Review: Come and Take it: 1 England, 2 Texas by Julia Talbot

Come and Take it 1: England

Leland August goes to London to work for the embassy of the failing Texas Republic. Feeling like a stranger in a strange land, Leland fears he’ll never understand his English peers. Ford Mayhew seems no exception, especially when the man all but calls Leland out for running him down on the street.

Ford is willing to forgive and forget. He likes what he sees in Leland, and wants to become friends, or perhaps more. When politics and scheming bosses intrude, though, both Leland and Ford turn their suspicions on each other. Can they learn to stand together against forces much larger than they are?

Come & Take It 2: Texas

Leland August is thrilled to be back home in Texas where things are familiar and he has his family with him. His lover Ford isn’t so sure, finding the whole country abrasive and hard to handle.

Things only get worse when Ford’s business associates ask him to do the impossible, and illegal. He decides to trust Leland to help him, confessing his difficulties, and the two hatch a plan to avert the threat to Ford’s life and love. Can Leland and Ford manage to stay one step ahead of trouble, and stay together?

Review by Erastes

This is a duet of short stories (about 40 pages each) set around 1845.  The first one, as the name implies is set in England, and the second in Texas.

These were originally part of the Torquere Press serial fiction line which is coming to an end at the close of 2010. As far as I can see, there should have been a third in this series, and there was no sign of it that I could find, which is a shame, because the story is left rather up in the air, leaving me a little disappointed. However, what there is is well done, I have generally liked Talbot’s work, and her characterisation is always sound. She manages to outline the differences between the rather stodgy Englishman and the more free-ranging Texan. It’s a shame that the stories are so short, really, because I’d have really liked to see their relationship in more detail as it built up.

There’s simply not enough time and space to give more than a outline of this, and I’d have loved to know more about the life and times when the story moves to Texas–there are far too many stories set in England, really.

It’s an interesting plot too, for all its brevity, spies and mistrust on each side which works well, but as I say, we don’t get to see how it was resolved and I hope that Talbot finishes the series off!

As much as I enjoyed this little series, I haven’t given it a higher mark for two reasons: There are few anachronisms (such as “dosh”) that jarred me, and although the final part says “to be continued in part three coming soon” which was in 2007 and as far as I can see there was never a part three, leaving our heroes in a perilous position for far too long.

Author’s website

Buy at Torquere England - Texas

Review: A Secret Arrangement by Farida Mestek

Henry Chadderton’s father earned his wealth in trade, but he looks to elevate his son to the gentry through marriage into a titled family. And so it is that Edward Montford, the second son of an impoverished baronet, accompanies his twin sister Emma to London in order to introduce her to her future husband.

Henry neither appreciates being ordered around nor has any intention of marrying anyone. Then he meets Emma—and Edward—and falls in love with the wrong sibling, setting off a chain of events that will cause arguments, bloodshed, jealousy, and scandal. But Henry will endure it all if it will eventually lead Edward to him.

Review by S. Endicott

I’ve given this book two stars because it’s a remarkably good imitation of an antique style of writing. But its major virtue is also its major drawback, and shows why most writers don’t attempt a close imitation of period style. The author, who says her dream “is to build a Regency village, the aim of which would be to provide Regency-lovers from around the world with a veritable Regency lifestyle experience,” has immersed herself so deeply that she has written one hundred and fifty-nine pages of speechifying and run-on sentences and this makes for terribly dull reading.

I can appreciate the work this must have taken if Farida Mestek’s native language is not English (her bio says she lives in Ukraine), but it’s surprising that her editor at Dreamspinner didn’t encourage her to bring the language just a little more up to date and attempt to show, rather than tell. Many of the events in the story are seen only when the characters tell one another about them, and these people never use one word when fifteen will do. It was a struggle to get past the first chapter, and the going never got any easier—and this wasn’t helped by a prologue set in April 1810, two chapters in May of that year, and a third chapter that bounced back to April.

The story has a typical Regency plotline: the Montford family fortunes are on shaky ground due to the profligate habits of Sir Charles Montford and his equally improvident heir and namesake. Edward Montford, the younger of the two romantic leads, is the ingenuous younger half-brother sent to chaperone his sister Emma while she meets Henry Chadderton, the other m in this m/m. Sir Charles has arranged with Chadderton Senior that his daughter Emma will marry Henry and rescue the Montford fortunes, but Henry takes a gander at the two pretty young things, Edward and Emma, and decides Edward is more his type. Instead of honourably telling his father he’s not interested, he decides not to pitch woo to the lady, hoping that his abrupt retreat will give Emma a gentle hint. Unfortunately for him, Emma doesn’t take hints.

Poor Edward is stuck in the middle. He finds Henry quite charming (so we are told) but has no clue at all why the man won’t pop the question to Emma, since it’s supposed to be all arranged. His attempts to persuade the reluctant suitor to get back on-task don’t succeed, so Sir Charles sends his obnoxious heir to show his younger brother how it’s done.

Charles the younger is a complete ass. He seems to think that the way to fill a man with ardour is to threaten to put a bullet through him.

Edward looked from Emma to Charles, shocked. “Do you not find it extreme to duel with someone because he does not wish to court your sister?” he asked.

“He has to answer for the offence he inflicted upon our family,” said Charles frostily.

“What offence? His lack of interest in Emma?”

“His lack of honor! He broke his word as a gentleman and disgraced Emma in the eyes of society!”

“It was a private understanding between his father and ours, and if not for Emma’s vanity and conceit, which had her clamouring about their upcoming engagement at every gathering, no one in society would know of it!” said Edward, his breathing quickening. “He gave no word to break! Whatever bargain our fathers had struck between the two of them, it was done without his consent, and he had every right to excuse himself from the scheme that he found not to his taste!”

“He will answer for compromising Emma’s honor!”

“How in heavens did he manage to compromise her honor?”

“By withdrawing from the courtship he implied that her virtue was in question! He will take her as his wife or face the consequences.”

“This is ridiculous! A man should be at liberty to choose who he wishes to marry!” cried Edward.

He turned to his sister.

“Emma, I entreat you to be reasonable. Do not let our family’s obsessive gluttony for riches blind you! Chadderton should not be the one to pay for our indiscretions and squandering. Upon my word, this is hardly the best way to go about getting a husband. I should feel profoundly sorry for any young lady who could consider it a triumph to accept an offer of marriage that was enforced by her brother’s hand! Did Chadderton’s snubs and indifference make no impression on you?” he demanded. “How can you justify chasing a man who has made it abundantly clear that he has no interest in you? Emma! Where is your dignity? Your self-respect? Your pride?”

Emma either doesn’t have any or she turned Edward off halfway through that last speech, and who can blame her? Edward’s right, though—since Henry never proposed, or even asked Emma’s father for permission to court her, there were no grounds to challenge him to a duel. You don’t bag a brother-in-law with a pistol.
But the duel takes place anyhow. Chadderton delopes in the finest heroic style, but by accident or intent, Charles wings Chadderton and the result—for no evident reason besides getting Henry and Edward alone together—is that Edward winds up accompany Henry to his country estate, where they spend some time in cultural pursuits (Edward reads Shakespeare to Henry, Henry teaches Edward to shoot and gamble.) It’s kind of a shame that Mestek never actually quoted Shakespeare, because the sonnets would have brought some life to this extremely stodgy courtship. Anyone who is expecting any sex in this situation is going to be sorely disappointed. Edward blushes a few times, but that’s about the extent of it.

Further plot complications from Emma and one of Chadderton’s less savoury friends do slowly move the story along, but by the time it gets to the end, with Emma and Charles safely disposed of and Henry and Edward getting ready to take the Grand Tour of Europe (in 1810?) I was fed up with the whole crew. Emma came across as yet another of those tiresome females thrown into a gay romance to make the guys look wonderful in comparison, and in fact every significant character in this story, other than Edward and Henry, was a shallow, selfish jerk to one degree or another—and Edward and Henry weren’t that much better. Edward seemed like a nice kid but he was painfully dim, and Henry’s treatment of Emma was genuinely boorish.

“When I set out to meet your sister I had heard much of her beauty. I was prepared to admire her without any danger of being taken in by her allurements, as I have long since discovered that such charms, though captivating and pleasant to behold, have no power over me. Imagine my astonishment when upon entering the drawing room with every intention of playing the part of a scoundrel at a later date, I perceived not one but two divine creatures, one of whom proved to be an immediate temptation….

“How alike your aspects appeared to me on first notice, and yet as I sat in front of the double vision and took in the whole picture, how different I found you. Your frank and curious air appealed to me instantly. You seemed unspoilt by attention and thus craving it. You spoke freely and unguardedly and gazed at me with such a flattering expression of awe and adoration that I could not imagine not pursuing your further acquaintance.”

This doesn’t sound like someone I’d want my brother or sister to marry—this is sheer selfishness. Later in the story, what appeared to be a generous gesture on Henry’s part was really just a means of buying off Edward’s father and sister.

Miss Mestek’s bio says that she has read Jane Austen’s novels many times, and her writing style is proof of that—but she lacks Austen’s human insight and ability to create three-dimensional characters, and she’s overlooked some things that Austen would never have bothered to explain because her readers in that era would have known about them–the legitimate grounds for a duel or the common presence of firearms. Explaining away a gunshot wound would not have required the elaborate charade of Edward going to Henry’s estate and making up some wild story. All that was needed was for Henry to say he’d had a mishap while loading his pistol. And that happy ending? In 1810 Europe was in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars, not the best time for attempting the Grand Tour. A little basic research would have prevented these errors.

Forced plot, weak characterizations, dialog that created a craving for strong coffee… this book never caught or held my interest and I would recommend it only to Regency completists.

Author’s website

Buy from Dreamspinner

Call for Contributors – Historical Novel Society Conference

CALLING ALL PARTICIPANTS!

Are you a published author, editor, agent, or other genre expert who can speak about your experience? Would you be interested in serving as a moderator or organizing a panel for our 2011 Conference? If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, we’d like to hear from you.

Our 4th North American conference will be held in San Diego, California, on June 17-19, 2011, at the Holiday Inn on the Bay. This weekend-long event will feature workshops, panels and keynote addresses on various aspects of fiction set in the past, and will present authors, readers, industry professionals and other historical fiction enthusiasts with a unique opportunity to celebrate the genre. We hope to provide a stimulating, thought-provoking program that touches on many aspects of historical fiction.

Author guests of honor will be Cecelia Holland and Harry Turtledove, with a Saturday lunch keynote by Jennifer Weltz of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency.

Conference registration will open in November 2010.

If you’d like to participate as a speaker or on a panel, please click on the link below and fill out the form to indicate your interest. We’ve provided some options, but all ideas are welcome. If you’d like to see what our program looked like in 2009, click on this <http://www.historicalnovelsociety.org/2009/conference.htm> link.

Please send in your proposal(s) by September 30, 2010. Decisions will be
made by October 31, 2010.

The URL for the proposal form is:
http://www.historicalnovelsociety.org/proposals-2011.htm

We look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.

Mary F. Burns
HNS North American Conference Publicity Chair
San Francisco, California

Review: Helpless by M J Pearson

In London during the gross indecency trial of Oscar Wilde, Douglas Shrove finds himself still haunted by memories of his dead lover while skirting violence, blackmail and the affections of two men.

There are two who seek you out

That is what the gypsy told Douglas Shrove a few months after the death of his lover. And the gypsy was right. Two men were vying for his affections.

Mark Goldcrest: an aristocrat like himself; a golden Adonis, cool and discreet.

Warren Scott: a shabbily-dressed denizen of a Bohemian world that Douglas can’t begin to understand.

One is what he seems, and one is not, and one is dangerous.

But which is which? Both men are attractive and attracted to him…but only one has a dangerous secret.

One is what he seems, and one is not, and one is dangerous.

One of Douglas Shrove’s admirers could be his salvation—if the other doesn’t destroy him first.

Review by Erastes

PLEASE do not be put off this book by the cover. If you’ve looked at it and thought “oh no, BDSM/torture isn’t my cup of tea” then please read this review and perhaps decide to read it anyway. Because frankly I don’t know what Seventh Window was thinking with this cover.  It in NO WAY represents the book. The Snidely Whiplash character doesn’t exist in the book, there’s no half naked men (bizarrely wearing jeans) no one gets tied to a chair and there’s a distinct lack of face fungus.  I appreciate that the artist has some talent, but it almost feels like the cover was created for another book and they didn’t want to waste it. Frankly, I consider it misrepresentation!

The mark of this site for the book won’t reflect the cover at all, that wouldn’t be fair, but I wanted to get that out of the way straight away, to encourage you to look beyond it and give this great little book a go.

I have to say, I really really enjoyed this book.  We are introduced to our main protagonist, Douglas, straight away and we find he’s reeling from the death of his lover who died a few months previously. It’s spring, and the restlessness that often accompanies that season, seeps into Douglas’ consciousness and before he knows it, he’s going outside and walking about for the first time in ages. You really feel the grief in Douglas’ very bones, he’s walking around half dead himself, but he’s coming round, slowly.

Then, as often happens, two things happen to him in short succession. He goes into a bookshop and is subtly chatted up by the owner, a gorgeous aristocratic man, and after that he feels sufficiently bouyed up that he doesn’t really want to go home and instead spends some time in the National Gallery where he meets a scruffy artist who’s really not his type, but who intrigues him and whose art he’s drawn to.  He finds that the artist knew Henry (Douglas’ dead lover) and that gives them a common ground to discuss. The blond hunk from the bookshop asks Douglas around for dinner, and the artist gives Douglas his address, saying he has some sketches of Henry he might like. Men–just like buses. Nothing for months, then two come at once.

As you can tell from the blurb, this is the main theme of the book – two men to choose from. It’s all about appearances and trust. Who is right for him. Who seems right and who is his type. This is handled cleverly by introducing real doubt about both men, and layering mystery on mystery. Personally I would have liked to have seen this stretched even further than it was–making me truly unsure about either man–for me as it stood it was rather too obvious, and I never really doubted who was “good” and who wasn’t.  But that’s possibly because I love being led by the nose down the wrong path, and I’m sure that 99% of readers will find the device quite satisfactory.

I was a little put off by the scene setting at the beginning. There’s a rather clumsy piece of As You Know, Bob, dialogue between Mark (the bookshop owner) and Douglas. I can understand why it was there, to establish that the Wilde indecency trial is on the horizon, but the way they discussed it, it was so obvious that it was there simply to tell the audience where and when we were–and it jarred me. It could easily have been done in Douglas’ point of view, but once we are past that scene, there’s no more of this, the dialogue is solid – and I was swept away into the narrative.

There’s much to like about the book: The characters are vibrant and believable, with surprises on just about every page. There’s excellent detail–not too much–for locations and houses. Pearson doesn’t prettify London in the late 1900’s–sights, sounds, smells are described well. And overall it’s a nice commentary on class, servant roles, and more importantly, the assumptions that people make about other people based on appearance, titles, family, obvious wealth and their houses.

The male/male romance that blossoms does so extremely well. I was dreading that we’d go from Douglas being so broken hearted to leaping into bed with all and sundry but it doesn’t work like that, and the book takes its time, and in that respect, the grief is well represented. Don’t buy this book looking for scorching sex scenes, because all of the sex takes place either behind a firmly closed door, or is of the dot dot dot variety. However, this doesn’t detract from what is a delightful love affair, and a tightly plotted mystery which I’m sure will be enjoyed by anyone who picks it up, as long as they can get past Old Snidely on the cover.

Available in print and ebook

Author’s website

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