Review: Bound to Him by Ava March

Lord Vincent Prescot’s life couldn’t be better. Thriving investments, well-respected by his peers, and mind blowing sex with a man who submits to his every desire — what more could he want?

Lord Oliver Marsden should be more than happy with his life. He’s been in love with Vincent for over a decade and six months ago the impossible happened and they became lovers. But since then, nothing has changed. More specifically, Vincent hasn’t changed. Oliver has tried to be patient — it took a lot for Vincent to accept the fact he preferred men. But what felt like a tiny distance between them six months ago now feels like an ever-widening chasm. Why can’t Vincent stay the night? Is it too much to ask for Vincent to call him Oliver and not Marsden? He knows Vincent cares for him, but does Vincent love him?

Then Vincent’s father asks him for a favor — one that involves marriage. If Vincent agrees, he’ll have the respect he’s craved from his father his entire life but he could lose Oliver. Nor does Oliver make the decision easy. To keep Oliver, he’ll have to do more than deny his father. He’ll have to give Oliver his heart.

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

Lord Vincent Prescott has everything he could possibly want – he’s young, rich, handsome, intelligent and he has a friend, Oliver Marsden, who is his enthusiastic and loving sub and bottom in bed. The two men have a great sex life, but it’s all behind closed doors, because we’re in the Regency, where sodomy could be a hanging offence. While all that is mostly fine and dandy with Oliver, he does resent that he’s not getting as much back as he’s giving, and friction enters their relationship, which is made much worse when Lord Vincent agrees to his father’s demand to marry.

This is a captivating little novella which I enjoyed and kept reading well past bedtime (so much for ‘first five pages’). The characters are well-drawn and the writing is fully engrossing. The text has just the right amount of period detail that shows that the author knows her period, and watching a great writer spin their yarn is always enjoyable, regardless of the plot or the time period. I’m not well-versed in the Regency, but I found the setting believable as presented. The characters are interesting and layered – while Oliver is a sub and a bottom, he isn’t the mewling weepy doormat a lesser writer would have turned him into, and quite clearly has a pair (and uses it). And while Vincent is a kinky dominant and top, what drives him in the story are the desire to please, the need to fit in, and some serious abandonment issues.

There is a lot of explicit sex in the short (102 pages) story, and it’s well done and hot. Here, the sex reveals the characters, and especially the last scene serves as the pivotal moment when the relationship changes and develops beyond what it was.

Both men have to hide what they like and who they do it with, but that doesn’t make them coy about it at all. If there’s one issue I have, it’s that one. They behave like Regency men outside the bedroom, while inside, they speak and act like modern-day porn stars with the full repertoire of practices and the kind of dialogue that is pretty much to be expected. Of course that is a fine line – how to satisfy the demand for ‘hot explicit sex’ with a cast that has different sexual morals and habits, but then, I haven’t witnessed Regency-era gay sex, so whatever I’d assume about it is conjecture anyway and anybody’s guess is probably as good as mine.

Overall, I really liked this novella because of the strong writing, the well-drawn characters and the amount of period detail that all fuses together seamlessly and in that effortless way that betrays a great writer at work. Well done!

Note: This is a follow-up piece for Bound by Deception, reviewed by SIN here:
http://speakitsname.com/2009/01/12/review-bound-by-deception-by-ava-march/

Buy at Loose ID

Review: Bitter Creek’s Redemption by T A Chase

Bitter Creek is a town on the brink of war. Lines are being drawn and sides taken as two powerful men gather armies of gunfighters. The townspeople are helpless and the law worthless. One man has already died in the opening salvo of this land war and an air of fearful anticipation hangs over the town. Eagle, the half-breed who works at the livery stable, manages to survive by not taking sides, until one day a stranger rides into town. Eagle’s life changes, and he realizes that he can no longer hide with his horses if he wishes to be the man he claims to be…

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

Travis Ramsay is the “Helper” in his widely extended family – the one homeless rover who appears when somebody in his family needs help, whether it’s driving cattle or standing by his family in a shoot-out. When his brother Ralph is murdered, he comes to Bitter Creek to investigate and avenge his brother’s death. He meets the Comanche half-breed Eagle, who was with Ralph during his last hours, and the attraction between the men is instant. But there are feuding cattle barons, a cunning murderer, gunslingers and not least of all Travis’ duty, his family and a whole load of prejudice to keep them apart.

For the most part, I enjoyed “Bitter Creek Redemption” as a light holiday read in the stupor of a Turkish summer midday. I still have some niggles about the text; Eagle, the halfbreed Comanche, doesn’t actually develop at all as a character, and I found his sometimes smug superiority rather grating. Travis, on the other hand, had a whole lot of growing up to do, overcoming teenage trauma, his ‘Helper syndrome’ as well as his reputation as a stone-cold killer with some of the cast.

Wrecked by insecurity on the inside, and appearing aloof and apart from the others on the outside, he was certainly the most interesting character in the book, and there’s certainly enough going on to keep things interesting and not bogged down with just relationship drama. There are real impediments to their relationship, and the author goes to great pains to tell us that homosexual relationships face harsh odds when they become more than a fumble in the hay, but, satisfyingly for romance readers, the main couple takes that risk in the end.

Speaking about the setting, I would have liked more of a flavour of the Old West. While the Civil War, the railway and the rough frontier justice was mentioned and the story moves between Bitter Creek, Ralph’s farm and the Indian camp, the world could have used more description for my taste to really immerse the reader. The description is so sparse that for the most part, we don’t even know what people look like.

In addition, a lot of what the characters say rings too modern to me, and there’s a fair bit of kitchen psychology coming into play as the actions of the characters don’t speak for themselves, but are explained either by the author or by the supporting cast to make sure the readers suffers from no ambiguities. Personally, I like wondering about character’s actions and don’t need any supplied explanation, but this might not be true for every reader.

There are also several editing issues (often, past tense is used when it should have been past perfect, confusing the reader about the actual sequence of events), and a few sentences that make no sense. “He resisted the urge to blush” is one of them. Last time I blushed, I didn’t think it was much of an urge and I certainly had no choice to suppress it. That said, these issues are not bad enough to seriously detract from the story.

Since this is a historical m/m erotic romance, there is sex, but not without rhyme or reason, as in other historical m/m romances I’ve read recently, and the prose is rock-solid and certainly stands out as some of the better and less sentimental writing in the genre. Absolutely read it as a solidly enjoyable read at the pool if you like Westerns and want to spend a couple hours with a romance.

Amazon UK Amazon UK

Review: All for One by Nicki Bennett & Ariel Tachna

Aristide, Léandre, and Perrin pledge only three loyalties in life: their King, their captain, and their passion for each other. So when the musketeers discover a plan to accuse M. de Tréville of treason, the initial impulse to kill the messenger, Benoît, is tempered by their need to unmask the plotter. But their first two suspects, the English ambassador and Cardinal Richelieu, prove to be innocent, forcing the musketeers to delve deeper into the inner machinations of the French court.

Meanwhile, Aristide finds himself falling in love with the ill-fated messenger, a blacksmith without a home who rouses all of his protective, possessive instincts. Benoît, however, has no interest in any man. Torn between desire and duty, Aristide must find a way to protect the King and clear his captain’s name—all while heeding the demands of his heart.

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

The musketeer Aristide enjoys the good life with his two comrades, Leandre and Perrin. The three of them take the famous motto ‘all for one, one for all’ literal, as they aren’t just comrades but members of a ménage-a-trois. This arrangement serves them well until they save Benoit, who has been shot on the road while delivering a letter to Cardinal Richelieu. The contents of the letter accuse the commanding officer of the musketeers of treason, and the four set out to uncover the plot which may hint at an attempt to murder the king.

Aristide, who looks after Benoit while he’s healing, falls in love with the peasant who lost his wife and child to the plague. Unobligingly, though, Benoit abhors the idea of having sex with another man. Eventually he comes round to it, though, after much angsting and many misunderstandings, and helped along by a cast of characters mostly made up of happy exclusive gay couples and their understanding allies, who all adore Aristide.

I have to admit I was bored for most of the book. The sex is the best about it – the frequent sex scenes are realistic for the most part (coming back to this later), even if they are, more often than not, completely unnecessary. Though there were a few where I wasn’t quite sure how the positions work and the bodies fit together, as pure erotica, they were well handled, if not particularly revealing about the characters.

Once it moves away from the sex, the story falls apart on several counts. Despite some attempts at making this a historical novel by detailing clothes and mentioning bits and pieces of the times peppered throughout, the attitudes of the characters are decidedly modern. Under no circumstances do I believe a musketeer is calling the
Queen-Mother “that bitch” without raising at least an eyebrow. But never mind that they speak in a modern way (many instances of“’twas” and “’tis”nothwithstanding) – the dialogue just never rang true to me, regardless of any historical timeframe.

While the author does mention they have to be discreet, the characters never really are, instead talk openly and brazenly about their mindblowing sex and what they intend to do to each other once opportunity arises. One gaffe like that is funny, two gets repetitive, but ten or more is just grating.

Lucky, then, that almost all of Paris is gay and happily exclusive, if we judge it by the supporting cast, which is made up of couples that read like they had their own novels or will get their own novels in due course. True to form, our happy menage is about to break up into two couples, with even the slutty Perrin yearning for one man to claim wholly and exclusively. This happens of course, so Perrin mends his slutty ways and, having sworn exclusivity with Leandre, wishes for nothing more than not having slutted around. I’m not sure what this hang-up about exclusivity is, but I guess it’s one of those things that m/m romances have inherited from m/f romances, however psychologically dubious this yearning for a restoration to purity and virginity is. Applied to a gay male, a fighter, and a man of his century, that is a pretty bizarre thought.

The main drama in the first two thirds of the book is about the fracturing menage on one hand and misunderstandings and fears that keep Aristide and Benoit apart. The last third is about Benoit and Aristide having sex and swearing eternal love to each other.

Personally, I wouldn’t have minded if they had stayed apart.

Beyond being really pretty, I see nothing loveable about Benoit. (I’d call him a “girly weepy girl” if that wasn’t pretty damn sexist and insulting to my kick-ass female and female-identified friends).

This is not remedied by the authors telling me he is a peasant blacksmith. His manners and fears and blushing innocence make him appear more like an underaged runaway from a monastery. His combination of stupidity (which I guess is supposed to be innocence), insolence, sullenness, unreasonable demands and taking any excuse for self-pity is a deeply unattractive combination. I couldn’t help but laugh at the scenes where Benoit is staying in the house of the three musketeers and keeps bitching about how loud they are during sex until they vow to be silent – and Aristide flips over backwards to accede to Benoit’s petulant and childish demands.

Aristide, built up to be the tough alpha male to sweep sweet little blushing Benoit into his arms, loses my respect with all his pining, self-pity (again) and passive-aggressive behaviour. Supposedly a gifted officer, he doesn’t have an ounce of empathy for other people – constantly misreading their intentions and then sulking that things don’t go his way.

But then, the misunderstandings are the only things that keep the story moving. Well, kind of. There’s a bit of an intrigue going on, which is sprinkled in, but never develops into a real plot. After two hundred pages of pretty much nothing happening but relationship drama and sex sex sex, when the politics finally do happen they are as subtle as a plan cooked up by fire-year-olds. I’d have expected better from accomplished players like the Cardinal Richelieu and the De Medici Queen-Mother. This ‘plot’, when it happens, takes around twenty-five pages of the 352 pages, with the rest taken up by relationship drama that leaves me cold, because of the, for the most part, unrealistic and overwrought emotions.

There was also a sore lack of all the cool stuff in that time and setting. The fighting/fencing was done with some empty phrases and sometimes was plain wrong, such as the one character bitching about how Benoit failed to ‘parry a feint’. Well, you’re not supposed to *parry* the feint, since doing so opens your guard for the real attack. So the wrong way to respond to a feint is to be deceived by it. Many other details are wrong, or sound wrong.

It’s great all our gay characters love and accept each other, but an ambassador who’s drinking in a musketeer tavern, chats up a bunch of musketeers and tells them to call him with his Christian name, until all of the minor and major characters are on a first-name basis lacks all the decorum that such lofty station warrants, never mind him being a nobleman (or English).

The POV constantly jumps around into all the characters heads, which I’d find a lot less grating if that hadn’t been slowing things down to near-paralysis, and if all the characters had had something interesting to contribute. This way, it seems like it was some kind of roleplaying game between the authors, where lots of unnecessary repetitions were never edited out.

There was simply not enough plot or believable conflict in that book to warrant the pagecount or the lengthy explanations and the many, many, many repetitions where everything was repeated and still people constantly contradicted their original intentions just two paragraphs later. There is no sense of danger or urgency in the story, until the reader wonders why he should bother even finishing the book.

There was enough purple in the prose to paint a mid-sized village. ‘Passages’ and ‘channels’ were invariably ‘anointed’ (the religious connotation nothing short of disturbing even for this atheist), and this has a sex scene where a tongue reaches a prostate – which made me laugh. All that overwrought emotion rang false, especially when the authors spend so much time with taking Benoit’s virginity…The threesome sex scenes, which are unabashedly porny, are way better and more honest than all the heart-rending and soul-searching emotion of the entirely predictable Aristide/Benoit sex, which was shown to me to be so much better for Aristide than the empty threesomes he had with his friends. Well, I’d have chosen the empty sex over that overwrought nonsense from that weepy blushing blacksmith any time.

The saving grace is that I did like Perrin and Leandre and some scenes were well-handled and interesting (such as the beginning and whenever the actual plot made an appearance). I can easily see the book that this could have been, and I’d have rated that one pretty highly, but that’s not the book I read. I think it might be a fun read for everybody who likes yaoi, doesn’t care about the history or real emotions, and doesn’t need a plot to be a happy reader.

Buy at Dreamspinner Press (paperbook and ebook available)

Review: Pride/Prejudice by Ann Herendeen

For readers who’ve loved Jane Austen’s most popular novel—the inestimable Pride and Prejudice—questions have always remained. What is the real nature of Darcy’s intense friendship with Charles Bingley, to explain why he would prevent Bingley’s marriage to Elizabeth’s beautiful and virtuous sister Jane? How can Darcy reconcile his own desire for Elizabeth with his determination to save his friend from a similar entanglement? What is the disturbing history behind Darcy’s tortured relationship with his foster brother, George Wickham? And what other intimacies, besides their cherished friendship, are exchanged between Elizabeth and Charlotte Lucas?

Review by Kalita Kasar

As the subtitle to this book says, this is a story of Elizabeth Bennet, Mister Darcy and their forbidden loves. A rewrite of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with the added premise that both Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are bi-sexual and have enjoyed various affairs with other characters from the original novel in the time leading up to, and even after their meeting and stumbling through a comedy of misunderstandings to the happy estate of marriage.

I first heard about this book on Lara Zeilinsky’s readings in lesbian and bi-sexual literature podcast and thought that the idea sounded somewhat intriguing. I bought the book in hopes of finding within it’s pages a lesbian story which was hinted at in the reading given from the book on the show.

I was disappointed in that hope. The relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and her bosom friend, Charlotte Lucas is barely mentioned and most of the story is spent in exploring Darcy’s relationship with Charles Bingley and as such makes for more of a standard m/m romance with a few women thrown in to facilitate the men in hiding their true natures from society.

This book was a mixed bag for me. There were times when I found myself grinning from ear to ear, delighted as the action sparkled across the pages and led me to keep avidly reading on, but this was interspersed with long–interminably– long conversations between characters which had me wanting to skim past them to get back to the real action and meat of the story–that being the romance upon which this book was originally built.

Perhaps I am too much of a “Janeite,” but I really felt that this book did the original an injustice, reducing the delightful Lizzy from a worthy match for Darcy, to a simpering, silly bride of convenience whom (though he did seem fond of her) he only married because it was the perfect way for him to continue his trysts with Bingley who, as we know, marries Jane Bennet, Lizzy’s sister.

The story is well written, but could have benefited from having at least half of the over-long conversations removed The editing was as near to pristine as any book gets these days and what small errors I noticed were not too distracting.

However, I find it difficult to ignore that my feeling on finishing this book was one of relief at having finally got to the last page, rather than the satisfaction I get from finishing a good read.

YMMV.

Author’s website

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