda’in Saleh, which is an archaeological site in current-day Saudi Arabia, which is a site dating from Late Antiquity, but apparently Bedouins lived there, so the time could be whenever. And its is “whenever”, and we’re not supposed to care and we’re not given anything to work with.

There’s one scene where the our demure little slaveling suggests seducing the Imam to give the sheikh a political advantage. That’s the scene I’ve chosen to give you an idea of the characters and writing:

“The Imam and I do not see eye to eye,” he [the sheikh] grumbled. Noori nodded, waiting for him to continue. Shahin narrowed his eyes as he saw Noori listening expectantly. He huffed aloud. “The Imam and I do not agree on a particular matter,” he specified. “And he will not let it rest.”

“What matter is that, my lord? Might I be of service to help change his views?” Noori offered timidly, yet automatically.

Shahin snorted, shaking his head. “His mind will not be turned, not on this matter,” he said firmly. “It is of little consequence. I let him bait me.” His nose wrinkled in displeasure.

“Are you certain I might not offer my services? I was often used as an … incentive … when the amir’s deals were not quite guaranteed.”

Turning his chin sharply, Shahin’s eyes flashed. “Incentive? Like when he—” His words cut off, and he shook his head. “No. I will not tolerate anyone being used in such a manner.”

“But I was trained to do this,” Noori tried to convince him. “It is nothing more than a mere business deal to me. I shall do it if you ask it of me, my lord.”

“I will not, and neither will any other!” Shahin snapped vehemently, sitting up, looking truly affronted. “I will not allow it.”

“You do not understand, my lord. I want to do this for you. I want to make your life easier,” Noori argued.

Lips pressing together in annoyance, Shahin glowered at Noori for a long moment, obviously choosing his words carefully. “I … appreciate … your devotion, but I will never ask that of you. Never,” he growled. “You are not a mere commodity to be plundered. No human is.”

“What if I insist on doing it? Even if you do not ask it of me?” Noori’s eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared as he found himself leaning closer to press his point.

Shahin gritted his teeth, practically in Noori’s face. “Then I will have you removed from the situation bodily,” he rasped. “I will not accept such services from any person; it is not a matter of loyalty! It is a matter of what is right, what is decent.”

“What if I desire it?” Noori’s voice dropped to a low, devious tone.

Stunned into silence, Shahin stared at him.

Noori smiled as he realized he might have found a way to help the sheikh without the other man being able to stop it. “I am a loyal servant to you, my lord. I am faithful to you. I wish to see your tribe grow and prosper.”

Shahin frowned deeply, looking quite put out. Noori stared at him, forgetting that he was merely a servant in thrall of a great lord. “Seducing the Imam will not help matters,” Shahin finally muttered, giving in and revealing more information. “He wishes to bend me to his will, and I shall not be tempered in this matter.”

“What is his will?” Noori asked, watching Shahin’s face for any clues.

That face shuttered and Shahin’s eyes darkened, going blank. “He wants my attendance at worship,” he muttered.

Noori closed his hand around Shahin’s forearm. “No man should be able to dictate to another whom he shall worship.”

Shahin sighed, shoulders slumping. “I still honor the heavens, in my own way,” he said quietly, eyes far away.

“I have heard you pray,” Noori admitted softly, “and my heart cries out for your loss.”

Shahin’s shoulders stiffened a bit, but just as quickly he relaxed back against the palm tree. They sat in silence for long minutes. Finally the sheikh spoke. “I forbid you to proposition the Imam,” he rasped.

Blue eyes shot up to meet black ones. “I will abide by your wishes, my lord, but I do not know why you forbid this.”

Shahin stood abruptly, folding his arms. When he looked at Noori, his face was pinched. “The Imam is my father’s brother,” he muttered.

“Then he must understand your … reluctance … to worship.” Noori stood and followed him, standing so close he could feel Shahin’s heat radiating through the wet fabric of his own clothes.

“How do you know of it?” the sheikh rasped.

Noori dipped his head. “I apologize for mentioning it, my lord.” He avoided answering the question directly. “A friend told me so that I might better understand how to serve you.” (page 87-89)

Don’t worry, the man doesn’t have throat cancer, he just “rasps” a lot. I assume that’s meant to be sexy. It can get damned dry in a desert.

So. If you like your Muslims talking casually about doing their own thing, swilling wine, your slaves little submissive doormats, your setting and time evenly stretched over the last 800 years or so, with plenty of angsty melodrama with zero emotional impact, if you like your sheikhs worshipped by everybody on very little merit, and your pleasure slaves effeminate and gormless, go for it. But this wasn’t for me.

Buy at Dreamspinner

Review: A Son Called Gabriel by Damian McNicholl

Set in the hills of Northern Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s, the book is told from the point of view of Gabriel Harkin, the eldest of four children in a working-class family, who struggles through a loving yet often brutal childhood.  It’s a turbulent time in Ulster, and, in the staunchly Catholic community to which Gabriel belongs, the strict code for belief and behaviour is clear.  As Gabriel begins to suspect that he is not like other boys, he tries desperately to lock away his feelings, and his fears.  But secrets have a way of being discovered, and Gabriel learns that his might not be the only one in the Harkin family.

Review by Erastes

This book struck a lot of chords for me, and I found myself reading it in one session because I simply couldn’t put it down.  Being raised myself by a Catholic mother with the same values and standards as Gabriel’s mother–don’t shame the family, don’t show yourself up, don’t give in to bullies, always look nice, study hard, do better–I could empathize with everything in this story.

Gideon is a normal little boy–until he starts to worry that he isn’t.  He’s about six at the start of the book and going to school.  Or at least, he decides he’s not going to school because he’s being bullied.

The choice was school or the big stick and seemed easy to make.  My younger sister Caroline and any boy in the whole of Ireland would choose school, but I knew I was right in refusing to go.

No, he’s not the most self-aware boy in Ireland, he’s just not into sports.  However that’s enough of a reason for Henry Lynch to pick on Gabriel and when pushed to the point of fighting, and then backing down he realises that he’s never going to be able to fight–which makes matters worse.  There are gradual hints as he gets older that he’s not like the other boys in his immediate circle which he doesn’t understand.

In this respect I was reminded of William Golding’s The Inheritors, or more recently, Terry Pratchett’s Nation where someone tries to understand a way of life that in many ways makes no sense at all.  Gabriel’s so desperate to fit in; but there are things that even he’s not aware of that make him stand out.

Don’t go thinking that this is a bleak and tragic story.  It could easily have gone that way, but there’s a bubbling exuberance that buoys it up, and a streak of black humour running through it which saves it from irremediable emo.

As an example, Lynch picks on Gabriel at the funfair. Gabriel is wearing purple jeans, jeans he begged his mother to buy him, and of course, they are unlike anyone else’s jeans.  Gabriel is stripped by the bullies and saved by the girls–who he plays with at school.  A dreadful situation but the sting is taken out of it when his cousin remarks that she’s seen her brother’s thing a hundred times and Gabriel’s is no different.

The book is full of childhood smut, like this.  Children experiment with sex, and these children are no different, so if you are averse to children playing doctors and nurses (in one case quite delightfully with Gabriel and his male cousin) then this isn’t the book for you.  But it’s not presented in any titilaating way–simply as a fact of life, because that’s what children do.  They learn “bad words” and keep them from their parents because they know they shouldn’t know them.

In this respect is a lovely nostalgic read, children certainly being more innocent than they are today.

As would be expected in the time and place, religion plays a strong part in the book, and Gabriel is buffeted between the Church and his family when he learns the confusing facts of how to deal with confession.  “Tell the priest the truth.”  “Don’t you dare tell the priest anything about this family.” and other impossible matters.  He’s often punished for telling the truth, when it’s discovered that he tells the truth about a lie he told earlier.

When Gabriel really begins to realise what might be “wrong” with him, that’s when the tone of the story changes and he struggles with his possible homosexuality with all of his might.  The book could have spiralled into despair at this point, but it’s Gabriel’s tenacity and–even more importantly, the strength and solidity of his family that prevent this.

His family are every piece as important in this, and I came to know and love (and dislike!) all of them.  Anyone with a largish family will be able to take something away from this, the nice grannie, the not so nice grannie, the embarrassing aunt, the brother no-one talks about… and so on.

I don’t know if the author is planning a series of books about Gabriel, but I hope so.  The book ends with him just about to leave Ireland for London, and it seems perfectly set for a sequel.  I’ll certainly be getting it if so.

I think many people will find something to take away in this book–especially if they were raised in the 1960s and 70s.  As a debut novel, it’s a terrific read, and anyone with an interest in this era will find it absorbing – and I’m sure, as unputdownable as I did.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

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The List – Revisted

The List has been fiddled with and I’ve put it into historical order.

We have:

Anthologies
Ancient World
Dark Ages
Middle Ages
Renaissance
17th Century & Regency
18th Century
19th Century
20th Century

Then, ebooks (which I still need to put in the same order), graphic novels, free fiction, text books.

I hope it is a little easier to navigate – when I started the List, I had no idea it would get so big and get bigger and bigger every month – it’s fabulous and it’s all thanks to YOU the readers for wanting to read more of it and convincing publishers to publish more of it.

I’ve also added the star value where a book has been reviewed, not only on The List, but also to the Review Done page (which I may also put into date order when I summon the energy, who knew we’d done so many reviews?)

I also need to polish up The List because I started to get date-blind and couldn’t remember when the Dark Ages began and started and the Middle Ages and when they bled into the Renaissance.  There’s plenty of time!

Anyway – enjoy – and don’t forget, please let me know if there’s a book I’ve missed off!

Erastes

Review: Past Shadows by Charlie Cochrane, Jardonn Smith, Stevie Woods

Through the centuries, lives and loves have been lost to the shadows. Stevie Woods brings redemption and a new love in DEATH’S DESIRE; Jardonn Smith has a frisky ghost showing two men the pleasures of love in GREEN RIVER; and Charlie Cochrane’s tale of future love is predicted by a ghost in THE SHADE ON A FINE DAY. In these three stories spanning from 18th century England to the Depression-Era Ozarks, love shines through the shadows.

Past Shadows is a trilogy of historical m/m ghost stories—1785, 1808, and 1938. The one thing I can say about all three is that these are probably the least frightening ghost stories I’ve ever read, which is not a criticism—I’ve never really seen the point of a spirit hanging around just to scare people. These revenants all have more serious business to pursue, naturally relating to the sexy gentlemen who are able to perceive them.

I was given a galley proof as ARC, so some of the minor errors that I noticed may have been repaired in the edition that went to press.

Death’s Desire by Stevie Woods (1785)

I liked the idea of this novella—two young cousins exploring their own attraction to one another while helping to lay to rest a murdered relative’s ghost. The young men were engaging and the dialog between Hugh and the ghost of Adam Simmercy was delightful, but there were so many problems interfering with my suspension of disbelief that I was never able to get into the story. Some were simply language errors (a ‘peel’ of laughter, misplaced commas and apostrophes), but the improbability of the circumstances leading to the murder convinced me that Adam Simmercy died of sheer carelessness. What gentleman, enjoying the embraces of another man in his own bedroom, would not take the basic precaution of locking the door? This carelessness is matched by his murderers—they bury the Lord of the Manor in the kitchen garden and his lover in the woods, instead of taking both corpses well away from the house to avoid discovery. Why one ghost is stuck haunting the place he was buried, not the scene of his death, while the other was stuck at the scene of the crime was never explained, either.

For me, much of the charm of historical fiction lies in small details. Unfortunately, this story disregarded important details, especially one: where were the many servants that one would expect to see in a grand country manor? A kitchen garden means a gardener, and gardeners are alert for such things as rabbits in the veg—yet there was no evidence of a gardener and no explanation of his absence. Hugh and his cousin Charles use a coverlet (an expensive item of household linen) as a carryall and shroud for the exhumed body, with no expectation that it will be missed, and they park a decomposing corpse beside the garden wall for some hours without anyone noticing. (That missing gardener would probably have had a dog…) They somehow manage to clean themselves up before dinner without the assistance of the servants who would bring in bathwater and collect their grimy clothing, and after further excavations (and another wash-up), they engage in a long, noisy session of sex in Hugh’s bedroom, with no apparent concern about being overheard by a passing maid or footman.

Any one of these problems would be a minor thing, but there were so very many that I just could not stay focused on the story. The sad thing is that I think the problems could have been worked out with a critical beta’s feedback or a tough edit. I have to say it’s my least favorite in the collection because it just didn’t feel finished, and I know that Stevie can do, and has done, much more convincing work.

A reader who isn’t as picky about details and likes enthusiastic first-time love scenes will probably enjoy this story a lot more than I did; I think Death’s Desire does have the most romantic sex scenes in the collection, but they weren’t enough to keep the story moving.

The Shade on a Fine Day by Charlie Cochrane (1808)

This story is a first, I think. It’s a gay inspirational—a Christian inspirational, no less. As a reader totally unfamiliar with the conventions of the Church of England, I found myself wishing that the author had included a short glossary—what exactly are a curate’s duties? What is a verger? If a curate preaches sermons, what does the Rector do, and why is he called a ‘Canon?’

But once that hurdle was passed, the story settles into a delightful combination of Austenesque convention—the young ladies of the parish twittering over the handsome young curate and the local squire—and unexpected surprises. The Rector is a married man whose wife must have been quite a shock to the locals, as she is a dark-skinned lady from an unspecified tropical isle. Her tribal traditions include a ghost named Toomhai Gamali, who drops in on dinner parties when there’s something those present need to hear.

Naturally, TG makes his appearance, and one of his cautiously-worded messages prods the handsome young curate, William Church, into a great deal of soul-searching that ends in him expressing his feelings to the gentleman he’s had his eye on… a gentleman who has been anxiously watching to see which village maiden will win the young clergyman he would rather have for himself.

This is a gentle romance, less explicit than the other two. Its main conflict is one of conscience, and its great charm is the cast of well-rounded characters who, I am convinced, went on with their lives long after I closed the book. This story was also refreshingly free of the typos that I found so distracting in the other two novellas (the only thing that struck me was the use of ‘may’ instead of ‘might,’) and I think it’s unique in having a scene where a ghostly yenta refutes Leviticus to a gay clergyman. Shade is interesting departure from Charlie’s usual whodunits, and I enjoyed it very much.

Green River by Jardonn Smith (1938)

This story is the only one I’ve seen set in this place or era. Since my own father grew up in the South during this time (he’d have been a few years younger than these characters), I was very interested to see what the author would do with it.

The setting—a WPA work camp repairing highways—came through vividly, as did the grinding poverty of the era and the human desperation of a depression, a striking contrast to the lush scenery of the country landscape. Smith really caught the sense of how a river becomes the center of human activity in the summertime. The love story is convincingly masculine—far more screwing around than verbalized emotion, though when the emotions do surface, they ring true. The comeuppance of the camp bullies was very welcome, and the randy river ghost has a satisfactory explanation that makes this the anthology’s second whodunnit. I almost wonder if Smith found an actual event while researching, as it sounds very real and regrettably believable.

I would have been more able to lose myself in this story if not for a number of minor errors in grammar and punctuation, and anachronisms—for instance, steaks wrapped in plastic should’ve been in butcher-paper, since plastic wrap for food wasn’t even around until the late 40′s. I also thought there was a slightly pedantic tone that crept into the expository sections of the story, language that didn’t quite match the narrator’s down-home folksiness when he was recounting interactions between other characters, and a few modern-day terms such as “graphic items,” and “peripherals” struck my ear as expressions that no down-home boy would’ve picked up in a pre-WWII schoolhouse.

But apart from these—and it’s possible that some of the typos will have been caught in the final galley proofing—this was an interesting story and an inventive choice of setting. The plotting is tight and well-organized, and all the threads neatly woven to a satisfying conclusion.

Amazon UK Amazon USA ManloveRomance Press

Review: Say To Me Where The Flowers Are

Say To Me Where the Flowers Are
Augusta Li and Eon de Beaumont
World War II draws to a close. Hope and happiness are scarce on the streets of Berlin, but step inside one of the city’s celebrated cabaret nightclubs and one can escape the ugliness of war, if only for a few hours. Heinrich, a young German officer visits “Die Comedie des Lebens,” one of the most popular, each night for a chance to see Marika, whose music and heart he immediately falls for. Heinrich is a dream come true for the vocalist, but Marika keeps a dangerous secret and as the love between the two blossom, Marika worries that the secret may tear them apart. Torn between two lives, Marika must make a decision before it’s too late.
Review
We seem to be on a roll here at Speak Its Name, with lots of books that purport to be historical and are anything but.  I had the unfortunate experience of reading Say To Me Where the Flowers Are, the latest casualty in this trend of non-historical historicals. Lucky me.
The blurb states that WWII is drawing to a close so I would date this as 1944 or 1945. The location is Berlin. Now, I have only read about Berlin at that time, but by all accounts, it was a city at the tail-end of a war that the Nazis were losing, bombed and ravaged, its citizens barely able to eke out their lives.  At least that is what history tells us Berlin was like. In the world envisioned by authors Li and de Beaumont, we get this in the second paragraph:
He pushed the small round glasses he wore up his thin nose with one finger and read the gaudy sign that sparkled like a jeweled brooch compared to the gray city surrounding it. Die Komödie des Lebens, one of the many Cabarets that had popped up in the city, afforded the citizenry an escape from the fear and frustration so prevalent in the world. Inside a person could sit down, have a meal and a few drinks, and be entertained by an array of performers. Although the only performer occupying Heinrich’s thoughts as he descended the familiar steps into the Club was Marika.
Cabarets were popping up in 1944? I don’t think so. I almost stopped reading then and there, but I’m a good trooper and Erastes is a friend, so I plowed on.
Believe me, it doesn’t get better. People drink scotch and soda and gin and tonics (in Germany?) and eat steak and lobster and drink fine wine. Marika wears nylons and a garter belt. Everyone lives in nice, big, warm apartments with lots heat and running hot water. “Jewish sympathizers” conveniently appear on the sidewalk to shoot high ranking Nazi officers, allowing the cross-dressing hero/heroine to escape from his evil clutches. When said hero/heroine decides that it is too dangerous to stay in Berlin with his/her new boyfriend, s/he announces, “Let’s go to Amsterdam! There are plenty of people there like me, we’ll be safe!”, they are immediately able to procure tickets for the next evening’s train. And so on.
I’m sorry, but in my eyes, war is a tragedy and when writing story that take place in times of war, the historical context should be treated with dignity and respect. I’m not saying an author can’t write about the futility of war or its pointlessness, but to write a story that totally ignores the reality of what was going on is wrong. In fact, it’s more than wrong, it’s offensive.
The story was only 12K words and so much plot was crammed in there that of course, it was superficial and silly. When Heinrich finds out that the love of his life, Marika, is really Mark, he responds with a blithe, “No problem, I’ve known that all along,” and he’s instantly gay. That might work as the punchline in Some Like It Hot, a romantic comedy, but not in an alleged war-time drama.
I could go on but it’s pointless to do so. Believe me when I say that there is nothing that makes this book worthwhile. The dialog is silly (they all sound like present-day Americans), the history is nonexistent and the story is preposterous. Even the sex is dull. All in all, one star and a reminder to myself to pass on future books from this writing team.

World War II draws to a close. Hope and happiness are scarce on the streets of Berlin, but step inside one of the city’s celebrated cabaret nightclubs and one can escape the ugliness of war, if only for a few hours. Heinrich, a young German officer visits “Die Comedie des Lebens,” one of the most popular, each night for a chance to see Marika, whose music and heart he immediately falls for. Heinrich is a dream come true for the vocalist, but Marika keeps a dangerous secret and as the love between the two blossom, Marika worries that the secret may tear them apart. Torn between two lives, Marika must make a decision before it’s too late.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

We seem to be on a roll here at Speak Its Name, with lots of books that purport to be historical and are anything but.  I had the unfortunate experience of reading Say To Me Where the Flowers Are, the latest casualty in this trend of non-historical historicals. Lucky me.

The blurb states that WWII is drawing to a close so I would date this as 1944 or 1945. The location is Berlin. Now, I have only read about Berlin at that time, but by all accounts, it was a city at the tail-end of a war that the Nazis were losing, bombed and ravaged, its citizens barely able to eke out their lives.  At least that is what history tells us Berlin was like. In the world envisioned by authors Li and de Beaumont, we get this in the second paragraph:

He pushed the small round glasses he wore up his thin nose with one finger and read the gaudy sign that sparkled like a jeweled brooch compared to the gray city surrounding it. Die Komödie des Lebens, one of the many Cabarets that had popped up in the city, afforded the citizenry an escape from the fear and frustration so prevalent in the world. Inside a person could sit down, have a meal and a few drinks, and be entertained by an array of performers. Although the only performer occupying Heinrich’s thoughts as he descended the familiar steps into the Club was Marika.

Cabarets were popping up in 1944? I don’t think so. I almost stopped reading then and there, but I’m a good trooper and Erastes is a friend, so I plowed on.

Believe me, it doesn’t get better. People drink scotch and soda and gin and tonics (in Germany?) and eat steak and lobster and drink fine wine. Marika wears nylons and a garter belt. Everyone lives in nice, big, warm apartments with lots of heat and running hot water. “Jewish sympathizers” conveniently appear on the sidewalk to shoot high ranking Nazi officers, allowing the cross-dressing hero/heroine to escape from his evil clutches. When said hero/heroine decides that it is too dangerous to stay in Berlin with his/her new boyfriend, s/he announces, “Let’s go to Amsterdam! There are plenty of people there like me, we’ll be safe!”, they are immediately able to procure tickets for the next evening’s train. And so on.

I’m sorry, but in my eyes, war is a tragedy and when writing story that take place in times of war, the historical context should be treated with dignity and respect. I’m not saying an author can’t write about the futility of war or its pointlessness, but to write a story that totally ignores the reality of what was going on is wrong. In fact, it’s more than wrong, it’s offensive.

The story was only 12K words and so much plot was crammed in there that of course, it was superficial and silly. When Heinrich finds out that the love of his life, Marika, is really Mark, he responds with a blithe, “No problem, I’ve known that all along,” and he’s instantly gay. That might work as the punchline in Some Like It Hot, a romantic comedy movie, but not in an alleged war-time drama.

I could go on but it’s pointless to do so. Believe me when I say that there is nothing that makes this book worthwhile. The dialog is silly (they all sound like present-day Americans), the history is nonexistent and the story is preposterous. Even the sex is dull. All in all, one star and a reminder to myself to pass on future books from this writing team.

Available for purchase (but really, you don’t want to do that) here.

Disclaimer: A free copy of this ebook was provided to me by Erastes, owner of this site, for this review.

Review: The Lord Won’t Mind by Gordon Merrick

Looking at The Lord Won’t Mind from a historical perspective

Title: The Lord Won’t Mind
Author: Gordon Merrick
Published: 1970; republished in 1995
Length: 255 pages

Charlie Mills and Peter Martin are both young, handsome and well-endowed. They meet and fall madly in love. The book follows Charlie’s path from a closeted gay man to a person who accepts himself. Charlie is terrified of rejection, especially that of his rigid, moralistic grandmother whom he loves but who expects him to marry and have children. Charlie at first attempts to live a double-life, expressing his homosexuality through acting and painting. But his life is incomplete without Peter.

Charlie eventually throws Peter out and marries a woman to protect his reputation. Charlie’s wife later suspects his homosexuality, and perpetrates a horrific act of violence on her husband. As Charlie works through the aftermath of the attack, he slowly comes to realize that honesty and self-acceptance are the only way out. Charlie finally confesses his love for Peter, and they move in together.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

I have a review posted for The Lord Won’t Mind over at reviewsbyjessewave. There I critique the book from the perspective of being an important piece of gay literary history; for this critique here at Speak Its Name I’ll consider it as historical fiction, because, bottom line, that’s what it is—or at least supposed to be.

The story allegedly takes place in the late 1930s. It opens at Charlie’s grandmother’s summer estate in Rumson, New Jersey. Unfortunately, there seems to be a great deal of confusion on this point. Googling the book and reading various synposes and descriptions posted here and there, many people (wrongly) state that the book is the story of two Ivy League college students in the 1960s. Looking at the original cover of the book, it is easy to see how someone could make this error. Their hair, oxford cloth shirts with rolled up sleeves, no ties…the casually tied sweaters tied over their shoulders—yup, definitely preppies from the 60s. I might even have dated one or both of them.

But what about within the pages of the book? Doesn’t that give any clues? Not really. There are vague mentions of “the war” but no one actually ever goes away nor does anyone get killed. Keeping with the sixties theme, it could have been the Viet Nam War, so that’s not really a hint.

Dress, technology, locales? All vague. Park Avenue is Park Avenue; Charlie and Peter dress to look sharp but nothing that particularly ties them to the era; they talk on the phone and drive cars. In fact, near the end of the book, they drive back and forth to Stamford, Connecticut (from New York City) twice. I vaguely wondered when gas rationing began—after the attack on Pearl Harbor, I later discovered, so even that wasn’t a giveaway clue.

Manners of speech—Peter says “Golly” a lot and sounds like Mickey Rooney in the old Andy Hardy movies. They call each other “darling” (endlessly) which reminds me of the Nick and Nora Charles movies. So maybe that would be accurate to time. But then “baby” creeps in and worse, “darling baby.” Maybe that’s just sappy speech but it doesn’t sound historical to me.

Sexual behavior—Charlie and Peter have lots of sex and use a lubricant. Was that term common in the 1930s? I don’t know. K-Y jelly (water-based) was invented in 1917; Vaseline (petroleum-based) was invented in 1872. I know that in my experience, I used “Vaseline” as a generic term for years; it wasn’t until the spread of AIDS and the need to use water-based products with latex condoms that the word “lubricant” became more common in the vernacular. However, the author, Merrick, was gay and he might very well have been traveling in different lubricant-circles than the ones I inhabit so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

On the other hand, Charlie’s wife takes him to task that he doesn’t pleasure her enough and give her enough orgasms. She even suggests that he might read a book on female sexuality. In 1939? I don’t think so. Remember that the Kinsey reports didn’t come out until 1948 (men) and 1952 (women). Thus I don’t think Hattie’s admonishment to Charlie rings true for the time. In fact, her comment sounded like it came straight from the pages of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, published in 1969. For me, this was definitely an anachronism.

So how can Merrick write a historical fiction book and not have it be…historical? A couple of points might provide insight. First, Merrick went to Princeton in 1938 and dropped out during his junior year. In the book, Charlie has just finished college. So Charlie is clearly drawn from Merrick’s life experience. Since he was there, and lived it, it is not surprising that details get omitted in the telling of the tale—they are not in the forefront of his mind. Second, for people reading in the 1970s, the forties were only three decades prior. They probably remembered those days quite clearly—I know my mother would have (and I am sure she read this book—but I am wondering how she kept it hidden from me!). Thus readers in that era did not need the historical grounding that we in 2009 might require. Last—even though the story is set in the thirties, it could be any time. Time and place is really irrelevant. I think Merrick just set it when he did based on his own life experience, as noted above.

So tallying up: historical evidence: a few words, such as “Golly” and “Darling.” Anachronisms: female orgasmic behavior and the cover of the book. Neutral: places, clothing, transportation, communication (telephone), mentions of “the war.”

Recommendation: if you are in the mood for a gay soap opera with lots of melodrama, sex, and a happy ending, read the book. If you are interested in a slice of gay literary history, give it a go. If you want accurate historical fiction full of interesting details, you probably should pass. For me, one and two outweigh three and thus I think it’s worth reading. Four stars.

Note: The book was originally published in 1970 and re-published by Alyson in 1995. Although it is out of print, it is easy to find used copies. I bought mine for this review off Amazon for less than $5. And–I bought the book so that serves as my disclaimer.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Devil’s Spawn by Sarah Masters

After an altercation with Vincent, Julian leaves the ton as captain of Le Frai de Démon, trading his wares in foreign parts. Two years pass, two years of Vincent abstaining from sex and mourning the loss of his love. Week nights, gay men gather in Devil’s Spawn, Julian’s club, and though Vincent doesn’t partake in sexual contact, he visits the club as a way to bring Julian closer despite his absence. One night, Vincent’s life is turned upside down with the return of Julian. Though his heart tells him to open up and allow Julian in, his pride rears its stubborn head. Will Julian be able to break down the barriers? And will Vincent find out why Julian is really called The Master?

Review by Alex Beecroft

The blurb for this 30 page story pretty much sums up the entire plot – particularly when it’s obvious that the answer to the rhetorical questions at the end is “yes”.

I feel I should preface everything I say by confessing up front that I am not a fan of erotica, and I’m particularly not a fan of the combination of porn and schmoop. You know the kind of thing—where five pages of throbbing cocks and spunk and improbable recovery times are punctuated by scenes of men talking like teenage girls about soulmates and saving themselves for their one true love and calling each other “baby”.

This story is very much something of that kind. If you like that kind of thing, you may well like this. And you may like it better if you prefer your ‘history’ to be nothing more than a thin veneer of flowery language and a tall ship on the cover.

If you prefer your history to be history and your characters to be firmly men of their century, however, you are unlikely to be enthralled by the level of detail and accuracy in this one. I… can’t tell when in history this is supposed to be set. The characters’ way of speaking and the mention of the ton would indicate possibly Regency. But the inside layout of Julian’s ship is more like something you’d find in a pleasure liner of a century later or more. A double bed on an 18th Century ship? At the end of a passageway lined by doors? Really no. Round portholes in the Captain’s cabin, with no cannon to fire through them? No.

Equally, Julian’s club bears little resemblance to the kind of molly house described in Rictor Norton’s research. Perhaps it’s not meant to—perhaps it’s meant to be a gay gentleman’s club, like a gay version of Whites. But even so, I doubt it would have topless bartenders. It’s a modern nightclub, retrofitted with period costume.

The backstory of Vincent, our POV character, makes no sense at all at any historical period. Vincent’s grandfather was the sort of farmer who held down his own sheep at shearing time. That makes him a peasant. A salt-of-the-earth working man. Yet we’re told he left Vincent enough money to enable Vincent not to have to work at all. That’s one impossibility before breakfast. Then we learn that Vincent—who is, throughout, successfully passing as a gentleman—was bored, not working, so he decided to become a bank clerk instead. No. No way. This would have been social suicide. This back story could only have been written by someone who knew nothing whatsoever about the workings of the British class system in this or any other century. It’s frankly unbelievable.

Does it matter? To me it does. If I can’t believe the character’s background or his surroundings, I find it harder to care about him. And I found it very hard to care about either Vincent or Julian in this. Vincent—aside from the implausible backstory—has no personality. He’s been implausibly celibate for the last two years after (if I’m reading this right) Julian didn’t actually get around to shagging him the last time. This may be supposed to be romantic but I just thought it was rather pathetic of him.

Julian in the mean time has set things up so that his current squeeze will come along as he’s penetrating Vincent, just in time to be thrown away like a used condom. I get the impression that this was supposed to be romantic too, in an “I never cared for anyone but you, Vincent” way, but surprisingly, Julian acting like a complete tosser to one boyfriend in the middle of rodgering another one did not endear him to me.

Add in a little, half-hearted, “is it really supposed to be BDSM or am I just reading too much into the whole ‘Master’ thing?” And it all adds up to something that just did nothing for me at all. I didn’t find any of it hot, but then I generally don’t, with erotica, so it’s hard for me to say whether this was good erotica or not.

If you enjoy porn + schmoop + a window dressing of ‘historical’ without too much of the inconvenient reality, it may be just the thing for you. If not, it is at least short, so you wouldn’t be wasting too much time if you decided to check it out just in case, but I really can’t recommend it.

Fictionwise

Review: Divided Hearts by Terry O’Reilly

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

When Jonathan and Nathaniel part ways, Nathaniel heads for the Ohio territory and a new life with Robert. Robert soon realizes his friend will never reciprocate his love fully. What can he do? Robert agrees to help the English translate in their negotiations with the Shawnee and in doing so meets Red Horse. Now there are two men living with Divided Hearts.

Review

Divided Hearts is one of the stranger books I’ve read in awhile. Let me try to explain.

Divided Hearts is the sequel to Awakening, which I read and reviewed earlier at this site. I had some issues with Awakening but was sympathetic towards the two central characters, Jonathan and Nathaniel. I also liked Robert, the young man with an Indian mother and English father who becomes an apprentice to Nathaniel in his cooperage. Awakening ends with Nathaniel and Robert heading off to a new life and some sense that there are lots of broken hearts littering the ground.

As Divided Hearts opens, we discover that Nathaniel and Robert are living in the Ohio Territory. It’s not exactly clear where they are living since very little description is given of their surroundings (in the village? Out in the woods?) but they have a house that they share and seem to be content. Robert longs for Nathaniel and Nathaniel is still longing for Jonathan. In a moment of weakness and need, Nathaniel invites Robert to bed with him; they have sex and Robert says “I love you” but Nathaniel doesn’t respond.

Time passes, which is described as “years.” Robert begins sleeping with Nathaniel more frequently but still does not receive the declaration of love that he longs for. Robert is trying to decide if this is his lot in life—“an unequal love”—when all of a sudden, on page 30, we have the first of several “jarring interludes.”

If you go back and re-read my review of Awakening, you’ll notice that I advised readers to skip the Afterword because I felt it was an unnecessary and intrusive add-on that ruined the bittersweet ending. Well, the author either didn’t read or care about my suggestion because in Divided Hearts, the “afterword” has become a series of jarring interludes that are peppered throughout the book. In these, the author flips to the present time and shares details of his life with his husband, Drew, and their seeing eye dog, Jive. Drew, who is blind, acts as the cheerleader for Terry’s writing (the interludes are written in the third person). Drew and Terry discuss the evolving story in such a way to make sure that we readers, in case we are too dense to figure it out on our own, know exactly what is going on. The interludes become increasingly irrelevant and personal (Jive’s week-long bout with diarrhea; Terry’s ill-advised one night stand with his boss) but they also have a train wreck quality. I actually began to look forward to them, more than I enjoyed reading the story because the story was…boring.

Yes, boring. As with Awakening, the writing is wooden and flat. People talk to each other, they ride around on horses and that’s about it. The sex scenes are the only lively part of the narrative. They do have a little passion and flair but that’s not enough to sustain a reader’s interest for 164 pages—at least not this reader.

Divided Hearts is supposed to be a historical fiction but the only thing that makes it historical is a very brief mention of the coming Revolutionary War, transportation is by horse, and the fact that Robert is running around with the Shawnee in parts of the US that would eventually become Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia. This is faithful to US history circa 1758 so I guess O’Reilly got that right, but none of this history is presented in the story—I just looked it up on Wikipedia. No detail, no description, no little flourishes that make historical fiction fun to read.

The story wraps up with not one but two happy-ever-after endings which makes Drew very happy (revealed to us in yet another interlude) but left me shaking my head. Now, here’s my paradox: I feel bad giving this book a bad review because the author seems like a genuinely nice guy (he shares quite a bit of personal information in the course of the text). But he really needs to find an editor/mentor who will help him with polishing his writing and storytelling and give him some good, honest advice, ie, “The interludes don’t work, Terry. Leave them out.” O’Reilly seems to have good ideas for stories but at the present stage of his authorial development, he is unable to convey them effectively, which is why I can only rate this book at 1.5 stars.

Available from Aspen Mountain Press

Disclosure: I received an ebook review copy of Divided Hearts from Erastes, owner of this site, who had also previously given me a copy of Awakenings, also for review.

Does the List Need A shuffle?

As I’m doing BOSOM FRIENDS‘ list (if you want lesbian historicals, that’s the place to go) I find it’s easier to put the books into different time sections e.g. Regency, Victorian, Western etc.

Would you find it easier and more user friendly if I re-organised The List here like that?

Please let me know.

Review: Highwayman by Ali Katz

Janos Vesh is a man fighting his past and the stranglehold it has on his present and future. He acts out against the blackness that threatens to consume him by taking revenge as a highway robber on local landowners, similar to those who tormented his youth. Nothing but the comfort of his lover, Stefan, can seem to soothe his wild outbursts. When tension escalates and Janos is threatened with exposure of his dark deeds, Janos’ world and fragile sanity start to crumble.

Review by Erastes

This is an author I hadn’t read before–indeed hadn’t heard of, so I was most interested. It’s always great to find a new (to me) writer of the genre.

The books starts promisingly, with a nice twist which I totally wasn’t expecting. The description is lush right from the word go, which impressed. I was a trifle “ungrounded” by not knowing where or when I was, but due to the names and the technology it didn’t take a brain the size of a planet to work out– I guessed 18th century Poland and I turned out to be right.

There are some nice historical touches, such as the mention of a flintlock pistol (believe me I’ve read of 15th century revolvers before now), the attention paid to Janos’ horse (far too many authors treat horses like cars.)

I particularly liked the mystery of the style, the author skilfully drip feeds us with information and I for one was very eager to find out what was behind it all. Janos it is clear, from very early on, a man with a past, and not altogether what he seems. A troubled man, which is also attractive to me. When you write a short book like this (100 pages) you need to get the reader on the character’s side fast, and Katz does this in spades, as he’s a loving and supporting brother as well as giving his ill-gotten gains to the local village in true Robin Hood fashion. The secondary characters are nicely observed – the sister, the uncle, the business partner – none of them cardboard cutouts and all helped to engage the characterisation and push the plot along.

As a mild warning for you who find it unpleasant there is implied “underage” sex in this book, but it’s not described (and frankly as there were no laws of that sort it’s rather moot, but I know people like to be warned.)

There were touches of this that reminded me of Swordspoint, only because of the street fights and the swords and that’s not a bad thing at all. I must say I hope that Katz (or anyone! There needs to be more swashbuckling sword waving gay historical books) writes about this era again, because I’m a sucker for men in capes wielding swords.

There’s swords, hurt and comfort, misunderstandings and adventure, what more do you want, dancing hippos?

An entertaining and enjoyable – if a smidge too short (more please Miss Katz) read.  go forth and buy it.

Amber Allure

Review: Irish Winter by John Simpson

Living in Cork, Ireland, a hotbed of resistance to British rule, makes Ian Mulroney’s life dangerous despite his peaceful beliefs. But disgusted by the brutality and shootings in the streets, he agrees to join the local IRA brigade to use his skills with medicine and learn the ways of war. There he meets Devlin Walsh. Ian has seen him before, and the impression left upon his body was not easy to ignore. He couldn’t know that Devlin felt the same. But because of the war, they are comrades first, despite their silent, budding attraction to one another. As the resistance grows and the violence escalates, Ian and Devlin fight the only way they know how, losing family and friends in their efforts to free their country. Together, they are stronger to face the next day’s struggle. Together, they are united in their belief in the hand of God. Together, they will find a way to survive the war.

Review by Erastes

Anyone looking for a adventure story, with thrills and spills, anxious moments and a growing romance which blossoms in predictable fashion to a lasting love affair and sex no matter what thrills and spills going on around them, will enjoy “Irish Winter” a lot.

However – if you know anything at all about Ireland and her history, you probably will, like me, find it a frustrating read.

I bought the book because I have lived in Ireland for many years and I’m always eager to read about earlier times. Having loved At Swim Two Boys I knew that nothing was going to come close to that, but I was still eager for more.

The characters aren’t bad.  They aren’t girly, and that’s a major point in their favour.  They talk like young men, they act like young men and they fuck like young men – there’s no lyrical descriptions and purple prose here, just wham bam and get on with it–nothing wrong with that. But they are very samey, though, and neither has their own distinct voice.  It was difficult at times to tell who was in control of the POV (there’s a lot of headhopping, and switching from third person to omniscient which doesn’t help with that.)  I personally would have liked them to be their own personalities more, and that really didn’t come across.  The secondary characters, such as Ian’s mother, and Shane, the leader of the local IRA cell come across well.

But it’s the history, and the research which really really lets this book down. I really wish people would leave this period of Irish history alone unless they really understand it.  I’ve lived there, both sets of grandparents were Irish and I don’t think I would touch the subject with a bargepole.  Like Age of Sail there’s so much to it.

I’m not going to list everything that was wrong, because that’s not the point of a review, but I’ll mention a couple of the basic, fundemental errors which should not have been done, and even the basic amount of research would have highlighted them.

First of all: Ian.  I did like him, he’s – like many young men of the time – forced into the fight even though he abhors the violence on both sides.  But he’s a single child, which is pretty unlikely for Catholic families. (So is his lover, Devlin, coincidentally. They are “unaccustomed to sleeping with other boys”  When I was in Ireland, families still had two room cottages, and all the children slept in one bed.) We are told that he’s poor, dirt poor, supporting his mother by working part time in an “apothecary” as an apprentice.  But he has jam every day, his house has a porch (this is so American, houses in England and Ireland do NOT have porches) and there’s no way he can be an apprentice chemist.  (That’s the word, after all. Apothecary is from another time. ) To be a trainee chemist (and we are told he’s six months from qualification) he’d have to have a degree, and yet he doesn’t even know what laudanum is.  Apprenticeships for apothecaries were abolished in 1822 – and I found that in minutes – so that’s blatant nonsense for a start.

His name is wrong.  There is no Ian in Roman Catholic Ireland. He’d be Sean. Many of the names are wrong – Kyle and Byron and Devlin for example – all American Irish names. Boys of this age would have RC names, and that means names of saints. Spelled in an Irish fashion .  To not know that part of the basis of the problems between Ireland and England is the Scots! And to attempt to write about the War of Independence proves a lack of research.)

There’s no mention of church at all. Impossible. Shops are open on Sunday. Pubs are open on Sunday!!  No. And on this matter, the timeline staggers around like a drunk on a Saturday night. It’s hard to keep track of when Ian is supposed to work for example.

Ian bicycles from Cork to Limerick AND BACK (a total distance of over 100 miles) in a few hours.  I’d like to see someone do that today, let alone in 1919.

And the Black and Tans – the paramilitary imports from the English army into the Royal Irish Constabulary – the main impetus for the entire plot of this book – didn’t even enter Ireland until a year LATER than this book is set.  In fact, the facts of the war in this book are made up.  That’s not entirely unusual in a historical book, of course – but when it comes to events such as this, attacks on the Cork RIC garrison, murders of civilians and reprisal killings of Black and Tans, I’d rather have read real facts OR had an author’s note in the book explaining it.  I don’t think the “fits all” disclaimer that all books have works in this instance.

That’s not to say that the events portrayed in Irish Winter aren’t similar to what actually happened.  The Tans did terrible things, killing civilians and burning villages, and putting Tralee to siege for an entire week.  So in this respect it was clear that Simpson did do quite a lot of research – so I don’t know how he managed to cock up some of it so very royally.

The cover is bloody lovely, (although wtf was with putting the flag on it’s side??) and I know that Dreamspinner have their heart in the right place – they like historicals and that alone gets a thumbs up from me.  I just wish they had an editor who could sniff out the stuff that turns a good book into one that gets thrown across the room.   For that reason I’m giving this book two and half stars and because as a story, it holds up.  There’s action and adventure, and I think that with decent research or an tough editor this book would easily have scored four stars with me, but as it is it doesn’t merit anything more than two and a half.

Review: Here and Always Have Been by Kenneth Craigside

Here, and Always Have Been. An Anthology of Gay Historical Fiction

If homosexuality is the result of biology then gay inventiveness had to have led to wild sexual adventures during every era of human existence. Here, And Always Have Been is a collection of thirteen erotic tales. Each takes place at a different era ranging from the prehistoric through the middle of the Twentieth Century. These stories have been researched to the point of plausibility in terms of language and events, yet are inventive in ways both exciting and sensual. In other words, we’ve had fun throughout time!

Review by Vashtan

Review by Vashtan

There should be a saying that goes like: “You cannot escape a book at the airport.” I set out on a business trip with three ebooks on my smartphone (pretentious little thing, but I agree with Nathan Bransford that this particular smartphone makes a pretty good  e-reader). The longer I waited at Heathrow Terminal 5, worried sick about my suitcase, the more grateful I was for distraction. When the first two (short) ebooks turned out to be non-historical, I started on  “Here, And Always Have Been” by Kenneth Craigside, published by The  Nazca Plains Corporation in 2009. This was very different from the
first two m/m romance offerings, and I found myself very well distracted. Apart from the take-off (when you have to switch off even shiny smartphones), and the landing (same), I hardly remember anything about the flight. Thank you, Mr. Craigside.

But first things first. “Here, and Always Have Been” is an anthology of gay historical fiction, all written by Craigside. The thirteen stories vary in length between about ten and twenty pages–so nice, quick, even-paced reads. Historically, they cover the Stone Age, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, the Crusades, the age of Shakepeare, Louis XIV, early 19th century, late 19th century, the Wild West, the Raj, the early 20th century, and the 1950ies. Thematically, these stories do not negotiate relationships like in your usual gay romance—the emphasis here is on kink, sexual fantasy that plays out in a historical setting, and vary strongly from explicit to implied.

Variation is the keyword. The anthology is a very mixed bag, ranging from some stories that worked very well to others that had me scratch my head, baffled.

Let’s look at a few stories more closely.

After “Stalagmite”, which has two Cro-Magnons “consecrate” the cultic  “man-stone” with their discharged fluids (I’m trying to be genteel here), comes my favourite story in the anthology: “Alcibiades’s Mirror”, which is the story of a Greek who ‘clothes athletes’. This is the place of a very sensuous passage:

But my real income is derived from that which covers an athlete’s nakedness—namely oil, and of all kinds. Maxagoras’s ships bring them to me from every corner of the great sea. And camel caravans extend my reach to mystic capitals of unknowable eastern empires. A poor athlete must make do with ordinary olive oil: sticky, rancid and melling of some farmer’s nearby grove. But wealthy athletes…ah, they line my pockets for a finer sheen. Oils of thirteen kinds of palm, seven different nuts, two types of whale, and three of dolphin, as well as the most refined varieties of olive. I stock them all.

And I can delight them with scent. Attar of rose or lavender may be added to the oil for those men who wish to smell sweet at the end of a race. Cinnamon or clove can give one a bracing aroma. Ambergris, frankincense, and myrrh are more pungent still. There are also those who crave something, shall we say, in the super masculine vein? The addition of various musks of bear, ox, or a rare gazelle from Africa are said to drive an athlete’s admirers to distraction.

Passages like this show that Craigside aims for more than writing about a sexual encounter. There are many instances where he attempts to portray the time by the language he uses, finding a slightly different style and tone for each and every one. The anthology is full of nods towards literary and historical figures, ranging from Plato,
Hadrian and Antinous, Shakespeare and Billy Budd. There were many well-researched details that I enjoyed, so Craigside ranks high on the historical accuracy. Personally, I’d disagree with him about the depiction of historical characters such as Antinous or Richard the Lionheart, but I’m aware that we all interpret people,  even historical people, differently. Since Craigside is not aiming for historical biographies, but sexual encounters, that’s fine.

There were several stories that didn’t work for me, though. “King Ludwig’s Dream Machine” is set in Neuschwanstein, ”Mad” King Ludwig of Bavaria’s fairy tale castle, and features a character discovering and trying out the king’s clockwork sex toy/machine. Like in many of the stories, I liked the idea, but the execution was shoddy. What grated
in this story were the national stereotypes, and then the terrible, terrible German, which sounds like Babelfish had an especially bad day. In times when the Internet is full of German speakers that fall over themselves to help writers get German sentences right, this soured the story, and, to a lesser extent, the anthology for me.

“Will’s Best Bed”, a short story that deals with Shakespeare’s possibly homoerotic sonnets features the characters (one of them old Bill himself) rhyming, but the rhymes here (and in “A Manual of Arms”) don’t work for me. Craigside’s rhyming and poetry really jarred me when side-by-side with the timeless beauty of Shakespeare’s actual
sonnets.

Readers looking for character exploration or romance, however, might want to look elsewhere; beyond the sex and a few sketched traits, there is little to no character development. And while his humor doesn’t really work for me, Craigside has a very interesting imagination and a knack for setting and historical detail, but I feel  his story-building skills fall a bit short of his literary ambitions and his ability to translate his ideas onto the page. The one serious research fault was that he uses German liberally and wrongly—while I  don’t mind the use of foreign language to put more life into a setting, I do expect those passages to hold up to a native speaker, regardless of the language used.

To sum up: lots of good research; Craigside is a stickler for historical detail, and while not all stories are erotic, there are several scenes that speed up the pulse and get the readers exactly where the author wants them. Those stories that are explicit are usually fairly hot or have hot moments (apart from the ones that are farcical, or even, in the instance of “Shiva’s Smile” very gruesome).

Craigside is definitely aiming towards the “literary” side of the spectrum, but he would have benefited from a strong editor to fully realize the literary potential and ambition of the prose.

Finally, would I read more of his writing? Yes, I would like to see him develop as a writer. There were a lot of interesting ideas and angles he developed, and if the anthology had shown a much more consistent quality, it could have scored much higher.

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Vashtan is an expat German living near London, UK. After studying medieval and ancient history and modern literature, he is now making a living as a financial journalist and writing coach. He has published in English as Aleksandr Voinov and is working on about five novels and stories at any given time. He is interested in all epochs of history and sometimes believes he knows something about a few of them, too.

Review: The Golden Age of Gay Fiction

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

It was the first great explosion of gay writing in history. These books were about gay characters. They were written mostly by gay writers. Above all, they were for gay readers. And, as this entertaining chronicle of the emergence of gay literary pride makes clear, it was a revolution that occurred several years before Stonewall!

Their characters were mostly out or struggling to get out. The books were definitely out—out on the revolving paperback bookracks in grocery stores, dime stores, drugstores, magazine agencies, and transportation terminals across the nation for youths and senior citizens, in the cities and the rural areas alike, to find and to devour.

Here 19 writers take you on a tour of this Golden Age of Gay Fiction—roughly the period between the first Kinsey Report and the first collection of Tales of the City—paying attention to touchstone novels from the period but, even more, highlighting works of fiction that have been left unjustly to gather dust on literary shelves.

Written by authors, scholars, collectors, and one of the publishers, their essays will inform you. They will sometimes amuse you. They will take you into literary corridors you only suspected were there. And the some 200 illustrations, chosen for their historical as well as their artistic interest, provide a visual record of why this was the golden age.

REVIEW:

Pop Quiz: You enjoy reading m/m romances and gay fiction. Which of the following describes the depth of your familiarity with the genre?

A. You name it, I’ve read it, the more obscure, the better.

B. I’ve read Maurice and bought a used copy of The City and the Pillar off eBay to read…someday.

C. I read Brokeback Mountain in The New Yorker back in 1997 and that got me hooked.

D. I never heard of m/m until #amazonfail last spring – that’s when I read False Colors.

Whether you selected A or D or fall somewhere in between, run, don’t walk, to your favorite bookseller to order a copy of The Golden Age of Gay Fiction. If you are solely a reader, or a reader and writer both, this book is an essential resource that provides context and understanding for the gay fiction genre.

Edited by Drewey Wayne Gunn, the book is a collection of 22 essays from 19 contributors, organized in four sections: I) O Brave New World; II) “I Know It When I See It”; III) Frightening the Horses; and IV) Secrecy and Adventure. The Introduction by Gunn grounds the reader as to the purpose and scope of the book: a comprehensive review and analysis of gay fiction from its Golden Age, dated as 1948-1978. The books reviewed include “the pulps” – paperback novels that were cheaply printed, broadly distributed, and widely read. While often not paragons of great literature they were extremely influential in bringing gay writing—and many gay men—out of the closet. Gunn notes that “scholarly” writing about gay literature has largely ignored these books; bringing them to the forefront and recognizing their importance is a major strength of The Golden Age.

The essays are uniformly well written and interesting; some are funny, some are serious, depending on the topic at hand. On Being There…Or Not by William Maltese had me laughing out loud. Lonnie Coleman Remembered by Nowell Briscoe was a touching memory of an author who is now, unfortunately, largely forgotten. I particularly enjoyed Conversation in a Coffee Shop by Dennis Bolin. He notes that in any serious conversation about “important” books that one “must” read, six titles always rise to the top: Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote; The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal (both published in 1948); Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, published in 1956; two from the sixties, City of Night by John Rechy and Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man; and last, but not least, Maurice by E.M. Forster, published in 1971 but written in 1914. Bolin bought all six, read them, and discusses them thoroughly. I freely admit that I have gaping holes in my own personal “must read” background—take me out and shoot me, I’ve never read To Kill A Mockingbird—but I’ve filled those holes (sort of) with essays like Bolin’s. So, thank you, Dennis, for doing the hard work since now I don’t have to. I probably won’t bother trying to plow through Pillar; I’ve never been much of a Vidal fan, anyway. But A Single Man sounds interesting and I may dig out my old copy of Maurice which is packed away in the attic for a second re-read, almost forty years later.

One bonus for readers is that many of the books discussed are being re-issued in new editions, so titles that catch your attention may be readily available in print and for some of them, as ebooks. Have you always wanted to read The Man from C.A.M.P. by Victor J. Banis? You can. Other Voices, Other Rooms has the “scandalous” picture of Capote with his bedroom eyes and come hither stare, only this time it’s on the cover, not the back.

But if you want to see what Capote looked like on the original cover, then turn to page 27, because this is another wonderful feature of The Golden Age: more than 200 full-color illustrations of book covers, many of them which are now very difficult, if not impossible, to find. The amount of work that went into tracking these down must have been phenomenal and we all benefit by having them preserved within the pages of The Golden Age forever.

The Golden Age of Gay Fiction is beautifully designed. I love the font that was used for the chapter titles (which is the same as on the cover, in case you want an example). The cover painting was commissioned by MLR Press for the book and was done by an Ohio artist named Paul Richmond (who also did the cover for Zero at the Bone by Jane Seville, in case his style looks familiar). I read the book as a PDF for this review but I will be ordering a print copy for my collection. While it is available as an ebook, really, you need to have it in print to do it justice. It is worth the $70 investment.

Scholarship throughout the book is evident. References are cited and the back matter includes a ten page “Index of Fiction Discussed” which includes not just the index to the book but also complete bibliographic data for the books that are cited, even in a casual mention. The book also includes a bibliography of secondary sources for further reading. I am so impressed with the index and bibliography, I daresay they will become the gold standard for a comprehensive listing of gay literature, both fiction and non, for the time period covered in the book.

Last, the contributors, who are the heart and soul of the book. I am going to list them all at the end of this review because they deserve to be recognized. They have an eclectic mix of backgrounds and experience, ranging from authors, avid readers, and book collectors to known scholars and academicians. As noted earlier, the writing is uniformly excellent. Clearly all the contributors have a passion for their chosen topic. They also pulled off a feat that eludes many contributed non-fiction collections: the book is interesting and fun to read. This is not some dry, dusty tome that will be relegated to the libraries of esoteric researchers; rather, anyone who is interested in gay fiction, even if only marginally, will find something enjoyable to read in The Golden Age of Gay Fiction. I am willing to bet on it.

Kudos to Laura Baumbach and the MLR Press team for bringing this book to fruition. It really is a jewel in the crown of her published titles and she should be very, very proud of this accomplishment.

Gunn, D.W., ed. (2009). The Golden Age of Gay Fiction. Albion, NY: MLR Press. Contributors: Victor J. Banis, Dennis Bolin, Nowell Briscoe, Michael Bronski, Philip Clark, Fabio Cleto, Neil DeWitte, Dave Doyle, Jan Ewing, Drewey Wayne Gunn, Earl Kemp, Josh Lanyon, Rob Latham, William Maltese, Rob McDonald, Tom Norman, Joseph M. Ortiz, Paul Richmond (artist), Roger H. Tuller, Ian Young.

Note: This review is also posted at Reviews by Jessewave. Thanks to Erastes and Wave for allowing me to post in both places and further spread the word about this excellent book.

Buy at MLR Press

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