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

Review: Pacific Nights by Lynn Lorenz

On a deserted island in the Pacific, surrounded by the enemy, two very different men learn to rely on each other for survival. Mike is an uneducated rascal, one step ahead of prison and a court-martial. He’s given one chance to redeem himself: if he wants to stay out of jail, he has to keep Professor James Hamilton alive. No matter what.

James is everything Mike isn’t–suave, educated, intellectual, and rich. He’s also a conscientious objector and he’s made a deal with the army–three months on the island breaking codes as long as he doesn’t have to kill anyone.

Mike is Catholic, the son of immigrants, and has never acted on his desires. James is Jewish, the son of Boston society, and experienced in love between men. During their hazardous stay on the island, they teach each other about life, friendship, and survival. With only them to say what’s right and wrong, the men make a deal: Mike must give himself to James for one day, submit to him completely, and James will allow Mike to take him whenever Mike wants to slake his sexual needs.

But once the war is over, can they keep the promises made on those hot Pacific nights and find one place both of them can call home?

Review by Vashtan

“Pacific Nights” tells the story of Mike Dabrowski and James Hamilton, who get the job to break codes on an island in the Pacific during WWII. The guys are very much the ‘odd couple’. Mike is a rough sergeant, Polish, Catholic, lower class, whereas James is a Jewish mathematician and code-breaker, refined, upper class.

This short novel of around 32-33k words starts at night as our heroes jump out of the plane and land on the island. They set up their camp, and discover the wreck of a Japanese plane. From now on, they know there might be a Japanese survivor on the island.

After not too long, Mike becomes aware of an attraction towards the professor who is so very unlike himself. He resents the man but can’t help thinking about him. The tension rises until Mike accuses (for whatever reason, I assume psychological projection) Hamilton of being gay. When Hamilton doesn’t deny or confirm it, Mike is convinced that Hamilton is, indeed, gay, and reverts to sullen hostility.

One month into their three-month mission, Mike suffers from a major case of blue balls and begins to masturbate vocally, aware that the professor can hear him in the other tent and unwilling and seemingly unable to keep it down. Here’s a taste of that:

He lay on his side, as every touch seemed to wrench some sound from his throat. No matter how hard he tried not to make a sound, they bubbled up.

It just felt so good, and he needed to relieve his raging hard-on. He woke with one in the morning and went to bed with one every night, and during the day he struggled to keep one from popping up. It was like he was a kid again, reacting to any glimpse of flesh he could see.

And Hamilton acted as if he didn’t have a dick.

Fuck Hamilton. Mike tasted blood as he bit down on his lip to keep from moaning.

Fucking Hamilton.

Mike’s hand pistoned and his hips jerked in rhythm as he sought that place where he could finally let loose. No more silence.

He moaned, loud and clear, and couldn’t believe how good it felt. It intensified his enjoyment, prolonged the pleasure as if the sound and the feeling were in some way joined.

Let Hamilton hear, damn it. Mike didn’t care anymore. All he needed was to express his pain and his pleasure.

Shit, he didn’t even care if the Jap heard him.

“Keep it down, Sergeant.” Hamilton’s cool voice floated out of the night.

Mike’s dick throbbed harder just knowing James had heard.

“No can do, Professor,” he gritted out. “It’s up, and it’s going to stay that way for a little while longer.”

This is about the moment when the plot, which so far seemed to have been about codebreaking and two very different men learning to cooperate, careens off into all-out porn/erotica. Suffice to say that the two reach an agreement, and from then on, the main focus is on the joys of light bondage. That is where the book stays for a long time, then returns to a semblance on plot, which I found somewhat unconvincing.

Technically, the sexual tension and sex is competently handled and fairly hot. It’s also pretty anachronistic. In their sexual mores, and especially in the porn-style dialogue, I don’t believe for a moment that these are men from the forties. The author strictly uses the Second World War as a pure backdrop – there is very little impact of this massive conflict on these two men (apart from the Japanese survivor, who provides what little plot there is and is responsible for the “dark moment”). I found the characters a bit too cliché to really feel for them, the colours are very stark indeed, up to the point of near-caricature. I would have liked much more exploration of these men, and a bit more subtlety and banter to really see them men fall in love for other reasons than that their sex is good.

The times and setting. Since they are on a nice Pacific island, the war doesn’t really touch them, they don’t have to deal with society or its views on gays, all they have to do is get to grips with each other. Apart from brushed-over codebreaking, they don’t really do much else.

Mike, who’s supposedly a sergeant and a bit of a rogue, doesn’t strike me as a very military man. Both characters are dumped out of a plane at night with seemingly no training, and no survival skills that, as far as I know, every soldier would get that was actually deployed in the wilderness without any other means to feed or care for himself.

While I would believe that from Hamilton who is a civilian, Mike’s relative military incompetence was less convincing. There was none of the grit and realism that I would expect from a novella set in those times and that theatre of war, which was every little bit as horrifying and bloody as the European theatre.

But this novella works quite well if you’re only looking for hot sex and don’t care much about the history, the setting, the morals of the time, and are okay with an ending that evades all potential conflict.

It’s a nice little read that is competently written, but I would have enjoyed a lot more meat – and less “oh my god, James/Mike!”-style sex dialogue.

I received this ebook for the purpose of this review from Erastes.

Author’s website

Buy from:  Loose-ID, Kindle

Review: Cabin Fever by B.A. Tortuga

Horace is a loner, a mountain man with a claim to a tiny stream of gold and a lonely cabin in the woods. When he finds young Walker wandering lost in his mountains just before the snow flies, he decides he’s found exactly the kind of companionship he craves.

Walker is young, naive, and totally unprepared for the kinds of amusements Horace has in store for him. Good thing he’s willing to try new things, because Horace has a stern hand and a fine sense of adventure, showing Walker things he’d never dreamed of. But what will come when the spring thaw melts all that snow?

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

A short review for a fairly short (33K words) novella.

This isn’t really historical fiction. It’s more like a story that takes place in the old days. The difference? Well, to me, historical fiction should have some history: description of the place, the people, what’s going on in the world and so on. On the other hand, the old days are differentiated from more modern times by things like lack of indoor plumbing and no electricity. But other than that, the time period is really inconsequential to the story. On top of being in the old days, this novella didn’t have much of a plot. The sex wasn’t porn so it didn’t tip all the way into PWP, but it was dancing around the edge. Even so, something about this story appealed to me and I read it all the way through in one sitting. I think it might be that Horace’s kink is mine (mostly) and that made it entertaining.

Anyway, to the story. As it opens, Walker is wandering around in the woods without proper shoes or clothes, when he bumps into the end of Horace’s rifle just as the first snowflakes of the season start to fall. Horace takes the younger man back to his cabin, warms him up, feeds him, and tells him to get ready for a long winter.

A fella’s got to do something to keep himself entertained on long, cold wintry days and nights, right? A person can only cook so much rabbit stew and play so many games of checkers before one’s thoughts naturally move in a more carnal direction…

Horace, a man of indeterminate age, clearly has a few definite ideas for what he wants from Walker, but realizes the need for trust between them to get there. So he takes things very slowly, letting Walker absorb each intimacy between them, before he moves to the next step. After all, they have all winter.

Walker, also of indeterminate age (but younger than Horace), has moments of doubt and fear that he is going to go straight to hell (or worse), but Horace finds the right balance between being rough and dominant and tender and loving to assuage Walker’s worries. Throw in lots of mind-blowing orgasms and Walker is eventually fully with the program and by the end of the book, thoughts of a life off the mountain and without Horace have long been abandoned.

There was a slightly formulaic feel to the writing and particularly the sex, as if the author had a clipboard next to her computer and kept checking off each new experience as it was introduced. Worse, most of these experiences were presented once and never revisited which is what gave the story the sex-without-plot feeling. That said, there was more than one shaving scene (I like those). Horace kept the woodstove well fed and the little cabin was hot, allowing Walker to be nude most of the time. I’ll admit it, that has a certain sexy appeal (along with his smoothie look) which is in large part what kept me reading.

I had to chuckle at this: winter is ending and supplies and provisions are running low. Does Horace worry about running out of flour, salt, sugar, coffee? Nope. Only one thing is on his mind…oil. LOL.

All in all, not a bad book. While I’ve certainly read much better, I’ve also read much, much worse. If you are looking for a wintry warm up, this might satisfy.

Authors’ website

Torquere Press

 

Review: American Hunks by David L. Chapman and Brett Josef Grubisic


The “American hunk” is a cultural icon: the image of the chiseled, well-built male body has been promoted and exploited for commercial use for over 125 years, whether in movies, magazines, advertisements, or on consumer products, not only in America but throughout the world.

American Hunks is a fascinating collection of images (many in full color) depicting the muscular American male as documented in popular culture from 1860 to 1970. The book, divided into specific historic eras, includes such personalities as bodybuilder Charles Atlas; pioneer weightlifter Eugene Sandow; movie stars like Steve “Hercules” Reeves and Johnny “Tarzan” Weismuller; and publications such as the 1920s-era magazine Physical Culture and the 1950s-era comic book Mr. Muscles. It also touches on the use of masculine, homoerotic imagery to sell political and military might (including American recruitment posters and Nazi propaganda from the 1936 Olympics), and how companies have used buff, near-naked men to sell products from laundry detergent to sacks of flour since the 1920s. The introduction by David L. Chapman offers insightful information on individual images, while the essay by Brett Josef Grubisic places the work in its proper historical context.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

American Hunks is a wonderful collection of photographs, spanning a bit more than a century from 1860 to the early 1970s. It shows muscular men in all their glory, starting with the early gymnasts and strongmen and moving on to bodybuilders and Hollywood stars with handsome physiques.

The pictures are drawn from the collection of author David L. Chapman, who opens the book with a wonderful memoir when he was eleven, in 1959, and wandered into a tobacconist and magazine store in his hometown of Chula Vista, CA. There, he stumbled upon the magazine, Physique Pictorial, with John Tristam on the cover, photographed by Robert Mizer. Chapman bought the magazine (which, given his age and the fact that the proprietor of the shop was blind, was amusing in and of itself) and in that moment, a collecting obsession was born.

The book has minimal text: a Foreword by Chapman and an essay, Flexed for Success: Consumer Goods, Pop Culture, and the Setting of Heroic Masculinity by co-author Brett Josef Grubisic. It is broken into seven chapters: The Pioneers (1860-1914); Hunks Make the World Safe (1914-1919); Jazz-Age Athletes (1920-1929); Depression Physiques (1930-1940); Supermen at War (1941-1949); The Age of the Chest (1950-1959); and Muscles à Go-Go! (1960-1969). The concluding pictures in the book are of an Austrian with an unpronounceable name who marked the end of normal

bodybuilding and the rise of steroid enhanced bodies. To those of us who appreciate the male form in its natural glory, the current crop of ‘roid puffed-up specimens are about as realistic as breast implants bolted onto a woman’s chest, and Chapman wisely left them out, letting the book end at its natural conclusion.

American Hunks is a large format book (8” x 10”) printed in full color on glossy paper. Many of the images are full-page and all have extensive comments in the picture captions, identifying the subject and photographer (when known) and additional contextual information. In addition to physique photographs, the book includes ads, magazine covers, movie posters and stills, postcards and a variety of other ephemera to illustrate the rise of muscular masculinity in popular American culture.

This 351 page book retails for $29.95 (US) which in my mind is a bargain; right now it is discounted at Amazon to $19.77 which is an absolute steal. For UK readers, it is available for pre-order at a price of £19.54 which isn’t quite as much of a good buy but still a pretty good deal. And let’s be honest, to have such an exquisite collection of handsome looking men to drool over—is money really the issue?

At Out.com, I found a slide show of pictures from the book so if you need any more temptation to add this book to your collection, go there and look at them. In the meantime, I’ve included a few of my favorites here, along with the captions (just hold your cursor over the picture too see the caption), to

give you first-hand impression of what the book is all about. Enjoy!

Visit Arsenal Pulp Press for more information.

Buy from Amazon USA and pre-order from Amazon UK

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review.

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Review: Stand and Deliver by Scarlet Blackwell

When Lucien Mayer, 14th Earl of Ravensberry is taken hostage by a gang of highwaymen, he is drawn to the damaged, reclusive Ambrosius and the dangerous, brooding Dante. Torn between escaping and satisfying his body’s needs, his life will never be the same again.

Review by Erastes

Oh dear, I thought. Another kidnap/rape-non con turns to love story.  However it turns out that it’s not quite as predictable as I imagined and that was a nice surprise.

The cover is quite nice. Frilly shirt: check. Moonlight and a castle: check.  Not a bad cover at all.

The length is only 34,000 words, though – even though Total e-bound Publishing call it a novel. I wouldn’t call that size anything but a novella, so pay your £2.99 knowing the length.

Lucien is travelling the London to Nottingham road (incidentally where his parents were killed by highwaymen some years before.)  I’d thought that it was nice to see highwaymen represented at killers, rather than “give us a kiss milady and I’ll stop at taking your earbobs” which you see too often. They were as nice and chivalrous as pirates were like Jack Sparrow. Sadly the men who kidnap Lucien fall prey to this Hollywood stereotype later in the book, content with kissing the bejewelled hand of the Baron’s daughter than nicking all her bejewells.

Lucien is waylaid by four highwaymen and when he jumps out of the carriage to defend himself, his coachman sensibly runs away.  It’s a good, exciting beginning to the story, and made me want to read on, despite the editing, which was sadly lacking in commas in many places, such as before names (e.g. “I don’t want to see you suffer Lucien” which actually means that he doesn’t want to see him suffer from Lucien), and inconsistencies such as two men sticking their head through a carriage window, and the face that it was very late at night and yet eye colour is clearly noticed. There are unforgivable typos too. “Dual” instead of “duel” and Lucien’s name misspelled for two examples. All little things on their own, but put together they irritate and pull a reader out of the immersion of the story.

What happens next is pretty predictable.  Even though Lucien has been kidnapped–and he seems to have no thought that anyone would miss him– he immediately gets aroused just by looking at the sexy quartet, and rather than worrying about his life, he starts fantasising about having sex with them all, even to the point of wanking off  There’s obvious tips to the yaoi fans; Lucien has turquoise eyes (later blue green, then aquamarine), another has green/amber/gold eyes and so on.

The men are not really manly men either, there’s lots of soul-searching and I love you’s and a lover that can never be forgotten, lots of teardrops trembling on eyelashes and betrayed hearts.  If that’s your cuppa tea, you’ll revel in this.

From the clothes, black velvet breeches with embroidered work, and the fact that there are glamorous highwaymen, I’m assuming that the time period is the 18th century, rather than the late 19th, so a cottage with a fully fitted bathroom with a large bathtub “swimming in soapsuds” was a little unusual.  Granted the richest of the land could afford such luxuries, but these four bandits live alone with no servants and cook for themselves. They are not princes and kings.  There’s no real sense of fear of capture for the highwaymen, either.  They live very close to the road they predate, and they don’t worry about the watch at all–there would certainly be patrols out to capture four active highwaymen like these.

Lucien decides to seduce whoever it takes to get away, and he’s soon grappling with a few of the highwaymen, both participating willingly and watching avidly.

It’s all a little confusing and inconsistent, one minute he wants to escape, one minute he really fancies Ambrosius, the next he knows he’s going to beg the evil Dante to shag him.  It’s like a big sexy orgy in the 1800s with everyone wanting everyone else.

There’s a quite jaw-dropping “revenge” issue to the story which I won’t spoil, but whilst I don’t want any 21st century values to creep into a historical story, I found this aspect particularly repulsive, as the man being sought out for revenge had only defended himself against armed robbers!  It didn’t endear me to the highwaymen in the slightest, to be frank. Neither did the constant weeping.

I won’t spoil the plot any more than that, but if are a fan of the Black Lace type of erotica and you like a lot of sex with your story, then you won’t be disappointed with Stand and Deliver.

It’s not a bad story and as I say, if you like sexy sensual stories with your heroes finding their erections more diverting than being in fear for their lives then you’ll enjoy this.  I’ll probably give this author another go, particularly if they work harder on the editing and make their men a bit less like erection obsessed love-struck girls.

Author’s website

Total ebound

Review: Bounty of the Heart by JM Snyder

Bounty of the HeartFor seven years, Emmett Ward has harbored amorous feelings toward his partner, Jack Robison. A chance encounter brought them together—Emmett slaved in an illegal warehouse run by a Korean criminal known as the Dragon Lady, when Jack, a notorious bounty hunter with his sights set on her son Lin Ji, was captured. Emmett helped Jack escape in return for his own freedom. They’ve been together ever since, but Emmett aches for so much more than their platonic partnership.

A new bounty has been placed on Lin Ji’s head, sending Emmett and Jack to the wilds of Alaska, where they hope to take out the crime lord during an annual dog-sled race. As they near their target, they run into Monty Becker, another hunter Jack used to know. He takes an interest in Emmett, who is drawn to the sexy, charismatic fellow despite Jack’s warnings.

Emmett is torn between the two men—Monty is more than willing to show him what he’s missing, but Jack is what his heart wants. When the three team up to take out Lin, Emmett learns more of the past Jack and Monty share, and discovers just why his partner has ignored his obvious feelings for so long…

Review by Hayden Thorne

I took on this novella, intrigued by the non-romantic premise despite my initial reservations regarding the main romantic conflict, which is really pretty standard in romance: the hardened man with a painful past, unwilling to open his heart to a lovestruck, young, wide-eyed thing who pines away endlessly. The setting, being in Alaska, added to the allure of the novella, as I really haven’t read anything that takes place there.

Unfortunately, there’s really not much for me to hold on to in this story. Yes, we’re shown through vague references that it’s the 19th century, but a lot of the character interactions – and the fact that the era isn’t really grounded solidly on dates or events – have a stronger contemporary, not historical, feel to them. With the dog sled race playing a vital role in the story, I had the impression that the novella actually takes place in the early 1900s, not the 19th century, because it’s my understanding that mushing races in Alaska – at least the big ones that drew the kind of large, excited crowds described in the novella – didn’t happen till then.

The descriptions, however, are wonderful, especially those involving Emmett’s past hardships as a slave and the little town of Aliak*, with the spectators of the dog sled race and Lin Ji’s pavilion. The romance isn’t sexually explicit and in fact has a nice sweetness to it. Even Monty’s initial attempts at seduction are teasing, and Emmett’s fantasies are innocent. These instances are great examples of evoking so much with very little, so that they give off a quiet kind of eroticism that I appreciate.

But despite that, there seems to be a disconnection, with the romance being one entity and the rest of the story being another, without any smoothing over of relationships between the two. There’s a lot of making eyes, hopeful touches, a near rape, and an awkwardly placed conversation between Monty and Jack regarding Emmett and his unrequited love for Jack, i.e., an exchange that takes place during what should be a nerve-wracking moment before their attack on Lin Ji. When the stakes are high, and a bounty hunter’s after a dangerous criminal, I’d imagine that an argument over a young man’s unhappy love would be far, far removed from their minds as they prepare for a showdown.

The characters are also archetypes: the brooding, distant love interest, the wide-eyed innocent, and the slimy encroacher. There’s nothing that makes them unique, and in fact, I find myself baffled by Monty’s characterization. For someone who’s betrayed and continues to betray, suspension of disbelief can be a little difficult to do when he does a complete turnaround after being caught doing something that’s always been his nature. Yep, even with the threat of death hanging over his head – considering how much he sneered at that prospect up until that point, his reversal feels a touch too convenient to be convincing.

There’s really not much said about Lin Ji and his operation except through flashbacks, so that when the climax comes around, I felt a certain detachment from all the shootings and rising body count. It’s a real shame as the criminal element was one of the highlights of the story and a great foil to the quieter love story that’s unfolding. The way the criminals and Monty were removed from the scene also seemed rushed and unsatisfyingly resolved, as though they were simply pushed out of the picture because they no longer served a purpose.

There’s certainly enough wonderful material in this novella for a longer work of fiction, and I wish that Snyder pursued it. Alaska has a fantastic history, and the days of the gold rush would’ve been fertile ground for a great adventure and love story. As it stands, though, the novella’s unevenly developed, and with the romantic conflict being a pretty common one, it could’ve been given something a little extra to make it stand out from the rest of M/M romances that explore the same theme. The historical angle would’ve helped, but with it being nothing more than backdrop, it does what could’ve been a better-developed plot very little good.

The end result is a story with a tender enough romance but no surprises and a curiously disjointed relationship with its historical setting.

* I tried to search for Aliak, Alaska, and I found Aniak instead, which didn’t enjoy any kind of real development till the early 1900s as a result of the Alaskan gold rush.

Buy the e-book: Amber Allure

Review: Warrior Prince by J P Bowie

Set in the early turbulent years of the Roman Empire, and seen through the eyes of three men, Warrior Prince tells the story of a love that will not be denied, of courage in the face of adversity, of political intrigue, betrayal and death. Against this backdrop of death and mayhem, Lucius and Callistus, two estranged lovers, meet at last, but can their love overcome the enormous odds they must face when it seems that every man – and the gods – are determined to tear them apart once more?

Review by Vashtan

Dear FBI,

I got this book for free from Erastes for the purpose of the review. If you do come knocking, please arrive in the morning, so you don’t interrupt the writing. And – may I take my bonsai? He’s been looking down, lately.

Yours sincerely,

Vashtan

I must admit I’m torn on this. I Googled (and binged) reviews for “Warrior Prince” to help me form an opinion. It didn’t help. I have notes and thoughts and I’m still torn. I’ll likely remain torn on this. While this book didn’t work for me at all, I know there are many people who will enjoy this. So I will write a lot about how it didn’t work for me and why, and then rate it three stars, because it is exactly what it wants to be, and the misfortune is that I don’t like what it is.

This is the story of Lucius Tullius, a Capuan (not a Roman) middle-class youth who was one of the protagonists of “Slaves to Love”, the first part of this  “Warrior Prince” is the sequel of that book. The first part of “Slaves to Love” develops the love story between Lucius Tullius and the Gallic noble Callistus, who is a gladiator, joins Spartacus’ rebellion, then returns home, leaving behind a heart-broken Lucius.

In “Warrior Prince”, Lucius hears stories that Callistus is fighting against the Romans in Gaul, and joins the army to be reunited with his lost love.

History first: so far, this seems fair enough; while I doubt very much that our “hero”, Lucius Tullius, could just join the Roman army a bit for a couple years and then just leave, and then re-enlist on a whim, that is something I’d need to check more closely. Roman soldiers served for a long, long time, and at least 6 years according to one source I have here. But it doesn’t matter, because Bowie is being very vague on the history anyway. It’s the Late Roman Republic (rather than the Roman Empire as the blurb claims – that happens later), and Capua, but there are very few in-depth details. The military service is just a backdrop, and shows us a Roman army that is staggeringly incompetent, undisciplined and so corrupt that only the vainglorious, stupid and self-absorbed rise to any kind of importance. Doesn’t really matter, this is what I call “history light.” It’s not blatantly wrong, but the feel isn’t quite right – there’s an absence of the “telling detail” or an insight into the depicted culture or time, and the small details are left out and nebulous, which often happens with writers who don’t care that much about the period to get the small stuff right.

I’ve read much, much worse, but it didn’t grip me.

The story is told in first person by the main characters (and a Roman officer called Flavius, who I found insignificant to the plot and unbelievable as an officer, a military man, a Roman citizen and a member of the social elite), who endlessly reflect on what has just happened, so this feels very repetitive, like the author wants to make sure we don’t get lost in the plot. The way these characters speak didn’t ring very authentic to me, nor what they say or how they frame it, but at least they are not totally modern characters.

The writing. To state up front, I’m a voracious reader. I love to read. It’s a bad sign if I keep checking how many pages I have to trawl through. In this case, that “oh dear, still X pages left” started from pretty much page 1.

Why? For my personal taste, the style is simply schmoopy. The emotions are over-the-top, the characters spend forever thinking about how much they love each other and how wonderful the other is, to which my mind responds with: “I get it, he’s great and you love him, can we please now get to the meat of the story? Please?” The characters seem to spend 50% of their time pining for each other:

Never would I forget that first moment when his lips met mine in a kiss that had set my senses reeling, and my body on fire with a passion that had never abated. The memory of the time we had spent together making love would live with me for all time, and diminish any other moment spent in another’s arms. Sometimes I would curse him for having given me a taste of a rapture I could never again experience. But then I would immerse myself in the memories of his smile, of his strength and of his sweetness of nature that had brought me from mere infatuation to a deep, abiding love of the man he truly was.

And

Belenus was brought to me, saddled and bridled, and as I swung myself up onto his back, I thought for the thousandth time of Lucius, and how he had looked astride the steed on the day I sent him back to his family. I hoped he had forgiven me for taking Belenus from him after our last night together. I urged Belenus forward, and the men gathered behind me to watch what they imagined would be a very short conference with the emissary that now cantered toward the camp. I knew him before he got near, and for a moment my heart stopped in my chest and my breath caught in my throat.

“Lucius…”

His name was torn from my lips as my eyes took in every part of his face and form. Despite the fact that he was wearing a Roman soldier’s uniform, I could tell he had not changed one whit in the years that had passed since our last all-too-brief meeting. As he drew abreast of me, I could see those same shining brown eyes now fixed upon mine, and the same sweet smile I remembered each time he looked at me.

Oh, Lucius, what have you done? Why are you here on this field that will soon be covered in blood, and the bodies of men? But of course, I knew the reasons, and as he gazed at me with an expression of longing and love, I felt my loins burn with lust, and the need to crush him in my arms and cover his face and body with my lips.

I know this kind of writing works for some, but I find it grating and much prefer realistically depicted, believable emotion. The sex scenes and writing seemed quite repetitive to me, too. I was tempted to start a drinking game – one shot of vodka for every time an embrace is described with the words “I was a willing prisoner in his arms” or a variation of that. I would easily have got through three bottles before the book was up. I’m totally okay with having only a couple sex scene, as long as those are smoking hot and mean something. Here, they are just “proof of how much they love each other” and the sexual spark hits the moment gay or gay-inclined men look at each other – no more meaning or relevance than that.

The characters. Lucius Tullius is 26 years old and has the emotional maturity of a 14 year old girl. There is a lot of blushing and tears in this book, many, many “I love you!”s and Lucius to me comes across not as a full-grown man, but a child, a push-over, whose main aim is to have sex with the love of his life, the barbarian prince Calllistus. It’s good for him he also has the famous self-lubricating anus – the sex scene sometimes involve a little spit or rimming beforehand, but there are several instances in the book where Lucius takes it like a girl, without preparation. Little Lucius has no mettle whatsoever, or at least I just don’t believe he does. When he thinks he’s cunning, he really is not. If the author tells us he’s tough, he really isn’t (or maybe show me some basic training/army life in the late Republican army), and I never liked him. I had no chance to. He never really struggled, and it takes more than a lot of luck and a lot of whining for me to feel with a character. Every time Lucius gets in a tight spot, he’s rescued by happy coincidence, which will not only solve all his problems, but often reward him in some way, too. This rather reads like the story of a pampered pet that ends up in a spot of bother and then is rescued by some deus ex machina with no credit to his own mettle.

In short, I really couldn’t get into the character. I disbelieved him going through army life, and to me, he wasn’t a believable male character of the time. I think I may have winced when he told us he treats his slaves like “friends” and “servants”, he disagrees with slavery, and treats his slaves like confidantes (in “Slaves to Love”, he just lets one of his own slaves join the forces of Spartacus and wishes him luck on the way).

That kind of anachronistic thinking stretches to other characters. We have Flavius, a Roman character so blown away by Callistus’ charisma that he would rather serve him than Rome. O-kay.

Callistus, the Gaul, is the cliché of the “noble savage”. He’s more honourable, humane, and everything else than any Roman character in the book. He’s just so great that everybody respects and loves and follows him, even the few Romans who aren’t simply evil and incompetent. Never mind he’s shagging an enemy who could be a spy. Never mind that, according to what I’ve read, Germanic tribes killed homos. Here, nobody seems to care much (at least, Callistus is shagging his little Lucius behind closed doors/inside his tent).

The sex: lots of “willing prisoners”, lots of quick shags that did nothing to me – they were too purple, for once, too over-the-top, with self-lubricating anuses, people crying out each other’s names and “I love you!” all the time, and miraculous recovery times (well, I guess those Gauls are just *better* at recovering).

Now, the good bits. It’s well-edited, and the cover is ok. It has a discernible plot, so you can read this without wondering what the hell you’re doing. The history in broad strokes is enough to make this “history light”. It is a fluffy romance, written like a fluffy romance, with over-the-top emotions, a manly man, and a little boy (who’s legal age for sex), and if you like that kind of dynamics, you can’t go wrong here.

To sum up: History-light costume piece in the sentimental romance tradition narrated from a number of first-person POVs, with plenty of sex, over-the-top emotions, much pining, a hard-warrior-and-pliant-eager-boy dynamic and characters that often feel anachronistic but few glaring errors. Many settings and scenes are very vague (like Roman army life and warfare); the good people are very good, the bad people are very bad. I could see the plot twists come for a mile or two, but it is an art form to give the reader exactly what they are expecting, and many readers like that.

It didn’t work for me and I was glad it was over, but I know there are people out there who will enjoy this kind of book, so I rate it with three stars. It’s solidly made for what it wants to be.

Author’s website

Amazon UK Amazon USA Manloveromance

Review: Death of a Blues Angel by Sarah Black

Rafael Hurt comes from Mississippi to play Blues guitar, and he’s hiding a dangerous secret. When a young girl is found murdered during Rafe’s first gig at The Blues Angel, Rafe and Deke Davis, a veteran reporter, have to find the killer before the secrets of the past explode into racial violence and destroy any chance for the love growing between them.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

This story is a little more modern than many of the books reviewed at this site. It takes place in 1966 with the civil rights struggles of the sixties as its backdrop. That is an interesting time in US history and certainly provides a wealth of material for plot and characterization. Unfortunately, Death of a Blues Angel didn’t quite live up to that promise.

The story takes place in Washington, DC. Rafael Hurt has come to the city with three legendary blues players who are very old, very famous, and very black. Rafe is white and of course that brings up the whole “do you have to be black to play the blues?” meme. Deacon Davis, a reporter for an unnamed Washington newspaper, gets sent to the club by his boss for Rafe’s premiere performance. Why exactly he has been given this assignment is not clear to Deke or the folks at the club, so there is lots of “eyeing each other suspiciously” going on.

The story opens with the murder of a young woman and her body is found at the end of the evening, which drives the rest of the story as a murder mystery with racial overtones. It is written to be very murky with lots of crossing and double-crossing going on. Trouble is, the actually mystery wasn’t much of a mystery at all, so the story just seems thin at its conclusion.

And thin, I guess, is the problem. The story clocks in at 51K words. If the author had written another 20K or so, and put some meat on the bones of the plot, I think, overall, Death of a Blues Angel would have been much better. Black writes well—all she needed to do was write a bit more to move this from good to very good—maybe even great. But in this iteration, it’s not there.

I have two major complaints. First, the pacing. The first third of the story takes place over the course of one evening in the club—maybe six hours. Then, for the rest of the book, things speed forward, covering days, then weeks, in a matter of pages. There is an epilogue which covers years. Personally, this drives me nuts. If a story starts off such that it seems like it will cover a day or two or three, then that’s the groove my mind gets into and I can’t stand it when time suddenly starts racing by.

My second complaint is grammatical, to whit: if a character is speaking and that character’s dialog continues into a second paragraph, then at the end of the first paragraph, you omit the close quotes, but include opening quotes at the beginning of the second paragraph. This signals to the reader that the same person is speaking. My understanding is that this is a basic grammar rule but for some bizarre reason it was not adhered to in this book, so I was constantly being jarred out of the story since I repeatedly had to go back to try to figure out who was speaking. I am not quite sure how an error like this would slip by an editor, but it did, and it really damaged the pleasure of my reading experience.

This is the first thing I’ve ever read by Sarah Black, although I know she is a popular author with many fans. Overall she does write well and I’d be willing to give another story of hers a try. Which is probably pretty high praise given my two major beefs. Hopefully those were aberrations not to be seen again.

Would I recommend this? Yes for Sarah Black fans, yes for folks who like interracial m/m romance, yes for those who enjoy simple mysteries that aren’t too hard to figure out. On the other hand, if you want a story that explores racial issues in the turbulent sixties and paints a realistic picture of that time in history, this story will ultimately disappoint.

Author’s website

Amazon USA

Review: Drawing the Veil by Stevie Woods

The exciting prequel to Beyond the Veil!

Read how Malik became the pirate captain who fell for Robert, and how he was forced into a life of pain, fear and violence following his capture by the Corsairs.

Review by Erastes

This is a prequel and sequel to “Beyond the Veil” which was reviewed earlier on the Blog.

Like the first book, it’s a fast paced adventure story, with emphasis on the plot, and not the sex – which is how I like it, but because Malik’s story is not as tender and kind as Robert and David’s,  readers might find it a harder read. And not in a good way!

Malik doesn’t have an easy time of it; captured by pirates and instead of being forced to crew, he’s taken by the wicked captain™ as a sex slave.  This was something I’d read so often, I found myself rolling my eyes when I discovered what Malik’s fate was, but I suppose the whole rape fantasy does appeal to some people.  I didn’t find the captain anything other than entirely two dimensional almost one-d if that’s possible, he’s a monster pure and simple–and while that’s quite believable (because the POV we see him from is Malik’s)–I wouldn’t have minded have seeing something of the man as well as the monster.

This first section of the book is pretty unrelenting–there’s nothing nice or titillating about Malik’s predicament (and that’s entirely as it should be imho) but when Malik sinks into remembrances of his relationship with his beloved Robert, I would have liked a lot more tender eroticism to balance the dark of Malik’s current torment.

However, it’s a brave stance, and I see why Woods did it this way; Malik’s past, and the softer traits of his personality, are gradually razed, and he becomes a harder, darker man in himself, he stops being the kind of crew member who tries to save the victims of the pirate’s predation, and becomes one of the pirates.  I applauded this, because some writers would have made Malik a 21st century man, baulking at the horrible things he had to do.  You never get the feeling that Malik revels in his activities, but he certainly realises that it’s his life, and he needs to make the most of it. Not only that, but he feels he can’t accept any male contact again.

The friendships that Malik eventually makes were rather rushed–and this is probably due to the length of the book – it’s 80 pages or so (whereas Beyond the Veil was full sized at 220 pages)–and Drawing the Veil would not have been at all damaged from extension. Once Malik is discarded by the Evil Captain™ and joins the crew proper I found myself wondering why he (and another of the crew who complains that he is nothing more than a prisoner) don’t or can’t escape.  The ship makes landfall pretty often, and no escapes are made, and no reason is made for this.

After Malik’s freedom from his sex slavedom,  the book takes a turn, and for me that’s where the characterisation disintegrates.  Malik goes through the fire of two years of rape, and becomes this hardened bitter man, but in no time at all he starts to lust after someone else, and we find he’s actually a sulking, weepy, whiny man and one that falls in love after just one fuck – which simply doesn’t gel at all with the man he’d grown to be, shutting himself off from emotion and male lusts.

I know nothing much of the Age of Sail, and perhaps I should have asked one of my AoS reviewers to review this, but as a layperson in the genre, it worked ok for me, and it’s clear that Woods has done a hell of a lot of research and if there are sea battle errors or ship description problems they certainly didn’t show if you aren’t an expert.  It’s the characterisation rather than the historical detailing that weaken this novella for me.  If you’ve read Beyond the Veil first and found that Malik was in fact in love with a woman, you’d be confused too because the canon simply doesnt’ mesh.

However, I do recommend this book, as it’s a roaring good read and stands on its own.

Author’s website

Buy at Phaze

Review: Outbursts! A Queer Erotic Thesaurus by A.D. Peterkin


Erotic slang words from Great Britain, Canada, the United States, Australia, and other English-speaking nations number well into the tens of thousands. But the history of terms used to describe the sexual activities of gays and lesbians have opposing sources: one, the discreet networks of gay men and lesbians who sought to come up with a new terminology for the pleasures of their secret lives; and the other, those who found gay sexuality repellent, and created phrases that denigrated and insulted its proponents. The result? A coded language, for better or worse, that celebrates sexuality in all its queerness.

Reviewed by Jean Roberta

This unusual reference book was published in 2003, but it is still (to this reviewer’s knowledge) the only one of its kind. It is a brave attempt to catalogue all the words used in English for “queer” (gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender) subjects, post-2000 and in the past.

In his introduction, the author explains some of the challenges of compiling this book:

“queer language is in a state of near constant flux much in keeping with the ever increasing visibility of gays and lesbians in contemporary culture.”

Peterkin goes on to explain that the need for secret “passwords” in more homophobic times gave rise to such elaborate identifying markers as:

“the secret male language called Polari (more or less from ‘parlare,’ to speak in Italian) used by gay men in London from the 1930s to 1970s. The language of Polari contained some 500 words about sex, the body, physical appearance, meeting places, straights and gays. . . some Polari terms, like ‘bod,’ ‘trade,’ ‘troll,’ basket,’ and ‘cottage’ are still used today, and many have been absorbed into mainstream vocabulary as well.”

According to Peterkin, the increased acceptance and visibility of queer culture since the birth of the “Gay Rights” movement in 1969 has not decreased the need for specialized vocabularies, especially as new sexual identities and sub-communities have emerged. The author claims: “As an example, in the 1990s we saw the emergence of bear culture and terminology to describe hirsute, physically large gay men and their admirers.”

The alphabetical entries begin with “abdomen,” “androgyne,” “anus,” “aphrodisiac” and “aroused.” The synonyms for “androgyne” include “morphodite,” a mysteriously insulting word that this reviewer remembers being used by other teenagers in rural Idaho in the 1960s, regardless of whether they knew what it meant. (The word was applied to male “sissies” and female “tomboys” in a rigidly gendered culture.) Peterkin confirms my suspicion that it is a corruption of “hermaphrodite,” originally the name of the child of Hermes and Aphrodite in Greek mythology.

Queer words meaning “aroused” include “having a pash for” (which was used as early as World War I, although usually in a heterosexual context) as well as “hot as a firecracker,” which the author describes as a Canadian term first used in the 1920s.

Strangely enough, “Canadian” is listed as a euphemism for any gay male. Perhaps it is not surprising that this use of the word seems unknown in Canada, although “Lebanese” for lesbian (which was widely used in the 1980s on the Canadian prairies, where actual immigrants from Lebanon were rare) is not listed at all. The author explains that the word “lesbian” itself was originally based on a place-name, since the ancient Greek poet Sappho, who wrote about love between women in the seventh century BC, came from the island of Lesbos. Presumably any native of that island can still be called a Lesbian, regardless of sexual identity.

According to this book, the use of place-names to indicate queer sexuality or queer culture continues in references to San Francisco (no surprise there) as well as to less-obvious locations such as Santa Fe. References to ethnicity or culture are included in traditional terms such as “the English vice” as a (non-British) term for BDSM (bondage/discipline/dominance/submission/sadism/masochism) and “French letter” as a (non-French) term for a condom. More recent references to culture in queerspeak include terms for those who are attracted to a particular race or ethnicity, such as “rice queens” (gay men who prefer Asian partners) and “Zebras” (white queers who prefer black partners and vice versa).

Other listed words for those whose sex practices are unusual or controversial even in the queer community include “Butcher boy” for a gay man who has sex with lesbians, “vampire” for a gay man who steals other people’s partners, “Gillette blade” for a bisexual woman, and “switch hitter,” derived from baseball terminology, for a bisexual woman or man.

“Beard” is listed as a term for a woman who dates gay men to help them “pass” as heterosexual. Besides being notable as a term used in Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale” (written in Middle English in the 1380s) to mean a practical joke, this use of “beard” seems similar to “fag hag,” except that a “hag” is usually assumed to initiate friendships with gay men for her own reasons.

As the author explains somewhat apologetically in his introduction, more queer terms (especially those that refer to the body and to specific sex practices) apply to men than to women. Considering this, it is notable that the word “gay” itself (which literally means happy) first seems to have been used as a sexual term in Shakespeare’s time to refer to women who were thought to be promiscuous. Like other feminine terms which have been appropriated by feminine men, “gay” came to apply to men who were also considered slutty because they were homosexual (even if monogamous). The extension of this use of the word to lesbians brings it back to women by a roundabout route. This book includes a more recent woman-centric term (which could possibly be extended to males) to mean “aroused:” the cute acronym “NDL” for “nipples don’t lie.”

This book is hard to summarize; it really needs to be read from cover to cover. Many of the black-and-white illustrations between blocks of print are vintage porn images from yesteryear. The flexible binding of this book enables it to be spread flat for easy reading. It deserves to be added to the growing library of scholarly material on queer culture through the ages.

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Author’s website

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Review: Frozen Embers by Sasha Skye

Rescued from the freezing streets, Ashley finds himself in the arms of an angel – a handsome doctor who nursed him back to health. Little did he know that he’d crept into Oliver’s heart, and the other man wants him to stay warm in his arms forever.

Review by Erastes

Short review for a short story.  It’s only 35 pages, so there’s no point me going on and on.

It’s a recognisable theme; the first part is almost entirely a rewriting of The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson. Ashley is a starving, badly dressed and hungry wood carver and we are told this over two pages.  He strikes a match, sees a wonderful feast, and instead of his grandmother, a dove arrives, disguised as an angel to take him to heaven, and the little wood carver lies down to die, just like the Match Girl.

However, this is a gay romance so matters don’t end there.

I found it a little confusing, because he was in his freezing cold rooms attempting to burn his carvings to keep warm and suddenly he’s dying in the street.  When he’s rescued it’s Christmas, and when he wakes up it’s New Year. Seems a little long to be comatose and near to death without nourishment, but I’m not a doctor.

However, things move along, Ashley is rescued and finds himself warm and dry and being interviewed by a strange woman.  For some bizzaro reason, we are told that Ashley has a “soft, English accent.”  What else would he have, considering this is England?  We are introduced to the woman’s brother (he’s Danish, as a wily tip of the hat to Hans) and things move predictably from there, it’s fairly obvious that within  minutes of meeting each other (especially due to the shortness of the story) that Ashley and the good Doctor will be falling in love and getting unsuitable feelings in no time at all.

It’s a decent, if short read, but what spoiled it for me was the fact it was obviously written by (I assume) an American, (or at least a non-Brit), and the thing needed a damned good Britpicking.  British readers will get annoyed at the Americanisms, and frankly Dreamspinner should have edited them out–it’s an old complaint by now–we don’t have sidewalks in London for example, or cranberry sauce  either at this time in history and other things–and it’s about time that authors and publishers were hotter on this aspect than they are.  Either that, or what would be the harm in writing this set in Victorian New York?  Write what you know is a good adage at times.

It’s not a bad little story, but it’s rather overpriced at $2.99 I feel (considering some pubs do novella-length for this price, and Torquere do sips for under a dollar) but I found it rather over saccharine .  I’ve grown out of weeping heroes, but anyone with a penchant for schmoopy will love it, and it is seasonal.

Author’s Livejournal

Dreamspinner Press

Review: Simon A Decline and Fall of the English Landed Gentry by Nick Heddle

1957. Gorgeous, 23-year-old Simon heir to a peerage, meets and falls in love with a Cumbrian sheep farmer, disappointing his parents and flying in the face of the social mores of a period when gay relationships risked a life prison sentence. Told from the perspective of his lover who acts as narrator throughout, the story encompasses their relationship over a fifty year period spanning their first meeting, when post-war optimism is fast being replaced by decay, to 2007 when the couple can finally validate their relationship publicly in a Civil Partnership ceremony. In between we are treated to a cast of delightful characters Simon s myopic and hidebound parents determined to see their son married to a rich, eligible debutante; Harry, his younger brother, the spare , who also turns out to be gay and the riotous drunken fortune-teller Madame Claire Voyante, who takes great delight in informing Simon of the skeletons in the family closet. Simon: a Decline and Fall of the English Landed Gentry is an imaginative, enjoyable, but also poignant and touching novel. Set against the last gasp of a decaying old world and the first caterwauls of the new, it paints a portrait of an England which is in some ways in decline, and which in others is an improvement but remains, above all, the deeply erotic saga of an enduring love which lasts for over fifty years.

I reviewed Mr Heddle’s other novel, His Master’s Lover, and was singularly unimpressed so I approached this book (which I had bought from Amazon, in case the FBI is watching) with some trepidation.

However, although it shares many of the problems of that novel, it’s actually a  better read I was pleased to find.

The story is told in two alternating sections, flashbacks to the past, when the narrator first meets Simon, set in 1957 and onwards, and one in the narrators present day, starting from 2001.  Simon arrives at the narrator’s house (he’s never named) one day when the narrator’s wife is away on a visit, and the narrator is instantly attracted to him. He’s deeply closeted, almost the point of fooling himself, and thought that a marriage would take away all those feelings he’d been having. However his marriage is not working out at all.

Naturally enough–for Heddle’s writing–you know that the main protagonists are going to get busy with the sexxing almost instantly and there’s no disappointment here.  Personally I would have preferred a gentle courtship–or even one lasting a day or two, especially considering that the narrator isn’t fully happy or even fully aware that he’s homosexual/bisexual at this point, but that’s not to be.  Simon bizarrely takes all of his clothes off (even before he’s told anyone his name) and the two of them are at it like rabbits in no time at all.  This is part of my dissatisfaction of the book–at no point was I convinced that either man really loved each other.  Oh yes, they said it, they said it all the time ad nauseam, but it seemed all to based on sex.  It’s because the narrator is so good at sex that Simon loves him, and what keeps him loving him.  It’s very “tell” not “show” – and there were very few instances where anyone did anything that convinced me that this was love and not just a 50 year lust-affair.

The story is, in some way, a potted gay history of a sort.  The Wolfenden Report had just been held in committee and recommendations that homosexuality should be decriminalised had been put in place. The story covers this, as well as the Windscale disaster, which leads Simon to build a water powered turbine on the farm.  As with Heddle’s previous work, Simon is beleaguered with many of the same problems that His Master’s Lover suffered from, one of the most annoying is the Dan Brown-esque obsession with telling us every single detail of national news in  conversation and the narrator’s thought.   Yes, you’ve done the research, Mr Heddle, I applaud that, but you need to learn that sometimes less is more.

There’s also a huge amount of OKHomo to contend with, as with his first book.  This is set in the Lake District, in the 1950′s.  A hard enough place to farm, even today, and filled with farmer more rugged and taciturn than anything even seen in Herriot’s vet books.  To have everyone in the village accepting of the gay couple living openly together, fondling and kissing each other in the pub, (even once to the point of ejaculation) is errant bilge.  No-one causes any problems for the husband, not even the wife, who left him.  Somehow he had an amazingly quick divorce, too, which is entirely impossible.  He’d had have to have waited five years and use desertion as his proof.  There’s no way (as is actually suggested that he do) that Simon could put himself forward as “the other man,” and it’s this level of idiocy that marks Heddle’s work down, when he’s clearly done a lot of research on other matters.  Simon’s brother loves the idea of their relationship and even wants to watch them at it, and finally his mother gives it the seal of approval.  It’s all very jolly.

I have to say that “the wife is a bitch” trope didn’t work for me either. Simon met the wife once, and he’s constantly bitching about her throughout the book, when I have to say, I think she behaved a lot better than she need have done, in 1957.

I’ll mention the sex, not because I think that all gay books should necessarily have sex in them, but this marks itself as a “deeply erotic novel”, which I’m sad to say, it really isn’t.  The sex scenes are vague, very short and consist basically of a lot of shouting of dialogue like “Oh yes, fuck me harder, oh yes, I’m coming,” which is not erotic at all.  There’s no description, no depth of sensation and if you wanted a one-handed read, which you’d be right in thinking this is, you’d be disappointed.

There are some really odd things in the book: a peculiar old fortune teller called Madam Clair Voyante, who, for the life of me I cannot see the point of; a repeated plot line used in His Master’s Lover of a treasure trove that fizzled out and went nowhere and many plot based editing errors such as a car pulling up in one chapter, but in the next, it hasn’t arrived yet.

It’s a shame, because I have to be honest, this is a much better book than His Master’s Lover.  I put the blame on the fact that it’s published by a Vanity Press and despite their assurances that editing is important to them, it’s clear to me that it’s not.  Granted there are few typos that I noted, but in the hands of a real editor, this book could have been quite good.  It needed the bloated dialogue reduced, the Dan Browning taken out and the OKHomo squashed at source.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Coming Home by Victor J Banis

Victor J Banis “Coming Home”, published by MLR Press in 2009, available either as a stand-alone ebook or in the print anthology “Esprit de Corps”, also MLR Press.

The swinging sixties, the Sunset Strip a smorgasbord of horny Marines, looking for a little action before heading off to Nam. A queen’s delight, and it’s all too easy for a guy to fall in love with these brave, young warriors. But some of those shipping out won’t be coming home, and not all of the wounded wear uniforms

Review by Vashtan

Some people have been asking me why I start each review with how I got a book, and asked me “is that really necessary”? Yes. One author and her publisher have contacted the FBI with allegations that this blog reviews from pirated copies. Personally, I wouldn’t find my way around a torrent these days, and besides, apparently many files you can download there are either fake or riddled with virii. Contacting the FBI first and then the blog is not a way to show your good manners; while I’m not the affected reviewer, hysterical writers and their equally-hysterical publishers like this are the reason why I don’t start with a witty opener but with the legal stuff. I don’t like SWAT in my study or having my computer confiscated. It’s quite disruptive to my own novels.

The legal stuff, then. After my last review of a Banis book, Lola Dances, I found it only polite to contact the author direct to send him the review before it went online. Mr Banis was great about it all, polite, grateful and perfectly happy to discuss the story with this reviewer. As a thank you, he sent me a free short story, which I loved (not sure whether it’s out or where). I asked Mr Banis whether he had any more recently published historical books, with the full intention to either buy whatever book he pointed out to me or to contact MLR Press to send me a review copy. I received the file for “Coming Home” unprompted with the next email. So, I got a free copy from the author himself.

“Coming Home” is set in the Swinging Sixties just before Stonewall, and that way clings to the very end of the period that this blog covers. And to come right to the point, I really enjoyed this story of just under 50 pages, with around 15-16thousand words. It’s heavy on the sex, steamy, and maybe wasn’t the best thing to read on the commute to work.

Mike, our first person narrator, is a young gay man who goes out to pick up men on the Strip. Usually, these are servicemen, Marines and sailors seeking some relief before having to return to the barracks. This is the time of the Vietnam War, and also the time of greater sexual freedom and general openness to gay experiences. He picks up Doug, a Marine who hasn’t done this kind of thing before, but is perfectly happy to try things out. Much steamy sex ensues (that made me completely blind to what was going on around me on the bus, train, and bus), which is well-told and good fun.

Once that is out of the way, the story is about the blossoming of love—but at first, it is, cleverly, not Doug’s and Mike’s love. Banis brings in some complications that make this whole experience quite harrowing for poor Mike. Things look the worst when Doug gets shipped off to war.

I really don’t want to spoiler you for the rest of the story, only tell you it’s a satisfying journey that felt real to me and held me captive for a while after I’d finished.

The setting is very vividly painted; I found it completely believable, so full marks for that. Mike’s voice is laced with humor; we get a very good picture of who this guy is, and above all, I really got to like him and hoped things turned out well for him.

Here’s a bit right from the start:

The Swinging Sixties. To some, that conjures up images of The Haight in all its flower power glory, before the lilies festered. To others, it was Greenwich Village and that heady period leading up to the events at Stonewall; or the love-ins in Griffith Park.

For me, it was The Strip. Sunset Boulevard. Not the Norma Desmond Boulevard, of flame red Maseratis and grand hotels and pink mansions with heart-shaped swimming pools, but the hurdy-gurdy strip of once-elegant-now-sleazy clubs, discount record stores and gay bars.

And Marines. Scores of them, hundreds of them, flocking there every weekend from Camp Pendleton down the road, strolling about wide-eyed in twosomes, three-four-and-moresomes. And some of them alone. On the prowl. Happily, because these were the ones a gay man like me looked for.

This was the era of the Vietnam war — or police action, as some put it. The population of the one-time Rancho Santa Margarita between Oceanside and San Clemente had soared from a few hundred Marines who marched there from San Diego in 1942 to somewhere around a hundred thousand, give or take a thou or two at any time. Every one of them young, buff, tough — and best of all, as many of us saw it, terminally horny. (page 4)

This is a well-written, short, sweet, enjoyable read set in the late Sixties, with likeable characters, plenty of hot sex, and there’s enough romance in there to put a grin on your face when it’s done. Definitely recommended.

Author’s website

Buy MLR (ebook) Mobipocket

Review: The Tortured Secutor by Jardonn Smith

In third century Rome, being a freedman doesn’t exempt you from punishment, even when you’ve done nothing wrong. This is the story of a gladiator granted his freedom by an Emperor, only to be caught up in the web of a treacherous patrician whose wife has been murdered. He abducts the gladiator and tortures him – only to discover taht some men will not talk, whether they know the answer or not. Powerful forces are at work. But can one strong man hold out long enought for the good to put their plan into action?

Review by Vashtan

Disclosure first: Erastes received the book from the author and passed it to Vashtan solely for the purpose of this review.

To be frank, I struggle putting into words what I feel about this book. It’s usually a bad sign if I need longer than a week for a slim book.(145 pages)  This took almost three. After reading the first third of it, I just didn’t want to go back. I made a valiant effort to finish it a week ago, and just finished the last third. I do believe that you cannot review a book you haven’t actually finished, so I read everything to the last page.

I may revise the policy.

If a writer fails over the first 50 pages in a 150-page book, it’s highly unlikely they turn the ship around in the last 100 pages. And the longer the pain drags on, the less charitable the review. Sometimes, reviewers do feel angry after reading a bad book, it’s the nature of the world.

This is the story of the gladiator Philokrates and the physician Artimos. Both men meet after death in the Elysian Fields, and tell us their story. I think. Because there wasn’t really much story. After the gladiator gets freed by the Emperor after the games, and falls in love with his physician who looks after the gladiators, they get into trouble with a corrupt trader who wants to frame the gladiator’s co-gladiator for murder of his wife, and has the gladiator and the physician abducted and tortured.

The plot then kinda meanders a little, but gets resolved off-camera. The troublemaker dies, our couple receive gifts, go to parties, and that’s the end of it. I must admit I found the story very dull – there’s just no arch to it, as if the writer wasn’t interested much in the story her/himself. What the author was interested in are a couple of graphic scenes where muscular men get crucified, tied up, beaten and tortured, and the rest of the “novel” only serves as backdrop to provide excuses for those scenes. So this is very much about the kink and not at all about the story or the characters. Which begs the question why write a novel at all rather than a number of short stories with a graphic torture scene?

Another thing: The Nazca Plains Corporation seems to take the editing part of the publishing business quite lightly. This is the second book by them I’ve read that is sloppily edited, and they don’t seem to have a standard formatting, either. This book’s paragraphs are all disconnected by blank lines, something I‘m more used to seeing in ebooks rather than print books. The editing overall didn’t look at style, either. I found the style bloated, monotonous and dull – a good editor with some good cutting could have saved the book, possibly. If an editor had found all the weird shifts in point-of-view, language misuse, typos, the gushing about “masculine beauty” and assorted purple prose (I get it, the author doesn’t have to repeat it over and over and over again), fixed the sloppily-structured so-called “plot”, the characters’ motivation…. This might have turned out readable.

Then there’s the cover – while not horrendous and certainly not a Poser cover, it still looks cheap and tacky. Not a cover I’d want to be seen with out on the street.

Research. The author made some attempt to research. From the very setup of this book, it would have been a tough book to write. Very tough, in fact. We’re dealing with two first person narrators, one a learned man and one a rough gladiator. The author makes some attempt to have one speak more educated and more poetically, whereas the gladiator is more vulgar. They still ‘sound’ the same, like the same person tried very hard to change his voice a little. Getting a first person voice of a historical character right is a massive challenge – you try and mimic how people spoke, and what they would have said how. Smith didn’t. After a few attempts to do that, we get words like “okay”, and anachronisms galore.

Now, what happens. While revelling in getting people horrendously injured (the gladiator gets his Achilles tendon severed and his ankle pretty much turned into mush during a torture scene), Smith fixes these people quite quickly, too. Apparently, a physician in 3rd century Rome could sew an Achilles tendon back together, and operate a massively fractured ankle bone, put it into plaster, and the gladiator is fine after a few days or a week. There are people that survive having spikes driven through the abdominal cavity, and in general, this physician is a hundred times better than any Roman physician that I read about.

While there is some research, it falls flat when we have Romans use mahogany (they must have sneakily crossed the Atlantic to get the wood from South and Central America), and the way that gladiatorial games are portrayed doesn’t hold up. Another thing: the characters count time in minutes (maybe they invented a wrist-watch, or the sun dials were way more precise than I though). We have minor characters called Tacitus and Ovid (Ovid isn’t the author of “The Metamorphoses” as you might have thought, but “The Annihilator”, another gladiator), and Tacitus the historian would probably turn in his urn if he knew what his namesake is up to in this book.

I struggle finding a passage that sums up this book. Maybe you want one of the torture scenes?

Once again our Roman guards, a new pair coming on duty for the evening shift, seized Philo and hung him by his wrists onto the overhead spike. One stood behind Philo, clamping his hands onto Philo’s thighs; the other stood in front, pounding him with fists. “No bone,” said the one from behind, and the punches were concentrated on his belly. Philo’s hard and stretched muscle was pounded with meaty fists from below his sternum to above his pelvis, and with no way to draw up his legs or move forward, back or side to side, Philo took these punches with nothing but muscle for defense.

He wanted to puke, but there was nothing inside his belly to puke. All he could do was tighten himself, groan upon impact, grunt upon impact, and stare past the Roman guard throwing punches into him. Guard’s name? Drusus Macarius, and if ever a man could have lived his previous life as a bull and bring with him in this life these same physical traits as a human, that would be Drusus. With broad and compact chest, bulging and rounded shoulders supporting massive arms carved from central limbs of a mighty oak tree, Drusus’s thick-skinned, bony-knuckled fists penetrated like a battering ram.

The method and intent of Drusus and his assistant was not one of beating the man, questioning him, and then beating him some more until he answered correctly. No, initiation to the Ludus Magnus for an obstinate slave simply involved a continuous beating until either he voluntarily begged for an end to it with promises of good behavior, or until he passed out. As Philo took a barrage of punishing blows from left and right, he gave no indication he was anywhere near the point of surrender. It was as though he intended to die before giving in. Drusus threw his arsenal of straight punches, hooks and uppercuts with precise accuracy to the left of Philo’s navel, to the right, below it and above, but Philo showed no signs of weakening. With every muscle tensed from his forearms to the calves of his legs, his fists clenched and toes curled, Philo stared blankly, glassy-eyed, his mind seemingly elsewhere. In fact, Philo’s eyes, when opened and not clenched shut from pain, fixated upon me. He gazed past Drusus and concentrated on me.

Perhaps this was because I dressed differently than Drusus — he covered with leather around his waist, sandals on his feet and nothing else; I covered in tunic of brown wool from shoulder to knee, a corded fabric belt around my waist — but I believe that Philo more than likely saw in me a reason for hope. My expression could not lie. It saddened me that he suffered. It was my fault that he suffered, my decision to let him sleep rather than warning him of where I would touch him that brought about his second round of punishment, and I am certain Philo used my frown and the slow turn of my head left to right as his strength. I am also certain my image was the first sign of compassion shown him in many a day, and although I was mostly powerless to help him, I did have one option to use after giving Drusus and his partner a few minutes to make their point.” (Page 16-17)

Coming to the sex, the torture scenes were clearly meant to titillate, and if there’s no torture involved, the sex is rare, brushed over and fairly bland when it happens. It did nothing for me.

In short, a book that clearly makes some effort to be historical in the large picture, but pretty much all details are wrong. All this could have been forgiven if it had been really well-written or well-constructed (I’m happy to forgive wrong details if the author gives me a cracking good read otherwise), but as it stands, this just wasn’t very good.

Who would I recommend this to? People who like torture scenes and have a torture kink, but even those may want to skip the bits in between.

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