Speak Its Name Advent Calendar

Welcome to the Speak Its Name Advent Calendar.

The Blog is Two Years Old and to celebrate–and to thank all you lovely readers for your loyalty–we have, for your delectation, lined up a fabulous feast of amazing authors – one each day from 1st to 24th December – who will be blogging about a subject of their choosing, and a present will given out each day.

The winners will be announced on Christmas Day together with a surprise!

Come back every day and click on the appropriate door to open the post, but don’t try and cheat! We’ll know if you do!!

Erastes

Write Queer London 2010 – A Writing Competition

Win up to £300, get your work published in Chroma Journal as well as reading a bit of it before the great and good at our prizegiving party.

UntoldLondon is running its second annual Queer History Writing Prize in association with Chroma Queer Arts Journal.

London has long been a place to find soul-mates, friends, lovers and a political haven from persecution. We welcome fact, fiction and poetry about gay life, and the history of gay lives in London.
Deadline: 18th January 2010
Prize-giving Party: 4th February 2010

Stories and factual pieces: 2,500 words
Poems: no longer than 30 lines

The entries will be judged by academic Matt Houlbrook (author of Queer London), Shaun Levin (author of A Year of Two Summers and editor of Chroma) and Anna Bendix (winner, Write Queer London 2009).

For guidelines, details of how to enter and articles on London’s queer history see http://www.untoldlondon.org.uk

Review: One Man Drowing by Steph Minns

Running away in 1762 from a dull life in fashionable Georgian Bath, Jesse Sunderland joins an ocean-going merchant ship. Just nineteen years old, naive and keen for adventure in the expanding world where England rules the seas and dominates the colonies, he has to not only deal with the harshness of this life at sea but coming to terms with himself and essentially his homosexuality, a hanging offence by law in these times. His adventures take him into a passionate affair with the charismatic Captain Jan Hough, who embroils him in his smuggling racket. Set in the ‘golden age’ of the 18th century English smuggler, this is the tale of one man’s quest to find himself, as he battles not only his own demons but the authorities as he is drawn into the dark and dangerous underworld of the smuggler.

Review by Alex Beecroft

As a reader, I’m firmly of the opinion that life is too short to read bad books. So if a book makes me go “oh, for goodness sake!” and throw it down in annoyance repeatedly in the first ten pages, as a reader I would just stop picking it up again. As a reviewer, however, I have a duty to read the whole thing, to see if it gets any better towards the end. Sometimes books do, and you’re glad you held on. The excellence of the end makes it worth having ploughed through the beginning.

One Man Drowning does indeed make me go “oh, for goodness sake!” repeatedly at the beginning. There are so many anachronisms; so many things about what we’re told that don’t make sense in the context. For example, our hero is from a good family (his mother’s family is titled, she ‘spent her first season at the Palace of Marseille‘, and she is well respected among the high society of Bath). But they are impoverished, and he is marrying a girl from a family who runs a successful business, in order to get hold of her money.

So far so good. In the context of the society of the time it makes sense for him to marry the girl, get hold of the money, and then carry on living as a gentleman. He is getting money out of the bargain and she is getting increased status as a gentleman’s wife. But then he goes and lives in his mother-in-law’s house, and gets a job helping her sons run the family business. It makes no sense for him to immediately destroy his status by lowering himself to his wife’s social level. If he did, not only would it negate any benefit she got out of the deal, but the shame and degradation his mother would feel would be acute. Yet she doesn’t appear to feel any shame about his working for a living, and neither does he.

If you’re not sure I’m talking sense about the social stigma involved in work, think about Jane Fairfax in Emma and how she seems to feel that becoming a governess is only one step above becoming a whore. How all people of true sensibility feel terrible for her and try not to mention her oncoming degradation. Think about Pride and Prejudice, and the way all Darcy’s relatives consider that he can’t possibly marry Elizabeth—not because she isn’t a gentleman’s daughter herself, but simply because some of her relations are in trade.

So the set up on the very first page makes me think that the author has no real insight into the thought processes of a character born into society at that time. It makes me think that we are going to get modern characters and modern attitudes wearing dress-up, rather than any real approach to history.

And honestly, I think that reading further proves me right about that. Jesse’s worries appear to be the worries of a man who knows nothing about the society he lives in. He marries this girl for convenience, and all through the ceremony he is plagued by the thought that he doesn’t love her, and that he’s being a cad. Why? Marrying for love was a new and suspicious phenomenon at the time. Marrying as a business merger was a time honoured tradition and Jesse’s tortured scruples just make me think he’s a little ahead of his time.

Jesse actually likes the girl’s brother, James, who likes him back. They get as far as necking on the hearth-rug (without troubling to lock the door) and are discovered by James’ mother. This is clearly a society of matriarchs, because James’ mother takes it up with Jesse’s mother, and she has this verdict:

“But this cannot bring you anything but pain. It is all wrong, Jesse.”

“Wrong? [he replies] I’m in pain now by denying what I feel! Look at the pain I’ve caused Dora too because of the hiding, the dishonesty. Can you tell me that’s right? To hide my true self from society in case, oh God forbid, it disapproves of me and makes me an outcast? Pray don’t turn sanctimonious on me now as I know you are no Bible basher!”

Here we are on page 6 of 269 and I don’t want to read any more. “Bible basher”? Apart from being a phrase that was first recorded in 1885, where on earth is Jesse getting his conviction that only the sanctimonious would disapprove of sodomy? Everyone in British society at the time, from whores to archbishops, at least publicly disapproved of sodomy. And “in case society makes me an outcast”?! Don’t you mean “in case I’m hanged by the neck until dead” or “in case I’m put in the pillory so that the crowd can beat and stone me to death.”?

Where is he getting his pop psychological notions about how damaging it is to deny what he feels? He’s talking like a 21st Century teenager, and at this point I have lost all faith that I’m in a historical at all.

As the book goes on, this only becomes more and more apparent. Jesse apparently thinks that fox hunting is barbaric—a strange attitude for a high born man of his time. He thinks that bloodletting is barbaric (he just happens to know a doctor who just happened to train in China, and on the basis of this acquaintance he rejects a thousand years of medical authority.) He takes every opportunity – or rather the author takes every opportunity, because Jesse scarcely rises above the level of ‘mouthpiece’ until just before the end – to condemn every facet of his society.

Seriously, if I wanted to read a polemic about the evils of Christianity, and how it’s all ‘dogmatic drivel’ which no person of any intelligence or moral fibre could believe, I would not go to historical fiction to find it. Apart from being intrusively preachy, it’s another example of Jesse’s aggressively modern attitude which does not make him in the slightest bit believable for a man of his time.

In the same way, when he’s transported to America for 15 years for smuggling, and given a cushy job as a gardener, instead of being thankful that he’s got off lightly, he cheeks his supervisor and is somehow surprised to be punished. Then he actually slaps the lady of the house and is again surprised to be whipped within an inch of his life. I find it hard to believe that anyone could be that blithely oblivious and stupid.

While he’s there, the author uses him to indulge in further lectures about the evils of colonisation. Which I’m sure is very worthy, but I’m equally certain that his thoughts make him something of a prodigy for his era.

To be fair, I would not deny that an 18th Century man – by virtue of being an independent thinker – could have reached surprisingly egalitarian and modern positions on many things, if that person was presented as a deep philosophical thinker. I have no objection to Steven Maturin, for example, (from the Patrick O’Brian books) who unites some very modern views with a thoroughly 18th Century character. But I don’t see Jesse being presented as that kind of a philosopher. He doesn’t come across as an 18th Century man who has thought deeply about injustice. He comes across as a mouthpiece for a modern author who wants to display how politically correct she is.

She also has a tendency to break out into paragraphs of “my research, let me show you it” facts that read as if they’ve been copied from a text book. For example:

The Powhatans spoke a group language he said settlers knew as “Algonquian”, which they shared with related clans. I came to understand that to them the planet was a conscious being, inhabited by birds and creatures which all had their own spirits and they saw them as fellows, not inferiors. When a game animal was shot or captured it was thanked in a small prayer for giving up its life. I noticed during our hunting trips that not one warrior failed to do this quietly for each rabbit, deer, or bird he took.

This does contribute to a feeling that you are reading an uneven blend of anti-Christian anti-European polemic, non-fiction and anachronism. You’re not being entertained, or even shown the mechanisms, reasons and appalling consequences of colonialism, so that you can come to a deeper understanding of what really went on at the time. You’re being lectured. And I like being preached at no better than she does.

I would not say there was a story. Things happen to Jesse and he reacts to them. Then other things happen. He lurches from one disaster to the next. He’s a reluctant bridegroom. He runs away from his first lover to become a sailor. Then he’s a reluctant housewife, then he’s a reluctant smuggler, then he’s a reluctant convict, then he’s a reluctant revolutionary, then revolution starts looking dangerous so he decides to sell cheese. Then he (reluctantly) takes up with an Earl who happens to come along (but it’s all right because he’s an Earl who wants to live like a peasant), then he’s driven out of his house and goes off to be a smuggler again, then that gets too dangerous and he moves on to something else…. Admittedly, the ending resolves a number of things which had been left hanging, but it’s also a curiously unsatisfying ending, as you’re left with the impression that the next disaster is just around the corner.

Jesse himself is a very passive character and doesn’t appear to have any goals other than being sent to places so that the author can use him to give us her opinions about them. These opinions are generally without nuance—for example, all settlers appear to be evil, all slaves saintly, all Native Americans noble and kindly and supernaturally connected to nature.

I can’t even recommend the book as an interesting way of learning historical facts. I don’t know anything about the Powhatan, for example, so I can’t say how accurate the book is about them, but I do know that Holland was not a Catholic country in the 18th Century. When (following a barn burning) Jesse muses “Such a crime would be …barely considered anything but natural justice by the Catholic Church and the Amsterdam authorities.” I wonder how he’s managed to miss that the country has been Protestant for over a century. I also know about 18th Century ships, and the fact that the Captain of the Viper has “a small hearth with leaping flames” in his cabin makes me think that the level of historical accuracy is unreliable at best.

I think the book would have benefited enormously from the input of a skilled editor. Apart from eliminating the numerous typos, an editor might have been able to encourage the author to show rather than tell. The author clearly is passionate about what she believes in, but she has not yet learned how to immerse her reader in her imaginary world and invisibly guide them to live through the lessons she wants to convey. Currently the book is not an experience, it’s a lecture.

I began to be slightly more interested towards page 200, when Jesse went to Cornwall and actually started to drive the action of the book rather than just being tossed around by his circumstances. Once he became more active in the plot, he stopped, on the whole, being such a pathetic, whiny, judgemental git and I found myself more sympathetic to him. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the end made me glad that I’d suffered through the first 200 pages, but it earned the book the 1.5 stars that it gets, and demonstrated a promise that the next book from this author might be better.

Full disclosure

1. I received this book free in exchange for a review

2. I am a Christian myself, so I may be more annoyed than the average person of other beliefs about the anti-Christian bits. I have, however, tried not to let that influence my review. If the author had been equally preachy for or against any other faith, I believe I would still have pointed that out as a criticism. I don’t think a novel benefits from being used as a soapbox for the author’s views, whatever they are.

Author’s Website

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: The World’s a Stage by Gail Sterling

After his younger sister is killed in a tragic accident, William Palmer’s family flees their quiet Warwickshire village for the bustling metropolis of Elizabethan London. The deaths of his parents and the marriage of his remaining sister soon separate William from his family. Taken on by a company of actors in an era where women are forbidden onstage, William makes a good living playing the parts of young girls and beautiful maidens.

As he gets older, William finds himself growing out of the female stage parts, even as he develops a less than strictly professional interest in his co-star, Jack Hawkins. The course of true love never did run smooth, and William soon finds himself torn between Jack, the return of an elder sister who needs his help, and the mysterious and intriguing son of the company’s patron, Lord Evering.

Review by Hayden Thorne

Gail Sterling’s novel is a pretty short one, and I read it in its entirety in one evening. It’s a wonderfully quick read, and I’m glad that Sterling didn’t opt for too-authentic language, choosing instead clear, functional prose. The benefit is a fast, uninterrupted flow, though the downside is that there are parts here and there that sound too modern, with certain words and turns of phrases that are contemporary American.

On the whole, I enjoyed the novel. Written in first person, we get a pretty fascinating glimpse of Shakespeare’s London through Will’s eyes. The highlight to me, though, is the way the theatrical scene is explored. Behind the scenes, we get to see how actors rehearse, get fitted for their costumes, are received by the audience (their seating arrangements being nicely described according to social class), and especially, how they live outside the stage. It’s a miserable existence for them, with squalor, hunger, tattered dress, and exhaustion a daily reality. That Will’s company of actors – despite their diverging personalities – remain close to each other is testament to their shared hardships, dreams, and love of their art.

The historical details are there – London’s filth and stench, the variety of people attending each production, the taverns, the decrepit inns, etc. I’m also glad that Sterling doesn’t shy away from the physical conditions of the people back then. One scene has Will helping a drunk and passed out actor:

Feeling generous, I eased off his boots, and was immediately assaulted by a smell so foul, it caused the bile to rise to my throat. Gagging, I put a hand to my mouth and escaped the room, closing the door behind me.

I can only imagine, poor kid. Will’s situation as a young boy who’s growing out of his role (he’s sixteen in the novel) as well as the fit of his costumes is another highlight of the novel. It serves as a parallel to Will’s non-theatrical coming-of-age, in which he has to learn to reconcile his past with his present as well as to let it go and move on with his life.

There are a few things that keep me from giving this book higher marks, however. Yes, the language is accessible, and the historical details are well-researched. Yes, we see things unfold through the eyes of the principal player. That said, there’s a surprising degree of detachment in the novel, in that despite the period details, I never felt truly engaged with Elizabethan London. I think it’s got a lot to do with the fact that there’s a lot of telling in the book and not enough showing. We’re told that London looks like this and smells like that, but none of our senses is engaged because we don’t really get much more than those references. The novel, in fact, almost gives the impression that we’re watching a play.

As with Will himself and most of the other characters, there’s a distance in the way they interact with each other. It’s also because there’s hardly any feeling evoked. Even though the opportunities are there, there are no moments of slowing down, of savoring a scene or of reflecting on something – anything – that would give us some much-needed glimpse of Will’s personality beyond what’s on the surface. Just like the scene descriptions, what goes on with the characters is told and not shown, with Will doing so in a pretty dry, matter-of-fact way.

Now to some extent that works with the narrative, but considering Will’s backstory as well as his relationship with the other characters, I was hoping for something more than simply quick references.

The most multi-faceted character in the book, in fact, is Anne, Will’s older sister. She’s a tragic figure, and the way her story unfolds is almost antithetical to everyone else’s. She brings out feelings of pity not just through her physical descriptions and backstory but also the little things she does, with her sewing skills completing a very poignant picture of her as a woman with so many dreams shattered. I find myself more attuned to Anne compared to Will from the moment she reappears in her brother’s life.

The love triangle that’s referred to in the back cover blurb is hardly there. In fact, that’s my main complaint. Because it was mentioned, I expected it to be one of the driving forces of Will’s story. Unfortunately, it isn’t. The novel focuses much more on the goings on in the theatre as well as the relationship between Anne and Will; Jack as well as Will’s feelings for him, however, are very sketchy at best, and their intimate moments are touched on dismissively. I wasn’t convinced that Will was in love, let alone that he lost his virginity, except for the fact that he kept grinning the following day. Lord Edwin is even sketchier in terms of romantic developments. He doesn’t appear till around halfway through the novel, and subsequent appearances are few and far between, so much so that he feels almost spectral. When he interacts with Will, they’re more like curious strangers than two people who’re finding each other attractive. Will hardly has any convincing reasons for falling in love with him, with the ending feeling so rushed and somewhat forced that I finished the book feeling more dissatisfied with the romance than anything.

There are a few formatting errors that I found throughout the book – excessive quotation marks and missing quotation marks (both of which made some passages confusing to read), a double-space in between two paragraphs, and a sentence that breaks in two, with one half on one line and the other half in the next line. Those things would’ve been easily corrected during the print galley edits.

For all those, though, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another book from Sterling. She shows a good grasp of history, and the book has a number of witty moments as well that made me grin. If this book is her first effort, I think it would be a treat watching her talent blossom with future titles.

Buy the book: Print or E-book

Review: For the Boys by J M Snyder (from “Some Gave All”)

Some Gave All – Four stories in honor of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Review by Vashtan

Calling this anthology a “mixed bag” is the best I can say for the whole anthology. It brings together stories of four authors: “Memorial Meeting” by Aline de Chevigny, “Flyover” by Jefferson Dane, Thanet Blake’s Memorial” by Wayne Greenough and “For the Boys” by J.M. Snyder. The anthology is published “to honor those who’ve served for their countries”. As far as I can tell, “those that served their countries” were exclusively American (I may be missing something).

Out of these four stories, the first three are heterosexual-focused, and three have paranormal elements (ghosts in the afterlife, spirits of vengeance and spirits hiring “hard-boiled detectives”), therefore, I’m only reviewing the one story that falls within the remit of this blog, namely Snyder’s “For the Boys”, which is set during the Korean war.

And that’s for the better, because of the other three, two would have got scathing reviews. “Memorial Meeting” was sappy and had unbelievable characters, writing and structure were fairly weak, and the concept of two spirits lingering until their descendants would give marriage vows – including conveniently placing the rings – was just too much for me. “Thanet Blake’s Memorial” is almost incomprehensible and made me groan in frustration as I tried to understand what was going on around characters I didn’t care about. The third, “Flyover” was a decent enough story, but I’m not reviewing this here as it’s straight.

Mixed bag; so if you’re only interested in m/m or gay historical fiction, you might want to pass on this anthology and only get J.M. Snyder’s “For the Boys”, which is a sweet historical romance told against the backdrop of the Korean war (or intervention, as it’s called whenever a nation doesn’t like to issue a formal declaration of war). You can get the short story at the author’s website, linked below.

Told in first person point-of-view by helicopter pilot Carl Prosser, “For the Boys” is the story of Carl falling in love with Tommy, a performer of an entertainment troupe of USO, that tours the military camps. Carl meets Tommy while accompanying his comrade Bert to a girl, and while he waits outside, he gets chatted up by Tommy. They do the deed, and meet as often as they can while Tommy is still in camp. At the end of the three days, they are completely in love. As Tommy’s troupe leaves, both write letters to each other, deepening their feelings for each other. Carl eventually cooks up a madcap plan to see Tommy again, but doesn’t actually have to follow through with it, as the troupe is returning their way.

The troupe gets attacked on the road, and Carl comes within an inch of losing Tommy, or “my boy”, as he calls him, but all ends well. This story is heavy on the romance and light on the plot – the love is very much center stage, but it’s very well written and the feeling seems genuine. After reading the other three stories, I was in a somewhat uncharitable mood, but “For the Boys” turned that around, and I did enjoy the story, even though very little happens apart from their relationship taking form. The history is light, but seems believable for the most part. What did nag me a little bit was that, while Carl clearly has to be careful and keep his head down, his comrade Bert knows about him and doesn’t seem to mind at all, even jokes about it with Carl. Apart from having to hide and play things subtle, Carl doesn’t seem too worried about falling in love and makes plans for the future with Tommy, basically ignoring society at large. However, it’s still a far cry from OKHOMO.

I found the writing well-done and engrossing; have a taste:

Lonely didn’t begin to describe Korea. Some nights, when the wind whistled around the flaps of my tent, I would lay awake on my narrow cot and listen to Bert snore, and wonder if maybe I wasn’t wasting my time out here, wasting my life for a war that the government refused to declare. Nights like that I wanted to be home, in the heat of the South, and I clutched the blankets tight around my body and ached for a lover’s touch. Then there were days when I was trying to get thewounded off the battlefield and could hear the steady ping of enemy bullets off my chopper blades, and wondered if I would ever even make it home again.

Tommy watched me closely—I could feel his gaze on my face, my neck, and I was all too aware of his naked arms and his thin clothing, sequins and silk, when I stood next to him in heavy fatigues and a thick field jacket. “I’m sure you have someone back home who misses you,” he was saying, his breath warm against my cheek. When had he moved so close? “Someone who writes you long letters, cheers you up a bit. A girlfriend maybe? Someone like that?”

“No.” I shook my head for emphasis. “No girlfriend.” I didn’t want to tell him that the only letters from home I got came from my mother or my sister. No lover, and definitely no girls.

“Not your type?” he breathed.

Staring into his deep eyes, I whispered, “You could say that.”

So, this is heavy on the romance, and, compared to other things I’ve read recently, light on the smut. There are no pages and pages of explicit sex. This story is quieter, subtler, and focuses on blossoming love and longing.

If anything, I was somewhat confused about Tommy. During their first meeting, he seems to be and act like a much older man, but in the course of the story seems to go through a reverse ageing process, and he seems five or more years younger at the end than he was at the beginning. It might be a lover’s exuberance, but it did throw me out of the story a bit.

“For the Boys” accounts for 17 thousand of the anthology’s total 53 thousand words, and I strongly recommend getting just this story rather than the complete anthology.

Author’s Website

The story can be bought as standalone here

Review: Islands by Samatha Kane

Lieutenant Commander Gabriel Conlan, United States Navy Seabees, knows he’s not in Kansas anymore when he steps off the launch at the small island of Ile Dorée and sees gorgeous Frenchman René Dubois waiting for him on the dock. The year is 1943, the place is the Pacific and the world is at war. Free from the censure of the military, Gabe has an explosive affair with René. But when the world intrudes, Gabe denies René and tries to forget the best sex of his life.

The only westerner on his small Pacific island, René is desperately lonely. When the tall, lanky American steps onto his dock, René knows his life will never be the same. He teaches Gabe how to make love to a man and, unexpectedly, falls in love. René will brave prejudice, Japanese Zeros and Gabe’s reluctance to find love at last.

Review by Vashtan

I don’t actually read much “romance” outside reviewing here –personally, I much prefer what I call “love stories”, which may or may not end well. I prefer those love stories to have a plot (and, no, “boy meets boy” is rarely enough plot for me). In any case, I like stories to offer more than: “they meet, they have hot sex, and then the author makes up some implausible reason why they can have a happily forever after.”

Or maybe I have just read too much bad romance. I’ve recently educated myself about this much-maligned genre, that, to be frank, I haven’t taken very seriously in the past, and that according to some, makes up 60% of total book sales. Wow.

According to every book I’ve read on the genre (and I want to point you back at Josh Lanyon’s excellent “Man Oh Man” ) you *need* a plot. And a plot is more that the hawt sex.

I was vaguely amused when I got both “Pacific Nights” by Lynn Lorenz and “Islands” by Samantha Kane in the same email from Erastes (you know the drill… for the purpose of this review). Both are set in the Pacific during WWII.

To make this pretty short, Samantha Kane’s “Islands” runs circles around “Pacific Nights”. Not only does she run circles around the other book, she supplied me with a genuinely enjoyable read. Now, I’mthe nasty grouch on this blog, and I’m more likely to shred something than praise it. Behold, I’m going to praise this.

I don’t actually like “romance” much, if we define “romance” as a genre of improbably beautiful men destined for each other from the moment they lay eyes upon each other and have fantastic sex and then, after some little obstacle on the way, fall into each others’ arms to swear love forevermore. It takes a lot for me to “buy” that. Kane’s characters are larger-than-life, there is a sense of “high drama” about this – but I still buy this, because this book is carefully orchestrated and reminds me a lot of the movies of those times. Glamorous, stylised, somewhat unlikely, with dialogue that is dramatic more than realistic. And the author uses that to full effect, have a taste here:

He walked toward the small launch. There were only four men aboard, so this was to be a brief visit. His chest constricted. He would make the most of their stay, invite them to dinner at the villa, open a few bottles of his best wine and ply them for information of the outside world. He was so hungry for news, for company, for conversation. He loved Île Dorée and the people who lived here. He had no desire to leave, but sometimes he felt like Robinson Crusoe with a hundred Fridays. He wanted the companionship of westerners. He longed for the sharp twang of an American. He’d even settle for the crisp tones of an Englishman or the nasal diction of his native France. Anything from someone who didn’t remind him he was a stranger in this strange and beautiful world.

When a lanky American hopped up onto the dock from the deck of the boat René went still, waiting. The American was tall and fresh-looking, young, handsome. For a moment, René felt as if he were in a Hollywood film watching the hero walk out of the sunset. Or did they do that at the end of the film? Yes, they saved the girl and defeated the villain, then they walked into the sunset. This American resembled a Hollywood actor.

Yes, and it’s a Hollywood movie.

The book begins with the Frenchman, Rene Dubois, who was a former French Foreign Legionnaire, speaking a lot of French, something that can easily be grating, because the author is laying it on pretty thickly. And there’s Lieutenant Commander Gabriel Conlan, who is sent to negotiate with Dubois about the use of his island for military purposes. Both men clearly fall in love very hard; Rene is the suave, unashamed, romantic Frenchman (and he plays it to the hilt, and playing it for Gabriel’s sake). Gabriel is the man worried about his career in the United States Navy Seabees, the engineer corps, and who has never loved romantically, only sexually.

The setting is the tropical island if Ile Doree (“golden island”) in 1943, which is located near the Ellice Islands, today’s Tuvalu. The island comes across much like a paradise endangered by war – and prejudice, because the local Samoans not only don’t care about homosexuality in their midst, they have so-called fa’afafine, a third gender of boys brought up as and dressing and behaving as girls, and Rene is very protective of his people and their culture.

The US Navy wants to build an airfield and hospital on the island that Rene owns, and that provides the conflict between these two men, which, like in any good romance, is resolved and everything turns out well for everybody. Of course. Happy sigh.

Kane succeeds in making me believe in this setting; her details are, as far as I can tell, accurate and well-researched. People talk about types of planes, locations, ranks, politics – in short, they actually do inhabit this world, which makes this a real historical romance for me. The story and description is a little sappy – but in the good way.

Think Hollywood movie, think weeping violins in the background, dramatic lightning, and beautiful people. It’s a forties movie rather than a gritty war story, and that works surprisingly well for me.

There is a plot – the plot is the danger that the war poses to Ile Doree, and how Rene fights to protect it. There is an air raid, and the military detail fit the story. Kane has clearly gone to lengths to make this as real as possible. There is also Gabriel’s development from a man who had anonymous fucks to a man who truly, romantically, loves another man.

The book has a few small issues, one of them is the formatting that gives us squished chapter headings and paragraph breaks in unlikely places, but if you want a sweet, historical romance with a happy ending (and lots of sexual tension and steamy sex) here’s a book I’d recommend. At just over 30thousand words and about 120 pages, I would have liked this to be longer (Rene just screams for more stories about him), but overall, I found this to be a satisfying read.

Author’s Website

Buy at Ellora’s Cave

Review: Soaring with a Hawk by Ken Dahll

Aaron, at nineteen the oldest son of a pioneer family, had discovered the joys of masturbation and was practicing his art naked in the woods while the rest of the family had gone into town to attend church. As he strokes his long, hard shaft, he is interrupted by a handsome young Indian brave, Soaring Hawk.

Clad only in a deerskin loin cloth, Hawk, as he asked Aaron to call him, is instantly attracted to the handsome and well-endowed white youth. Over many stolen Sundays they explore each others’ bodies in the myriad of ways two horny young males are capable of devising. In the process they fall deeply in love. When they are discovered in the middle of an act of what the puritanical standards of the time would call sodomy, they are forced to flee westward.

Review by Erastes

The Politically Correct blurb made me smile, but at least it was clear that this was going to be an erotic tale, even if it does explain the entire plot and almost makes the book redundant.

I won’t go into the plot, such as it is, as the blurb has explained all of it.  It’s a short story of about 20 or so pages and is little more than a series of sex scenes from Aaron’s first sexual awakening at 16 to his various couplings with the Indian Brave Soaring Hawk.

Aaron, as the blurb tells us, is 19, and is raised on a farm.  I find it incomprehensible that he, and his 3 brothers, have no idea what hard cocks are for, and what sperm is.  I would have thought that any young person on a farm, particularly one in the 19th century, would have been very aware of how baby animals were made and the processes involved.

The writer seems unable to stick to one term for sperm, and uses euphemism after euphemism: syrup, (a first for me), sap, juice, cream, liquid, sauce.  I find it odd that he points out that he knows the correct medical term for penis, yet for some reason he’s baffled as to what this white syrup is for.

The editing leaves a lot to be desired, if indeed any editing has been done at all.  There are words that don’t exist, such as “rhythmetically” and apostrophes used in plurals, such as “Sunday’s”–and the tense tends to leap from present to past without any explanation.

A warning for readers, there are definite incest moments in the book, so don’t go there if that squicks you.

Even as a short story, I can’t recommend it. I didn’t find it arousing–and believe me I enjoy a good one-handed read along with the best of them, but the euphemisms made me laugh out loud too often for me ever to get into the moment.  The best one is “secret cave” for anus. Please don’t ever let me find this one used again.

Buy at Excessica

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